I call it Fine in the Past. It refers to all the sales and marketing efforts, ideas, policies, principles, techniques, and strategies that worked well in the past, but are no longer effective. The past is everything that’s pre-2010. I still recall a poignant moment with an attendee at one of my corporate sales training and business to business sales seminars. During the break he came up to me and said this: I’ve been in business for seventeen years. And we have done well. But now, it seems like everything is changing, and I do not know what to do.
He went on to explain that he had built his formerly thriving tool and die business on certain core principles: Quality workmanship, competitive prices, and good service. Those principles adhered to with discipline and conviction had brought him word-of-mouth business consistently over the years. But they were no longer working, and his business was floundering. The pain and confusion were written all over his face as he contemplated the prospect of seeing his business wither away.
Those principles are some of the most common examples of Fine in the Past Business principles and policies that were sufficient on which to build a business, but today are not. At one time, you could distinguish your business from others on the basis of these and other Fine in the Past principles. Now, however, the bar has risen. Because there is so much churn in our marketplace and the competition is so fierce, the kinds of service and quality that were sufficient to distinguish yourself from your competition are no longer sufficient. Your customers expect previously outstanding levels of service and quality from every supplier. What was sufficient a few years ago is still necessary today, but no longer sufficient. That reliance on quality service and word-of-mouth marketing is an Fine in the Past principle. When viewed from the perspective of effective sales and marketing approaches, these principles are passive. They rely on your customers coming to you, recognizing the superiority of your product or service, and then talking about you to others. Your job is to create an attractive operation that will pull customers to you and then keep them coming back.
When everyone else operated in similar fashion, which was Fine in the Past But when more and more competitors appear, and they make the same claims as you do, your reliance on passive marketing methods relegates you to second choice. I have seen literally hundreds of businesses of all sizes who never reached their potential because of an inability to do sales well. We learn in corporate sales training and business to business sales seminars that they were perfectly capable of rendering outstanding service at competitive prices but struggled to survive. These Fine in the Past principles were so deeply ingrained in their mindsets that they never learned to do sales as well as they could, and their businesses never reached the level of prosperity and success that they could have reached. The economic landscape is littered with the remains of businesses who were excellent in providing their product or service, but mediocre in selling it. Here are some other Fine in the Past practices. See if they apply to you.
Creating sales by relying totally on outside sales people.
It was OK to hire a number of sales people, give them some basic training, and then charge them with Go forth and sell a lot. This was the standard for corporate sales training. Sales territories were geographically based and each sales person was a clone of the other. Accountability was a nasty word that no one repeated. Alas, this Fine in the Past practice is a prescription for inefficient sales practices. The better approach is a variety of sales methodologies, based on the potential and dynamics of the customer.
Sales management by pay plan.
In other words, pay them straight commission and everything will take care of itself. There was a generation for whom this worked. Unfortunately, today’s work force is rarely motivated by just money.
Reliance on on-the-job training.
Everyone can learn how to be an effective sales person. Just put them out there in a sales territory, and sooner or later they will figure out how to do the job well. When the job of the sales person was simpler, and the customer less sophisticated, this was OK. Today, of course, it positions your sales force as the less educated, less competent one in the market.
Hiring by feel.
When it comes time to hire a new sales person, find someone who has some experience in the industry and about whom you feel good. This is a prescription for a group of clones who please the boss but are rarely what the job demands. There are far more sophisticated and effective hiring criteria and practices than this one. The list of Fine in the Past positions can go on for quite a while. These are the most common. If they apply to you, it is time to rethink your position and move your sales and marketing efforts into the 21st Century.
About the Author
Dave Kahle is a lifetime salesperson. He has been the number one salesperson in the country for two different companies in two distinct industries. Since 1988 he’s been president of The DaCo Corporation, focusing on helping clients improve their sales and develop their people. He is a specialist in corporate sales, and regularly holds business to business sales seminars and workshops.