A “Real” Salesperson
Danny sat in the back of the room and glowered. He was one of a team of 40 employees – 20 engineers and 20 salespeople – working for a tech company in “Emerging Markets”. It was the late 2000’s and the BRICM cluster of emerging economies’ (Brazil, Russia, India, China and Mexico) were buying technology at an amazing rate. Now as their economies began to slow, his team had to begin to think strategically and plan accordingly to make its sales goals.
But Danny had seen it all before. At 55 Danny had been in the telecom industry long enough to have seen the hard days of sales. He resented being on a team that included so many engineers because so many of them had no idea how to really and truly sell – they were all about improving the technology – which Danny thought was fine but only so long as it helped close sales. Danny thought that too much time was wasted discussing the ‘widgets’ of the technology (which the clients did not care about) and not enough time establishing the clear value which Danny could sell.
Danny’s boss, an aspiring VP, had brought them all together for a three day offsite: one day for ‘sales training’ (which an old pro like Danny needed like he needed another hole in his head). Worse yet, the VP had invited an executive coach to facilitate “team building and communication exercises” the second day of the three days.
It was the second day and Danny was in the back of the room, sitting in a chair propped on its two back legs against the wall. The coach was going on about team communication techniques and conducting exercises to practice those techniques. Danny was participating – but just barely. He rolled his eyes and sighed loudly a lot during exercises designed help the team learn how to become a high-performance.
Danny had been to a lot of similar trainings. He seemingly enjoyed undermining the lessons being taught and experienced by the others on the team – especially the younger and less experienced team members.
What Danny did not know is that his VP had been observing this behavior of Danny’s ever since the Emerging Markets economies had begun to slow. “That’s enough running around picking up pieces of gold off the ground, mates.” Danny once disdainfully preached. “Now it’s time for some real sales work.”
It was about that time the VP had brought the executive coach in to help him with team dynamics and to coach the VP on how to approach a number of team issues, including Danny’s attitude.
The VP and the Coach had dedicated two coaching sessions specifically to Danny’s attitude and the negative effect it was having on team morale. The VP initially thought that the coach should confront Danny directly but after the two sessions decided on a different approach.
Let’s Walk and Talk
After a morning of exercises and Danny’s obviously reluctant involvement, cynical comments disparaging humor and out-right refusals to participate in such “rubbish” the VP asked Danny for a walk during a break, before the team reconvened. The VP asked Danny what was” up” with the negative attitude and behavior … especially in front of the team.
Danny was not at all defensive. Instead he told the VP that he found the trainings and exercises silly and that the experienced salespeople knew how to close sales without all the ‘kum’bay’yah’. The VP stopped and looked Danny in the eye and asked if everyone else in the room felt the same way?
Danny admitted that the “younger” engineers and salespeople seemed to be getting a lot out of the program … but that he certainty wasn’t.
The VP, as coached, then asked a slow and earnest question:
“Danny, can this team make our sales numbers without the alignment and efforts of the younger engineers and salespeople?”
Danny answered without hesitation: “No. We all need to be out there selling and that means all the sales people supported by all of the engineers!”
Then why, the VP continued, would you want to do anything that would throw a wet blanket on their enthusiasm – because that is exactly what the impact of your attitude has been. It’s like you want to be the one who tells them that there is no such thing as Santa Clause.
Danny got very quiet. The two continued their walk and came back to the door of the offsite conference room. At last Danny took a deep breath and turned to his VP.
“My intention wasn’t to discourage them – they’re bright and full of needed energy – I guess my intention was to encourage them to be skeptical of the trainings and exercises.”
The VP quickly replied.
“Leadership is choosing the attitudes and behaviors that motivate others to follow. What are you motivating them to follow, Danny?”
With that the VP turned and entered the room leaving Danny standing with the question.
It took some time and effort, but in the end Danny began to champion the trainings and exercises (quietly at first) and he and the VP watched the enthusiasm and morale of the whole team rise — especially the younger members. The team made their numbers that quarter, and the next consecutive four quarters not simply with the sales acumen of Danny, but with the enthusiasm and energy of all the members of the team.