Attitude, Value & Talent

Companion Sales

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The 20+ years of economic expansion through 2007 left many companies and individuals unprepared to effectively manage the downturn of 2008 and beyond. While business veterans may find it surprising, many of today’s business leaders had not experienced a significant economic downturn in their career before then, and therefore found themselves searching for strategies to help weather this storm. Too many companies and individuals chose to batten down the hatches. That may have been their first mistake. I believe these difficult economies presented real opportunities and provided the foundation for success in the future.

The key to capturing them is found in your attitude, the value you bring and your talent.

During the recession, most of our economists have been hard at work predicting the start of a recovery. Depending on who you are listening to, it will come in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd or 4th quarter of this fiscal year or the next or the next or the next. Depending on your degree of optimism, you have selected one of the above. What if you are wrong? Do you find yourself pushing out your optimism to the next quarter?

This is where your attitude can help. Admiral Jim Stockdale was the highest-ranking U.S. military officer in the Hanoi prison camp during the Vietnam War. In his bookIn Love and War, he described the attitude that helped him survive his 8-year imprisonment while many others did not survive theirs. What is now known as the “Stockdale Paradox” in psychological circles is simply an absolute faith that you will prevail in the end, coupled with the discipline to confront the brutal facts of your current reality.

An article by Jim Collins in USA TODAYconnected this paradox with a business lesson on why some companies rise from difficulty to become great, while others emerge from those same exact difficulties weakened and dispirited. The survivors had an absolute belief that, in the future, they would survive the experience and be stronger for it. However, in the moment, they confronted their difficult reality as if it were likely to exist for an infinite time with no light at the end of the tunnel. They used the grim reality of the moment to change their business model to prosper now.

The grim reality of our difficult economy brings us to the second key – value. The companies and individuals most likely to emerge stronger are those who are willing to provide more value now. Manufacturers usually identify a series of values that their products and/or promotions deliver. Many of my clients tell me that their customers don’t understand their value proposition. Upon investigation, I have found the reality is these clients didn’t know what their customer valued. In fact, many of these clients didn’t even understand what their own people valued. So, it becomes the role of the distributor rep to take the generic values determined by the manufacturer and customize them to their customer.

We cannot create value in a vacuum. We look at our products and services and decide that they provide great value, and then attempt to go out and sell our value. The problem is what we perceive as value may not be what our customers perceive as value. At no other time than now has it been more important to find out what our customers value and adjust accordingly.

For example, our existing and potential customers have told us time is more important than money. Our adjustment has been a blended approach with an e-learning virtual classroom, plus the traditional hands-on workshop in 33 percent less time. The response was beyond our expectations.

The right attitude combined with a great value proposition will still not insure your success in difficult times. The final and most important ingredient is your talent – the absolute skill to execute well at will. As a distributor sales rep, you have two choices: become satisfied with your current level of skill, or adopt a continuous improvement program that challenges your competency.

It is easy to become complacent and satisfied with our current level of skill, especially if you are reasonably successful. However, our industry continues to change and what was excellent yesterday, is good today and will be mediocre tomorrow. So, I come down on the side of continuous improvement. Of course, talent development is my business and I am probably biased in recommending that strategy.

Building talent from within requires a more disciplined approach, but in the long haul I believe the results pay a bigger dividend and it continues to pay for the long term. I consistently ask others who are successful how they handle different situations. Every rep was my coach when I was in front-line sales. Every sales manager was my source for becoming a better manager. Even today, other business owners and executives become a model for me to improve my competency.

The difference now is the adjustments are more subtle than extensive. A word, an inflection, the tone can all impact the outcome of a sales interaction, so I concentrate on the little things. I have always believed in the philosophy that when you stop growing, you begin to die.

In any event, business history is replete with organizations and individuals that have grown and prospered in difficult times. So can you, if you remember your attitude, the value you bring and your talent.