Fable Friday: “That’s the worst idea I ever heard!”

Three years ago I was conducting sales and sales management training for a regional bank in the Midwest, and we stopped the sessions at the beginning of the summer because of vacations.  The plan was to resume in September, and since I wanted to keep the training momentum, I gave them this “field assignment” for the summer months.

“Every time a customer comes to your desk,” I said, “begin by asking them how we’re treating them.  Just say, ‘what’s been your experience with us so far?  How are we treating you?’”

Well, you would have thought I’d asked them to walk on hot coals.  The pushback and arguments went on for over an hour.  I gave everyone a chance to speak so that we could talk it through.  The consensus from the group was something like this:  “This is going to open a whole can of worms.  People are going to dump a whole bunch of problems on us that we can’t help them with. It’s going to take up too much time and we have sales goals to meet. This is a terrible idea.”

I’m recalling this story for you today because it’s the subject of one of the chapters in Ferdinand Fournies’ book, “Why Employees Don’t Do What They’re Supposed to Do,” in which the author cites the many reasons for non-performance. In chapter four, Fournies identifies this reason:  “They think your way won’t work.”

How often has this happened to you as a manager?  You tell your team to do a better job planning their outside calls.  They tell you they don’t have time and that additional time devoted to planning does nothing to enhance the call.  You tell them to stand and shake hands when customers come to their desk.  They claim that some people refuse to shake hands, or their hands aren’t clean.  You can think of many examples I’m sure, but you’re in a tough place when your employees decide that your idea is a bad one.

When this happens there are only two solutions.  First, you must sell them on the idea by facilitating the discussion.  Let everyone state his reasons and continue to probe, “And then what will happen?  So what are the consequences of that?”  I did this with my group until they couldn’t think of any genuine obstacles.

“Look,” I explained, “if the person has no service issues with us, they’ll be delighted we asked this customer-centric question and you’ll be off on the right foot.  If the customer does have an issue, there are just two outcomes.  Either it’s water under the bridge, in which case you apologize for it and move on and the customer will be grateful you gave him an audience, OR it’s a live issue which you ought to address in order to keep the customer.  What’s the sense of trying to sell new products to customers while others are walking out the door because of poor service?”

The next thing you have to do is take ownership of the idea.  “If this does NOT work, and I’m convinced that won’t be the case, I’ll take full responsibility for it.  All you have to do is implement it.” The senior managers loved the idea and gave it full support, which helped.

So let me ask you, what do you think happened that summer when the bankers began asking people how the bank was treating them?  I’ll share it with you on Tuesday.  Meanwhile…

Think Like Your Customer

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About Gregory LaMothe
I teach people how to sell things. I own the company ActionSystems. Visit my website at www.actionsystemstraining.com.

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