Last month a dealer called me. We will change the names to protect the innocent here, but you would probably recognize his dealership if you are anywhere on the eastern seaboard! Seems that he was a bit concerned that Mike Macecsko, our training director, had issued a pretty serious challenge to his sales manager, and the guy had taken it to heart.
Mike saw some really bad habits in an otherwise pretty decent sales team, so he was trying to relate his concerns to the manager. While explaining the need to stir the pot and get the team out of their comfort zones, Mike used the example that "even if they were to hire an entirely new crew, they could sell as many bikes, if not more, than the existing crew would because the new guys wouldn’t have any bad habits (pronounced "comfort zones").
Comfort isn’t necessarily a good thing for a sales team. But the sales manager somehow came away from the conversation intent to live up to the old Airborne motto: "Kill ’em all, and let God sort ’em out!"
This guy had decided to shake it up … completely!
Sure, stagnant salespeople need to be shaken a bit and creative people don’t like routine and don’t perform at their best when stuck in a rut. As a rule, they love change and hate routine. Good managers shuffle the cards often so that things don’t become too sluggish, but don’t over do it, either.
The sales manager told the owner he was gonna fire his whole crew of ten salespeople in the middle of May no less! all because "Mike said so!" Unfortunately, the sales manager interpreted Mike’s extreme "even if" as a literal suggestion. Nothing quite so dramatic was merited. But shaken or stirred, a well-made martini requires mixing things up. That was Mike’s point.
A sales team, especially a stagnant one, also requires a good mixing. Stir in some discomfort when the guys sit on their heels and sell from within their comfort zones. There are many ways to accomplish this.
Speaking of stirring (and continuing on the theme of hiring), try this: Instead of going crazy and firing your sales veterans, I dare you to hire another salesperson … stir the pot. Hire someone that doesn’t know the season is winding down. Someone who doesn’t know about that "one" bike, you know, the bike that sort of disappeared into the back corner of the showroom because "nobody would buy it". The one all the other salespeople ignore.
I’ll bet you that with the new guy on the floor, that bike gets sold before the season ends. I’ll bet that the existing crew gets pissed off that the new guy sold this albatross hanging around the dealership’s neck and made them all look bad. What do you care, it’s gone isn’t it?
Most of the existing sales team will write it off as beginner’s luck. Of course its beginner’s luck, what the heck could a rookie possibly know? He’s just a rookie, right? The beauty of a rookie is that if he doesn’t know enough to know what he doesn’t know … and he doesn’t know what he can’t do!
That might just be the straw that stirs the drink to get the rest of your sales force to stop resting on their laurels and sell a few more bikes? Forget the martinis, start popping champagne corks when the veterans start vying with the rookie for closing deals on "unsellable" bikes! And all because you stirred some discomfort into the mix.
There are other approaches too, ones with a more positive spin. Incentives, competition and bonuses can all be used to shake up your sales department.
Take that same albatross. It’s been on the floor for three years, costing you thousands in flooring. Here’s a bold thought: offer a $1000 spiff to anyone who gets it out the door.
I did that once with a bike approaching its fourth birthday. After my little $1000 ante was placed, the bike was gone in a week. We had already lost a couple thousand with it sitting there, but the $1000 incentive was less than we would have lost by letting it sit another year. The dealer principal was happy to see it gone. The buyer was thrilled to get an incredible deal and the salesperson was beaming. A win/win scenario … where have you heard that before?
Mike’s true challenge was that if you get some fresh thinking into the mix fresh meat in the minds of the veterans the existing crew might just get up off their big fat … ahem, heels … and start selling on purpose. Great salespeople solve their way out of a slump. But they also need new challenges to solve.
When there aren’t any obstacles or crazy customer objections, even the best salespeople tend to sink to the easiest solutions available. They (I should be saying "we" here since I still consider myself a sales guy at heart) look for and find the path of least resistance.
I’ve heard it said that the biggest challenge for a sales manager is to get highly creative people the type of people that gravitate to sales the people who get bored with anything repetitive, to do the same thing over and over again in a disciplined and repeatable way. Of course, I’ve also heard that the definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again and expect a different result!
Trust me, you really can get there from here, so long as you are willing to stir/shake things up once in a while … Just be cautious of going overboard like our gung ho sales manager and his error of enthusiasm.