Accountability, when you're out on the road alone!
With all the windshield time, conversations with members and managers of the sales team, and books I listen to on my Audible app, I often catch myself thinking of conversations and interactions that have gotten me where I am at today.
On this particular occasion, I was thinking about a my first real review I ever had and it was after my first full year with Jasper. I was sent a list of questions, approximately 8 to 10, that covered a number of different things involving my job as a sales representative. At that time, and even up to my last days, I had a very big territory, one of the biggest in the central region. That being said, time management was one of the questions, as to how I found it best to manage my time and stay organized, and several other questions in regards to what I felt my manager or the company could do to help make my job easier. But it was not those questions that stay in the back of my mind or had me thinking on this subject on this day.
Based on conversations and some information I received, it was Accountability that was on my mind on this day I found myself thinking rather deeply, as I made my way from call to call. Accountability. The question on that review simply read " how can the company hold you accountable"? My assumption was it had to be asked because there were 120-130 sales reps throughout the country, making calls on a daily basis in a car provided by the company. Outside a few visits from your manager or another mentor of some sort, most of this time the company put its trust in you to do your job, stay organized, and follow the processes they had set in place. Really something any grown adult should not think twice about. But like any larger company with many employees, there are always the few 'bad apples' that have taken advantage of this luxury and I'm certain at the time there were a few doing just that. I was never offended by the question, but at the time, how do I answer and sound like I make sense? What can they do to know I'm out doing what they hired me for?
When we had this review, we got it in advance and my manager at that time, a guy I very much respect, would line up a date within a week where we would conduct the review. He too would answer these same questions, although his questions were turned slightly on his end as he would have his input and plan of action. I remember on this first review that I left this question blank. And as you may have guessed, it was the final and closing question on the review.
I fearlessly filled out the first 7 or 8 questions of the review. I shared how I stayed organized and wrote down some of the challenges I had with customers and the path I took to satisfy some difficult warranties.
I remember one situation in particular where the customer and I knew very little about one another. Heck, I didn't even know they were a customer of the company until this older and I thought wiser gentleman, the owner of the business, recalled a warranty issue 'he got screwed on' by the very company I represented! From a very pleasant man to quite ugly and to a point very scary! But I held my ground, I bit my lip and let him share this story of distress that his customer was dealing with and the anger he felt as he tried to work with our warranty department. And in his rage and sudden commitment to pull out the very paper work of the engine that failed and the hand scribbled answers he had on the bill of lading and he worked with the warranty department, I asked one question as I stood there motionless asking myself why I walked in here in the first place; "are you certain that this particular engine came from us?" Mistake? Maybe, buy everything stopped. I thought I was about to get a very matter of fact answer or possibly kicked out, but just then he pulled a bill of lading out of his massive, organized 'pile' and without even looking, handed it right to me.
He had me! I was put in my place and I had better go to the powers that be and pay him every nickel, and then some, the he felt he had coming! I took the paper from him and he was right,
It was a bill of lading and there was some writing on the bill in his 'chicken scratching' of penmanship, and it was the very engine and model of car he was ranting about, but one thing was incorrect. Oh no, the engine was under warranty and the warranty was a much longer warranty than what I was allowed to sell. Certainly he had to know what our warranty was being he had this long term relationship, long before I ever entered his door? But no, none of that. I looked over the paper one last time to make sure I was correct and I handed it back. I told him there was nothing I could do. I could see the temperature rise in his face, he was certain he was right. "You see," I said, "this is not our engine, this is our competitor and lucky for you, its still under warranty!" Awkward, but the difficult problem was solved, at least on my end. And it was the stepping stone for gaining more business, and it did!
My mind was still on the accountability. As my review date approached, I knew I had to fill in a well prepared and well thought out answer. It came on one of my nights when I was at home. I rolled in the door between 5:30 and 6:00 and my wife was home and waiting to start supper. She is a saint for always waiting on me, I know I'm not easy. I talked a bit and then settled to my backroom or what I call my home office, and connected my laptop and ran my daily download to see what kind of day I had in sales inquiries and closed orders. As I do this I often look at my daily stats and may review my plan for the next day.
Patiently, my wife is upstairs fixing a good meal. But its her patience that is being tested as I linger on with after hour work that, quite honestly, could wait until later. It was on this very evening, when I came up stairs after she could wait no longer, that I was going to have a answer to my accountability question. Who knew!
We had a great meal. Shared some small talk with the kids as we ate and I shared a bit about what went on during the day, as did she. And as the meal wound down and the table was cleared, I mentioned that I was going to look at 'one more thing', and that's when she said it and my answer to my accountability question was going to be answered. She asked '"do you know how much time you spend on your job once you get home?" She was serious, but her question was justifiable and right to ask. I, on the other hand, had no idea. I just felt there were things I needed to do and here I was, putting my wife and family second to a job that I had already spent 10 hours at earlier in the day, and often its much more than that when I'm on the road.
Now I had my answer. How can we hold you accountable? My answer : Ask my wife. Talk to my children. Those are the four people in my life that keep me motivated to do my job everyday and the very best of my ability. It is only my wife and my children that see the hours I put in, well after my scheduled day is long over. They are the one that know what nights I am gone trying to make a better life for all of us at home.
I have held on to that answer ever since that first review. And you know it was about a year later when two regional managers came up to ride with me one week when another accountability moment came up as I had this regional manager in my company car. After a call very late in the day, I had a quick call with my daughter. It was parents night for volleyball. I was not there, I was in the Twin Cities doing the required ride-along with my managers. I wished her luck and told her I loved her and after the call was finished, this particular manager, not Ken, asked what the call was about? I told him its Parents night for my daughters volleyball team. He stopped everything, turned and looked at me and said "what are you doing here?" I told him that management was in town and this is where I'm supposed to be.
Maybe that can be seen as some sort of miscommunication , but never the less, it was an accountability moment for me, again! I wasn't being accountable to my daughter, to my family.
This manager told me 'never again' and from that point on I did my best to be in attendance for future events.
How do we hold ourselves accountable? As an outside sales representative that spends multiple nights on the road with the only supervision coming over occasional phone calls, emails, and texts to and from the company, what are we doing to be accountable? I still believe, in most cases, its our family or someone at home that we are out here working for, or trying to make a difference. Its kind of like selling our product or service, stop selling the product and sell the problems you solve. When we are out on the road, its not all about us, its about the people at home, our families, and its about the company we represent. There are countless people in manufacturing that depend on our success. I guess I'm saying that I am accountable to them. I'm very goal oriented, but I believe, and this is just my opinion, we can be and should be held accountable by those we all represent. I believe we owe it to the company we represent, our families, the people that build our products, and to ourselves, to be accountable and honest out there everyday. Shortcuts don't work. If you've been around long enough, and I can say this based on experience, the shortcuts don't work.
The real good reps, the reliable ones, the ones that an set a forecast and consistently achieve it, they are counted on, every single day. They are a valuable asset to their company. It sounds like a lot of pressure and it can be, but that's why we all know a lot of people who cannot do what we do.
I love sales and I really love the people I get to know as I share my product. And I really respect the people who build it...what would I do without them?
Thanks for reading tonight everyone. If your on the road, check out Audible. The new Mike Rowe book is great! Download Sales EQ, full of great information.
Until next time...Good Selling!