Re-engineering salespeople Featured

9:52am EDT July 22, 2002

Dave Brock sees it all the time, that nervous hesitation among sales people when he asks them to invest some time in sharpening their tools rather than continuing to hunt by the same methods they always have. He was doing a training session not long ago before 2,000 sales people for a telecommunications company when it happened again.

“I asked for three or four days of their time, and I could see the panic in their eyes at the thought of losing that time in the field.”

As a lifelong sales man — beginning with IBM in its heyday, for whom he sold mainframes to banks in New York City, and more recently as a sales and marketing executive with Cleveland-based Keithley Instruments — he’s not surprised.

“Everybody’s time-starved, and everybody’s reluctant to spend time away from the field, especially experienced people,” says Brock, who’s now a principal in Cleveland Heights-based Partners in Excellence. But as a consultant whose core work is in teaching companies and their sales forces how to develop better sales strategies for the new economy, it’s a tough nut, this resistance to working smarter rather than simply harder.

As he sees it, the Catch-22 is this: “If I’m a sales professional, most of what I do is more of what I know works. Which doesn’t work anymore,” he says. “Most professionals are prisoners of their own experience.” And yet they’re often extremely reluctant to invest any significant time in reorienting their methods.

While any client who has hired him has presumably bought into his proposition of reengineering the sales process, that buy-in from upper management doesn’t necessarily translate to individual sales people, who often resist a new approach or simply tune out sales trainers and consultants, he notes. The trick, he says, is to convince individual sales people that their time would be well-spent to learn new methods, rather than simply working harder, doing the same things they’ve always done.

To do that, Brock appeals to them as a fellow career sales man.

“If you make [your ideas] simple enough, real-world enough, and demonstrate that you’ve walked in their shoes, you can get them to trust you,” he says. “I know that I can improve their effectiveness by 30 or 40 percent” if he can get their buy-in.

“I would say probably 80 percent of the time, people don’t need to hire us, meaning consulting organizations. They need to put in place processes to listen better. But in start-ups and many privately held companies, there’s a real ego problem.”

And with fast growth, high-tech companies, he thinks that’s only compounded.

“Success really masks bad processes and underperformance. You see companies that are growing at double-digit rates, and the management becomes consumed by that.”

He thinks they might better invest some time and energy into listening to their organizations, rather than retaining outsiders like him to try to solve problems.

“Classically, people in organizations don’t know how to listen to their own organizations and exploit the best ideas,” he says.

Unfortunately, though fortunately for him and other consultants, many companies place more stock in ideas they receive from outside experts whom they’ve paid to diagnose and fix problems than in the people they’ve hired to do the job each day.

The good news?

“Nimble organizations are learning how to listen better to their employees,” Brock says.

John Ettorre (jettorre@sbnnet.com) is contributing editor at SBN.