I recently attended a conference where one of the speakers gave this advice to sales managers: "All you have to do to increase sales is to teach your salespeople to repeat their own best performance more often." This sounds like a good idea, but I know that many salespeople can’t transfer their skills from one situation to another or from one job to another. They suffer from an inability to change and adapt. Here are some illustrations:
- A change in product line
A sales rep in the multilevel marketing field who made $1.2 million in commission only a few years ago told me that, last year, he barely made $50,000. The company he represented lost a legal battle, and they had to cut their product line in half. At the height of his success, he led a flamboyant lifestyle – bought a Rolls Royce and overinvested in real estate. He tried to take his skills to another company that offered him greater opportunities, but he could not make the emotional connection to the new product line. His rigid mind-set impaired his skill set, and today, only his creditors follow his footsteps.
- A change in the market
Last week, I spoke with a sales trainer who served the magazine industry for 20 years. Only six years ago, her annual income was more than $400,000, but last year, her income barely reached $100,000. Her sales and training skills are still sharp, but she didn’t have the courage to take her skills to another market sector that would have exposed her to richer opportunities. In her case, the fear of change prevented her from realizing that the best skills and talents lose their value in a rapidly shrinking marketplace.
- A change in self-image
After a string of successful experiences, some salespeople feel that they have arrived and believe that they are the masters of the universe. I remember interviewing a sales manager whose resume stated that he helped his previous company increase sales by 150 percent. After checking his story, I found that he did well because the company had a great product that reached the market at the right time, and his salespeople were diligent order-takers. During the interview, I sensed that he had an inflated self-image. He bragged too much about his success. When I asked him to explain a nine-month gap in his resume, he claimed that he was traveling the world. Later, I learned that he had spent those nine months trying out three other jobs and was quickly let go from each one. He made me think of the Wall Street saying, “Don’t confuse capital gains with brains.”
Psychoanalyst Erik Erikson once called the key conflict of growing as a struggle between generativity and stagnation. Stagnation leads to an erosion of skills. People who stagnate become so involved with themselves that they become unable or unwilling to take on new challenges. They have bought the illusion that they have "arrived" and feel entitled to being celebrated and waited on.
Generativity, on the other hand, is the drive for renewal, the hunger for growth, the need to achieve that next level of positive transformation. While the forces of generativity become responsible for advancing and growing, the forces of stagnation arrest growth and spur erosion. We know that there are limits to our capacity for growth, just as there are limits to how much we can slow erosion.
Salespeople who know how to duplicate their success have learned that the bend in the road is not the end of the road – unless we refuse to make the turn.