The 'U' in SALES TEAM
You cannot have grown up in these United States and gone through junior high school (now “middle school”) without hearing the “There’s no ‘I’ in TEAM” speech. Gym teachers sign an oath that they will impart that mandatory wisdom/torture on each and every skinny-legged kid who has a pulse and is therefore doomed to learn lifelong skills, like rope climbing. It is cliché No. 1 in the “How to Shape Our Youth” playbook (No. 2 being the mathematically impossible “Give it 110%”). The logic here is that the team lives and dies as a group and that no one member is more important than the whole.
Fast forward a bit, and some of those pre-pubescent overachievers have gone into sales. They love winning and competition and have traded in their baggy gym shorts and T-shirts for a finely tailored suit and a set of business cards. They’ve become quite successful, thankyouverymuch, and have climbed to a position of honor as a legacy sales rep. Theirs is a place of respect and the best of the best carry not only a large book of business but an ego to match. But hey, they’ve earned the right.
While they might be having a banner year, not all ships have risen in the tide and the majority of the company’s sales force isn’t sitting at the “cool table” with those high achievers. They are struggling. So, too, is the company itself, which subsequently needs volume. To address this, a sales meeting is held and the boss man gives the “We need new business, gang” speech — “We need volume, especially in (fill in the blank: digital, mailing, offset, whatever) and I need you to go bring the work in.”
There is a strange truth to sales: Many of the same qualities that made those salespeople successful also make them incredibly annoying (note that if your boss sent you a copy of this column and underlined that last sentence, take it as a compliment!). Succeeding in print sales takes confidence, right up to the point of cockiness. Not only must the rep unequivocally believe in him or herself, but also must sell from an unshakable “If you don’t like me, there’s probably something wrong with you!” position. As odd as it may sound, success breeds and attracts success, and what might seem like a character flaw to mere mortals is actually contributing to their achievement. The problem is, of course, that switch gets stuck in the “on” position and isn’t left behind at work.
Further, their “lone wolf” attitude creates a belief that some messages aren’t intended for their ears — that they are somehow excluded from company rules, instructions and obligations. It’s rather like the parishioner who sits through a poignant sermon full of valuable lessons, direction and advice only to shake the preacher’s hand afterward, lean in and say, “Great sermon, Father. I sure hope they heard it.” But back to the sales meeting in the conference room and that message from management…
All companies need to grow every year. New opportunities must be located and captured, if even just to equal last year’s numbers, given that 10-15% of the business can disappear on its own annually. Or perhaps work must be found for one particular product line and the call goes out for help. All eyes are now on sales. But this message is not received by all sales ears equally. Some will heed the warning and respond by setting a personal goal commensurate with their fair share of the shortfall.
Others, however, will hear the demand for additional business and think, “My sales are up double digits over last year. I am killing it. I’m not a part of that problem. That’s only for those team members whose sales are off. Let them bring up their numbers.” That reaction typically originates from said cool table. No doubt, as they leave the conference room, they might as well say to their manager, “Great speech, boss. I sure hope they heard it.” Sauntering back to their desks, as above-plan salespeople are known to do, they think to themselves, “I had a big year. I brought in lots of new work. I did my job. I am exempt.”
Honestly, it’s hard to fault that thinking. Successful — and especially very successful — salespeople who have exceeded expectations and have shown significant growth deserve, to some extent, the right to see themselves as separate from the others. But while TEAM does not contain an “I,” it most definitely has a “U” and because of that, even the best and most successful salespeople in the room must step up and respond, doing whatever they can to fill the gap. Why?
- Because “U” are a part of a sales team whose responsibility it is to meet the company’s financial needs, including and especially new business. Above and beyond the individual responsibility is the responsibility as a team, and “U” are a part of that team.
- Because “U” have a job description that clearly states putting in the effort to fill capacity and following the instructions of management. When the cry goes out for more, “U” must respond, “How much more and what can I do to help?”
- Because “U” have a responsibility to production and every other employee to bring in an acceptable and increasing amount of business.
- Because if you don’t, “U” will be watching those same people get laid off.
Twenty years ago, the president of a printing company in upstate New York, citing a lack of work in-house, made the difficult decision to cut back on production by five hours a week. On a subsequent Friday afternoon, the production team asked to speak with him as a group. Walking into his office, they said, “Would you please follow us?”
Thinking that he was going to be taken out back and beaten up, he was a bit nervous. That feeling, however, changed to curiosity when they led him into the sales department. Every desk was empty. It was 2:30 p.m. in the afternoon. The spokesman of the group said, “We are being punished. We are losing hours and income because the salespeople aren’t doing their jobs.”
Keep that “I am exempt” attitude, and there might well be no “U” around to worry about. PI