We’re living in a high-tech environment where everything changes,” says Stuart Levine, CEO of Dale Carnegie & Associates, Inc., “therefore we must continually change, adapt and invent new ways for doing business.”
During the last three years, the Dale Carnegie Training organization has gone through more changes than in the past decade. The reasons? “If you want to stay competitive, you have to stay one step ahead of your competition,” Levine explains. “The pace of innovation has accelerated; there is an avalanche of new products on the market. At the same time, the pace of information has accelerated and people suffer from information overload. To differentiate yourself from the competition we have to accelerate learning and improve our ability to relate to one another.”
Levine feels that the rapid advances in technology create a higher need for improving relationships. “Technology has had a huge impact on our business day. For example, a few years ago, I received all my mail in the morning and phone calls during the day. Today, my day is far more fragmented by interruptions – I get voice mail, faxes and e-mail messages every 10 minutes, 24 hours a day, from every corner of the world. We’re entering into what is called a demassified society,” Levine explains, “and technology is stimulating that. As a result, people often feel less connected to one another. While technology drives our business environment, the substance of business is driven by relationships.”
Levine emphasizes the fact that teamwork has become essential to survive in business. He says, “Our research shows that teamwork reduces stress and improves the bottom line. Success in business is a result of diversified teams working together toward a common goal. If you don’t have solid relationship skills, you’re headed for trouble.” When asked what it takes to be an effective team member, Levine underlines the ideas developed by Dale Carnegie: “Healthy self-esteem is essential. People with high self-esteem are able to give appreciation to others; as a result team creativity soars and productivity improves.”
“The key to staying current in a fast changing world,” emphasizes Levine, “is the ability to change, to learn and to grow.” He explains, “Every quarter I put myself into a new learning experience, a seminar to better understand the world, or a course to learn new skills to prepare myself for new challenges.” Like Dale Carnegie, Levine believes that we all have the opportunity to grow beyond our expectations providing we take charge of our attitudes and skills.
Levine sees Dale Carnegie Training as a thought leader in a rapidly changing world in which business leaders demand better solutions from their people so they can ensure profitability and pursue future growth.
The New Leadership
Eager to carry the Dale Carnegie message into the ’90s and beyond, Levine and Michael Crom co-authored The Leader in You (Simon & Schuster, 1993).
While the marketing concept behind the book may have been to position the Dale Carnegie Training brand name with the issue of leadership, Levine and his team organized a worldwide media blitz and soon the book became an international bestseller. Translated into 20 languages, hardcover and softcover sales soon topped a million copies worldwide.
“In order to improve an organization’s performance, leaders must be developed at every level,” Levine explains. “Our research has identified that the most significant challenge facing organizations and leaders today is recruiting and retaining quality people. We should all remember what Dale Carnegie taught: Always see things from the other person’s point of view. I never want to impact negatively on my people’s self-esteem or individual dignity. “
The manager who motivates through fear and intimidation will meet limited success in today’s climate, according to Levine. A new generation of leaders is emerging – leaders who motivate through listening, processing and distilling information into positive action.
Leadership in Action
In an effort to boost market share, Stuart Levine began a restructuring process. Taking a lesson from his own book, Levine challenged the entire organization to generate new ideas and create innovative solutions to satisfy the changing needs of the 21st-century customer.
Levine describes the struggle that preceded the change: “After years of continued success, we noticed that market share started to decline. And when you have a decrease in sales, you take it personally. We put it all on the table and developed a process for bringing people together to work on common goals. This process is tied to two key factors. One, that everything we did would be based on research, and two, that cross-functional teams would process the resulting information and drive decisions.”
All aspects of Dale Carnegie Training’s business were reviewed, improved and aligned with the changing needs in the marketplace. The result has been a complete reversal of a downward business trend. The product development team cut the product cycle time, the time it takes from the conception of an idea to the time it’s delivered, from 18 months to 39 days.
To redesign the Dale Carnegie Sales Course, Levine assembled a cross-functional team of 80 people consisting of salespeople, trainers, customers and sponsors. The result of this team effort was the new Sales Advantage program.
A World-Class Sales Course
“Although over one-half million people had graduated from the Dale Carnegie Sales Course,” Levine explains, “worldwide research showed that selling had shifted from the traditional track-driven concept, where salespeople relied on memorized lines, to a relationship-driven process where the customer is at the controls.” Like bacteria that have grown resistant to antibiotics, customers have grown resistant to old-style sales approaches. Levine asserts: “That’s why we have developed a more dynamic model. Sales is a process that includes a variety of human factors and business concerns that happen all at once. You can’t manipulate customers with a canned approach. In the new course we don’t talk about closing hard and early. We don’t use memorized language like ‘If I could show you a way . . . would you be interested?’ If a salesperson insults your intelligence by giving you a memorized pitch that’s not based on your individual needs, you’ll show that salesperson the door in about six seconds.”
Levine reminds us of the core values of the Dale Carnegie Training success system: “What hasn’t changed over the years is that we have to see things from the customer’s point of view. We have to understand what somebody wants to buy before we start selling. Good salespeople help their customers express their needs more effectively.”
In the new course, salespeople spend a great deal of time practicing a new way of communicating with their customers. Levine explains: “Prospects and customers today want you to communicate your message clearly, succinctly and in terms that highlight their interests. You have to get to the essence faster and distill the information clearly to its core. Otherwise they’re going to start wondering what’s on another channel and tune you out.”
Some of the new components of the Sales Advantage program include solution-oriented selling, time management skills, motivating others, building important networks and team selling.
Fundamentals Never Change
“There are some universal, time-tested human relations principles,” Levine adds, “that are essential for salespeople to maintain. Skills like building rapport, developing a relationship, remembering people’s names and pronouncing them properly, listening to learn and not just to respond with a clever comment, the ability to smile – those fundamentals are essential for sales success as well as for success in life.”
Levine flashed a big smile when he produced a survey developed by Motorola University showing customer satisfaction of sales course graduates has reached an all-time high of 94 percent.
Levine sees a greater need for the Dale Carnegie Training message today than ever before. He clearly makes the distinction between class communication and mass communication. “With the press of a button I can send a message to the entire organization. I do that periodically to distribute general information. But when I want to express my appreciation to one of our associates for a job well done, I use my own special stationery and write a handwritten note. People want to feel that their dignity, self-respect and self-esteem are being accounted for. They know that e-mail comes from a computer while a handwritten note comes from the heart.”
If Dale Carnegie were alive today, he’d quickly grab his fountain pen and write an enthusiastic note of thanks to Stuart Levine for leading 3,000 instructors to teach over 150,000 people a year so they can win more friends and influence more people and sell more products and services than Dale Carnegie himself ever thought possible.