Category Archives: – Office Life

Cracking the Whip

Cracking the Whip 1

Probably early days yet, but Whiplash (2014) seems to be one of those film titles which people can’t quite place until you say “It’s the one about drumming”.

Whiplash is an excellent film on all fronts: script, acting, music. What’s more, it has a thrilling pace – and a seat of the pants ride to boot, as you cheer for Andrew (played by Miles Teller) an aspiring jazz drumming student against his talented but terrifying and cruel conductor Terence Fletcher (J. K. Simmons). The film, which focuses on this tense relationship between teacher and student addresses the question of just how far do you drive for excellence and is it true you won’t get excellence if you don’t push?

Fletcher is hectoring, taunting, bullying and spiteful – all in his belief that only by driving performance will he breed a musical genius (he’s looking for the next jazz legend). He ponders that nobody ever seems to reach his high standards: “There are no two words in the English language more harmful than ‘good job’ ”.

The film’s pace doesn’t really allow the viewer to drift off and think about something else, but at the back of my mind were recollections – both witnessed and anecdotal – of ‘psychopathic’ sales managers whose methods of ‘motivation’ would make Fletcher proud.

Such managers justify their actions in the belief that their staff are inherently lazy; that without cracking the whip they won’t do their job. And so, their alarmed staff try to work on in misery: in an atmosphere of rages, ritual humiliation and bullying of hapless individuals picked-out and picked-on. I’ve seen one such environment all the worse in the afternoons owing to the after effects of one particular manager’s liquid lunch…

Everyone who’s worked in sales knows it’s rarely an easy ride and sales people need to be resilient. We are at the mercy of external factors with so many ‘known unknowns’: the market, the economy, competitors, at times even the weather. Internal factors such as self-motivation play a critical part too. A good sales manager will have an armoury of techniques to keep up team spirit and motivate individuals. Armoury such as encouragement and praise when it is due – as well as games and incentives to sustain interest and focus. Additionally, they will communicate standards of professional behaviour and procedures, setting clear parameters of what is not acceptable. A sloppy sales force never gets very far. However, the minute a manager has to resort to insulting individuals in public, that manager is less in control than he may like to think. This doesn’t mean that targets should not be strived for, or that problems should not be confronted. I’ve often had to remind sales managers ‘there’s a time and a place for a rollocking’ meaning that if a shortfall in performance needs to be addressed, it should be done one-to-one and follow company/employment law procedures (sorry to be boring). If an individual is not cut out for the role they’re in, they should be let down gently. If they are in the right position, but experiencing difficulties or a crisis of confidence (it happens – even to the talented) the manager has to be prepared to do some work and provide appropriate training/support. Sometimes, all it takes is a ‘fireside chat’. Sure, no manager goes to work to make friends, but it’s a sad and common fact of office life that some (and I don’t exclude women) see it as an arena to inflict fear and intimidation in the belief that it’s the only way to get results.

It does not. And if it does, it won’t be for long.

Rather than start preaching about the legal requirement of ‘duty of care’ (which in my experience, most employers are usually good at understanding) let’s remind ourselves of the potential damage to profitability when staff are put under unreasonable and relentless intimidation. As well as weakening productivity, quality of sales can suffer: for example, reps functioning in ‘survival mode’ will be more likely to go for quick, but lower value sales. Furthermore, these examples of consequential costs should make any business owner blanch: compensation and/or legal costs, staff turnover, re-recruitment and re-training costs – in addition to the resulting loss of investment in training and experience. I’m not advocating that business owners lie awake at night paranoid about keeping their organisation’s name out of the law books – but it is for individual employers to weigh up whether such financial risks could ever be worth the indulgence of one crazy manager’s ego.

Postscript: 23rd February 2015 – last night Whiplash won three Oscars including one for J. K. Simmons (Best Supporting Actor). The film was also nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture.



Dear Diary

Mobile Phone Diary

Every year, for retailers and their suppliers, the customary seasonal countdown seems to start earlier and earlier. But for the rest of us in b2b sales, it will begin proper after this weekend. At least this year – because December 1st falls on a Monday – workaholics and the conscientious will be pleased to see that at least they will be able to fit in a good three weeks’ worth of sales activity before the break.

Focusing on a practical but vital aspect of sales management, whether your sales people use analogue or digital means to schedule their appointments, follow ups and call backs, now is the time to establish good diary habits ready for the early part of 2015.

As you all know, I regard motivation (and self-motivation in particular) as one of the main cornerstones of sales success – and a busy diary must surely be a key feature. Or to look at it another way, who is going to feel a greater compulsion to perform next year? The salesman with a full diary or the one with a blank one?

Don’t hold back from asking your sales managers and reps the following question: “What’s in your diary for January and February?”  If you get a blank look, it’s time for some very tough love…



Sales Recruitment: Some Thoughts – Part 3

Merry go Round-B&W and Lilac

While we can never stop people looking for pastures new, employers should be doing all they can to minimise the likelihood of itchy feet among their staff. Predictably, better pay and bonus schemes are the causes most often cited by sales people for leaving but the reasons for staying never seem to get much exposure. I wonder why. Because bad news make better headlines, perhaps? Teams which, by and large, get on well with one another, who respect their line-manager and fellow colleagues are not as rare as after-work pub gossip would have us believe. Not surprisingly, in my largely peripatetic role I get to see and experience work environments which range from the genuinely positive to the downright negative, and it doesn’t take an in-depth academic study to recognise the ones where people are more likely to stay in their job for its own enjoyment, sense of purpose and the contribution it makes.

In-depth studies, however, do blame a variety of reasons why employees quit their job on employers. Aspects of the work environment, its culture, and how an employee perceives his/her job and its potential opportunities are commonly observed factors that the employer has failed to maximise or address.

Where studies have made recommendations, the majority advise organisations to tap into what their employees are thinking. Now, nobody is asking bosses to become mind readers – or to be best friends with their staff. But if management are to get the best out of their people, communication channels need to exist and to be open, clear, and two-way. But this also means that staff should take the initiative too. It’s a well-worn joke among HR managers that in any ‘exit interview’ departing employees will commonly moan “No one motivated me… No one gave me any responsibility… No one asked me to apply for the promotion… No one ever…” The list runs on and on. Of course, a good HR will gently point out, er, excuse me, but didn’t you – ie the employee – ever think to talk to your manager…?

Of course by this stage it’s too late. Any respect one side may have had for the other will by now have evaporated. Even if there is a new job to go to, at such times employees tend to feel aggrieved and/or disillusioned, while the employer simply wants them out as quickly as possible. What a pity when I think of the huge amounts of goodwill and enthusiasm both parties once had when the job offer was made and accepted.

Not for the first time or the last time either.

Because all this is another aspect of what I call The Recruitment Merry-go-Round; the one which keeps HR, recruitment consultants and headhunters in clover. (I’m sure there’s a joke in there somewhere about free passengers.) Only for the employer it never really ends all that merrily, does it? However large or small the organisation, recruitment costs are a drain on the bottom line. Every business should make every effort to learn something from such experiences and slow down the ride.



Bank Holiday Fever


With numerous surveys appearing to show that the British work the longest hours in Europe, most of us look forward to our bank holidays. However, for sales-led organisations in particular, the resultant short weeks impact heavily on selling time. How then, do we make the most of what is left?

1.  Forewarned is forearmed. Remind your sales people and their line managers in advance and ask for constructive suggestions they could implement.

2.  Create ‘non-revenue’ targets to encourage and maintain activity: eg a minimum number of new prospect calls/contacts to be made in the month.

3.  Alternatively, you can take the opportunity of a shorter, quiet week to do some serious forward planning. Again, make your management team and/or sales people do the bulk of the thinking by getting them to contribute.

4.  You can do this within the forum of a sales conference with a focused agenda which directs towards a series of measureable objectives. The format of the day(s) and venue can be as formal (and expensive!) as you wish: from using the company boardroom or installing yourselves in the corner of a nearby hotel coffee lounge, to a total no-expense barred ‘away day’. To keep everyone interested as well as involved, plan a mixed programme. For example, brainstorming sessions and pencil/paper business games can be used to vary the pace. Keep up a steady supply of snacks and refreshments to sustain concentration levels.

5.  To maintain productivity, consider getting sales people to swap sales territories or areas with one another. To keep any risk to a minimum, you can set the rule of ‘dormant’ or ‘dead’ accounts only. With nothing to lose, it can be surprising what a different voice or face can achieve. To get everyone focused, create a points system in addition to any targets such as one point for an effective telephone call to the decision maker, two points for a confirmed appointment, three points for a quote, etc.

6.  Finally, don’t underestimate the good old fashioned prize incentive, whether it’s a bottle of wine or a week at the chairman’s Tuscan villa. Again, you can get creative with a points system to keep everyone motivated.



Sales Recruitment: Some Thoughts – Part 2

Merry go Round-B&W and Blue

It’s widely accepted that recruitment is as time-consuming as it is costly, to say nothing of the ‘rock the boat’ implications once when someone has handed in their notice. Whether because of dismissal or resignation (don’t forget it’s illegal to revive a post you have already formally deemed ‘redundant’) the office rumour machine will have gone into overdrive often before you’ve realised you may need to assign someone temporarily to manage any accounts which look vulnerable.

There can be other consequences, too.

Owing to the essential responsibility of the job, a salesperson who’s given notice and still kicking around the building, will often have a greater negative impact on their team than an employee in a different role. Acting alone, sales reps on resignation period have been known to copy client records (and email them to their personal account), make moves to take valuable customers with them, mishandle clients by having lost the commitment to customer service or make approaches to other team members to join them in the wonderful career move they’ll be making. It really is not nice to have to make this list, but it’s not uncommon, and in the unlikely case that anyone reading this has never had such experiences, well lucky you, is all I can say; but that’s the reality. Forewarned is forearmed.

Regarding the wider team, sales departments thrive best as positive, upbeat environments. The imminent departure of one of their own can, rightly or wrongly, remind a team of a better life (and pay) outside. It may also depress morale, affect productivity and create general unsettlement; every single one a motivation zapper and not conducive to making sales. This is why I usually advise employers to just pay off the rep, take the hit, reassure the rest of the team that it’s business as usual and get on with finding the best replacement possible. Understandably, given the economic conditions of recent years this can be hard to accept, but the price of a de-motivated sales force in a still-difficult climate is likely to be far higher.



The Non-Graduate’s Revenge


A young man has been hired by a company and turns up for his first day at work.

His manager greets him with a smile and then hands him a broom. The young man looks puzzled.

“Your first job will be to sweep out the office,” explains the manager.

The young man is indignant. “But I’m a university graduate!”

“Oh, I am sorry, I didn’t realise that,” says the manager.

“Here, give me the broom. I’ll show you how…”



Just Say No


Long before bookshops had entire sections devoted to ‘Mind & Spirit’, my mother had a self-help book (American, of course) with the title of Don’t Say Yes When you Want to Say No. Seeing this lying around the house I couldn’t understand the point. Why read a book about saying No? Surely grown-ups get to say what they like, whenever they like? For most young children, articulating the word No is not usually difficult.

Despite this early introduction to the ‘I-Don’t-Really-Want-to-Say-Yes-Issue’, like most people, I was a while into adulthood before I fully grasped the ‘obligation trap’ of saying Yes. In the big, bad world of work, I came to see those constant appeals for favours outside of my main remit as annoying distractions, robbing precious time and derailing previous plans. In an attempt to stop the constant nagging, an exasperated “Ok, yes!” was often potentially fatal: it meant having even more to fit in and made me a time-management dummy.

Whether for work, domestic or social, we’ve all submitted to something only to end up regretting it and then getting tied up in knots when we try to extricate ourselves later. Typical situations range from dealing with children who are strong-willed (the experts’ term, not mine), to requests for help from friends and colleagues. We are pulled by client demands too – and don’t get me started on that prospect or lapsed customer you’re carefully nurturing but who has you running around on fact-finding missions, free advice or revised proposals/quotes. “Time waster!” many a hard-bitten sales rep will mutter, but for most of us, our better nature will respond, with motives varying from wanting to be liked, appearing a dynamic and capable multi-tasker, through to just being helpful.

So, what to do?

As ever, it can be down to the right words. But the right words are no use if you are caught unawares and start umming and ahhing, and then, embarrassed at the awkward pause have to say yes, alright, it’s really no problem. Practice to yourself (or the dog) phrases such as “I would love to, but…” or “I’m about to start on a big project/assignment/proposal/pitch, there’s no time to do it.” And try to sound assertive. Requesters of the trivial or social variety will most likely get the message without you needing to explain further. Only the most crass will wait to hear you out before going into full persuasive mode – in which case stand your ground with a smile and a sorry. Remember, you have a life whose purpose isn’t for spur of the moment requests. You are busy with commitments: your own, as well as work.

Client, customer or prospect demands are of course harder. Business is precious and the lure of a potential sale makes cowards of us all. For these reasons I always advise to play along and don’t lose your ‘sales hat’. By this I mean that you should never forget to sell the killer USPs of your company, product or service, reminding prospects of the benefits of becoming a fully engaged customer. Appropriately pitched, some humour can go a long way, e.g. saying something with a smile along the lines of “We could also do this for you, as well as x and y once you’ve come on board with us, of course… ” Or “Well, x is a strong area of expertise for us and you’re always welcome to join our many satisfied customers!”

Final note: I checked to see if DSYWYWTSN still exists and, amazingly, used copies are still available, and there’s an unabridged audio edition too. It must have gone to a gazillion reprints since it was first published in 1975. Almost forty years on, there’s no question that the husband and wife team who wrote it were on to something which is still relevant for many of us today.



Call me Madam – Part 2

Have a Nice Day 3

Following the Ask Jeeves poll which highlighted the various annoyances of call centres [see Call Me Madam-Part 1 – April 2013], it’s clear there are some aspects of business etiquette which are just too important to ignore. For an easy checklist of how your customer-facing staff should be presenting themselves, here is my Top Ten:

1.  Do they always know the name of who they’re speaking to, and use it? If it’s unusual or unfamiliar, they should ask how to pronounce it and get it right. The same goes for spelling it correctly in any correspondence.

2.  Follow-up and/or thank you emails should be a matter of procedure and sent as soon as possible. In addition to ensuring that the rep or account manager has remembered, such professionalism will reflect well on your organisation.

3.  However boring, do your people show genuine interest in what their prospect or client is saying? As well as adding to their professional ‘persona’, listening to what their buyer has to say will give them valuable information which they can use to sell. Applying sales methods and techniques will keep a prospective buyer on track if he really is droning-on off the issue.

4.  Language! Slang, offensive or abusive language are an absolute no-no – even if describing a disreputable competitor – and can easily slip out. I could write reams on the insults I have heard reps describe the difficult prospects who never buy, together with a long list of their swearwords of choice. Without exception, such language and banter are for the back-office only – and you may need to remind them of this.

5.  The handshake. Still enormously important. Even if they’re unexpectedly introduced to someone in a casual setting, it’s good to be seen to make the effort by standing up (and yes that includes women as well). A handshake should be firm and efficient.

6.  Good eye-contact with customers. Vital. I even come across university graduates who still haven’t learnt this.

7.  Mobiles should be switched off before any meeting or presentation.

8.  No buts. Customers or prospects should never be interrupted.

9.  Following from point #8, if he has a complaint he needs to rant about – let him. However, company representatives should make an assurance that they will investigate/resolve the problem asap – and ensure this is done.

10.  Finally, how often do your staff smile? This underrated feature costs nothing. Everybody looks more attractive when they smile (ok, maybe not the last Prime Minister, but you get my point). A genuine smile signifies sincerity, honesty and openness – positive qualities when perceived in a sales person.

To anyone visiting your premises, a greeting with a smile from the receptionist will convey a warm welcome, giving the impression that your company is ‘nice to do business with’ – something which says more than any carefully written marketing blurb in a brochure or website.


Lunch is for Winners

Lunch Break

I caught an entertaining programme on the radio which took a look at how Gordon Gekko’s famous quote (“Lunch is for wimps”) now seems to have become accepted policy for many office workers. Apparently 1 in 5 of us never eats lunch with only 1 in a 100 taking a full hour’s break. The programme took us on a nostalgic trip back to the days when that lunch hour was our own, when we would actually leave our desk to meet friends and colleagues in the pub.

We also heard from a historian who told us that Winston Churchill’s several courses with wine and brandy were viewed positively at the time, actually helping rather than hindering his leadership of the country.

Undoubtedly our working day has got busier as technology continues to drive a faster pace, making time even more precious. But business leaders and their sales people have yet to be replaced with machines: as human beings our body’s need for refuelling can’t have changed, nor for our eyes to take a rest away from a bright screen or for our brains to switch off for a short time from meetings and client demands.

If businesses are to be competitive as well as productive, their workforces need to perform to fullest potential – in which case surely lunch breaks should be encouraged to maintain concentration and engagement?

When a sales person – whether on the telephone or out on the road – is doing his/her job fully and properly, I would have thought they should feel the need for a lunch break. Proactive, professional selling is a demanding job requiring the seller to use listening, presentation, verbal and consultative skills. In other words to be firing on all 4 cylinders.

The hard working sales executive who can put work aside for thirty or forty-five minutes to refuel and get outside in some sunshine is bound to have a more productive afternoon than the one who spends an hour dropping breadcrumbs over their keyboard as they stare numbly at a database of prospects.

In a fast-paced sales operation where time literally is money, there are ways you can use lunchtimes as a ‘time maximiser’.

Some suggestions:

On the Road

If you haven’t done this before, why not accompany an external rep on calls one day? Make use of lunchtime (the company’s shout of course) as an opportunity to encourage as well as to analyse the morning’s successes and setbacks in some detail.

Make it Fun

An effective way of boosting rapport within your teams and between departments is to arrange occasional team building sessions with one or two group sales games. For ideas, there’s a good range of reasonably priced books to be found.

Ideas Forum

Invite sales people and sales support staff for a free exchange of ideas and solutions. Stimulate discussion through brain storms and mind maps.

Everybody Out!

If it’s dry and sunny outside, insist that all office staff leave the building for at least 20 minutes.

Is Anybody Swinging the Lead?

Conversely, this topic may have made you think about checking if anyone is taking their lunchtimes too seriously…

Lunchtime Selling

If you have a telesales or telemarketing team, set an earlier lunch break roster so they can make calls between 12.00 and 2.00 to maximise their chances of catching those elusive prospects.