#1 In Sales Means Nothing

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The sign in the front window of my local UPS Store reads. "#2 Store in Canada." I laugh every time I see it. It's too rare that you see a sign reading "#2" in anything. I get it though. Wayne and the staff at my UPS Store do a great job and give great service. They're always busy. Apparently they're busy enough to be #2 in Canada in volume. And if next year they're #3, I'm sure that's what the sign will read.

But what about this #1 Salesman stuff or Salesman of the Year? Does it matter? What about real estate signs that read, "Number 1 Realtor?" I've seen signs for three separate Realtors these past few weeks marketing themselves all as #1 Realtors - and they all work for the same company in the same city. Huh? What is the criteria for being a #1 Realtor? How can every seventh Realtor claim to be #1? What's the criteria? Is it #1 in the neighborhood, the city or the country? Is it #1 in derelict old house sales or is it among first-year Realtors? Who is to know what the criteria is?

I live in one of the more desirable neighborhoods in the city. A house that goes up for sale on Monday will likely have on offer by Friday. The Realtors don't have to do much except answer their phones (OK, oversimplification but you get my point). One Realtor has about 80% of the market. He's the go-to guy in the neighborhood. The houses in my neighborhood typically sell for about thirty percent more than other neighborhoods which means that although two Realtors may sell the same number of units, our guy gets 30% more revenue per sale. Is that an honest #1 award? Should there be an asterisk beside the award (* he got lucky)?

Years ago when I sold radio airtime, I had the toughest territory - the rural run. Anything outside of the city was my territory. But the problem was that the radio station attracted 18-34 males with a hardcore rock-and-roll format that didn't particularly sell well in the farm communities where they loved their music - both kinds - Country AND Western. Regardless, I improved the territory sales by 270% the first year. I didn't win the #1 award because I had a territory that forced me to drive hundreds of miles each week while my city counterparts could achieve the same revenue within blocks. Did the #1 guy deserve the award? Maybe. But having a ripe territory helped a lot. A veteran salesman could retire from that same territory and a fresh young face could take over and become #1 in his first year. Are we to believe that he IS a #1 salesman or does that award too come with an asterisk (* he got lucky)? The integrity of the award is in question.

I understand the whole "Sales Awards" thing from having spent almost twenty years in sales. I get the need for recognition. But promoting myself as "Most Improved Territory" would have been an insult to my clients by using them to get an award. Awards determined solely by money should be celebrated internally - within the company. Make a big splash, have a party, hand over a plaque and rib the other guys about not being able to sell as much as you. Have fun with it - but not in front of the customers whose money helped you get the award. Your customers care that you serve them well, meet their needs and make them more important than your #1 award.

Awards don't mean as much anymore. Once upon a time you would celebrate the first, second or third place showing at a school track meet, now celebrations are held for getting a "participant" ribbon. Everyone gets a prize. In fact, in carrying on the "everyone gets a prize" philosophy, awards mean less because anyone can skew the numbers to the point that every person on the sales team could be considered award-worthy - everyone gets a prize.

Sure people want to be recognized. It's part of our nature. So employers are tasked to find creative ways to celebrate small achievements. So numbers get spun so that everyone feels they are improving. Rewards and recognition are great - but let's stop pummeling the marketplace with #1 awards without telling us what the criteria is.

Take a good long look at your attitude on touting yourself as #1. If you insist on taking the #1 Award outside into the marketplace as a marketing tool to convince clients and customers that they should do business with you, then you're obliged to inform them when you finish #3, #7 or anywhere other than #1. If you don't, your competitors will especially if they are now #1. If you earn business purely on your #1 award, your competitors should be offered the same consideration. Shouldn't your customers be free to follow whoever ends up #1 if that's how they chose you? But if you earned your clients' business because you provided service, met their needs and created an excellent working relationship with them, then they're your client. You get to keep them not because of some money award, but because you do your job well and serve your clients with integrity.

The award for #1 salesperson is recognition for how good you USED to be anyway. It's this year's recognition of how you did last year? Were you the #1 salesperson when people were throwing their money around just before the recession? How are you doing now? If you market yourself as #1 this year, the right thing is to market as #3 or #7 next year? If you live by the award, be prepared to die by the award. You can't just use the numbers when they suit you. Honesty is important in salesperson-client relationships.

The only thing that matters is that your customers are served well. Honesty dictates informing your clients when you fall from the #1 position. It's the same idea as the salesperson who sells on price only. The next salesperson with a better price wins the client. The same is true with touting yourself as #1.

Instead of marketing your awards, get your clients to rave about your service and use that as a marketing tool. Glowing testimonials from customers are far more effective in getting new clients and are great reason to celebrate. Still want to be #1? Then be #1 in the hearts and minds of your clients. Keep your eye on the ball and the reason you're really here -- to serve to the best of your abilities.

Sales = helping people get what they want. So help. Sales is an Attitude - not an award.

Kevin Burns - Corporate Attitude Expert is the author of eight books including his forthcoming, "Your Attitude Sucks - Fixing What's Wrong With Corporate America." He is an outstanding keynote speaker and worldwide columnist. He is opinionated, blunt, direct, funny, thought-provoking and usually - right!

More info on Kevin at www.kevburns.com

Read Kevin's Blog at www.kevburns.com/blog

 

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