How Sales Exaggerates

Color me jaded (I prefer “experienced”), but personally, I have a hard time with people in sales trafficking in a world of exaggeration, if not outright lying. This was brought to my attention again today when I read a brief bio of an individual whose work I am familiar with. This individual is in sales and was assigned to a particular region of the country as their territory when they took a new job several years ago. Their territory was created through the division of a larger territory. Their work was good – not exceptional – but certainly not poor. The amount this individual sold relative to others on their sales team was in the upper third, but rarely did this person lead in overall sales, I was told. From what I could discern, a good employee in sales, but not outstanding in their field. I wasn’t intimately acquainted with their work, but I knew enough to know how they were doing.

Recently, this person moved on to another position. I took a look at their published bio on their new employer’s web page. Some quotes:

“<This individual> opened the <name of region> for <former employer>.” I don’t know all the ins and outs of what happened, but to say they “opened” the region is fanciful. Their region had been worked by other sales people before this individual arrived on the scene.

“<This individual> became a leading <name of position in sales>.” Leading? Since they were the only person in their region, I suppose you could say they were “leading”, but they were not leading the overall sales team.

Part of this is human nature. We like to emphasize what we’ve done right and de-emphasize what we’ve not done well. We’re insecure by nature and want to pump ourselves up so that we’ll be acceptable and perhaps impressive to others. But what is needed, when one is describing one’s person and work, is balance. For me, I tend to out of balance in the other direction. I tend to see all the mistakes I’ve made. In my 12 years as a business owner, I’m hard pressed to articulate the things I did right because I can’t get past the things I did wrong. As time passes, I’m starting to have a better appreciation for the good that I did, not just the mistakes I made. In spite of the fact that there are people walking on this earth right now who think I’m Satan’s gift to Christian Business Ownership, their opinion of me is not the summation of my life – personally or professionally. I’m learning to take a more balanced view of my person and work.

Christian Business Owners can be gullible. I’ve fallen for the charisma that is inherent in most sales people’s personas. After having been burned several times, I can attest that gullibility can be one of ownership’s real downfalls. Especially when it comes to working with sales people. Their excuses for lack of performance, month over month, would be humorous if they wasn’t so damaging to the company. This is a short list of some of the reasons I have been given for sales people not performing well – from their own mouths, mind you (none of these are exaggerations):

  • I’m not getting enough warm leads
  • The CRM system is slowing me down
  • I can’t force a customer to buy
  • I don’t have time to make fifty calls a day
  • Finding new customers is not how I work
  • The customer decided to postpone their project
  • I need better marketing collateral
  • My cube is too dark – it’s depressing
  • My cube is too noisy – it’s distracting
  • Our prices are too high
  • I’ve got too many deals to know which ones to focus on
  • This new sales process will mess me up
  • The sales training kept me from making my calls
  • So-and-so keeps taking my deals

In the future, when I hire another sales person, the only measure will be how much profit did you bring into the company this month? Not raw dollars, just profit. If a sales person is incentivized by raw dollars, then they won’t care about the profit in a deal. But if they are incentivized by how much profit they generate, then it’s nearly impossible for them to sell you into bankruptcy. And they will be held to a process with measurements. They either perform or find other work. Excuses be damned.

On another note, if you’re a Christian Business Owner who needs to interview new sales people, I’d suggest you utilize the Opt-Out method that I’ve written about elsewhere on this blog. And I suggest that you take a healthy dose of skepticism into the interview process and not be snowed by the charisma of the interviewees. Make them *prove* their claims of outstanding sales, opening new vistas, making all their former employer’s dreams come true and so forth. If they were so successful in their last job, then why are they unemployed now? Ask tough questions. See how they handle adversity by creating some in the interview process.

Sales people exaggerate. It’s a fact of life. It’s your job, as a business owner, to separate the wheat from the chaff. You’ll need to rely on the Holy Spirit to help you extract truth from the communication, taking out the exaggeration and coming up with the whole truth and nothing but the truth so that you can make sound personnel and business decisions. Beware of exaggeration. It can kill your business if you accept it as truth.

Bill English

Revenue or Profit?

I was meeting with an energetic entrepreneur this morning. As part of our conversation, he mentioned that sales should not be focused on revenue. Instead, they should be focused on profits and customers. I think he is right.

One of the mistakes I made as a business owner in the early years of my business was focusing on top-line revenue. My senior leadership team did the same thing. We confused revenue with profit. Our sales staff were measured on gross revenue, not profit. Our company bonuses were measured on gross revenue, not profit.

If I had it to do over again, I would focus nearly exclusively on numbers of customers (new, retained, lost, fired (yes, some customers should be fired)) and the profit. Would I rather have $500K of profit on $3M of sales or $15M? The answer is obvious – $3M. Why? Because it takes a lot less effort and cycles in the $3M scenario than the $15M scenario to run the business.

If you’re a Christian Business Owner, you need to remember that profits are what provide sustainability for the other three purposes God has for business. Focus on profits, not top-line revenue, and you’ll always be in business to keep fulfilling God’s purposes for business.

Bill English

Public Relations with a Hostile Media or Culture

Several weeks ago, I offered some advice as a guest on the Austin Hill in the Morning show regarding how to manage a hostile media if they show up at your door demanding explanations for how your Christian faith is viewed as an act of bigotry or intolerance. I wanted to follow-up that radio spot with a blog post that codifies what I suggested on-air.

First, you need to understand that for a minority of those in the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual and Transgendered) community, a lack of full agreement with their thinking, theology and/or lifestyle is tantamount to active bigotry on your part. There’s nothing you can do about their intolerance. Just understand that it exists. They leave no room for disagreement, even on religious grounds. So don’t expect them to accept you or your views in any manner

Secondly, you need to get your business ready for potential legal action should an LGBT person decide to target your business. Be sure that your personal and business assets are separated. They can take down your business but they shouldn’t be able to take down your house in the process. There are common sense things you can do to separate the two – retain a good lawyer to help you with this.

Thirdly, you must know where you stand. You must know what you believe and why you believe it. If you waver on your beliefs when the storm is raging, those who wish to destroy you will sense this and that will only make them more motivated to go after you. Know what you believe and be able to articulate in a clear, loving way. Remember, you’re giving a defense of your faith – not a theology lesson or a political statement.

Fourthly, you should think through the process of responding to the media, whether it is a social media attack or an in-person camera+microphone attack, you need to have a process you’ve thought through to fall back on to help you make next-step decisions. When the microphones are pushed in your face, it’s OK to say “We’ll answer your questions at such-and-such time”. You don’t need to answer them right away, on the timeline that the media decides is best for them. In addition, you will need to have a few talking points you can fall back on that are designed to communicate truth and love but are more global in nature.

As a Christian, you need to be willing to suffer for Christ if this is the result of standing for truth. Standing for Christ is more important than saving your business or your own personal reputation. In addition, as taught in Hebrews 12-13, we all should be willing to stand with those who are suffering as a result of their standing for truth. In the Christian community, when one of us suffers, all of us suffer.

It’s important to note: traditionally, business has not been forced to engage in reputation management or defensive tactics on sensitive social issues. With the advent of social media, this part of business ownership can no longer be ignored. Flash mobs and instant sharing can make your business the target of oppositional groups in a matter of hours, if not minutes. As a Christian Business Owner, you cannot afford to ignore this anymore.

Leaders of Christian organizations are going to be caught off-guard with the coming reputational and perhaps physical persecution from the LGBT community. Most churches, para-church, collegiate and media organizations that stand for Christ have no response plan and have engaged in no training with their staff about this. Before the storm hits is the time to be engaged in training, preparing for a future we hope never happens. For those who think I’m being way over the top and way too dramatic, I hope you’re right. I hope I’m wrong. I hope in 10 years, you can have a good laugh at my expense. I really do. But I think in 10 years, to be a Christian in America will be something that many won’t publically do. Christianity is being criminalized and outcast in America. Pastors, college Presidents and religious leaders had better wake up and get on the ball.

Pastors and seminaries need to be teaching a healthy theology of suffering and how to live counter-culturally. But instead, most of our Evangelical leaders demur from such socially sensitive topics. They shy away from topics that might turn off some in our culture. So I ask: if the leadership of the Evangelical church will not take on the hot issues of the day, how can they expect the grassroots (like Christian Business Owners) to succeed in engaging the culture? The answer is obvious.

What should you say or not say when the cameras are pushed in your face?

First, don’t try to run away. Don’t try to walk to your car and ignore them. It just makes you look bad. You’ll need to realize that God has called you, at the moment, to represent Him. So you stay engaged, stay calm, stay loving and yet, stay firm in your faith.

Secondly, you never repeat the accusation leveled against you. Instead, you stay engaged with the media and give them reasons for why you believe what you believe and how that translates into difficult decisions for you. Here are some ideas when it comes to the LGBT/Gay Marriage issue:

  1. God has ordained marriage to be between one man and one woman. It’s a reflection of the unity and diversity of the trinity and it’s a reflection of Christ and His church. To have two people marry who are of the same sex is to corrupt the symbolism of what marriage is intended to be by God. Don’t expect them to “get it” or to agree with you. Expect them to have further questions about this. If they keep going with the questioning, offering to meet with them at a more convenient time where you both can engage in a more in-depth conversation.
  2. Emphasize every person’s value and dignity as individuals and their rights to marry (if your state has passed such laws) under the law.
  3. Verbalize your obligation to follow our American laws too until they force you to violate God’s laws, at which time you’re forced to violate American laws to stay true to God’s law. It’s a matter of allegiance to God before man or country.
  4. Besides, the Supreme Court has held that small businesses are an extension of the owner’s persona and that the business can express religious beliefs. This was the upshot of the Hobby Lobby case.

Thirdly, never answer hypothetical questions. You can say “I don’t see any value in getting into hypothetical scenarios with you. Is there another question I can answer for you?”

Fourth, the messages that you’ve hammered out in your preparation need to have clarity, discipline, integrity and authenticity.

Lastly, do not give your opinions about controversies – leave them alone. If they ask “what is your opinion about such-and-such business not serving pizza to a gay couple?”, you can answer “my opinion really isn’t important, can we move on?” or “I’m sure there are two sides to that story and I’m not familiar enough with it or the actors involved to have an informed opinion.” The point is to stay away from answering opinion-oriented questions.

Much of how you survive this is based on how well you handle yourself non-verbally before the microphone and camera. If you appear articulate, calm, reasoned and loving, that will go a long way toward diffusing the situation. However, it’s not a fail-safe formula. If they intend to destroy you publicly, there really isn’t much you can do. Still, to have thought through these scenarios is good stewardship before God.

If God is calling you to suffer or to be “put on the spot” publicly, then be prepared to do so. If you would like private consultation on this topic, as a Christian Business Owner, please contact me offline. My contact information is on this web site.

Bill English

Use a Process to Develop an Information Taxonomy

And information architecture design (IAD) focuses on organizing, structuring, and labeling content in a way that supports current processes while being able to adjust to process changes or improvements. The goal of IAD is to help users find information at the right time, in the right format so they can complete tasks and make decisions within a process. Consider this vanilla, sample process and how information supports the process:

In nearly every process task, information is required, including the triggers that start a process. As the process is worked, information is often transformed. When a process is improved, the chances are good that the process will require a different information mix to be effective: some information will be deprecated, some will be new and some will need to be presented in a different way. Sometimes, the user interface will change as well given different information presentation needs of the process. This leads to a potential gap analysis in the following areas:

  • Process flow
  • User interface
  • Reporting dashboards
  • Infrastructure

Processes not only transform data, they also use the data to evaluate how to improve the process itself. As the process is improved, so must the information management system(s) that support the process.

My only point in this post is that if you need to organize your information better, then you first need to document your process and look at the best way to find the information needed at each step of the process. Then work backwards from there – reverse engineer the findability until you deduce the putability of the information – how should it go into your information retrieval system?

Here’s a simple example: let’s assume that your organization uses SharePoint to create phone messages. When someone calls in for another person, sometimes live people take the message instead of voice mail, so phone messages are created. Now, these messages can be written or electronic, but your organization has chosen to make them electronic. And your organization decides to do this in SharePoint 2013.

So, here is the process:

Now, this is an oversimplified process, but one that is worth consideration. Now that we have the process, how do we organize the information for that process? Well, there are two key questions to ask:

  1. At each step in the process, what information is needed?
  2. If we need to find the artifact(s) later, after the process is completed, what metadata would we most likely need to have populated that gives fast, accurate retrieval of the artifact(s)?

As for the first question, in the first step “Phone Call Received”, the information needed is as follows:

  1. Caller’s name
  2. Caller’s number
  3. Best time to call
  4. Caller’s organization
  5. Short message

As for the second step, the “Message Entered into SharePoint”, the information needed is as follows:

  1. Receiver of the message
  2. URL location of where the message should be input

Now that we have this information, if we needed to find this message six months later as part of an eDiscovery process, what information would we look for? Probably as follows:

  1. Caller’s name
  2. Caller’s organization
  3. Call date
  4. Receiver name
  5. Message taker name

If we had these four pieces of information, we could find the phone memo and the exact artifact. So, the metadata fields on the phone message artifact would be as follows:

  1. Phone call message date
  2. Phone call message time
  3. Caller’s name
  4. Caller’s organization
  5. Name of person who took the call

In order to find the phone call message among potentially thousands of phone call message artifacts, we would search on the known information and get a list of existing messages that matched our query. We could then further refine the search until we found the exact message we were after.

So, now you can see how a process can inform you as to how your information should be organized. You simply look at the process, reverse engineer the information needed at each step and then figure out how you would look for that information. In this example, the content itself is also the metadata. In other situations, the content is not the metadata, but the principles offered within this process are the same: look at the process, then downstep into the process the information needed and then finally look at how you would find the artifact(s) and develop your metadata from there. In this way, you can develop an entire taxonomy over time.

Bill English,