Best Experienced With: Jimmy Buffet; A Pirate Looks at 40
(Please right click on the link below to cue up the suggested background music for this treatise.)
Looks at 40? Looks? I blew right through 40 in fifth gear. The devil is not wise because he is the devil, the devil is wise because he is old. With that mind, let’s examine sales training, great behavior, and predictive stuff. As always, this is only one man’s opinion. A man that owns seven cats.
Am heading to Texas this week to join some old friends and some new friends for an eight day training session. Man, but we love participating in training here in The Attic! Of all the business activities I have had the pleasure of participating in, watching the transformation of new sales professionals from the first evening to the end of the final training day always puts a big, silly grin on my face.
While preparing for training, the faces of some of the best students run through my mind. Have seen hundreds of surgical sales reps go through training over the past twenty years. All are unique. All should be treated uniquely because everyone learns differently. Some are “top ten percenters” and those are the ones I picture while preparing.
Here are the top three from the past twenty years and, more important, what made them memorable.
First person I ever hired as a surgical sales person back in 1992 and today am truly fortunate to count him among my best friends. Marvin has excelled at selling in three separate market spaces and taught me the phrase “selling isn’t telling.”
Marvin showed up in Cincinnati for his interview and answered my “what are your personal limitations” question like this. He paused, looked down, looked confused, and then deadpanned the following: “well, I can work for about two and a half days straight, but I’m going to need eight hours on that third night.” Then he sat there, patient and stone-faced, waiting for the next question.
Some examples of what made Marvin great:
- Marvin had a section in his Franklin Planner labeled “Poppy” (that’s a euphemism for Mully). As questions came up during the day, he meticulously wrote them in his book and we would go through the questions at night, during non-selling time. He did not call every thirty minutes, while driving, with no ability to take notes. He also then had a record of all the questions and the answers at his fingertips. He did not have to boot up a computer to look something up…………the answers were with him in the OR.
- He bought me pizza a lot.
- The in-service on your primary product is the most critical seventeen minutes with prospective customers. Marvin had me write out an eight page in-service long hand. He took it home and recorded it on a cassette tab verbatim. He listed to that tape while driving around IN, OH, and KY. He picked me up at a Northern Ohio airport and we drove five hours down to West Virginia doing a seventeen minute inservice back and forth non-stop. His idea.
Jen (2006 and 2007)
Had the pleasure of having Jen in training at two separate healthcare companies. I choose to start training on Sunday afternoons and run late into the evening. Midnight is always a good stop time when you are starting the Monday class at 6:30 a.m., but if you have to go until 1:00 a.m., that’s OK. This sets a good tone and pace, especially when the class is going to be in surgery every day early…..and every day late.
Jen is a Steelers fan and we began her 2006 training class on February 5, 2006. Yes, you are correct. That is the evening the Steelers played in that NFL championship game in the ugliest and most war torn city to ever host a Super Bowl, Detroit. Based upon Detroit getting a Super Bowl, Cleveland should be in contention next, followed by Youngstown, OH, Gary, IN, and then Newark, NJ.
We worked through most of that Super Bowl evening and Jen did not complain. Throughout the week she took copious notes, scored the highest on 90% of the tests and quizzes, and sought out extra time to present. I always allow anyone in any class to stay as late as they wish to practice on products and Jen was the last to leave the building most evenings. I had to throw her out of the building. That was not as hard as it sounds because Jen is quite diminutive and has holes bored into her head like a bowling ball.
From day one at the first company through this morning, Jen has been the epitome of high maintenance, Type A, and idiosyncrasies. And, most of the best sales people exhibit all three of these.
Jessica stood out in a large class, full of talented individuals. Moreover, she was brand new to surgical sales where half the class had significant experince. The first two days, she was the epitome of what a “newbie” should be: soaked in everything like a sponge, did not ripple the water, and only asked a few, well thought out questions. If you are new to a company, “silent and sponge like” is always a good offense for the first year or so.
You can tell a great deal about how well a person is going to sell while watching them after hours. You can tell who is disciplined and respectful and you can tell who will be able to use the power of a positive “no” properly. This is especially true when you have 90% men and 10% women, as is the typical proportion in surgical sales. Although goaded on the third evening, Jessica drank water and cheerfully declined all offers of alcohol flavored beverages. Further, she bowed out early most evenings to study. It is easy to say “yes”: the best sales professionals are able to harness the power of a positive “no”.
Jessica never went anywhere without her notebook and sparks flew from the speed at which she wrote. We powered most of the building that week from just the pen’s kinetic energy. When all fifteen members of her class left the classroom for an important session, she was the only one to bring her notebook. This vexed me because every word that comes out of my mouth is solid gold. Jessica was also the only one I did not have to instruct to walk all the way back to the classroom to get a pad and pen. We spent the time waiting for the others arm wrestling and she beat me 43/47 times. YTD, Jessica has the highest sales revenue from the class from the highest number of purchase orders.
If you are a sales manager, it’s good to track both total revenue and number of PO’s. The latter shows a high activity level and is a predictor of future sales from a wider base of customers. Jessica has the highest activity level I have ever seen in a “new” sales professional and meticulously executes the plan she writes each Sunday.
All The “Top Ten Percenters”
If you had a gun to one of my cat’s heads and asked for the common eleven items that set apart the three individuals above, as well as the top folks in most classes, all exhibit 11/11 of the following:
- Great partners to their mates.
- Great parents to their children.
- Asked great questions….questions that did not begin with the incorrect pronouns “I” and “me”
- All took copious notes at all times.
- Learned their products and everyone else’s via rote memorization before they came to class. This allowed them to treat training as a finishing school, as opposed to kindergarten.
- None said “but”
- None say “I didn’t have time to……” You always have time; it’s what you choose to do with that time that sets apart the true great ones. No one truly runs out of time, we all get 86,400 seconds in a day. How wisely you use them is up to you. Proper time management is a sign of discipline.
- All were in their seats ready to go a few minutes before breaks ended. This demonstrates respect for everyone’s time.
- All knew that business trips are not Spring Break. They would retire to their rooms to study instead of heading to the hotel bar.
- All said what they meant, meant what they said and acted in a fashion that was consistent with what they said.
- Great partners to their mates and parents to their children. This is not a typo: I know it was #1 and #2. Both are a significant predictor of business success.
You may be asking “how does that equate to sales success because the only way to measure sales success is with the numbers at the end of the day?” Great question! When I pay someone to cut my grass, I expect the lawn to be fully mowed at the end of the mowing session. Not 72% mowed or even 97% mowed. Success at cutting my lawn means that you cut the entire lawn. If you tried really hard to cut my lawn, or had the shiniest lawn mower ever, or you worked really long hours and yet still did not manage to get the entire lawn mowed? What am I going to do when my lawn needs mowing?
“Mowing” is a far superior word to “cutting” because it is a far more humorous word.
I’m going to go find someone else to cut my lawn. If you are a great person and we get along well, but you fail to completely cut the lawn as per our agreement? Please move in next to me and be my neighbor! We can have barbeques and chat over the fence each evening, but I still do not want you mowing my lawn.
The answer to your question is all three apt pupils have demonstrated exceptional success after sales training. Marvin has been in the top 10% in sales volume everywhere he has sold and I expect him to always be in the top 10%. Jen is has been number one for the last three years and set every record at her current company (top line revenue, EBITDA, most number of Jello squares “snarfed” in two minutes, yadda yadda). Jessica took a vacant, non performing territory, squeezed every dollar she could out of it through hard work and perseverance, and will be in the top three out of fifty plus sales people on December 31. My crystal ball says she will be number one.
Why is performance at sales training so predictive? If you look at the stories about Marvin, Jen, and Jessica and the eleven items in the list, all are what your customers expect out of a great sales representative. I have led a lot of sales classes over the years and can tell you by the middle of the week who is going to make it over a long event horizon, who will fail, and who might have one of those outlier years before falling back towards the mean. Your customers have seen a lot of sales people and they see what I see. Since they have the money, your customers are as exacting in their standards as I am. And my bar is somewhere around 35,000 feet.
It is challenging to hide behaviors or who someone really is during six, fourteen hour days. A solid week of training shows who you really are as a person and as a sales professional.
These two go together like LeBron and Shaq. Just as all life lessons are business lesson, all life behaviors translate into business behaviors. If you are a good listener normally, you’ll probably be a great sales person. If you are on time and cognizant of others in your personal life, that is how you will be in business. If you are disciplined in your personal life (reading, working out, spending), you will most likely be a disciplined, successful sales professional.
Am very much looking forward to October 23 to October 30th because there is nothing in this world as fulfilling as having the chance to interact with the next Marvin, Jen, and Jessica.
I learn far more from them than they learn from me.
The Mind of Mully
Now I go for younger women, lived with several a while
Though I ran ‘em away, they come back one day
And still can manage to smile.
It just takes a while. It just takes a while…………..