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Find a Greater Good

To inspire and create the will to succeed and persevere, in yourself and others, find a greater good. Look for something that goes beyond the immediate or the ordinary, something that will matter, that will leave a legacy. Focus your attention on benefiting others. The motivation to succeed can be multiplied many times by the belief in something bigger than any individual.

Jean is a successful sales engineer with an eighteen-year track record with a leading medical device company. She sells to physicians. When she was first appointed to her position, she realized a change was needed.

She said, "We needed to educate our customers, the doctors, about the benefits of our technology. We had great relationships with them, but they weren't able to take advantage of all we had to offer because they didn't realize our products could do things that other treatments, such as medication, couldn't." Jean saw that being great friends with the doctors wasn't enough. This observation, along with her decision to do things differently, epitomizes sales leadership. A problem became an opportunity for her and her company to create a win-win-win scenario: doctors could better serve their patients; Jean's company could expand their business; and Jean could do more of what she had been put in the job to do—solve problems for her customers. The effect of this was that the doctors could use more advanced methods to help their patients enjoy and extend their lives. She could sell more, serve her customers, and support the goals of her company, all within the context of a greater good. Look for the greater good in what you do. It will give you the ability to influence others to get done what needs to be done without having to direct them to do it.

Leaders create change to better serve their customers. They create change internally to get people to do what needs to be done to bring innovative solutions to customers. They communicate, influence, and convince people to adjust to and accommodate changing customer requirements. They are pragmatists. They don't try to change things for change's sake. They have an end result in mind: delivering solid solutions to customers.

Sales leaders are not simply the top producers. They are professionals who change how they work to fit the changing needs of their customers and who bring about the changes needed internally to meet or exceed those customer requirements. Sales leaders are able to consistently deliver over a period of many years by continually adapting to changing customer requirements. They may or may not always be the top producers, but usually they are.

While marketing and sales may have customers as their reason for being, they can find themselves working at cross purposes. When that begins to happen, sales leaders recognize it and use their ability to influence internally just as they would to influence customers. They recognize that they and marketing must work together closely if their company is to be successful. They strive to overcome their differences by finding their common interests. They work to achieve a delicate balance between the needs of their customers and the needs of the company. They navigate through these requirements with firmness and tact.

Instituting change inside any organization can be an enormous challenge, one that can take much longer than expected or be ultimately unsuccessful. How can you, as a sales professional, get people inside your company to be open to a new idea or a different approach? One excellent way is to enlist them in the effort. This is similar to what you do in asking customers questions to uncover their business needs—you enlist them in identifying the problem and possible solutions. They are then more willing to make a decision because they were instrumental in coming up with the solution. You, as an expert, guided them toward it.

Business 2.0's January 2002 issue provided an account of the turnaround that took place at Nissan Motors. In the fiscal year ending in March 2001, Nissan posted their first annual profit in four years and the biggest ever in their sixty-eight-year history. Three years earlier, Renault had bought a stake in the faltering company and brought in Carlos Ghosn to turn things around.

Nissan had their traditional ways of working. Ghosn needed to win the commitment of Nissan's people to dramatic changes. He got them involved by setting up nine cross-functional teams. (Members were selected on the basis of their commitment to change.) These teams ultimately produced two thousand proposals that cut debt and costs. Nissan also introduced new car designs that sold well.

The changes saved the company, and did it quickly. Ghosn said, "One of the greatest successes in business is to do what people say you cannot do."

Sales leaders, both within their company and even within a customer's organization, must fight lethargy, complacency, and inertia to bring about change.

Sales Leaders Create Momentum

Why is it that people don't switch to another company when they are dissatisfied with their present vendor? Why is it that people continue doing the same thing long after it has outlived its usefulness? The short answer is inertia. People will stay with a vendor because they see it as being too inconvenient, too costly, or too time consuming to switch, as long as the problem with the vendor doesn't exceed a certain threshold: that is, the point at which the pain of staying with the vendor is greater than the pain of switching. People will continue doing the same thing, going along the same path, until it becomes more painful to continue doing what they've been doing than to change.

Inertia is a term borrowed from physics—it means that a body at rest tends to stay at rest and a body in motion tends to stay in motion in a straight line unless acted upon by an outside force. People will endure minor or even major problems with a vendor they have been with for some time. The vendor will have built up a reserve of goodwill, so when there is a problem the customer perceives it as an anomaly and expects that it won't happen again. Of course, if a problem recurs, the reserve of goodwill can quickly evaporate. If the vendor corrects the problem the customer may stay with the vendor, but the damage may not be easily repaired.

Inertia works in favor of the present vendor. If you are the present vendor, you have a chance to correct the problem and keep the customer. If you are a new vendor trying to get an entry to a new customer, inertia works against you. But time may be on your side. If you keep in touch with the prospective customer, you may just get the chance to start providing some products or services as the customer tests your capabilities. If the old vendor really has major problems, you may be asked to take over completely and immediately. In either case, the way to make your opportunity is to be persistent, present, and in front of the customer's mind. Out of sight, out of mind, out of business.

Make inertia work for you. Make sure you don't give your customers a reason to be unhappy. Always be looking for ways to improve their level of satisfaction. Don't settle for the status quo. Be a leader and find ways to break through the limits of service that constrain other companies. If your customers love the service you provide, it would take a major change in personnel to unseat you as a preferred vendor.

If you are trying to land a new account, become the outside force that overcomes inertia. Look for ways that you can do things for the customer that the present vendor can't or won't do. At the very least, speak with the customer to find out about the current situation. Let the customer know that you would like an opportunity to be tested so that you could be available if he or she needs a second vendor. Be alert to changes in the customer's situation. Stay in touch so that one day when you make the call the customer will say, "I'm glad you called."

Create momentum for an idea or a change. People want to be associated with an exciting endeavor. They will become a part of something that is moving ahead, so you want to create momentum around a concept or plan you envisioned. That is the best way to get people to support you.

Change Happens Only When People Are Dissatisfied

Why would someone who is comfortable with the status quo be inclined to change? It doesn't happen. Lawrence Bossidy, former CEO of Honeywell, used the metaphor of a burning oil platform to illustrate what has to happen to rouse people from a state of comfort. People won't jump from an oil platform, which is high above the sea, if everything is OK. They see the risk of jumping from the platform as unacceptable. But what if they see smoke or feel heat from a fire? Bossidy's contention is that it is the job of a leader to shake people from complacency.

Bossidy offered IBM as an illustration of this principle. IBM had gone through a time when its sales were stagnating and it still considered itself to be primarily a mainframe computer manufacturer. Mainframe sales were soft because of the increase in the use of alternatives such as distributed processing through PCs. If IBM's people felt comfortable designing and selling mainframes, what incentive would they have to break out of their historical area of strength? They didn't realize that the "platform" (in this case, mainframes) was burning.

When Lou Gerstner came in as the new CEO, he talked to customers and employees and began a change in direction that has radically altered IBM's business profile while also building on its strengths.

IBM has always been known for exceptional service. The company was known for bringing in teams of people to the customer's location when needed to quickly fix problems. That level of assurance was one of the primary reasons people bought from IBM. While IBM might not have been best known for having leading-edge equipment, they were known for having leading-edge service.

IBM has evolved into a company that derives a major part of its revenues from services rather than products. It has also made consulting a significant part of its business. IBM provides the services a company needs as a package, which again provides that level of assurance for customers to know that they can continue their businesses virtually without interruption.

The problem in some organizations is that people are comfortable with the way things are. People who have experienced a great deal of change don't mind a period of stability. If that stability lasts beyond the time when things need to start changing, that company will begin to see its competitive advantage erode.

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