The $3 Billion Dollar President Who Hated Sales
Have you ever heard the story about the President of a manufacturing company with 5,000+ employees and over 3 billion dollars in annual revenue who hated sales?
The President lost 40% of sales in his first year
then presented the CEO a one-page plan to grow.
How do you think it turned out for him, the people he was responsible for in business, and for his wife and kids…?
This Corporate President, we’ll call him Adam, found himself in a perilous business situation at a pivotal point in his life. Adam was born in Ohio to a mother who was a high school teacher and a father who was a factory worker turned manager in the automotive industry. His mother taught Adam good manners and how to treat a lady as well as handle a crowd — she was particularly proficient at bringing any unruly classroom to order. His father taught him the value of making and fixing things with his hands. Adam’s father built their family home from the ground up. He could disassemble and reassemble most any electrical machinery. Valuable lessons became ingrained, and his parents built solid character and survival skills into Adam as he matured. His parents’ examples regarding leadership skills proved invaluable. Adam became a hard worker and an avid learner, as his teachers and professors noted over the years.
While growing up, Adam came to consider himself a ‘hands-on’ kind of guy who could build an engine and get the prettiest girl. In fact, he did marry his college sweetheart, we’ll call her Eve, who had also been a student of his mother’s during her pre-college years. Mom highly approved of Eve, by the way. Adam graduated with honors from college with an engineering degree and started his professional career as an assistant to a manufacturing plant General Manager.
Only four months after leaving college Adam found a career path he could pursue with a company similar to his father’s. He proposed to Eve, and they were married a year later. In under three years he was running the plant’s operations and had a new son he and his wife glowed with joy over. Within five years Adam had become Regional VP for 8 plants across the Midwest and Northeast US. He was promoted rapidly, purely on merit, because he demonstrated exceptional skill at running operations and understanding people.
By this time the couple were also expecting another son — life was sublime. His wife was exceedingly proud of her amazing husband’s rise in big business. She tolerated his 60% travel schedule, recognizing that a six figure salary for an under-30 VP meant upward mobility and security for their growing family. So you see, everything looked picture perfect for the future Corporate President.
The Silent Villain…
There was, however, one detail lurking in the background waiting to unravel this family’s fairy tale. This was the impending crash that occurs too often when executives rise to a more comprehensive position of power and take on new types of responsibilities. Good leaders get promoted when they do very well at a specific skill, but since promotions often require using new skills, too, there can be serious challenges in the learning curve.
In Adam’s case, being exceptional with operations and people, he was promoted through the ranks to a position that now included sales responsibilities. When executives become Presidents, CEOs, or venture out to become owners, the game changes. The silent villain in this case was sales management.
You see, during his rise in the company, Adam had uttered countless times, “I hate sales people.” That sentiment had been ingrained in him while growing up. His mother and father disliked car sales people. Furthermore, they strongly disliked store clerks approaching them in department stores because they were private people. If a sales person rang the doorbell the family was instructed not to answer the door, no matter what. The familiar family joke was that “if a salesperson is at the door and the house is on fire, run out the back door because it’s safer.” Adam had been programmed to feel negatively about sales people.
Adam was promoted to VP, Operations for the entire corporation at the age of 33 and promoted to EVP, Operations by the time he was 39. There was no slowing down and no jumping ship to other companies despite some occasional headhunters making offers. He made COO by age 44 and was on the company’s succession plan to become President. During his years of climbing the corporate ladder Adam’s 2 daughters were born. There were now 2 boys and 2 girls plus he and his wife — an even half dozen.
However, what had not grown over the years, even a little bit, was Adam’s liking for sales people. So when he became the President reporting to the Chairman, the CEO and the Board of Directors at the age of 47, it was only a matter of time before the company’s sales began to plummet at a time when the industry was growing at a single digit pace.
Adam had taken over a growing corporate empire due to his unparalleled performance in the plant’s operations. He’d even gone back to school along the way and studied supply chain management. His creative networking allowed distribution and transportation to become a profit center for the company — he’d helped raise revenue in the eyes of the Board. At first, his superiors thought they saw sales savvy in Adam, but they would soon feel quite the opposite.
You see, when Adam became President he then had the Chief of Sales reporting directly to him. But since Adam was taught to run from sales people, he and the Chief of Sales never built a rapport, nor did they build or even discuss any plans together. It wasn’t long before the Chief of Sales took an offer elsewhere and Adam ended up promoting a dud to replace him. The ramifications of these events ultimately caused a domino effect through the company’s US sales and devastated the business development system. The company’s two largest customers were lost to competitors and many other customers went elsewhere with multimillion-dollar contracts.
The situation at ground zero…
At age 47, Adam was arriving at work every morning by 6:00am, hours before most of the 700+ people arrived at headquarters. One Monday morning Adam’s direct line was ringing as he walked into his large, lavishly furnished corner office. He answered the phone to find the Chairman & CEO seething with anger. “What the hell have you done in your first year running the company? We agreed I would spend more time with the Board and working on finding acquisitions, and you would keep the place running and growing! Now our operations productivity and supply chain is completely #*@% up and sales volumes have dropped like a rock, all because you don’t seem to know a damn thing about selling. I’m starting to believe you couldn’t manage this company even if we were the only supplier selling water to people in Hell!”
Adam could not get a single word in. His CEO was shouting and speaking so fast. He certainly wasn’t listening or wanting a reply during this berating. They eventually agreed to meet for lunch to explore solutions. Frankly, Adam had no clue what to do, so he knelt, closed his eyes and spoke to his Maker.
The search for a solution to try and avert disaster…
While on his way to that lunch, Adam’s wife called and said something that he vowed to never forget. She told him the kids and she believed in him with all their hearts. She also told him they knew he went to work every day with the strongest of intentions to perform phenomenal feats, not because of pride or his drive for success, not even because of his love and dedication to his family. She said she knew, when they met in college, that he wanted to help people, and he was a natural leader who could help people.
Then she said, “Darling, you hate sales people and they know it. It shows, and in return they tend to dislike you. You’re great with people, with business, with making things come together, and you’re a natural leader, but you have to come to grips with your lack of understanding for sales people and how sales should work in your business.” At that moment it was as though Adam had been struck by lightning. He actually started to feel his hands tremble as anxiety rushed through his body.
The realization that he was to blame for the company’s dire straits, and the fact that his entire philosophy and approach to sales had to change made it hard for him to sleep for over a week. He felt like a young kid who’d been caught acting over-zealously and thinking he knew it all, when really he should have been more humble and open to learning what Renaissance Methodology calls “The Science of Selling.”
He told his wife she was exactly right and promised to “fix the problem somehow.” He knew he didn’t have the solution yet, but like he’d been taught at home and coming up through the corporate ranks, “If you admit to a problem and take accountability for what needs fixing, then there’s a good chance you can make things right.”
In the meantime, his lunch with his CEO was still looming. Right after talking to his wife, Adam resolved to get hold of his former Chief of Sales on the phone and apologize for his poor behaviors. This eased his stress. His conscience could now start to heal, and he could begin looking for the best solution.
Getting closer to the answers…
At lunch he and the CEO spoke candidly. Adam committed to building an emergency plan to rectify the company’s plummeting revenue within the next two financial quarters. After lunch, he hit the ground running by immediately starting one-on-one discussions with the 40 regional sales VPs. His goal was to listen and learn.
It took three weeks to get even a glimpse of a solution in his mind. During this time, he found himself depressed and fending off self-doubt daily. The daunting odds against him and the behavioral changes he faced in rebuilding a sales system seemed hopeless. He clung to the words of encouragement from his wife. Also, something his CEO had said at lunch encouraged him, too, “As the President, I expect you will make mistakes, but it is how you handle those mistakes that defines you.”
He was bombarded by hundreds of suggestions from all directions. It seemed everyone was offering a “solution or plan” that he “had better listen to.” These people all said they knew best. Many of them had decades of pure business development experience. The problem was that all the advice he was hearing was either the same old stuff or had to do with some technology claiming it could save the day.
Adam knew better than to trust everything people told him, but his attempts to turn around sales were mostly hitting dead-ends. He didn’t believe that replacing his current sales chief was the solution either. Finally, Adam recalled something he’d read while on a flight in an article about Renaissance Methodology, “Calm the voices telling you how to grow sales and just focus on 4 things. The rest will fall into place.”
22 Days after that eventful lunch Adam typed and printed his plan to grow revenue and profits — on a single page — and walked into the CEO’s office confidently. On this one page was his plan to measure and hold the 40 regional sales VPs and the 180 marketing and sales people accountable for activity results on just four main criteria. The total 220 business development people would now be measured, tracked and reported on every Friday:
- The number of new sales meetings scheduled weekly
- The number of sales meetings attended weekly
- The number of times they convert a held sales meeting to another meeting
- The closing percentage they average.
Adam also had a “vertical two-way regimented communication plan outlined to link the 220 people together so they could share best practices and innovations.
The CEO took just 30 seconds scanning the page before reacting. He blew a fuse again like he had on the phone at 6:00am less than a month earlier. “Unbelievable! You offer me a one-page solution!? This is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen! Measuring people to do these four things weekly when you can’t measure sales people adequately now! Have you lost your mind?”
Fortunately, Adam had anticipated this reaction. You see, he’d had an epiphany a few days earlier and realized that to engineer the solution, they just had to focus on what Renaissance Methodology calls “Mission Critical Activities,” to drive sales.
He convinced the CEO to listen to his logic. “Do you agree that if we get our best sales people in front of more qualified buyers and build a process to keep getting more time with buyers that we’ll make a lot more money and fix this problem?” The CEO took a breath and re-read the page. Then he said, “Now I think you’re starting to understand sales, and I think I’m beginning to all over again, as well. We’ve lost focus on a simple but key factor — now shut up and get me a real buyer to sell to!”
It took a lot of time listening to, studying and learning to accept sales people and more importantly learning how to build sales systems with people and processes aligned, so competitors do not take away customers.
Adam appointed a new chief of sales who helped build an implementation plan with him to grow sales again. Together they named certain people champions of the process and rolled out new weekly online reports that were simple to fill out and which tracked the four mission critical metrics he’d shown his CEO on that single page. Dashboards, Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and a scoreboard system were installed to foster a healthy competitive sales culture internally.
The solution effectively tied the business development people to the results being measured. New customers were gained and some of the customers they’d previously lost returned. The company was able to spend more time face-to-face with the buyers and decision makers, win more respect, improve brand image and ultimately win more business. Less than 6 months after that dreadful lunch, the company was back on track.
In his 3rd year as President and on his 50th birthday, Adam found himself surrounded by a loving and supportive family, and by an even larger corporate family of 5,000+ people who relied on him. He had shed his hatred of sales, resulting in a healthy, growing business that paid them all enough to support their families. Adam had four kids to put through college, but if you count all the kids of his corporate family, too, he had a lot of weight on his shoulders. His sales people were now his brothers and sisters in arms.
The constant battle to grow the company in the market place was now his mission as was balancing the company’s operations and the needs of its manufacturing people too. Adam enjoyed a couple of weeks in Hawaii with his family before his 51st birthday. What could have been his undoing proved to be the linchpin that held his kingdom together.
The morals of this story…
Family comes first, and if you lose the balance between career and family, then you lose at life. Sometimes the breadwinner has to venture far to provide for the family’s needs. Just make sure if you are that breadwinner that you give your spouse and children the most time; make all birthdays and events with few exceptions.
Don’t wait until you’re in trouble to shake up your organization and grow its revenue and profits. Be proactive by defining measurements for everyone involved in business development while breaking down the barriers between marketing and sales people, barriers which are sometimes difficult to discern.
Finally, quiet all the sales-related noise and embrace what Renaissance Methodology calls a “Sales Engine”! Help it evolve using people, processes and to some extent, technology. Quiet the noise and build C-R-P for the four mission critical metrics as used in Adam’s one page solution.