Heather was ready to fire every salesperson in the office. Just over six weeks earlier, she had contracted with an outside marketing firm to put a direct mail piece together and handle the mailing to their internal database of customers, former customers, and prospects. The response to the mailing was incredible. Just over an eight percent return, 251 requests from non-customers alone, for the sales staff to call. Yet, the salespeople had not been able to make a single appointment.
“Okay,” said Heather starting the meeting, “I really need to know what is going on with this.” She pointed to the pile of follow-up forms. “Help me understand why not a single appointment?”
At first no one would make eye contact with her. Then Greg, a long time salesperson with the company, responded. “It’s like this, Heather, Chris and I called about half of our assigned requests. With the few we got through to, none of them really wanted to do anything. Chris and I think this marketing company that was hired has no idea how to qualify.”
Then Chris added, “Before you came here, the company did the same thing once before. The leads were worthless. If the company gave us good leads, we could produce. It’s not our fault.”
“Is that what all of you believe?” she asked of the group. Everyone in the room either mumbled “yes” or nodded in agreement.
“I appreciate the problem . . . but help me out for a moment. Greg, you said, tell me if I get this wrong, that you called about half, let’s see,” referring to her notes, “that means you called about fifteen and then you went on to say “of those you reached,” specifically, how many was that?”
“Well,” said Greg looking towards Chris, “I got through to about four.”
“Of those four, how many were the person who filled out the card?”
“Putting it that way, Heather, one or two but . . .”
“No, no,” responded Heather. “Chris, same questions as I just asked Greg.
With a glance towards Heather, he responded, “One.”
Heather is focusing on the problem, as opposed to what the salespeople want the problem to be.
Salespeople, if their performance as a group is not meeting a predefined level, will band together to find a common rationale to explain away their lack of performance. While the rationale may or may not make sense, the banding together happens almost 100 percent of the time.
While you may want to have a sales team, you probably don’t want to have a sales team united in its vocalization of why sales objectives aren’t being met. Why? The herd mentality takes hold. You’ve heard the phrase, safety in numbers? Well, if all the salespeople huddle together and present a united front, then they will make it through the long, cold night. The wolves won’t manage to snatch one away. And if the wolves do get one, it will be the one who wanders from the herd. Group pressure can be useful, but it is more often destructive.
The problem the salespeople are having is simply one of fear. They fear, as a group, the horror of failure. Banding together is their way of dealing with the fear of failure. By banding together, they pressure themselves into believing the problem lies not in their own selves, but somewhere else, most likely in that abstract place called “the company.”
It’s easy to give into the group. Don’t. The minute you give in and go along, you have lost your effectiveness.
The first step in avoiding the herd mentality is recognizing it. References to the past are almost always heard, pun intended. “We did this before and it didn’t work.” Don’t get caught up in trying to solve a problem that happened before. You can’t go back in time.
Second, you don’t have a group of salespeople; you have a group of individuals. Manage the individual, not the group. If you insist on managing a group, you will get only what the group agrees you should get. If you manage an individual, you can get what both you and that salesperson agree on as appropriate behavior.
Third, demonstrate your commitment to management by individual. In the story, Heather should proceed to ask each salesperson the same two questions. While this may put some people on the spot, it also sends the message that the herd mentality is not acceptable.
You need strong individuals, not a herd of sheep.
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