Choose To Have An All Out Attitude

Choose To Have An All Out Attitude

As I look at the calendar I realize it’s been 15 years since I walked into the Summerfield Suites in Chesterbrook PA to begin my sales training in a place called Reuben H. Donnelley. Having gotten an entry-level sales position in December 1996 at this company, which produced the One Book yellow pages, I was beginning what I hoped would be a journey towards self-fulfillment and some degree of financial security. The company I came from provided neither of these very essential things, so I was determined to do all I could to make this new effort a success.

I was not disappointed. In fact, in a perverse kind of way I welcomed the hard work, the never-ending fight to stay organized, and yes, even the 16-page script we had to memorize. I felt like Donnelley was a company that was making an investment in their sales force. On the first day they told us how many interviews and resumes were done to weed out the good candidates from the bad, so we were made to feel pretty special sitting in those chairs.

Anyway, I realized not too long ago that I was the last remaining member of that training class to still be employed by what is now Yellow Book,the sole survivor, if you will. We had an awesome training class, if I say so myself, though I was far from the best and most talented member. In fact, on the PRR (Performance Ranking Report) in 1998 I was 10th in the company, but 5 names on that top 10 were people in my training class. 5 names on that list were people in the Timonium Maryland office. I was proud to be in those groups. Our area manager at the time was Allan Chandler, who in 1998 had had 30 years under his belt and he is still with us. Allan is the same age as my dad, so in a professional capacity Allan was like a father figure to me. Managers are always communicating, in one way or another, their philosophy on what it takes to succeed at your work–from day one I made it a point to soak up all the knowledge I could.

On this particular day Allan described 4 different types of people in any given office, letting us know what he wanted to to avoid and what we were to strive for. This type of teaching is not unusual, In fact Jesus Christ told a famous parable about a farmer who threw seeds on 4 different types of soil. The point was that the seed is the Word of God, which not everybody will understand and apply the same way, but there is clearly a right way to do it. So it was with Allan’s description–the first group he described were what he called cop-outs.

Cop-out Attitude: Cop-outs are those who drift through life with no real goals and certainly no commitments. They are content to let life happen to them instead of taking control of situations. Some of these are children of well-off parents while others just never found their place in life and are in no hurry to do so. Most people in this category don’t make it through the interview process. I say “most” because once in a while we get one of these. But they never last long. I’m amazed when I hear about exit interviews when people are asked why they quit (or were “asked” to resign) and their reply is “I don’t like to cold-call”. Makes you wonder what they thought they were getting into, doesn’t it? I took someone out on a ride day some years ago. It was August and beastly hot, and I’d scheduled several Howard County (located in Maryland) appointments one after the other. The guy seemed to be attentive and interested in what was going on, so I asked him on the way back what he thought of the day. He said “John, I noticed you work really hard. I’m sorry, but I just don’t want to work this hard. I want to make $100,000 a year but I don’t want to work that hard for it.” I had to force myself not to laugh, but in retrospect at least the guy was honest. Hey, if that’s a person’s attitude I’d rather know that on the front end than 2 totally unproductive months after he was hired. In any event, the cop-out will rarely end up getting hired and when they do they don’t last long, so these types rarely cause much concern.

The same cannot be said for the next person Allan described, namely the hold-out.

Hold-out Attitude: Hold-outs are perhaps the most frustrating to manage because unlike the cop-out, these people do set goals and they do perform. The problem is that you never really get the sense that they’re totally committed. This type is always looking for the next great job, the next great opportunity, the greener pasture that’s just around the corner. Consequently, what you get out of them is not 100 percent effort but more like about 60 – 70 percent. I have seen many very talented people wash out after a year or two because they could never settle down and take advantage of the environment here. Recently I spoke with a young man who worked with us about 10 years ago and is now getting his own business off the ground. He confided in me that since leaving Yellow Book he’d had no fewer than 5 jobs. He said he was always on the lookout for the next best thing and admitted that this “short-timer’s attitude” kept him from doing his best. Now, he told me, he faces the burden of explaining to interviewers why he bounced from one place to another for so long. Again, despite their limited commitment this type can hang around for some time. I saw many of these during my first couple of years here. In the late 1990’s many dot.com companies came calling, promising qualified reps the moon and the stars to come work for them. We lost a number of competent reps to these places, and sure enough, many of them were again looking for work not 12 months later.

The third type of rep is the drop-out.

Drop-out Attitude: Drop-outs are often high-performing, immensely talented people who suffer from emotional frailty. They perform well and are are pleasant to be around when things are going well, but in tough times they live up to their name and drop out. In the face of adversity they cease to make an effort and blame other people, their managers, company policies, the credit department, you name it. I knew a young man who started a year after me–he made an immediate impact with several big new sales and was very impressed with himself. His cocky attitude earned him a fair amount of contempt in the office, too. I confess that I felt a bit of professional jealousy and was discussing this with a co-worker friend, who said “John, you watch. This guy’s knocking the cover off the ball now, but look at him next year. Notice how he deals with a couple of big accounts that may go south, or maybe some credit denials. I guarantee you, he won’t be the same person.” Sure enough, it was almost eerie how correct my friend turned out to be. I knew a guy who was with the company well over a decade during which he had excellent years and disastrous years. He privately admitted to me that during the rough times when he realized he was too far away from making his number he simply gave up and all but stopped working

The point of this isn’t to criticize or point fingers. It’s simply to highlight different personalities and tendencies of personnel. I know that at times in my life I have been one of all 3 of the people listed above, as all of us at some point probably have.

The fourth person Allan mentioned is, of course, the one all managers need on their teams. Allan calls this the all-out.

All-out Attitude:  All-outs are not necessarily the most talented people, nor do they have to be the smartest or the best-connected. What sets these people apart is their ability to set goals and work towards those objectives every single day. They have developed the ability to focus on the big picture and not be derailed by day-to-day distractions and disappointments. Every person I take on a ride day hears my theory on what separates top performers from those who struggle. I hammer home it’s the ability to work through the frustration. Just as during a 16-game football season you will be the victim of at least one bad call, in sales not everything that happens to you will be good. You will be stood up on confirmed appointments. You will not get a sale that you “knew” was as good as done. The credit department will not always see things your way. An invisible partner will come up and throw cold water all over your perfect presentation. Customers will give you the runaround and sometimes avoid you altogether. These things happen, and it’s that person who can work through them and continue to exert maximum effort who will attract the right kinds of attention from the managers.

My experience here has had more ups and down than the Himalayan skyline. I have thought about walking away more times than one, but I’ve always loved to challenge myself and show after a disappointing experience that I can still do the job. One of my proudest moments came in July 1999. That year had been a rude awakening after my first 2 which had been really good–but in 1999 I was mathematically out of any race for objective, let alone President’s Club. I had an account that was $125/month, not a “whale” by any means, but I knew I didn’t want to lose it. And I didn’t, because on the last day of credit lockout I walked into

Allan’s office with just enough of a payment for the account to stay in the book and not get turned over. I had come back late in the afternoon through a driving rainstorm to get the money submitted. Allan was visibly pleased with me, and that moment is etched in my memory. A $125/month account wasn’t going to make or break anyone’s book, and it would’ve been easy for me to write it off, but I’d wanted (myself and everyone) to know I’d done everything I could towards my number. And the story ended well because subsequently I was put on the Carroll County region that year to launch that directory. And I proceeded to do very, very well in that territory–in fact, I still miss it.

All that to say, if you give me a choice between someone with outstanding talent but questionable character and one with average talent but great character and attitude I will choose the latter every time. It’s a safe bet that one with the better attitude and character will work to get the absolute most out of his or her ability. Again, I’ve seen some amazingly talented people here come and go–and sadly some of these burn their bridges completely. (It’s interesting to see this play out in professional football, the way supremely talented players can bounce from one team to another.) Of course, a rep with the perfect mix of great character and great talent is a person you can build a team around. This is an all-out, a rep who can be put on autopilot. These are reps who don’t need to be policed because they hold themselves accountable–these, at heart, are the standards I hold myself to.

Article written by John Crooks.

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