By William Blades

Most of us remember younger days, when we used to run and jump into the ocean, lake or pool? And what do we do now? We stick our toes in first to see if the water is comfortable or “safe” enough for us. You can afford to be neither safe nor comfortable in your profession, i.e., water treatment professionals.

As individuals in a fast-changing world, we should never fall into the corporate killer of thinking, “We are okay.” You must buy into the fact that to stay ahead of a competitive market, the change internally must accelerate more than the external changes every industry faces. The president must improve as much as the sales manager, and vice versa. If they don’t, who will?

Soul-searching questions
It’s still a people business, so these five questions regarding people might create some soul-searching.

Who’s in charge?
Is your management team managing or leading? Most people respond in quantum leaps to a leader as compared to doing what a manager wants done. Leaders set the tone for greatness from everyone else and are role models.

A client’s employee once told me his boss “doesn’t have ulcers…he’s a carrier.” So goes the boss, so goes the crew.

Who’s on top?
Do you have one salesperson that’s in the top 2 percent of all salespeople in your industry? Are 20 percent of your salespeople in the top 10 percent in the industry? If not, what help do they need? I’ve seen salespeople who were at the bottom go to the top within two years. They just need to be trained, educated and reminded about sales greatness. Remember, half the salespeople you know are below average.

Just as 99 percent of lawyers give the remainder a bad name, many “salespeople” fit in the same category. They just don’t know what needs to be learned in order to succeed.

Who tries new things?
What did everyone do last week that they had never done before? If someone’s “new thing” bombed, be sure to compliment him/her for trying and encourage them to keep doing new things. Failure must be encouraged because whenever a person tries new things, they won’t always go perfectly. How was your first French kiss? Your first attempt at parallel parking? Probably not too wonderful, but you got better at it with persistence and practice.

Who thinks creatively?
What new “joy and value” factor did each salesperson incorporate into a client proposal? If you want your revenues to change, you might need to change the way you sell. Think creatively. Think like this: “What am I personally going to do so that they need and want me”?

When I hear salespeople talk ad nauseum, I know the potential client is thinking, “How does this guy stay hired.” Talk less and think more—before you ever make the visit.

How innovative are we?
What service do you offer that blows clients out of their chairs? Should you provide them with sales and management education? There’s no downside there. What service can you offer that no one else in the industry offers? Then, add a second service.

Lessons in success
I read recently that the American Management Association asked 500 CEOs, “What must one do to survive in the 21st century?” The top answer was “practice creativity and innovation.” You must encourage everyone to challenge everything in the way things are done—and expect it on a regular basis.

Here are some examples and experiences of a little creativity to get you started:

  1. When a client is way overdue with payment, you could add to their statement: “We have already done more for you than your own mother. We have carried you for 10 months.” Or, “Why do our bills travel through the mail at twice the speed of your check?”
  2. When it’s appropriate to send flowers, don’t do it. Send cactus because they don’t die. Your gift will be in their office forever. A gift that “sticks.” I gave a 2-inch cactus plant to a businesswoman 21 years ago. It is now 23 inches high (they grow 1 inch per year). She hasn’t forgotten me.
  3. I was field-training a salesperson and we visited a potential client who had never placed an order. The client said, “John, I just keep forgetting you.” When we got outside, I asked the salesperson when the client’s birthday was. He didn’t know (not good) so he went inside and found out the birthday was the next day! We drove to a nearby mall and found our idea. An entrepreneur had a business of taking a person’s photo and scanning it on a long woven calendar. I told John to sit down and make a funny face for the photographer. He cowered, so I told him I would sit with him. I put my two fingers up, feather-style at the back of his head and John waved. The next day the calendar was on the client’s wall. He couldn’t forget us. John got his first-ever order the next week. When you’re out, how far out can you be? Be far out to get way in. Boring is out and creativity was, and still is, in.
  4. I attended a staff meeting with an aviation client in Albuquerque, N.M., and I looked outside and saw a 747 that was given to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for inspection training. I said to a salesperson, “Go get on the rear wing and get your photo taken.” Another person said, “The FAA would never let us do that.” I said, “Go call them.” The salesperson wound up getting his photo, on the wing, in his business attire for a post card that said, “When I said anytime and anyplace, I meant it!” I also got him to have a photo taken in a Santa Claus suit, on the wing, for his holiday cards. This salesperson went from last place to first in sales standings because he tried these logical and creative ideas. Not only did he have fun, but the clients loved his creativity. And he began coming up with his own ideas to add a little fun to his clients’ lives and inspire them to buy.
  5. Send telegrams to get a client’s attention. Sounds like old-school thinking? It’s not. If three packages from Federal Express, UPS and Western Union landed on your desk, which one would you open first? You didn’t think Western Union was still around? That’s why you use them!
  6. Any chief can take an assistant to lunch on National Executive Assistants Day. Wouldn’t it be better to take your “great one” to lunch a month before? Taking her/him on the same day everyone takes their assistant to lunch isn’t that special. Do it because it’s the right thing to do for a valuable person. You’ll be the winner. A day without sunshine is like… night.
  7. Instead of telling your No. 1 client, “Let’s do lunch,” set up a hot air balloon ride with breakfast. Get photos taken and put it in a frame for the client. And also get a “co-pilot” certificate for their wall as well. Beats lunch at a Holiday Inn any day of the week. You can also take them to the zoo, take them ice-skating or roller-skating, take them for golf or take them fishing… Just don’t let it be the one that got away.
  8. Instead of just buying all of your postage stamps from the post office, get your own stamps made with your photo to add to the envelope on letters to them. I race cars once in a while so my stamps feature me in a race-driving suit. Just a little attention-getter.
  9. Set up “Creativity Week” corporate-wide. Challenge your sales force to do 10 new things for 10 potential clients. Set up monetary incentives for the most creative ideas such as first, second and third place, but also award a bonus to the person that failed, even though the idea was ingenious. Set up the same incentives internally. Sometimes we have thoughts about some like, “If you gave him a penny for his thoughts, you would get change.” Well, challenge them to think more creatively and most will surprise you. You’ll get a quarter or more.
  10. Have some hard-to-see potential clients? Get an author of a book to place a personal statement along with the author’s autograph in their latest literary effort. The inscription could simply read, “To John Smith. Jane asked me to autograph this book for you…I hope you enjoy it.” Then sign it with your name. Many of the potential clients will call you before you call them.

All work and no play…
Work, work, work is what we are taught to do. I enjoy working with organizations to get them to slo-o-o-w down so that they can creatively think about changing the way they do things. Many people don’t think—they just do things out of habit. One client recently had a blank look. I asked him what he was thinking about. He said, “I just got lost in thought. It was unfamiliar territory.”

We drive to work the same way every day. We make sales calls like we did last year. We manage the same way without excitement. Think “new” and “creatively” every week. The primary thing we have to offer our clients and employees is our brain, but we often don’t take the quiet time, the thinking time, to get out of the box.

Face it—it may just be business, but business is personal. More often than not, we buy from who we know. Thus, marketing ourselves is as important as marketing our products and services. It’s an ever-changing world and our internal change better be ahead of the curve or it may become too late to catch up. Eagles soar and the pigeons get sucked up into jet engines. The sooner you fall behind, the more time you’ll have to catch up. It’s a no brainer choice—no creativity needed.

About the author
William “Bill” Blades, CMC, CPS, is a professional speaker and consultant specializing in sales and leadership issues. He is based in Scottsdale, Ariz. He can be reached at (480) 563-5355, (480) 563-0515 (fax), email: [email protected] or web:


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