- Category: Psychology
Midday closing hours on a Saturday morning hark back to a time long forgotten. Around the world the retail sector was regulated: shops would close at 12pm and not reopen until 9am Monday morning. These were simpler times.
Of course, for a teenage boy nothing is simpler than turning up for work on a Saturday morning at a men’s and boy’s outfitter and asking customers if they can be helped in some way. However, one morning, in this much simpler time, Ian Segail turned up for work at 8.30am and by 9.30am was out of a job. It was that simple.
“The owner handed me an envelope and told me I wasn’t cut out for sales,” Ian says. “He said I was better off as a waiter.”
Ian says that if he had the courage to say, “screw you,” he may have felt better, but he had esteem issues that were exacerbated by his mother telling him that everything was okay, because she wasn’t any good at sales either. It seemed a career in sales was out of the question.
“What did I know? Nothing about selling. I was 16 and nobody ever advised me. I didn’t even know the product I was selling. The lesson I learnt then was that people pick up beliefs about selling that are not necessarily true, but they become reinforced.”
So how does a kid with a reinforced notion that he can’t sell become one of the world’s leading sales and management coaches?
In spite of his inability to sell, or more to the point the ingrained belief that he was ineffective at sales, Ian was lured into the industry by money.
“I only had a high school background at that stage and I was attracted to the money salespeople were making. Consequently I got myself a job selling life insurance.”
In eight months Ian sold just one policy and starved. His belief system prevented him from doing any better. Even after the visit of a sales trainer, who taught him the difference between tangible and intangible products, he struggled.
“I managed to get my job selling cleaning chemicals and I failed at that too. I then stayed away from sales.”
Life was full of upheaval at time. His family moved from South Africa to the United States in 1986, where he was living illegally for a time and the only job available was as a trainer for the army catering corp.
“I knew I needed to do something because working for $5 an hour wasn’t cutting it.”
As often happens when you need a break, it presents itself in the most obvious of ways. Ian was driving to work in Texas at 3am in the freezing cold, when the only radio station his beaten old Mazda 323 could muster, was one that just happened to be featuring sales legend Earle Nightingale.
“He said if you read for 20 minutes a day in your chosen field, you will be recognised as an expert in that field after 10 years. That was my ‘a ha’ moment. I went to the library that afternoon and the day was full of synchronicity. There was a book by Tom Hopkins, How to Master the Art of Selling. In the foreword it said salespeople are not born, they are trained. So my whole belief system was then shattered and I realised I could become a salesperson, I just had to learn how. You don’t get rid of the belief system overnight, but I started voraciously reading. Six months later I got a job working for Tom Hopkins. Towards the end of my sojourn we were customising his materials and it was more consultancy than selling.”
To manage the managers
In 1991, Ian’s family once again moved. This time to Australia. Ian found a job working for AMP teaching salespeople how to sell. He did that for a year, before landing his big break at what was then retail minnow Rebel Sports.
“They were planning to go public and they needed someone to help increase their sales and motivate their people.”
By this time it was clear that Ian’s belief in himself had reversed and it wasn’t long before he was holding down the position of general manager of HR. Ian was in charge of engaging and managing the training and development of over 3,000 employees, with two thirds of them being part time and casual.
“In that role I discovered the importance of management. Even though you are trying to create a culture, the culture in a store stems from the store manager. If they are autocratic you have a culture of fear, if the manager is laissez-faire, then you will find a wishy-washy culture of anything goes; the moment you change the manager the culture changes.”
Problems stem from trying to alter the behaviours of management. Ian says 80- 90% of all salespeople have never been formerly trained in sales management. It is often the case that companies promote good sales people into management positions, without training them as leaders or managers. This creates dysfunction within the company.
Despite going out on his own and his impressive personal track record – by age 26 Ian had bought and sold his first business, taking sales revenue from only $5,000 to over $22,000 per month in just five and a half years – he was struggling to transfer that culture of success to the businesses he was training. This is when he learnt one of his biggest lessons.
“I had gone back into sales training and was running a two day workshop to rave reviews, but I wasn’t changing results for clients. It was only when I lost a huge contract that I stopped and took a look at what I was doing that I began to research what it was to get sales people to change. Basic sales training doesn’t do that job.”
There has to be a behavioural shift. Not only do salespeople need to learn empathy and how to listen, but they have to take opportunity out of the equation and make the sale about the customer, not the bottom line.
As far as managers are concerned, they must teach their salespeople how to effectively implement the abovementioned strategies. They must become coaches. In fact there is a parallel between how managers operate and how salespeople operate.
“A good coach is like a good salesperson. It’s about finding out where people are at. It’s about their agenda. Leadership is all about the how and the why. When you can get a sales manager to shift thinking from managing to coaching, then the process becomes about how to achieve a goal and what needs to be done to reach that goal. That takes time to train; some people get it and some don’t.”
Believe and achieve
Motivating the individual is one of the more important topics in Ian’s bestselling strategic sales management book Bullet Proof Your Sales Team - The 5 strategies guaranteed to turbo boost your sales team results.
“As a sales manager or coach, you need to understand the motivational footprint of the salespeople you work with. Invest the time to understand who you deal with. If you ask most managers about the personal lives of their staff, they know little about the people who do all the hard work. That’s where cultural and behavioural shifts start – with an interest in others. If you are not interested in others but only the numbers then you are not a people manager, you’re just a manager.”
Since 2009, Ian has personally conducted in-depth consultancies with dozens of local and international authorities in sales, management and coaching. In fact most of his work today is conducted with business to business entities either face to face or online.
“Every second week Sales Coach Academy coaches have a 90 minute face to face with clients. They focus on real core issues. However, we have also developed training programs that are video based and can be accessed remotely. Really, with the technology available there is no excuse for any company to not conduct management training. It can be done inexpensively and very well.”
Successful training boils down to the motivation of the company. Ian says that if a company really wants proper change, they will take a holistic approach to their systems and strip bare the processes by which they have been operating.
“A lot of businesses come to us and say train our people, but they are looking for band aid solutions and not looking at the systemic issues. If they are running obsolete systems, what is the point? They need to be willing to change their systems. Instead of having 18 salespeople, have three top gun salespeople who call in to three sales administrators. Good management should be about productivity, not just activity, but the company must want to change for this cultural shift to occur.”
Throughout his career, Ian’s philosophies have evolved. He has developed from a sales trainer, to working with managers, to drilling down to the core aspect of a business that will help them achieve the best results. He understands that the biggest thing holding companies back is the belief systems of its managers and he is working with those companies to see how to shift what they believe in.
He is working to help them understand that while there is an art to selling, they must first learn the science.
“There is science and art, most try the art, but you have to learn the science. Once you have the processes, then you work out the art. There is a strong science behind management and selling and it takes time to learn, however if you get a good coach who knows what they are doing, it will cut years off your progress.”
Ian would like to have found his own coach earlier, someone who could have changed his belief system and the doubts in his ability that were ingrained early. Perhaps if this happened, that Tom Hopkins International Sales Person of Year Award and the AHRI (Australian HR Institute) Internet Training Strategy Award may have come a little earlier.
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