February 6, 2012

Achieve Positive Sales Growth & Improve Your Future

By Henry Canaday

What’s stopping you from making the changes your business needs to thrive? The most dangerous move in business is the failure to make a move at all. The history of business is filled with companies that are no more because their leaders refused to enact change when the writing was on the wall. Fear. Apathy. Lack of personal responsibility. These simple human flaws can turn a good company into a dead company.

To manage change and implement positive growth, Selling Power interviewed global business celebrity and former Fortune 100 C-suite executive Jeffrey Hayzlett, whose expertise puts him at the forefront of the change revolution.

A leading business expert, Hayzlett has been cited in numerous books, magazines, and newspapers worldwide and is a frequent television guest and commentator, having appeared on shows including MSNBC’s Your Business, Fox Business News, and NBC’s Celebrity Apprentice with Donald Trump. With a strong following in business and social-media communities, he’s recognized as one of the top 10 C-suite tweeters and a key influencer in the social-media landscape.

In this exclusive interview, followed by expert commentary and a bonus book excerpt, you’ll learn why embracing change and adapting yourself to it can make your future.

Selling Power (SP): Do facing change and learning new things get tougher as people age? How should more experienced people deal with change?

Hayzlett: I think age makes [adapting to changes] easier. I don’t know what I don’t know, so I must be more aware and look more closely. With the right mood, I can learn something new, and then I can do something new or do it better. With the right mood, the newness itself isn’t new; it’s just the specific experience that is new. I look at it as constant change. For me it’s a blast. It’s like a drug. If I don’t have [change], I want it. So as you get older, you get more and more used to it.

SP: In your new book [Running the Gauntlet: Essential Business Lessons to Lead, Drive Change, and Grow Profits (McGraw-Hill, 2012)], you discuss 20 questions to ask before launching a project. What is most important to consider?

Hayzlett: It depends on the situation. The key thing to know is that you are doing the right thing for the right reason at the right time. A lot of businesses know only one way to do things, so they do things the same way all the time. You’ve got to get out of that. I want to create tension, because that leads to improvement and doing things differently. So you should ask questions that drive a debate. When you get people talking, then everyone is trying to improve, and people contribute more.

SP: Is there a conflict between maintaining confidence and doing your homework thoroughly? Do naturally confident people get a little overconfident?

Hayzlett: What happens is we don’t want to take the time to do our homework. And if we do our homework, we find out there are things we don’t know. Some people are overconfident. They just want to do deal after deal. But how can you improve if you don’t know what you need to know?

You need to be more aware of what you’re doing. Take the time. It will be painful sometimes. You need to get focused on how to step back and do the research. Ask questions. Spend some time at a competitor’s place. Go to a store and see how your partners are selling your product.

The best businesses are focused on how to grow top-line revenue, and that should produce bottom-line net profit. A lot of businesses would produce more profit by just increasing sales. I don’t know of a lot of problems that could not be solved by stronger sales.

SP: What do you look for in a team, especially a sales team, in terms of both skills and personalities?

Hayzlett: I look for people who are problem solvers, not problem bringers. I want people who bring the problem and its solution. I want cheerleaders, people who can rally the other people on the team. And I want people who span silos, who can work across the business. I want people who can work in the seams of the business. Those are the key attributes I look for.

SP: If being a jerk works, why should the jerk change?

Hayzlett: It doesn’t work for the long term. People will leave. My goals for my life are to build wealth for my family, because that is how we keep score; grow professionally; and have fun. Jerks are abusive and hard-core all the time, and people will not follow them forever. When people have an alternative, they will walk out.

And in the end, the only way we separate ourselves from competitors is our people. We have mostly the same products, services, terms, and conditions and, increasingly, the same prices. We differ by people, and jerks cannot keep good people long.

SP: If you work for a jerk, how do you maintain confidence and keep moving?

Hayzlett: Get out. Keep on learning and learn what not to do, and then get out. We can have this experience with a boss or customer or vendor. I got a request recently from someone who wanted me to represent him, and I didn’t want to. He asked me why not, and I said, “No hard feelings, but I don’t like you.” His style of management was not something I wanted to be around. Working for a jerk is like a bad marriage. Get out.

SP: How do you know when your approach is not working and you need to change it?

Hayzlett: It comes down to satisfaction. What are the promises you made to your customers or yourself? You should have a list of these promises that drive change. If you are not meeting these promises, it is time to change. If more people put time into developing this list of promises, we would waste a lot less time. We may be delivering a lot of nice things, but [the things we’re spending our time on now] may not be the things we promised to deliver.

How to Change a Sales Team: Tips from Six Experts

“When dealing with a group, there’s a bell curve [that extends] from those who embrace change to those who resist it and touches everyone else in between,” notes executive coach and author Julie Jansen. “You’ve got to involve the resisters and turn them into champions. [Dragging them along] does not work.”

Jansen advises giving both ends of the bell curve, those eager for change and those who might resist it, responsibilities for implementation. “Then these two ends will rally the middle,”she asserts.

To assess potential for change, change leaders must also understand their team’s skills, history, and experience. For example, many transformations these days involve technology, and salespeople vary widely in their skill and comfort levels with new tools. But most respond positively to the opportunity to learn new things through good training or mentoring.

Jansen says many firms have failed to put enough time in recent years into planning strategy: “They used to devote more effort into looking for the complications and problems and which stakeholders will be involved. Now they don’t think through the bumps in the road.”

Jan Kessinger, president of Henderson Kessinger Consulting, says the biggest obstacle to change is comfort with present methods. “Sales reps like success; they are proud of it and do not like to fail. In the short term, change means risk of failure. But in the long term, no change will mean failure for the company, as customers, markets, and competitors change. So salespeople must be willing to fail, and you must make it okay for them.”

Change also requires discipline and commitment, and this means changing habits and routines. “It takes about three to four weeks to change habits,” Kessinger says. “One way to do this is to change circumstances.”

Some firms change territory assignments fairly frequently just to shake things up. Kessinger continues, “You give up experience and relationships but bring fresh eyes and ears to the territory. There is something to that.”

Kessinger also urges managers to explain that changes will be adjusted based on reps’ experience. Best of all, sales reps can drive change themselves: “That makes it easier for them to embrace, and it’s a lot more fun to work in a place like that.”

John Hensel, president of Hensel Global, says sales reps are like everyone else facing change, only more so. “They are more independent with individual predispositions. If they are naturally open to change, they will be more open. The more entrepreneurial reps tend to be dynamic and open-minded. But if they have difficulty dealing with change, it will be even more challenging.”

Presentation counts when dealing with sales reps who tend to be more pragmatic than emotional about business. “If you are changing a territory or policy, make sure to tell them how it will increase sales and help their business,” Hensel urges. “You have got to be practical for reps, or they will resist harder than any other employees.”

Communicating change should be done in a way that is compatible with each rep’s personal style. Drivers think about results and want change communicated in bullet points, quick and easy. Hensel explains, “Give it to them quickly. All they care about is results, results, results. Spit back answers to their questions.”

Amiable reps, in contrast, care about the team, people, and harmony. They may fear that change will cause fighting and bickering. “Get them on board early and ask them to help approach others on the team. They love that, and they are loved by others,” Hensel says.

Beth Gulas, president of WorkForce Management, also sees reps differing widely in their reaction to change, some fearful and some enthusiastic. Moreover, change usually happens when numbers are bad or when management wants to improve the numbers, putting more pressure on reps. “They have been making quota and have their networks, so they wonder, what is this for?” says Gulas.

Most reps simply do not understand why change is occurring. “An executive thinks about it for three months, talks to a few people, and then announces it suddenly,” Gulas notes. “Boom, productivity plummets.”

Gulas argues for a period of adjustment for reps, to understand why change is happening, what it will look like, and what the benefits will be. “Salespeople want to know what’s in it for them. And the more people you involve in it, the better, because you will have more missionaries,” she says.

So communication has to be better, more frequent, and deeper during change. And change takes time, requiring stamina and follow-through. “It’s a culture change,” Gulas stresses. “Everyone is excited at first and then six months later will be asking when it’s going to be over.”

Aubrey Daniels, president of Aubrey Daniels International, says it is a mistake to concentrate too much on communicating new methods, “to talk people into change.” That can lead people into doing the same thing they’ve always done but harder, digging themselves deeper into the hole.

Rather, managers should change behavior by changing the consequences of behavior. “Identify the behaviors that tie into sales results. These are the behaviors you want your team to exhibit. Track them and reward them,” says Daniels.

Many managers proceed this way but look for big, dramatic behavior changes fast. Daniels says that is the wrong way to do it: “Start small and build your salespeople’s confidence. Small increments produce large changes over time. Look for them to do one new thing each day.”

Daniels thinks it is important for reps to reward themselves for successful change. “Go home early, go to a movie, or take a trip when you close a big deal the new way. When you’re in a slump and get a sale, you want to stick with it. But if you take a break to give yourself a reward, you will return more eager to sell.”

For managers, Daniels’s counsel is simple: “Find the behaviors you need, track them, reward them, and do it again and again.”

Tom Hopkins, president of Tom Hopkins International, emphasizes the slow and uncertain economy as one source of debilitating fear right now. “Most of today’s reps and sales managers learned in the boom economy of 2002 to 2008 – really hot times when everything worked. Now buyers are all but immobilized, and it sometimes seems that nothing works.”

Hopkins urges managers to make reps understand that the US economy is naturally cyclical, and there is gold even in downturns as others get discouraged. Managers must be cheerleaders, setting goals and changing attitudes. The 2012 economy should heat up, but only for companies and sales reps who began preparing for it well before the new year. Concludes Hopkins, “If you wait until it happens, it won’t happen for you. When things are tough, you just have to work harder.”

A Sneak Peek

In this (condensed) chapter from Jeffrey Hayzlett’s book Running the Gauntlet: Essential Business Lessons to Lead, Drive Change, and Grow Profits (McGraw-Hill, 2012), you’ll learn how to become a change agent by getting past the first three seconds of fear.

Fear stops most people.
Change agents welcome it.
Get past your fear.
Act with confidence and be willing to be a beginner.

In a previous chapter, I showed my thought process by going through the 20 questions I always ask before launching a project. When I was reviewing some old presentations, I found this list for competitive change:

  1. Know your conditions of satisfaction.
  2. Have a winning attitude – get over your fear and be a beginner.
  3. Know your business and the business of good management.
  4. Have enough money and capital to move ahead.
  5. Pay attention to details.
  6. Build a team that can succeed.
  7. Manage your time better – get out of the way and delegate.
  8. Have the tools to complete the job you promised.
  9. Keep the customer satisfied with your quality and responsiveness.
  10. Compete smartly and power through on your promises.

It’s pretty basic, but that’s the point! Circumstances may change, but the attitude leaders must have when they’re driving change through a business doesn’t. You stand in the way of a winning attitude when you refuse to stretch yourself to be a beginner. You’ll go into everything thinking you know the answers. All that does is prevent leaders from being surprised by what the answers will be. And I want to be surprised.

Being willing to be a beginner is how you get past your “three seconds of fear.” Three seconds: that’s the difference between doing something and not doing it. And change agents welcome those three seconds. Feeling that fear means we are embarking on something great. But we must get over those three seconds, because the gauntlet of change is scary enough to look down. We are facing big problems with huge challenges, and we know that we cannot and will not always succeed. Fear only gets in the way.

That includes a fear of those who disagree with us and can help define that change through healthy debate. Our increasingly one-sided political culture has infected many of us with a desire to listen only to people who agree with us, as if listening to the other side and engaging it is a sign of weakness. Actually, the opposite is true, especially in business. I know tons of people who run great businesses but are lousy change agents because they are singleminded asses – total jerks who eat up their people and those who disagree with them. Sometimes these jerks win, but not over the long haul. Good change agents string a lot of great successes together. Healthy debate pushes us to better define our principles and consider new possibilities. It shouldn’t make leaders doubt what they are doing.

After all, leaders learn quickly that many of the changes they seek won’t be right the first time (beginner’s luck notwithstanding).

That’s the first test of this attitude: adjust and try to be better, or stop and say that we tried that and it did not work. When I started playing rugby, my team didn’t know anything. We lost our first game 80-0. The other team made fun of us. It was awful. But none of us walked away. We realized that we were still learning and we needed to adjust. For example, I learned just how slow I was that first game: they measured my speed with a calendar. So I took a different approach: I played up my size and gave dastardly and aggressive looks. I growled and beat my head on the ground.

I pretended I was a buffalo and gnawed at the grass. I did everything to convince them I was crazy. And the first guy still crushed me. But I stuck with it and resolved along with the team to get it right or be mediocre at best. We won that game.

That’s what a winning attitude and a willingness to be a beginner is all about. But if you notice, as is sometimes the case with me, I just stepped in number two on my old list! We still need to attack number one.

Jim Collins cautioned us to avoid the hubris of our own success: don’t be too rigid or too steadfastly tied to the way it’s always been and fail to think about the way it is going to be. To me, avoiding this mistake comes down to one word, awareness, and awareness comes down to one of my favorite expressions: admitting you don’t know what you don’t know. When I walk around New York City, where I now live part of the time, I’m still a big kid from South Dakota. I get excited when I walk outside every day, and I can’t believe I get to do what I do with so many great people and companies. That’s what being a beginner is about for me – that’s what keeps me grounded and constantly aware: the joy of discovering what I don’t know every day! And I try to stay in that sense of awareness in everything I do, excited and unafraid to be a beginner. I walk in with an ego and then let it go.

Be like this and maybe you can avoid what Dina Kaplan, the cofounder of blip.tv, told me she did wrong when her company launched: “We thought we had this great product, and we just thrust it on our users and said, ‘Here you go!’ We should have paused, listened to the influencers in our world, built up friendships and trust, and then asked: ‘What do you think of this product we’ve been working on? How can we improve it?’ You don’t enter a conversation by yelling at people; you enter it by pausing and listening and only then, after some time, speaking up.”

Joe Pulizzi, a content marketing evangelist and “lover of all things orange,” made the same mistake: “I fell in love with the idea of our product. Not that it was a bad product, but it just wasn’t needed in the industry as much as I thought. I sought out advice from my mentors too late in the process. They saw this coming way before I did. If I had a do-over, I would have talked to my mentors at least every other month instead of about every six months.”

Ann M. Devine, executive director of Pi Sigma Epsilon (the national sales and marketing fraternity), echoes both of these change agents: “In all the companies I worked with and for, they all had one thing in common: whether they were a small business or Fortune 1000, at some point they forgot about the basics. Simple things like segmenting markets, increasing revenues and decreasing expenses, or thinking marketing was creating brochures and catalogs.”

Overconfidence, arrogance, forgetting the basics . . . three of the deadliest sins that leaders commit when they fail to check in constantly and forget the basic rules of testing and trying things out before they go. In other words, “kids,” take our advice: do your homework and ground yourself in the processes, data, and marketing expertise you need if you are to succeed.

To order Running the Gauntlet and learn more about Jeffrey Hayzlett, log on to hayzlett.com.