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Look Don’t Listen

10 Sep, 2010 By: Jim Kahrs imageSource

Look Don’t Listen

So here’s the situation: one of your top sales reps has just returned to the
office from a huge sales call. He had presented a proposal to a current customer
reflecting $250,000 of new equipment plus maintenance and supply contracts for
each machine. The total value or revenue of this sale, including maintenance and
supplies over the next five years, could be more than $400,000. As the rep walks
into the office he says, “I nailed it. We got the deal.” 

However, the paperwork isn’t signed because the owner of the company has to
“rubber stamp” the deal. Of course your rep says that there is no way he’ll say
no. The rep returns the following week to get the paperwork (you know the drill)
only to find that they’ve decided to go in a different direction. Typically
you’ll soon learn that they’ve purchased equipment from another dealer; not just
any dealer, your arch rival.

Instead of asking “How did this happen?” the more important question is,
“What can be done to ensure this doesn’t happen again?”  Like the main precept
of the Hubbard Management System, you first need to: Look Don’t Listen.

 Look First

In a nutshell, don’t just allow your staff to go about their jobs and tell you
what they are doing or have done. A good manager needs to actually look at what
is being done. It is critical to observe staff doing their tasks. By watching
someone go through their job, step by step, you can more easily see which steps
they’re missing or are doing wrong. This allows for immediate correction or
on-the-spot coaching. You should also review reports that indicate what was
actually done as well when possible. Note to self: employees often tell you what
you want to hear, not what they actually have done. Often, you don’t get the
entire picture, it can be distorted, or the employee can’t recall 100% task
steps completed. To avoid employee resentment it is best to be clear on why you
are involved in “job duty observation” to assure your staff understands that
you’re looking to determine ways to improve what they do for better end results
for the company as a whole.  

Now let’s go back to the first example by your sales rep above. The rep
returns from the customer’s office to tell you about the call. You immediately
listen to what he did instead of looking at what he did. What would you do
differently? Well, let’s say the sales rep is about to go on the biggest sales
call of his career. The first step would be to make sure that the sales manager
or the dealer principal goes on the call with him. Not to take over the sales
cycle but to look at what is happening so that help can be offered as needed and
to make sure that all of the appropriate questions are asked and answered. When
working on a huge deal many sales reps will often avoid asking the key question,
“Who else are you considering for this purchase?” To ask would invite a tactical
advantage but most fear that introducing this idea will lead to shopping around.
Believe me, they have or will. Better to learn who you’re competing with upfront
in order to readily revise your strategy plan if needed.

Good Examples

One of the most common areas where dealer principals listen instead of looking
is in finance. Do you look at your income statement and balance sheet every
month, or do you listen to what the controller tells you about the financial
position of the company? You really should sit with your key managers and review
these documents line by line, asking pointed questions. When going through the
income statement you should compare revenues, cost of goods and expenses to your
monthly averages; check the same month against last year’s numbers, and see if
there are areas that jump out as extraordinary.

For example, your telephone costs for this month are $1,100. When looking at
the numbers you see that the recent average has been $700 per month, the same
month last year was $750, and recent months were $725, $680 and $735. Now it’s
time to have the controller give you a breakdown of exactly what made up the
$1,100 expense. From doing this you find that there was a $400 charge for a
replacement cell phone. However, you could have carried insurance for your cell
phones. If equitable (depending on carrier), you can carry a policy that
replaces the cell phone at a more affordable cost than purchasing an uninsured
lost one. One other financial area that is often looked at but not always
line-itemized is the monthly bank statement. If you have a bookkeeper,
controller or CFO that does your bank reconciliations and tells you everything
is okay, you need to look and check for yourself. The easiest way to do this is
to have the bank statements delivered to your desk unopened. You might be
surprised to find what was considered an “office purchase” or see one too many
(unnecessary) “dinners with clients.”

Another area that is commonly overlooked is accounts receivable and
collections. Do you listen to your team telling you how collections are going?
The first step is to look at the reports to see how the ageing is really going.
From there it is very important that you or another manager actually look at
what the collections person is doing. This includes sitting with them to watch
how they do their job. How many calls do they actually make? Are they calling
everyone they should or just certain accounts? Is there lots of calling to
improbable prospects to appear busy? What do they say when they call?  In almost
every case where I’ve had dealers involved here, the result leads to changes in
the collections process and a considerable improvement in A/R ageing. Not
because the collections person was bad (in most cases), but because more often
than not they weren’t effectively being managed or advised the way they should
be to produce the desired result.

The service department can also fall victim to listening instead of looking.
Have you ever generically asked your service manager or dispatcher, “How are we
doing with calls today?”  What kind of an answer do you get? Typically you’ll
hear things like “good” or “we’re doing okay.”  What does this mean? How many
open calls are there? How long have they been open? What is your response time?
Is there anyone who has been waiting for an excessive period of time? You need
to look at the open calls to see exactly how many there are, how long they’ve
been open, and what the calls are for. When you see a large customer who has had
a call on the board for three days you should ask why. There will be times when
the answers will shock you, such as “We’re trying to save money on overnight
shipments so we ordered the part to ship ground.”

Let’s now look at your technicians. How often does your service manager
conduct follow up visits to look at the machines the technicians have worked on?
You listen to what they say was done when they close out the call, but how often
do you really look at what was actually done? How often does the service manager
ride with a technician and watch them do their calls for the day?  This is
probably the best coaching and/or training you can give a technician. Along with
instilling quality job performance when one knows their work is reviewed

Of course the sales department can fall into the bad habit of listening
instead of looking as well.  Some common areas are sales calls (as in the
opening example), cold calls, proposals and general daily activities. When was
the last time you or your sales manager went cold calling with a rep to look at
what they do?  Witness their approach?  Do they ask the right questions?  How
well do they introduce the company’s benefits?  Time spent looking at what a
sales rep does and how he does it leads to the best coaching and training you
can offer.  

And do look closely at proposals. Who reviews each proposal before it is
presented to the customer? It should be standard policy that the sales manager
reads and approves every proposal. This allows the manager to see how the sales
rep prepares his proposals, gives an opportunity for coaching, and most
importantly, allows for changes to be made before the customer sees it. Finally,
sales managers often listen to reps telling them what they did for the previous
day or week. Of course you can’t be with each rep every day, many work remote,
but you can look at their activity sheets and ask pointed questions in a weekly
one-on-one meeting and require that all activity be entered into a contact
management software package for details and continuity. Having this visibility
makes it easier to look & not just listen to the sales team.

As you can see, the common thread when managing is: Look Don’t Listen. When
you rely on listening to what people tell you instead of looking at what they
do, you can easily be misled or misinterpret information given. In addition, you
lose the opportunity to make positive changes that will improve any employee’s
performance in the future. Help your employees improve their skills - look at
what their doing and coach from there.

Jim Kahrs is the Founder and President
of Prosperity Plus Management Consulting, Inc.  He is also a speaker at
ITEX 2010. He consults with companies in the office systems industry on
improving organization structure and profits using the Hubbard
Management System.   Reach him at (631) 382-7762 or

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