By William Blades

“We have to start teaching ourselves not to be afraid.” —William Faulkner

I recently ran into an executive of a wholesaler firm who had followed my training and consulting services with interest for two years.

I asked him why he hadn’t engaged me, and he replied, “Bill, you scare us.” I asked, “Scared of growing sales too much or do you have a manager who doesn’t want to get better?” I knew what the answer was…and so did he. You see, the executive and his managers heard me speak at a convention. He said, “We want you to come help us.” He called me a week later to say “one of our managers wants to utilize a consultant who has been developing our lower-level supervisors as he is comfortable with him.” Translation: “We’re in a box and we don’t want more sales.” I wouldn’t be afraid of growing. I would, however, be very afraid of standing still.

To what degree?
Only about 1 out of 1 million salespeople has a degree in sales. Consequently, everyone must understand that the training and education they will receive is for their future well being. Past training and education is in the past. The question is, have they been given the best and up-to-date training for them to be the best sales group in the industry? If not, how do you expect them to gain such a reputation?

Geniuses join the Mensa society. The minimum IQ rating excludes the majority of us. My IQ tests results were negative. According to the World Features Syndicate Inc., 18 percent of U.S. Mensa members have master’s degrees or equivalent, and 30 percent earn $20,000-$40,000 annually.

What I gathered from those numbers was that a lot of smarts went for naught. Real-world training and education are better than being born smart because when the group is held accountable for acting on new skills, sales and margins go up. Why? Because the majority of your competitors are still making social visits like they did 20 years ago. You don’t agree? Just think of the large number of salespeople you have ever met in your lifetime. Now, think of the number of salespeople that blew you away because they had an aura of “The Mother of all Salespeople” and the successful track record to go with it—you can count them on one hand easily. If you think there’s good in every salesperson, I don’t think you have met all of them. The good ones know what they do matters. Others need to be taught to just go do it.

Face the music
Now, a few tough questions: Do you invest a minimum of 4 percent of your revenues into training and education? If you aren’t, are you really serious about dominating your market? Often, we invest into everything but our human capital.

Is 25 percent of your sales force famous or legendary because they are so good? Since an overwhelming number of salespeople are average, it’s quite easy to do a slam-dunk on just about everyone else. They just need to be shown how to excel and then be held accountable for such.

Do most of your salespeople act and execute as they did one year ago? Even five years ago? If the answer is yes, then provide coaching for your sales chief first. The sales chief must be growing at a faster rate than those under him. One vice president of sales recently arranged for me to work with his group. He said, “I must admit I am afraid of being exposed.” I said, “Good, the sooner the better. Then, we can eliminate the glaring weaknesses.”

When you put a version of total quality management (TQM) in place, do you do the same for the sales department? If not, everyone can be just pretty good and retain employment. Is every salesperson providing an abundance of value and joy for every prospective and existing client? If so, they are greatly ramping up sales. If they tell you repeatedly, “our price is too high,” they are just trying to sell stuff to people.

An exchange to remember
In a recent sales training program for a wholesaler, a young man asked to speak. He began, “When we started this program three months ago, I thought this…” Soon, I was sorry I had acknowledged “Craig’s” hand. He continued, “Then in my one-on-one session two months ago, the light bulbs came on and I was surprised and excited to find out how good it feels to be more successful.”

The exchange continued like this:

Me: How many new clients have you picked up in two months?
Craig: Six.
Me: Annualized volume?
Craig: Two million.
Me: What were your sales last year?
Craig: Three million.
Me: How much more will you add this year and tell us the clients, the primary products and exactly how will you make it happen?
Craig: Six million (and he gave all the details).

When I began my seminar, this kid had an attitude. Now, he really has an attitude! He was the first to buy my books and audio tapes. He understood what Mark Twain meant when he said, “The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.” I don’t know, nor do I care, about this youngster’s formal education, but he has become a very serious student. Serious students get serious results. I project him to be a superstar because he understands he must work harder on himself than he does for his employer. He reminds me of me 25 years ago.

Never enough skills
There are literally hundreds, yes hundreds, of skills to learn in the sales profession ranging from communication, focus, value/joy, time utilization, needs analysis, style and many other business attributes. Yet, we hire them and then tell them to hit the road with their existing skills and then we wonder what went wrong? Have each of your people acted on just 10 new skills in the past year? How about 6? 3?

Training isn’t a cost. Rather, it’s an investment to help you from getting the same tired results. One sure-fire way to gamble with your group’s future is by not training them. In today’s competitive world, that is no longer an option. The payback? It’s quite simple. The average salesperson loses 3-½ hours per day due to overall poor execution. Now, let’s say you have 20 people in the sales group.

Behind the numbers
Here are some things to think about.

  • 20 people times 3.5 hours daily = 70 hours lost daily
  • 250 work days times 70 hours lost daily = 17,500 hours gained/lost annually
  • 1 person at $50,000 in wages improving effectiveness 3.5 hours daily = $21,875 gained/lost annually
  • 20 people at $50,000 making the same improvements = $437,500 gained/lost annually
  • Over the next 5 years = $2,187,500 gained/lost annually

That’s just in salary and what they can be worth to you in improved effectiveness. Sales will pick up by almost/at least 50 percent per person. What’s that number in your case? Multiply it times 20 people. If a salesperson gives you his most effective time, he can’t give you a more precious gift.

We let them go through the motions of visiting and talking. That’s an old shotgun approach of just showing up and hoping. Showing up and talking or “shooting the breeze” is like an air rifle. The clients sit there and listen again to the same, tired monologue thinking, “Let me know if you suddenly become interesting.” We must understand that all of us have the “extraordinary” coded inside us just waiting to be released. Most everyone needs a little help in this area.

Now, I request that you ask yourself, “Are we really okay?” If anyone in your group answers “yes,” you should be afraid because one-half of all salespeople are below average. And then take courage, which is a majority of one.

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


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