The following article was written by Steve Pons, vice president – national sales, at Accolade Promotion Group (APG), a division of Golf Town Canada Inc.
We all agree that good people are what differentiate a good business from an exceptional business. Jim Collins’ widely read book Good to Great talks a lot about getting the “right people on the bus” and the “wrong people off the bus.”
But what I find myself often struggling with is accurately identifying who the “right people” truly are.
This is nothing new. Companies spend a ton of time and energy on evaluating talent and determining if potential employees have the proper skills and are the right fit culturally. We all know about candidate filtering methods such as the Zappos’ famous “Offer” that actually pays people to quit before they start. We also know of many companies that ask people to complete a questionnaire to see if their aptitudes and personality traits match the values and personality of the organization. (At APG, we utilize such a tool in combination with getting people to meet several colleagues and managers throughout the business to see if there is a good fit)
Even with employee screening and interesting sociological methods such as “The Offer” companies still say their number one challenge is finding and retaining the right people…the best people.
I used to believe that the only indicator for someone being successful in any business was if they were well organized and if they displayed a confidence in themselves, what they were talking about, what their passion was, etc. I’ve realized however that those are only the traits that appear when someone has a much more important quality: Self-Awareness.
When reading stories about business success involving people such as Isadore Sharp, Tony Heish, Jeff Bezos and Warren Buffet, all of them in my mind have one consistent trait. They are very self-aware and adapt their business approach to not only their client audience but to those who work with them or for them.
Over the years, I’ve seen a handful of people in the corporate merchandise services business (all of whom I would classify as successful) adapt their style to suit a variety of situations: C-level client conversations, asking team members to work extra hours to meet a deadline and negotiating win-win results with challenging clients or suppliers. In each circumstance the person was not only aware of who they were speaking with and what they were trying to achieve but also how to diffuse tension, instil confidence and make the other party feel comfortable that the salesperson was in control of the situation.
As Matt Dixon speaks of in his book The Challenger Sale, customers respond to confidence and integrity. Salespeople that are confident in sharing what they know (and how that will bring real value to the client’s business) and have the integrity to admit where they are not experts often win over sales reps that unilaterally say “we can do anything!” A self-aware salesperson identifies their shortcomings and proactively seeks out ways to either learn what they feel they should know or to ask others to be a resource for them. They seek to become a greater expert to help teach their clients and provide real insights they may not have considered.
Gone are the days that salespeople could use their greater knowledge of the products, supply chain, partnerships, etc. to demand a higher price. Clients can (and do) all their research often before the sales interaction starts. Virtually every sales rep has already seen this transition in our business over the last 5 years. A self-aware rep has recognized and adapted to this change and has evolved their approach. They seek out guidance and coaching when presented with any challenge but don’t rely on training to be provided by the organization before they take action.
In short, many people may pride themselves on being excellent judges of character and indeed many of you may have had excellent success in hiring and developing talent. But I offer you this test: ask your salespeople to rank their strengths and weaknesses while you independently do the same for them. How do you feel both results would compare? In my experience the reps with the greatest alignment with their manager’s assessment are usually the most successful. (In fact, they are often harder on themselves than their managers are on them!)
While many in the promotional products business feel that growing their salesforce (with a book of business the rep brings with them of course) is their best way to success, I would take an eager self-aware salesperson any day of the week.
Bonus link: Why hasn’t “The Offer” caught on in business?