May 17, 2014

What Are You Doing to Reinvent Yourself and Sharpen Your Sales Sword?

I am in the midst of leading sales training workshops for a client’s spring conference, and last week I spent four nights in a hotel in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. As much as I’ve traveled, this was my first trip to old steel country.

The hotel is built on the grounds of what is/was the old Bethlehem Steel. I’m not a historian and am relatively unfamiliar with the whole saga of the rise and fall of the steel industry in the United States. Having said that, it was fascinating being on this property. The giant old rusty buildings were captivating. “Giant” is an understatement. They were mysterious, spooky in a sense, and messed with my mind.

As a non-engineer, the sheer size and complexity of the structures were daunting to me. As a business guy and fan of capitalism, I was blown away by the magnitude of the production and commerce that must have taken place on these grounds over the course of a century.

I couldn’t help but walk up and down the length of the property snapping photos and just trying to take it all in. I have a friend in St. Louis whose dad worked at this exact facility, and as I emailed her pictures, she wrote back memories of being a young girl sitting in the car with her mom waiting for her father to finish his shift.

Why I am sharing this with you? First, because it was mind-boggling and it was emotional. And second, because the impact of seeing of this mile-long, once great, now deserted and rusty facility was profound. It really made me think about myself and my business, and you, and how you lead your sales team, or how you sell.

Here’s the other piece of the equation. The client for which I am leading these sessions on becoming more consultative and proactive in their sales approach, produced the exact opposite emotions I got from the old steel mill. This company is well over 100-years-old. But you’d never know it from attending this conference, touring their facility, speaking with their executives or dealer sales force. (I don’t want to mention their name here, but if you’re really curious, dig into my twitter feed from earlier this week for some some pics and observations)

This company is investing like crazy – freshening the brand; building leading technologies into their product offering; updating facilities; incorporating the latest marketing and sales tools. Their leaders are leading; they are challenging the sales force to raise their game! And clearly they have impeccable taste when it comes to engaging premium outside help to better equip their sales team 🙂

You know what else I found interesting? As seasoned and tenured as their outside sales force is, they were remarkably receptive to what I threw at them this week. When I figuratively splashed them with cold water and held up a giant mirror so they could the reasons they were not being perceived as value-creators and consultants by their customers, the overwhelming majority readily agreed and embraced the concepts I shared. That reaction is rare from a crowd of grizzled veterans. I didn’t get the typical crossed-arms/cynical faces/angry stares that is so common from know-it-all old-timers. Sure, I’ll take some credit for my tone, approach and content helping to make them more receptive. But the truth is that is was them. They were open; they were hungry; they were willing (at least on the surface) to grow and change. How refreshingly different than many of the sales cultures I observe, and how much more fun for me as the coach/trainer!

The takeaway for you:  What are you doing to reinvent yourself and sharpen your sales or leadership sword? Are you going to end up like this once great, but now obsolete steel mill? Or will you take a long, hard look into a mirror to see where you might need to grow and change? Your own personal development is your responsibility. It’s your choice.