It’s instructive to me when a statement in a speech or topic I write about in a column seems to resonate with readers or strike a few nerves. Last month's column about an afternoon of giving my Boy Scout sons a crash course on selling was such an experience.
When I began receiving email from countries I had to Google to find on a map, I smiled at how universal some topics are. Learning to handle rejection in sales positions is obviously one such topic.
I found the personal stories folks shared with me to be motivational. And I suspect that many of them motivated themselves by retelling their stories and recommitting to remain positive even when rejection is a regular part of their jobs.
I could imagine people smiling as they typed recounts of long days on the road and doors (figuratively, I hope) slammed in their faces. Story after story reminded me of the power of being able to look at struggles, frustrations and rejections with proper perspective … and a smile.
Reading scores of comments also had me reflecting on something I've suggested to middle and senior managers in presentations throughout the years. Some nod knowingly when hearing it and others look like they've eaten bad sushi.
I point out that if they haven't been on an actual sales call in ages, they risk becoming the kind of detached "corporate suits" they complained about when they were starting out.
I realize they have big jobs and many other priorities. But when we (knowingly or not) create cultures in which our higher-ranking managers become entirely insulated from ever facing a "yes" or "no" decision from a customer, our leaders risk losing a little perspective.
Another point I try to make to these managers is that if we don't at least occasionally show our teams that we practice what we preach, they may begin questioning our sermons.
I've been a broken record with branch managers in the past, reminding them that their teams truly learn what managers hold important by witnessing them in action. If they never see a manager greeting customers in the lobby, picking up a phone to call a prospect or doing any of the number of things they are told are important to the bank's success, how important can they be?
I personally remember that my respect for the first community bank president I worked for was at its highest after he accompanied me on a sales call. The potential customer had business needs beyond my experience, pay grade, loan authority and (probably) mental abilities at the time.
While I was the person responsible for uncovering the opportunity, I was definitely the wingman on that call. And I learned more about handling myself on big sales calls in that one-hour meeting than in the many hours of official training I had received.
We didn't get that particular deal, and I later apologized to our president for taking up his time. He said, "Take up my time like that any day. We knew we were likely too late to the party to get that deal." Then he added, "But stay in touch with them. They know who we are now."
And sure enough, we got other business from that customer in the following months, which we would have never seen without the initial failed sales call.
The fact that this bank president took a couple of hours out of his day to help with a sales call he figured was not going to go our way made lasting impressions on me. For one, I saw that in that organization, growing the business was everyone's job. Nobody was above making a sales call and asking for business.
Too many organizations seem to treat customer contact and (especially) sales as something you do until you get promoted to a better management job. Sure, that sounds harsh and maybe a bit oversimplified.
But how often is anyone on your team above branch manager face-to-face with a potential customer, asking for his business – whether alone or with a team, whether during an offsite business call or chatting with grocery store customers in a vestibule? The practice is valuable even if the answers most heard are some version of "no."
Sales calls are reality checks. Asking folks for their business tends to bring out big doses of honesty. They'll tell you things that subordinates often won't. You get hints of how your organization is perceived by folks not on your payroll.
Sales calls keep you sharp. They keep you informed. They keep you humble. And they keep you growing. In an increasingly commoditized industry, those with the most positive and proactive sales cultures – from top to bottom – will outperform their peers.
Are you being the right role model this week?
Dave Martin is an executive vice president and chief training consultant at NCBS, a SunTrust Banks Inc. subsidiary that offers consulting, training, design and construction services for retail banking programs. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.