It was Thursday, 31 May, the month in which we achieved very good sales results. We enjoyed the fruits of our labor, and slowly prepared for the the next month. All our predictions showed that we made enough reserve to enter the next month fully relaxed, and without any tensions. As it usually happens with the sales – our peace was interrupted by the news that one of our partners had gone into bankruptcy and that we would inevitably stay without one of our sales channels! We looked at each other and said: What are we going to do with our sales targets?“ They had already been defined for each channel and it was never popular to redefine them. We could have asked for the sales targets to be revised, but it would not help us fulfill almost unreachable sales target for the Q2, at that moment.
At instant, the euphoria turned into concern, but we were determined to leave the targets as they were, which meant that I was to accept them on my own. The sales of one whole channel had to be made up, by using the available resources without the possibility of targeting. So, we needed magic.
The only way to fulfill this “mission impossible“ was to get the maximum potential out of each of us.
Every time when I find myself in such position, I remember what Serbian Tzar Lazar said prior to the Battle of Kosovo: “ It is not important who you are fighting against, but how large is the holiness you defend“ In my case – this sentence could be “It is not important how big the challenge you face is, but how good is the team you have to face it “. I knew what kind of team had been with me all these years, as well as there was not a single challenge we could not solve together. My gut feeling told me we could overcome this challenge too, although the sales results we made after 2/3 of the month were not going in our favour. The month was slipping through and the gap – between the targets and the actual sales – constantly increased.
The first thing is to go into details on your team meeting and try to understand which of your production lines is the weakest in the chain and why?
The answer to the first question seems pretty obvious at first site, while the answer to the second question seems like the bigest mystery at that moment. As it usually happens when you ask your managers why – their first reaction is to forward the question to their reports, if possible via WhatsApp – in order to get the quickest answer possible and throw of the responsibility from their back. I call such a feedback „WhatsApp feedback“ and it’s value is directly opposite to the quickness by which you receive it. By principle that every good manager is capable of making a good excuse, the inexperienced leaders will share their findings within the organization, especially if the reasons do not tend to emanate from their vicinity. On top of all that, if we know those reasons are not real the fake ones – who would be crazy enough to place such reasons into their zone of responsibility. In no time, the whole organization will talk about this, while the time will still inexorably run out. It would be the same as curing the disease which causes high body temperature by using paracetamol, the same as curing the symptom instead of the source. You will fill instant ease, but in fact, your clinical picture will deteriorate over time, unless you have a strong imune system to fight such a disease.
If we now get back to the “WhatsApp feedback“ we mentioned before, I can picture someone, who gets a similar question via WhatsApp from his manager on the day of retail management meeting. I imagine the first thing he would do – is to check if he was in a similar situation and pray not to be , and if so (for which is a small probability) – he would breathe a sigh of relief and reply to his manager that he did not have such a challenge and therefore he did not know. If however, he did have such a challenge, he would use a well known excuses that always worked – such as the competition always had a better offer or shop walk-in was inadequate or weather conditions were not all right…etc. The only problem here, is that in sales – everything is exact and can easily be checked… and of course, the competition offer was not valid from this month but has been valid for long before, when we had excellent results in this sales segment , foot counters also show that walk-in was lower during previous months when we had better sales results and so on, which takes us back at the beginning of this story.
What I have leardned for all these years is that if you lead a remarkable sales force, as I do, in 99% of the cases, the reason for failure is in yourself. Ask yourself what is the probability that salesmen who have been successfully selling a certain product for several months, suddenly forgot how to sell it? It is however, more probable that you, subconsciously, with some other activity, such as wrong targeting, incentive or compensation model…etc. made them shift their focus from this segment. Sales force is like water, it will always seek the shortest and easiest way to fulfill its goals.
The other mistake – managers make in moments of ignorance or when they are not able to grasp the situation – is to put the pressure on sales force when in panic. As if their asking sales staff to come back with the reports every hour or two, or every half a day – would help them solve the challenge. It would be the same as if you would measure the high temperature we mentioned before on every hour. „WhatsApp“ groups are usually used for increasing such a pressure, so I call this remarkable managerial tool „WhatsApp management“
This is where we come to the famous dilemma whether people perform better when under pressure or not? There are different theories about this, but one is for sure – people do not perform better when under unnecessary and unreasonable pressure. You do not believe it? If so, ask yourselves in which cases would you perform better or after all, ask your children.
Recently, my colleague -an experienced leader who runs a large team for years – was complaining to me about his little daughter who has been consistently refusing to go to a kindergarten. I carefully listened to him and asked: „What would you think about motivating her by giving her some kind of an incentive“? after which he replied: “I wouldn’t, because she has everything she wants and she is still angry…if only I had all this when I was a child…“. I asked him “Why do we offer rewards and incentives in order to motivate people to give their maximum, why do we give them diplomas and certificates…why do we simply not tell them that they must perform, for this is the reason why they get paid“ Without getting the answer, we separated and I forgot about our conversation just when after a few days, he approached to me and told me he did not have the problem with his daughter’s going to the kindergarten any more becuse the incentive he devised was giving it’s full result. Did you know what was the reward? It was an obligatory walk and play with her parents after coming back from the kindergarten. As you can see, my colleague’s daughter did not have all she wanted as he originally claimed.
It is the same with your colleagues, who like this child, also do not have all they would like to; sometimes, it is enough that you just notice they did something right, to praise them, share their success with your leader who will also praise them, and sometimes all that will do is just to listen to what they have to say and show empathy. The leaders who biuild their integrity by being harsh are not true leaders, those who are proud of the fact that they rarely praise their people, probably bring such a behaviour from early childhood when they did not have enough parental love and care. I personally cannot say that my parents gave me as much attention as I would like. Did this bother me during time? A lot, but it did not prevent me at from behaving compeletly different in relationship with my children. So, do not treat your people the way you would not like your leader to treat you. Be unique and be a role model for the others.
However, let us get back to our challenge from the beginning of this blog. So far, we realized that the problem is within ourselves, and that people from the front lines just follow us on our way. In order to solve it, we need to present an explicit plan to the front lines, we need „to sell“ them an idea and ask them to follow us. If our plan is good enough the results will be visible only a few days after it has been implemented. Is that enough? No, because in the first days of implementation, you will not be followed by all, but only those who are „traditional followers“ or „early adopters“ (true followers, people who easily adopt to changes). The others will need a solid proof because they are not capable of seing the picture behind the horizon, behind the hill standing in front of them. This is why it is important for a leader to paint that picture for them – by showing them the initial results of the people who originally decided to follow him, to show them the future as through the crystal ball, to show them where they will end if they decide to follow him too. There is no full potential without that nor overcoming of obstacles.
You surely ask yourselves had we succeeded in this? We certainly tried and the colleagues feel empowered and ready for new challenges :-). Of course we succeeded, and not only that, but we went far above the expectations. You forgot what force do I have behind me, the best sales force in the region.
Recently, one of the colleagues shared his fantasies from early childhood with with one of our consumers, telling him he imagined that he would be able to move the mountains when he grew up. I have a feeling, that with the sales force behind me – I could turn his fantasy into reality. I cannot express by words, what a privilege is to be in front of such a team and be one of them. This story is dedicated to them, as well as the whole blog that I write, and after all, as the longer part of my life. They are my strength and my motivation never to hault. Therefore, it is not strange at all that I got motivation for writing of this post from my colleague from partners’ channel – Jelica my faithful reader, highly versatile person who is, besides her great sales skills, also an excellent sommelier.
And for the very end – I will finish this post with the saying I put in the end of each of my emails:
LONG LIVE THE RETAIL!