"The Navigator" News Blog

What Does It Mean to ‘Invest In Yourself?’

I’ve talked a lot in this space about salespeople and their tendency to not invest in themselves and their own productivity.  I’m constantly amazed at the fact that, despite sales being one of the highest-paid professions, most salespeople won’t spend $20 on a book to build their skills.  Let’s get beyond that, though, and let’s discuss real and genuine investment.  Let me tell you about Dave.

Dave is a salesperson for an office supply company in the Midwest.  In fact, Dave is, and was, the company’s top salesperson.  Six years ago, Dave had a problem.  He was topped out.  His territory was strong and he was making decent money, and he had a strong and stable customer base.  Most salespeople, at this point, would have gone into “coast and collect” mode.  Those salespeople would have watched that huge base of business decline over a period of years, too, but that’s beside the point of this story.

One of Dave’s attributes is that he is very good at self-analysis.  When Dave analyzed himself as a salesperson, he new very clearly that he had one primary strength.  Dave is that rarest of salespeople.  He’s a pure “hunter.”  Dave is at his best when he’s chasing, presenting and winning, new business. Dave is like a seasoned thoroughbred racehorse.  On the other hand Dave recognized his primary weakness: He not a Farmer. Account management is neither his favorite part of selling, nor his top skill set.  Dave still wanted to grow his territory.  But all those hard-won accounts were now monopolizing his time, so how would he do it? He was at a greater risk of losing many of those hard earned accounts because he couldn’t keep up with the daily administration.

Dave did what a lot of salespeople would do first.  He went to management and asked about getting a skilled inside account manager to augment his efforts.  Management, looking at dollars and cents, and felt it wasn’t in the budget. So, this is where Dave got creative.  A couple of offices down sat another salesperson named Karen.  Karen had been with the company for just a few years, and Dave had noticed that Karen was a very gifted administrator, and that cold calling and knocking on doors was not her primary strength.

Dave approached Karen to see if she might be interested in making a shift in her responsibilities and becoming the inside account manager for the new Dave/Karen account management team. Dave would be the knock-on-door-cold-calling machine and Karen would take over the admin side. As Dave would say “I will Kill ‘em, Karen will Grill ‘em”. (NOTE – no actual customers were harmed in the making of this sales success story.) Dave figured that he and Karen, both using their specific skill sets and talents, would be a dynamic sales machine.

To make this work, Dave and Karen would merge their businesses into one territory. Dave then gave up part of his own compensation to increase Karen’s earnings. From that point on as the business grew, both Dave and Karen would benefit financially with continual account growth.  The company’s ownership, to their credit, allowed this innovation.  Thus, Dave and Karen determined that focusing their own individual strengths could catapult them to greater success and higher earnings.

If you’re waiting for me to tell you how the story went wrong, you’re going to be waiting a long time.  It’s been a rousing success.  Six years later, Dave’s territory (remember, already the company’s largest), now the Dave/Karen team’s, has grown over 260%.  This unique team approach has been wildly successful.  By far and away they are the top producers for the company in terms of sales revenue, gross profit, new account acquisition, customer retention and customer satisfaction.

Dave acknowledges that there is no doubt that Karen, with her inside account management gifts, is a heroine in her own right.  Not only does she retain accounts, but she also helps to grow those existing accounts.  The team of Dave and Karen could be a prototype for sales success.  What makes it work?  Let’s ask Dave.

“For us,” he says, “It was really about capturing and combining both of our unique talents, giftings and personality traits. It was also about completely honest in recognizing areas of ‘less than’ qualities. I’m good at certain parts of selling, and so is Karen. Between the two of us, we add up to a great sales team.” Dave says that it’s New Sales Math… One plus One equals Six. “Since both of us are working in our personal talent zone, we are motivated and happy. Yes, did I say happy. Ultimately it translates to having happy satisfied customers that notice a significant difference in their perception of our company, the services we offer, and most importantly how they are treated by Karen and myself. I’m sure you have heard the saying about marriage; Happy Wife, Happy Life. Well, Happy Customer, Happy Commission Check.”

This, Dave thinks, can be or should be a model for other salespeople and companies.  He’s probably right.

I believe that many company managers and sales people won’t take the risk or make the personal financial investment to see if they can multiply their output. If you have a territory that’s reached its practical limit in terms of productivity, maybe it’s time to think out-of-the-box like Dave and Karen.  Dave reminded me that Henry Ford’s greatest invention wasn’t the Model T automobile, it was the assembly line. Instead of building cars one at a time, as before, Ford subdivided the responsibilities with people using their greatest gifts and proficiencies and produce a thousand automobiles a day.

Here are the issues as I see them.

In any company, the sales role essentially consists of three elements:

  1. New account selling – prospecting, needs analysis, presenting, proposing, closing. This all falls under the umbrella of “Acquisition” selling.
  2. Driving growth in existing accounts through upselling, cross-selling, etc. I refer to this as “Development” selling.
  3. Retaining existing accounts through relationship development. This is “Retention” selling.

Let’s be honest.  Few salespeople – even superstars – are superstars at all of those elements.  I would bet that at least 80% of all salespeople would welcome the opportunity to sub out parts of the sales process that are not their favorites.  For instance, I’d guess that somewhere around half of salespeople would gladly get rid of prospecting if they could.

Many of those salespeople will, in fact, request to offload parts of the sales responsibility.  Even in companies where there’s only one salesperson, I’ll hear comments that ‘if the company would just get someone to set my appointments for me, I’d be so much more successful,’ etc.

What separates Dave from nearly all of those salespeople is his willingness to put his own skin in the game.  Dave didn’t just ask for an account manager – he volunteered part of his own compensation to make it happen.  In doing so, he was betting on himself.  Dave’s bet was that the money he gave up to pay Karen would more than be repaid back to him through growth in his sales territory.   Seeing the results, it’s hard to argue with him.

Should you go down the Dave road?  That depends.  First of all, you have to make a good self analysis.  What are you good at, and what are you not good at?  That’s the easy part.

Second, you have to gain an understanding of what it will really take, compensation-wise, to provide the parts of the sales process that you wish to offload.

Third – and this is the painful part – you must then be willing to invest in yourself, as Dave did, to make it happen.  Don’t get me wrong, if you can get management to provide the resource at no cost to you, more power to you!  But for most of us, that money has to come from somewhere – is it going to be you?

Fourth and finally – this is not a fix for failure.  I wouldn’t advise any business owner, sales manager, or salesperson to try to ‘save’ a failing salesperson with this model.  This model worked precisely because both parties were successful – Dave at winning new business, and Karen at retaining and developing.

Dave believes that this could be, and should be, a new model for selling.  I think he could be right – IF salespeople are willing to put their own skin in the game.  Whether that’s you is up to each of you to answer.