Steak and beans: sales management at its worst

“Let me tell you about my steak and beans dinner!” the sales manager told me excitedly.  “At the beginning of the fall I announced this big sales push for new business and gave all 15 of my teams a stretch goal to attain, and as an end to the campaign we would have a big celebration dinner in December. But get this, I told them that everyone who hit their sales goal would get steak and lobster, and all those who didn’t meet their goals would get  just a plate of beans for dinner.”

No doubt you’ve heard of this gimmick or some variation on “steak and beans” in which a sales campaign ends with a dinner and the winners get a fancy meal, while the losers have to eat beans or hash or something not so fancy. I’ve heard many variations on this approach and I don’t much care for any of them.

Today’s Fable Friday is a true story. I was helping a company with their sales management routines, and the sales manager for Wisconsin was sharing with me some of the practices he had used in the past.

We had talked through a number of them, and for the most part I was impressed by his overall performance in goal-setting and measurement, but especially in his imagination and enthusiasm. He was what you might call a “hard charger,” setting high standards for his people and expecting strong results.

Our discussion took place in mid-December, just a week after the “Steak and Beans” dinner, and he told me how it went.  “Two things,” he said. “One is that we all had fun, even the guys who had to eat beans, and second, it really got the point across that when you hit your goal you’re rewarded, and if you don’t, it’s beans for you.” 

He went on to tell me that of his 15 Regions, 11 had hit their number and 4 did not, and those 4 were served the bean dinner.  “Of course it wasn’t all that bad, as some of the winners were happy to share with the bean guys.  All in all, it was a great time and an important lesson.”

He then asked me what I thought of this scheme, and seeing that he was excited, I didn’t want to burst his bubble and criticize, but I did have one question, and I asked it of him.

But before I tell you what question I asked him, I want you to figure it out for yourself.  What question would you have asked the sales manager, and why?  I’ll give you the answer on Tuesday.  Meanwhile…

Think Like Your Customer

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

One Response to Steak and beans: sales management at its worst

  1. Sam Giroux says:

    I would have asked the manager if he ate steak or beans. His goal as a manager is based on the success of his team. Unless all of my team was eating steak, I would not have been eating steak.

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