When I joined a certain North American company as hemisphere head of sales (don't check my LinkedIn!) they had just announced the President's club winners. The largest deal of the year was made in Anonymesia.
I wanted to understand that deal and interviewed the main players and the customer. There's no doubt that the Anonymesia country manager was the deal architect and main sales person. She was a personal friend of the customer CEO and she made the deal.
So who went to President's club?
The rookie sales guy ....and ....the country manager's boss! Two people that contributed almost nothing to the deal of the year. That president's club decision triggered a collapse of the entire workforce in Anonymesia including the loss of a great country manager.
Let's play a different movie ...
My first job out of university was as field engineer with the oilfield services multi-national, Schlumberger.
Our training cohort assembled in Singapore in bright new coveralls for fire-fighting and first aid training; three Indonesians, two Australians, two Americans, two French, two Egyptians, one Japanese, one Lebanese, one Venezuelan, one Malaysian one Thai and one Palestinian on a forged Tunisian passport (another story).
We were to be trained to operate electronic survey instruments which are lowered deep in oil wells to measure rock and fluid properties.
After a week in Singapore there was one month familiarisation on an oil rig, before three months intensive training. During the familiarisation, I got a picture from experienced engineers of what that training would be like:
“Its hell! You have an exam every week and if you fail, they kick you out. You hardly get any sleep and there is a 24 hour exam at the end”.
When we got to the training centre, a few kilometres south of Medan in Sumatra, the regime was indeed, tough. Long days of theory and practical tasks through the week and all day Saturday to study for a weekly exam. Sundays were free but we were mostly exhausted from unfamiliar labour.
Within a couple of weeks, both Egyptians and one of the Indonesians were fired for failing tests.
Their failure was not through lack of intelligence, trainees were selected from the top of their universities. No, the weekly 'scoreboard' showed the obvious reason; good English speakers at the top, poor English speakers at the bottom.
The failures were affecting group morale and the schedule was too intense. We got together and hatched a plan.
A deal was offered to the training school manager; we guaranteed a 100% pass rate in return for testing on Friday evenings to allow a full weekend for relaxation. The manager was sceptical, this was unheard of in 33 previous schools, he was convinced we would fail, but he agreed.
We changed our study routine to include intensive tutoring for the non-English speakers and we studied in mixed-nationality groups.
The results were instantaneous, a dramatic improvement at the bottom of the list.
Our weekends were spent exploring North Sumatra, touring the volcanic island in Lake Toba on motorcycles, crossing Sumatra to the west coast surf beaches, climbing an active volcano and lazing on the beach on the East coast.
By graduation day we were a tight knit team of friends with the highest pass rate in the history of the training centre.
So, Sales Leaders, before you create internal sales competitions you may like to consider:
1. Is the competition fair?
Does everyone in your team even speak the language? It’s common that only a small proportion of sales teams can speak 'sales'. Furthermore, I’ve yet to see a sales team with equal territories, so what is the basis for competition?
2. Can your objectives be achieved another way?
Maybe your team can achieve your objective on their own terms? Are you willing to listen to what they want?
3. You are not the only leader.
It is likely that you have team members that can also lead, are you willing to give them an opportunity to show what they can do?
Thanks very much for reading. You can read more sales stories in our Story Library.
Here are some photos from that happy time. Apologies for the poor image quality.
Top photos - At the Medan Training Centre ITC34, Nabil and Heru
Lower Photos - First month oil rig familiarisation, offshore Sulawesi
The Author operating state of the art technology, circa 1985
Our happy band of brothers weekend touring - Lake Toba, Padang, Volcanoes and Beaches,
Francois, Katsuaki, Jeswant, Jim, Nabil, Peter, Phil, Jose.