Too old to change. Or was he really?

May 11, 2009

As the Sales Director of the poultry plant, I also was managing our sales office in Germany.
The problem with that unit was that it had not generated any new significant customer for years, and as we were growing aggressively, we needed to grow in Germany as well as we were in our other markets.
Many discussions and meetings further, I came to the conclusion that the German sales office was simply useless and that we should sell to the German customers directly from our plants in The Netherlands and in Belgium.
Of course, this was a very bumpy situation. My superiors trusted my judgment, but were quite afraid of losing business in Germany (our largest market), which the General Manager of the sales office was of course not missing to tell them over and over. After all his job was on the line…
Anyway, the decision to shut the sales office was made and we had to figure out the next step.
Most customers were very old relationships, and this was important to take that into account when deciding who to appoint as the sales person for Germany. From the whole office in Germany, we decided that we should keep only one person for sales, the nine other employees would go.
There were two inside sales persons, and two sales reps. Quickly, the two inside sales persons did not make the cut and were eliminated. The 2 sales reps were very different. One was a young fellow, quite aggressive, well-connected and able to move large volumes, although quite a bit of a loose cannon, and with the tendency to yield to the customers when it came to price. Lots of volume but not much margin.
The other sales rep was in his early 50’s, a very good relationship manager, but with no track record of developing new accounts for a long time. General opinion was that he would get good prices but low volumes. General thinking was also that he was to old to change and adapt to the new strategy, and would be useless to the organization.
Yet, I chose the latter sales person, even though I shared the same worries as everyone else, but I knew one thing: he would listen and do as told, and he would bring a sense of continuity and trust to the existing customers.
We decided to keep him, and I would spend quite some time in Germany with him, visit all existing customers and accompany him in some new prospecting activities.
I presented him the sales plan, the objectives and the timelines and there we went. He simply became the best salesman we had. From a very apathetic and almost unproductive salesman, he turned into a dynamic, entrepreneurial and enthusiastic representative that brought new business, and lots of it. In the first year, our sales grew in Germany by 24%, while the industry average was only 2%. His performance was stimulating the other sales people, including me, to perform better in their respective markets.
He was not too old. He just had lost passion, because he had no clear idea of what was expected from him. In the new structure, this changed, and then he could do what he was good at: selling! And he did a great job, because by then he had become happy at work!

Copyright 2009 The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.

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The hopeless rude guy from Planning

May 11, 2009

When I became Sales Director of the poultry processing plant, I also supervised the Inside Sales/Planning/Logistics Department.
One of the employee of that department was causing quite a few conflicts with the Production Department, mostly because of very poor communication skills. Requests sounded more like barking and politeness was a scarce commodity from his side.
That problem probably should have been addressed a long time ago, but OK, I had to deal with it now.
All I got was criticism about his conduct and “fire him!” kind of advice. Yet, he had many years of experience and had quite a lot of knowledge. That bothered me to just take the short cut and let him go.
So, I had a meeting first with him alone and later with his supervisor. In the first meeting, I addressed the problems and made him clear that I wanted to understand what caused him to act the way he did. With his supervisor, we reviewed his job description and analyzed what he liked and what he did not like about his tasks.
And bingo! We discovered that he felt very uncomfortable dealing with foreign customers having to speak in languages he did not master. The stress of the phone ringing and hear someone speaking German or English was just too much for him and he reacted his stress on his colleagues.
We decided to remove the customer contact from him, allocate that to another employee who actually enjoyed the sales side more than the production side, and dedicate our difficult friend more to the technical and planning side of production. Within days, I was receiving positive feedback from production people who were wondering what I had done to him, because now he was such a pleasure to work with.
And for him, as he was in his late 40’s, we also avoided a painful layoff that might have had severe personal consequences.
He was now doing what he liked and what he was best at. And he became very happy at work!

Copyright 2009 The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.