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The Malady of Sales Prevention

Author: Jack Burke

Do you have a sales prevention department in your company? That question was posed by the publisher of Telemarketing, Nadji Tehrani. That question served as a reminder of the many mistakes I’ve made over the years–excuse me, a reminder of my many learning experiences. No one is likely to admit to sales and marketing sabotage, because it seldom occurs on a conscious level. In this article, I hope to stimulate thought about your sales and marketing process by reviewing a number of typical mistakes that may be occurring in your operations.


This article is excerpted and digested from Jack Burke’s Creating Customer Connections: How To Make Customer Service A Profit Center For Your Company. Originally published by Merritt Publishing in 1997, this popular book remains in print at Silver Lake Publishing. Ordering information can be found by clicking the book title above.


“Show me a thoroughly satisfied man and I will show you a failure.”  Thomas A. Edison

Do you have a sales prevention department in your company?

That question was posed by the publisher of Telemarketing, Nadji Tehrani, in the February 1994 issue. That question served as a reminder of the many mistakes I’ve made over the years--excuse me, a reminder of my many learning experiences.

No one is likely to admit to sales and marketing sabotage, because it seldom occurs on a conscious level. Ignorance in this case is not bliss, it’s a recipe for failure in the marketing game.

This article is going to talk about what NOT to do. We are so bombarded with what TO do, that we sometimes miss the point. However, if you identify with the key categories within this chapter, you may have an opportunity for change on your hands. I hope to stimulate thought about your sales and marketing process by reviewing a number of typical mistakes that may be occurring in your operations. Many of these mistakes will fall into the category of omission (things you aren’t doing) as opposed to commission (things you are doing).

“Keep Their Noses To The Grindstone”

Many sales managers think they need to be constantly pushing their sales personnel to be doing more or doing better. In fact, it seems to be a part of their job description. Unless they’re breathing down their necks, they aren’t doing their job. As a result, many sales people are managed with too heavy a hand. I’m not saying that they don’t need a bit of a push at times, but we can push too hard and too often-- pushing them right out the door.

I generalize sales people into three categories: Shooting Star, Steady Eddy and Super Pro. The Shooting Star is a cyclone of activity that, like a giant storm, leaves a lot of wreckage behind. Most shooting stars resign within a year or two, unless they are utilized strictly for opening new business. Steady Eddy, on the other hand, will never lead the pack in sales. However, you can always count on Steady Eddy for a specific amount of business month in and month out--never much more and never much less. The Super Pro combines the selling ability of Shooting Star with the thoroughness of Steady Eddy.

Regardless of which category, every sales person needs to feel valued as an individual. Rather than “beating up” the Shooting Star to become good at account servicing, acknowledge this individual’s strength in getting new business and nurture it with praise and other benefits. But also acknowledge their weaknesses and turn the servicing and development over to a Steady Eddy type. Although a Shooting Star may have a short life span, you can shorten it by demanding what cannot be delivered. Properly managed, a Shooting Star can create a lot of revenue.

Likewise, don’t continually pick on Steady Eddy to deliver more sales. Over time this will depress Eddy’s level of confidence and the regular stream of production will soon decrease. Accept the fact that Eddy will only deliver you so much business per month, but you can always count on that business. Allow your Steady Eddy the latitude to spend time with existing accounts, even if you think it’s too much, because Eddy’s loyalty rate is usually quite high. Design a sales contest that incorporates client satisfaction and repeat business, thereby giving Eddy a chance to claim the honors occasionally.

Super Pro’s problem is usually a bit different. You seldom push because everything is usually right on target. The result is that Super Pro often feels neglected. At least once or twice per month, have a non-sales oriented conversation with Super Pro. Seek out opinions on community issues, product development and operations. Ask if there are any projects in which Super Pro would like to be involved. Nurture this employee on a well-rounded basis, because the time will come when Super Pro will want to turn towards management.

Don’t Integrate Education

Does this sound familiar? Sales people should only go to sales, product and motivational seminars, service staff should only be sent to service oriented sessions, etc., etc., etc.

Remember the prior comment about Super pro eventually turning towards management? Why not accept the fact that many of your best employees have hopes of climbing the ladder into new positions. For a substantial number of people, their position first represents a challenge, then turns to comfort as the challenge is met and finally turns to boredom and frustration over the repetitive nature. Many great sales people, Super Pro variety, experience a mid-career crisis after 7 to 10 years of a successful track record.

Integrating the educational experience can help alleviate some of these psychological, “locked in a box” feelings. Send your sales staff to a class on management, send your service staff to a sales seminar, send your telephone operator to a sales class--and send them all to classes on motivation. For those who do want to progress into new areas, you are providing some of the basic training they’ll eventually need. Others will come away from such experiences with a refreshed appreciation for their current job. Plus, everyone will feel more a part of the whole and that always translates into better employee morale and client relations across the board.

What We Do Is What You Get

Today’s world is more dynamic than ever. Satisfaction with the status quo no longer keeps you even, you’re actually going backward. Just because certain markets have done well for you in the past, does not guarantee their continued success as sources of revenue. Keep on top of client needs and new markets, as this is what will keep you on the cutting edge of the competition in today’s economy. Every business should have at least one or two new products or programs under development and testing at all times. Your existing clients are great sources for ideas. They’ll be more than willing to elaborate on what they need from you. All you need to do is provide them an opportunity and listen attentively.

You Get It When We Got It

A simple question: Do you work on your client’s timeframe, or your own?
Suppliers to the auto manufacturers found that if they could not meet the requirements of “just-in-time-delivery” to help cut the manufacturer’s inventory costs, they no longer could consider themselves vendors to the industry. It’s a go-go world out there and if you can’t keep up with the client’s needs, you’ll soon be gone-gone.

Promise Them Anything

Overpromising and underdelivering are two of the most common causes of client failure. When was the last time you held a total staff meeting to discuss the expectations of the clients and the capabilities of your company? As my daddy used to say, “If we know what they want and what we can do, the promise can be truthful!”

My Job Is Managing

Too many sales managers no longer understand the market from which the sales are derived. Just recently I saw a resume letter of a very successful advertising sales professional who was vying for a sales management position. The first sentence of how he would manage was “to set producer goals and manage their achievement”. When I asked him how he would accomplish this, he began a litany of call reports, sales meetings, etc.

If I were to rewrite that resume, the first sentence might go something like this: “As a sales manager, I would spend a minimum of one day per month in joint sales calls with each producer”. Sales management requires up-to-the-minute knowledge of the markets and the clients. You can’t get this sitting behind a desk and reading reports.

Despite the fact that nearly everyone agrees that a desk jockey isn’t the most effective manager, too many managers are loath to go out into the field. Their experiential advice and direction is often years out of date.
A good economy can disguise their ineffectiveness through the phenomena known as accumulated “order taking”. But, in a tough market that requires persistent salesmanship, the camouflage usually fails. Once the damage is
done, repairs can take years.

The Infamous “Survey of One”

Have you ever been really excited about a new marketing concept? I mean really, really excited! When you thought about it, did visions of a financially secure retirement bubble into your consciousness? And upon implementation, did it crash to the ground smashing those visions into smithereens? If you’re anything like me, a lot of money probably went down the drain--not to mention the loss of the anticipated revenue.

Statistics prove that “new” is most likely to fail. Just look at new business start-ups. Nearly 90% end in closure or bankruptcy. Yet, every budding entrepreneur starts his or her business with dreams of success. True, some of these failures have to do with mismanagement. But, it is my opinion that most fail due to a lack of thorough market research.

One of my greatest mentors was the owner of a national manufacturing company. As the manager of eastern sales operations, I frequently approached him with ideas for new product which I was convinced would cause sales to skyrocket. The first time I approached him with the youthful zest of a new idea, he asked me about reaction of our customers to this idea. Having talked with a couple of my “top” customers about it, I quickly replied that they all loved the idea and can’t wait for it. He said, “If you’re sure it’s a winner, go ahead.”

Several months later, as we discussed the reasons behind the failure, he told me that I had learned the lesson of the “Survey of One”. Running a new idea up the flagpole with a few friends or clients doesn’t constitute effective, thorough research. A good rule of thumb is to at least seek the reaction of the top ten percent of your clients, the bottom ten percent of your clients and each of your employees who would be involved. Plus, whenever possible, arrange that their replies be written and anonymous. This dramatically increases the odds of getting honest, objective feedback. Too often, we seek the opinions of friends and associates who may give us faulty feedback--they don’t want to hurt us with the truth.

I would love to say that my “Survey of One” lesson was learned well and I
never repeated that initial mistake, but I can’t. More times than I like to remember, excitement has overpowered judgement and I’ve plowed forward into failure on the basis of a “Survey of One”!

The More The Merrier

Is revenue a little down this year? No problem! Hire another sales person, or two or three. Retail businesses refer to this as “flooding the floor”. I won’t mention what I call it (wouldn’t pass the censors).

Management gurus talk until they’re hoarse about the importance of managing revenue per employee. Before adding to your sales department, examine the current revenue per sales person. It’s probably too low. Hiring more people, who will probably produce less than desired revenue, will only serve to exacerbate the problem and increase the overhead.

The answer here is to search out the causes for the low production and fix them. Many owners may lack the objectivity and brutal honesty required to find and fix the problems. You may wish to consider having an outside consultant perform an evaluation and recommend solutions. But before you throw away good money after bad, make a commitment to follow through on the necessary changes that the consultant will bring to the table.

These are a few of the common mistakes that can cost us sales. Many of them are simply human nature. Turning it around, success in sales requires nothing more than common sense. At least twice per year, take time to evaluate the basics of your sales and marketing efforts. Brainstorm new ideas and review the old ones. Seek out constructive criticism from your clients and don’t be afraid of their comments--a good dose of reality from a client can put you back on the track to success.

Depending on the nature of your business, the concept of inventory may be quite common or a little bit strange. Yet we all know that most successful retail and wholesale businesses rely on their annual inventory. It’s time to see what sold and what didn’t, what spoiled and what remained fresh. The results enable companies to make the tough decisions of dropping a line, reducing stock levels or simply throwing out the bad. Likewise, they are also able to improve profits through the addition of new items, increased stock levels of fast-selling items and decreased carrying costs. In the service industries, your sales and marketing evaluations are your inventories. Build on what works, discard what doesn’t and test out the new! It works, it really does!

Jack Burke is the president of Sound Marketing, Inc., host/producer of Audio Insurance Outlook, editor of newsletter, and author of both Relationship Aspect Marketing and Creating Customer Connections. For more information, please visit, call 1-800-451-8273, or e-mail

Copyright 2001 by Jack Burke. Used with permission.

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