Thursday, November 27, 2008

“Just A Sales Rep”

When I hear someone described as “Just a Sales Rep”, it always bothers me. More so, when a person introduces themselves that way. Of course, I recognize that there are times when the intent in using this phrase is humility. Regardless, I think its counterproductive for anyone who sees Sales as their profession.

With that said, I have to admit to my own guilt in this. Take a look at the “About Gary Wiram” page on this blog. I describe myself as a “Senior-Level Sales and Sales Management Professional”, not “Just a Sales Rep”. Why not? When you look at other professions, you don’t see this so much. As an example, if you’re looking to consult with someone on a legal matter, do you look for someone who introduces themselves as a Legal Professional? Not usually. Typically, you look for an Attorney. Granted, you may look for an Attorney with experience in specific aspects of the law but the title “Attorney” already implies “Professional”. So, why don’t I introduce myself as “Just a Sales Rep”? Actually, in many social settings I do introduce myself as “A Sales Guy”. However, I don’t on this blog and it does make some obvious sense. SOL&D is my business management consultancy and I want prospective Clients to know I have experience beyond working an individual Sales assignment as “Just a Sales Rep”. Though the logic of this is understandable, I regret the implication, as you get with other uses of the phrase “Just a Sales Rep”, that there’s something inferior in having that title.

Underlying my concern about the derogatory use of the phrase “Just a Sales Rep”, is my belief that a deep understanding of what it means to be a Sales Representative and being passionate about it is foundational to being successful in any Sales role. For me, the key to unlocking this passionate understanding comes from exploring the meaning of the title “Representative”.

I was reminded of this, during the past week, when I met a local business Owner who is looking for someone to drive the Sales effort for his company. As he expressed what he’s looking for, in a Sales Person, he said that the most important thing to him was that this person be a good “Ambassador” for his company. His company was founded nearly 20 years ago and he sees their value proposition and its level of quality as being matchless. The “Ambassador” he has in mind will embody this, as he does. In case you don’t know it, a synonym for the word “Ambassador” is “Representative”.

My most significant experience in this regard comes from the years when I partnered in a start-up venture of an existing business with an “old buddy”. This “old buddy” and I met when we were 15 years old, playing side-by-side on our high school football team. He founded his company, (now) over 30 years ago, based on curriculum developed by himself and his true Partner, his Wife. To give you some sense of the passion they have for their business, they commonly refer to their curriculum as their “baby”. I’m thankful to say that we all look back on this time as a success. That’s not to say that everything turned out the way we had hoped, going in. There were significant business successes, though, including developing a strategic relationship with a nationally-known political figure and securing the business of Fortune 500 companies. But, there were, also, times of disagreement and disappointment. For me, the greatest success was getting to live out the sort of pipe dream that can change an “old buddy” relationship into one of being “old enemies” and instead, our friendship became much deeper than ever before. However, in the context of this writing, the most significant factor is what my “old buddy” has to say about the role I played, as the “Senior-Level Sales and Sales Management Professional” in his company. At the heart of his Recommendation for me, he says, “… we couldn’t have been more pleased than we were with Gary’s thoroughly professional and accurate representation of our company …” “Representation”, my being ”Just a Sales Rep”, was the most important thing to him. I’m thankful for that achievement.

Hopefully, my anecdotes provide validation for the use of “Sales Representative” as a title to be proud of versus the deprecating use of the phrase “Just a Sales Rep”. But there’s importance well beyond this. In previous posts – e.g. “The Pride and Prejudice of Sales” and “Managing My Not-So-Hidden Agenda For Sales”, I’ve addressed ”grasping the legitimacy of the Sales function in Business” as being a critical path to success, regardless of your role in a Sales organization. My experience has been that gaining a deep understanding of what it means to be a Sales Representative and being passionate about it is just as essential.


Gary Wiram, Sales Representative

P.S. What is your experience along these lines? Do you have related anecdotes to share? Please let us hear from you!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Where Do Today's Pilgrims Go Next?

Thanksgiving Day is celebrated in the U.S. on the fourth Thursday in November. Although sources can be found (e.g. Wikipedia) stating that Thanksgiving is "considered secular" and "can be traced to harvest festivals ... celebrated ... since ancient times", that ignores an overwhelming abundance of evidence to the contrary. It's certainly contradictory to what I was taught in my home, in my church, in my school and in my entire community; growing up in the U.S. And, its absolutely inconsistent with what's in my heart, as I celebrate Thanksgiving ... to give thanks to God for all that He blesses me with.

That "overwhelming abundance of evidence" starts with the foundational event for our Thanksgiving Day ... the Pilgrims of Plymouth, MA, setting apart a day to celebrate their first harvest, in 1621. As to whether or not this celebration could be "considered secular", you only need to consider who the Pilgrims were. These were people, originating in England, who didn't accept the "divine right" of King James I and who were determined to honor only God, as their King. They ended up in Plymouth as the result of fleeing King James' persecution. You can bet that the Pilgrims saw Thanksgiving as a Holiday (meaning Holy Day), set aside to express their thanks to God.

During the American Revolution, the Continental Congress appointed Thanksgiving days every year. In 1777, their declaration started by saying:

"FOR AS MUCH as it is the indispensable Duty of all Men to adore the superintending Providence of Almighty God; to acknowledge with Gratitude their Obligation to him for Benefits received ... (full text)."

You know, that doesn't sound so "secular" to me.

The first Thanksgiving Day in the United States was designated by President George Washington, in 1789. His proclamation began with:

"Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits ... (full text)."

That doesn't sound very nuanced either, that its aim is Spiritual.

And, in 1863, during the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln set forth a proclamation, establishing the Thanksgiving Day we continue to observe. Lincoln opened his decree by stating:

"The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God." (full text)

The Spiritual intent is pretty hard to miss in that too.

So, where does this perception come from that Thanksgiving is "considered secular"? And, though its not what is taught in my home or in my church, why is it now commonly accepted in our schools and our communities? Even in the school where my Wife works, instead of celebrating Thanksgiving, they have a "Peace Meal". What's going on?

Sadly, I think what's going on is similar to what was going on with the Pilgrims. Remember, Pilgrims were the people who were determined to honor only God, as their King. They ended up here as a result of being persecuted for this. Considering that the persecution was so intense that it finally drove them out of their homeland, I assume they were experiencing this persecution everywhere they went ... in their communities, in their schools, in their churches and even in their homes. King James is long gone and it may seem melodramatic to refer to it as persecution but there's no denying that the changes I've seen in our communities and our schools has been driven by those who don't want to acknowledge God, in any way, let alone as their King. An added irony here is that its not uncommon for those taking this position to also be working to make America more like Europe ... the very environment the Pilgrims fled. Considering this, how long will it be before they succeed at having their way in our churches and homes too?

Sooner or later, this reality must be confronted. I suggest that we begin by looking in the mirror to see that the Pilgrims are still here. I can't say for sure that my European ancestors came here for the same reason as the Pilgrims but I, too, am determined to honor God as my King. So, even without the buckle hat, I recognize, I'm a Pilgrim too. However, I have no Mayflower to board and no New World to flee to. So, where do I, as one of today's Pilgrims go next? For me, the answer is simple and it comes from the persecutor's least favorite source ... God's Word (ironically, the King James version) ... "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." - Joshua 24:15. Meaning, I'm not going anywhere. For me, Thanksgiving Day will remain set apart to give thanks to God and I will honor only Him, as my King.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Competitive Sales Strategies & “Set-Aparts”

Competition plays a peculiar role in a Free Enterprise economic system, especially in the U.S. Since Sales is my business-life, dealing with competition has always been a consideration and frankly, my gut reaction to it is that its a nuisance. Intellectually, however, I recognize that competition has been an essential element behind the successes of U.S. business in the global marketplace. This element is commonly known as “Yankee Ingenuity”. With this in mind, I strive to not give in to my gut-level instincts to address competition as a nuisance and attack them negatively. I’ve heard it said that, in dealing with competition, “If you throw dirt, you’ll lose ground.” Sort of cute, huh? I’m surprised that hasn’t become a more common cliche. Anyway, for me, these have been helpful words of wisdom.

With that said, the question remains, “How does one, effectively, deal with competition in a positive manner?” My default position here has been to look for “set-aparts”.

Before going on, since the term “set-apart” can be used in a number of ways, let me tell you what I have in mind. To me, “set-apart” is more of a Marketing term. Its the sort of thing that you’ll typically find in Marketing materials, as positioning statements, for branding purposes. One of the best definitions I’ve found for this is in an article by Elizabeth Boineau, entitled “Is Your Brand Sending Mixed Messages?”, where she says:

“Your brand platform, or positioning statement, is born of articulating the “set-aparts,” whereby you offer a compelling proposition explaining why your brand should be the choice. The next step is to promise you’ll maintain both brand image and reputation by delivering against all the things you claim make you uniquely qualified to serve the needs of your audience.”

One of the best examples of this, in my experience, comes from my time with Minolta. At that time, I was able to say:

“Do you know that Minolta is so particular about imaging quality that we are one of only two companies in the world who make their own glass, from which we make our own lenses?”

Now, that’s a “set-apart”! More importantly, it was one that I could have a “fire in my belly” about and communicate with sincerity. As a Consultative Sales Professional, that has always been vital to me … to know that what I’m saying about what I’m offering is truly of value to my Customer.

With that in mind, I want to close by noting what I think is the most important “set-apart” for a Sales Professional to offer their Customers. That is the one that you see when you look in the mirror. Of course, that is, uniquely, you. No one else can offer that. However, it is also, uniquely, your responsibility to make sure that this is “truly of value” to your Customer.

How does this match up with your experience, in dealing with competition and in using “set-aparts”? As always, we welcome your sharing your views too!