Monthly Archives: October 2013

Bring Back Professionalism

Ipcress File-Enlarged

“Culture is difficult to define… But for me the evidence of culture is how people behave when no one is watching.”

What an astute observation. But a bit of a let-down when I remember it was made (a couple of years ago in a BBC speech) by Bob Diamond (yes, that one).

Nevertheless, regardless who said it and whether or not he was the first with this insight, the quote has got me thinking because it’s also an excellent definition of acting professionally when in front of customers. Now, unless you are in a profession such as accountancy, teaching or law, ‘being professional’ isn’t a term you hear very often.

Betraying my age, I increasingly find some school and college leavers seem to lack the tone and manner which many of us would describe as professional or even respectful. Witness, for example, the casual service we often experience in shops, even allowing for inexperience and the natural shyness of youth.

In wondering whether this really is a generational thing, it brought to my mind The Ipcress File which was recently on TV again. I always enjoy the way it captures 1960s London (where’s the traffic?) – as much for John Barry’s soundtrack (oh the twang of that cimbalom!) – as the espionage drama. Seeing it again this time, however, I noticed that, coupled with that typical British reserve in a range of characters less than one generation on after the second world war, everyone is possessed of a civility we now seem to have lost. The film’s protagonist, Harry Palmer (Michael Caine), is a secret agent and it’s a fair bet to say Harry is no Old Etonian – by which I mean he evidently was not raised to be mannered within an inch of his life – and yet he has a courtesy in his dealings with others, a professionalism which is displayed as he methodically carries out instructions from his (rather creepy) intelligence officer boss. Could it be because those were the days when adult men of all ages were never seen outdoors without a tie, or ladies their gloves? Fans of Mad Men enjoy the series for its indulgent nostalgia and yet I have a client barely past retirement age who remembers his first sales job when, as a mere 17 year old, he would never, ever, leave the office to see a customer without his hat.

So, how do your employees behave when ‘no one is watching’? If you have customer-facing staff, it might be instructive for you to spot-check how they conduct themselves when away from your glare, because the job can be hard enough without giving valued clients – and prospects – an easy reason to go and buy elsewhere.

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No Confidence, No Sales

A few months ago, following a news story about a con-man who made millions from selling sham bomb detectors, I wrote about the importance of being able to sell confidently – even for products which are honest and genuine.

Like me, I’m sure you will have seen sales people from the same team, selling the same thing where some are confident and others are not: the confident ones sell more and generally have a better time of it. Undoubtedly, confidence – by which I mean self-confidence (as in having faith in one’s own abilities) – is a big factor in successful selling.

A significant milestone in much of the one-to-one coaching I give is when a sales rep starts to increase in confidence, and one of the most rewarding aspects of this is seeing that moment when he or she becomes bolder and seems less fazed by the usual knocks to grow in stature and start winning more sales. Talk about job satisfaction for both of us. At such times, more often than not, latent aptitudes come through, such as a positive change in approach, or, in the case of a team leader, the development of a more assertive manner: all wonderful things to witness and I am lucky to see this often. My reward continues with the thrill (yes, really) of planning how best to nurture that new and revitalised talent to maximise sales. As a task it’s as good as it gets because it usually leads in one direction – improved results on a number of levels. The sky is now the limit and the journey is exciting.

The icing on the cake is when I can let the company’s board know that they are in for some very good news.

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