Between Christmas and New Year I learned of the unexpected passing of a much respected colleague who was my second in command when we worked together in the 1990s.
The first blog of this year is a tribute to his memory.
John, or JP as everyone knew him was an outstanding sales rep, building his territory through the 1980s and 90s into one of the highest grossing areas for the organisation. In his time, he was the only salesman to win the company award for salesperson of the year, twice. He made a successful move into sales management and applied a range of exceptional skills. JP was a larger than life character, one of life’s one-offs with bags of ability and a cracking sense of humour. Rather than go into cliquey anecdotes from that time (of which there are many) there are some of his personal qualities I’d like to share with you which are relevant to successful sales management.
Because he was so positive, without effort, JP was a good motivator of people. His sole drive was to achieve results for the team – proving that to motivate you need to be motivated yourself. (Think about it – who ever followed anybody who was demotivated? Whether middle managers or political leaders, who wants to be led by someone who doesn’t care or isn’t interested?) Without needing any reminder he practised my sales management mantra of “There is no such word as ‘Can’t’.” With this in mind, together we challenged long-established practises and codes to further improve a thriving sales department.
Another of his qualities was that if a plan or proposal had a weakness or flaw he would spot it – giving lie to the popular myth that only people who are thick go into sales – because they probably aren’t fit to do anything else. On the contrary, the best people in sales never stop thinking at least one step ahead. Furthermore, two heads are always better than one, and in such aspects JP’s insight was invaluable. People I’ve worked with have laughed at my insistence for a ‘sanity check’ before anything important goes out; whether it’s a set of numbers, a piece of promotional copy or a sales proposal. Better safe than seriously embarrassed later on.
He was also a good communicator. I have no doubt that under-performers felt very stung by any frustration or disappointment he expressed in them – but managers have to address shortfalls in performance – supportively – before it’s too late. In any sales campaign, time is of the essence: problems don’t go away they almost always become worse. Too often, by the time I have been called in to help, any critically under-performing sales people will have escalated into an HR issue – the resolution of which ends up costing far more than a bit of remedial training.
JP was also one of those people in sales who looked the part: he was always immaculately turned out. From their cars to clothes, holidays to home improvements I’ve long pondered just why so many people in sales enjoy quality stuff. Is it because they appreciate a good sales pitch (because they didn’t have to make it themselves?) Or are they so immersed in their bubble of commerce that they’re drawn to goods which, slickly marketed, tend to be at the higher end? Whatever the psychology, it all points to being passionate about high standards: it’s likely that anyone who cares about the impression they make on others will have standards, and professional sales means aiming high in all aspects – whether it’s the calibre of the people you recruit, the impact of your sales presentation or the design of your marketing materials.
Finally, I must pay tribute to JP’s wit. I have always said that sales has got to be fun – alternatively go and do something easier but boring instead. In staff management as well as in sales, we all recognise that people buy people – the clue’s in the cliché. Few of us would choose to deal with a misery guts. Whilst understanding when the game needed to be serious, JP would lighten the atmosphere with a joke; if there was a double entendre waiting to be uncovered, JP would find it. We’d all crack up laughing and an otherwise tedious meeting would zip along.
And this sums him up all over: whether it was a joke (and god knows these were sometimes ripe), improving an established practice or over reaching a target – he loved to push the boundaries. This is what sales management is all about: striving to become better and achieve more.
My heartfelt condolences to his many friends as well as to his family – in particular his wife and son.