Category Archives: Working With Greg

25 Lessons from 25 Years in the Sales Trenches

I left teaching 25 years ago to take a position selling fitness equipment to gyms and commercial settings. 100% commission at the time, 30 years old, mortgage, hoping to start a family. 2nd career. Never did sales.

Since that time, I have sold in a small territory in 2 languages, sold in a big one in 1 language.

Managed a small team while selling and managed a big team.

Worked on very small transactions, been a part of some very large ones.

I have met many very interesting people,  travelled to many interesting places.

I have been disappointed and lost many times, however, my wins overshadow those losses.

I have lost money but overall made a good living.

The bottom line is that I have had the privilege of supplying lots and lots of exercise equipment to organizations that focus on creating healthy communities.

I don’t think there has been 1 day when I have not learned a lesson, and maybe that is why I have survived 25 years.  25 years x approx. 300 working days a year = 7500 lessons!! (on the low end!! )

For you, I have narrowed it down to my top 25 .

These are the 25 lessons from 25 years in sales.

  • Have a passion, or at least an interest in the product you are representing. There is a reason most sales business cards say “sales representative”. We are being paid to represent the company for whom we work.  Being passionate about exercise, it was a good fit to represent companies that created tools to help exercisers.
  • Believe in your organization and the people who run it.  Without that belief, it is very difficult to speak confidently about the equipment you represent.
  • As a former team sport athlete growing up, I was always more comfortable in a team. That worked out because to be efficient and productive in sales, you need a supporting team. In our industry, that team included administration, logistics, technical support and finance.  Without that support, you risk becoming a jack of many trades, and master of none.
Team!
  • Understand the business you are in. How does your organization compete, be profitable, win and lose.  While working with a team, and specializing in 1 aspect of the sale (the front end), understanding the business side became a massive asset.  My first organization were stickler for inventory control. In big pieces of exercise equipment, 1 mistake around inventory costs a lot. Getting on an installation and being a part of the last touch point to a customer was also a valuable perspective.
  • Understand the customer.  The customer is not always right, but putting yourself in the customer position is a good start to making a connection and getting towards a sale. What are their concerns, fears, challenges and worries? Without understanding this, you are playing roulette instead of establishing a starting point to enter the conversation.  The entire point of sales is to knowledgeably offer a product that solves a problem for the customer.
Many customers have been disappointed before ever meeting you!
  • Have a USP.  Early on I learned that having pieces of the puzzle others could not compete with was critical.  Being unique. Unique selling proposition.  USP. What makes what is being offered unique? Different? Worth a 2nd look by your customer. A unique selling proposition is taught by every business school from here to the north pole.  Being able to transfer that to traction for your offer and your customer is a direct link to your sales success.
  • Be of “service” mindset. Sales is another term to be of service.  To get someone to write a cheque for something you offer and be excited to do so, comes from creating something of value for someone else.
  • Study and master lead generation. This has changed a ton over 25 years. Social media, email marketing did not exist when I started.  However, the phone did and so did the standard mail. These are still so valuable. What’s working and how is a big part finding those interested in what you offer, or perhaps more relevantly in an information age, have them find you!   If consistency is the goal, then lead generation is the skill that sets you on your away to achieving the goal.
  • Understand your industry: growth trends, top players, best practices. You can learn a lot from what the best are doing.  How can you learn from top performers. When I say industry, I refer to sales, not just your product category.  I have been in business to business sales for most of my career, so this is the industry I study.
  • Understanding how your competitors sell and market is a good idea. (Your customer options) Most important lesson here, to do something different.  For sure, important to know best practices, and integrate into some of your offering. 
  • Professional development. Never stop learning. 25 years ago it was reading. Still is. Today,  podcasts, webinars and seminars. Focusing on getting better everyday.  As John wooden said “it is what your learn after you know it all that counts”.
  • Use the products you sell.  This is linked to a passion for what you represent. Also, Use the products you compete against.  This is especially relevant for me over the years, in fitness equipment.  But this applies to many products. If you don’t use your products, you are not the advocate you claim to be for your customer.
  • Get good at listening. Really listening.  The more I listened and observed, the more consistent I got.   Simple. Not easy.
  • Practice communication skills.  A good doctor can communicate medical speak into terms the average person understands. They do so with compassion and with humility. Same with a financial advisor taking complex financial information and converting it into terms we can understand. A good salesperson does the same.  The communication of message needs to be customized to the person being addressed. This is a skill that can only be developed through practice. Just like an actor with a script.
  • Don’t let numbers scare you and don’t be a slave to them.  Numbers in business and sales are how we keep score. It is how we get paid. They scare many. However, they are a guide on performance and validation of your skills. They don’t lie. I always loved the picture numbers can provide. In my business, B2B sales, numbers paint the picture for the customer as well. Best embrace them and use them to your benefit.
  • The work expands to the time you have : if you are good, you will be in demand : don’t let that take you away from what’s important to you.  I have not always been good at this. Many years, I worked long hours to learn a craft that was foreign to me. Very few people are good at a skill early on. As I started I got some advice, don’t let the company and their interests take you away from what’s important in your life.   You only have 1 chance to raise your kids and be home for important events.

I don’t mind admitting that I struggled with this for some time, because the ego stroke that comes from being in demand is gratifying.  In hindsight, it is not all that important. The work is there. Especially if you are good. If you are good, you can develop your own terms of work.

  • Master Sales Skills. Have a process. A musician knows what skills to practice to get better.  Many salespeople don’t.  The theory of sales and the practice of sales often get lost in translation. There are skills that you need to be good at to be better at sales.  They include many of what is shared here.  Knowledge of your customer, and market. Listening and asking relevant questions. Focus and follow up. Communication in various forms, from writing to presenting.  Most importantly problem solving. The most important skills come from practice.   But sales success starts with knowing the skills that work.
How Do You Define Success?
  • Positioning. This is a big one. Thanks Dan Kennedy! This is connected to lead generation. If you can position yourself as being valuable to your customer, sales consistency will follow.
  • Collect money. Early on in my sales career, I was at a conference and someone I struck up a conversation with started bragging about all the quotes he had out in the field. Being new to sales, I had to question whether this was important in performance.  It is. But not as important as getting orders and collecting money. Collecting money is the most important skill. Get good at it.
  • Understand & leverage finance. This is connected to knowing and understand numbers. In B2B sales, finance plays a big role. The largest sales I have been involved in were over $1M in equipment. The role of exchange rates, depreciation, interest rates, cash flow and other aspects of finance are critical in putting together a winning proposal.
  • Don’t try to please everyone.  It was definitely a process to understand that I was not going to please everyone. Problems happen. Deliverables sometimes don’t meet expectations.  All opportunities are not created equal. Being able to say no, or deal with disappointment or negative reviews is part of the job.   Especially if you experience some success, many negative naysayers will target you and try to knock you down.  Don’t let it deter you from what is important.
Best planning still results in mistakes
  • Learn from your mistakes. Oh, the mistakes. I think it was Michael Jordan who said, that he succeeded with game winning shots because he failed so many times. Not many sales trainings will talk of the journey of mistakes and losses. But they are valuable. Learn from them. I did.
  • Create goals you can be excited about.  The self-help industry will talk of goal setting. Which is fine and good. However, having goals that you can get excited about is most often connected to your why.  
  • Focus. The more success one has, the more distractions come your way. Stay focused on what’s important to you while striking a balance with what’s going on around you.  At times during my career I think I suffered from tunnel vision, and that hurt just as much as getting distracted.
  • Stand for something. How do you want to be known by coworkers and customers?  

Last, but not least, have fun. This won’t happen all the time. But if you represent products and organizations you like, work with people you enjoy, it won’t always seem like a job. This is very high on the list. The equipment industry gave me outlet to determine my income while being part of an industry that I love.  I worked hard, filled up my library and applied what could. I had some great wins, but also some devastating losses.

The more I worked in sales, the more l realized that the people were the most important thing.

It is not about product or quotas or margins or goals.

It is about helping people. 

That was and is fun!

The Downside To Teaching Sales Employees What It Takes.

There are many things that sales management and business coaching books won’t teach you. 1 of them is training an employee, who does well then decides to jump ship to compete with you.

Any business owner or senior manager will tell you that grooming young talent comes with its pitfalls. It requires an investment of time and money, expert guidance and patience.

In business to business sales (B2B), the sales cycles can be as long as 1-2 years. There are lots of skills to master.

From lead generation & prospecting, to product, customer and competitor knowledge.  There is also administration of the sale and management of customer relationship management software (CRM) to increase efficiency.  Managing a pipeline, relationships, working with support personnel, leveraging finance, negotiation and follow up skills are also required for consistent success.  In addition, our top performers also understand and manage priorities, understand how to create value, are good with numbers, hold margins, have good follow up skills, and  present well in various situations.  In our fitness equipment business, knowledge of exercise science is a valued skill of our top performers.

These skills lead to an experience bank. This experience bank allows you to use the above skills for maximum performance.  Most importantly, all of this is wrapped up into a unique selling proposition, an approach that positions our solution better than the others available to the customer.

The learning curve is steep, and often takes 6 months to 1 year or more for a successful representative to hit their stride.

Performance is always the #1 objective. Results. Sales. Generating revenue. 

Therefore, supporting the new representative in these skills becomes a priority for the manager, because time is always of the essence.

With this training, performance and overall investment by the organization, 1 of 2 things tend to occur:

  1. It is not a good fit for the representative.  The activities required are not performed well and results are not there, and the contract needs to end.
  • It is a good fit and the representative builds some momentum, enough to keep going and find a rhythm.  From here 2 things can happen.
    • They settle in and have some success and nice long-term relationship gets established. This benefits the representative, the organization and, most importantly the customer. In many cases, these are the next wave of senior representatives and some start move into management.
  • The success becomes so strong that the representative starts to feel that they can get to a better opportunity. The perspective is that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence and will lead to more money and freedom.  Perhaps this opportunity is one that they can run with more control and answer to less people.  The feedback has been that the new opportunity won’t have as much structure and guidelines.    Sometimes, they want an ownership stake or don’t feel the mother ship is supporting them as well, so they decide to leave.

In almost 20 years of sales team management, the most frequent result is #1 above.   In my experience, I have found 2 reasons for this.

  • The profiling and interviewing process was not deliberate enough. Hire slow and let go quickly applies here and is very true.
  • The expectations out of the gate were not realistic for the skill level of the new representative.

Both are on the hiring organization.

The 2nd most frequent result is 2a, they settle in, do well and are long term productive representatives.  This is the most rewarding part of the work, as I have been on both sides.  Representative and management. 

A close 3rd to the above is 2B. This is where the successful representative packs up and leaves for a better offer or start their own shop.

2B is every employer’s worst case scenario.

Investment into the representative, they get up and running and do well, and they leave.

In my experience, there are not many situations departing representative had as much success with the new organization.

Why would this be?

Not a clear understanding of all aspects of the business is the most logical answer.   In the industry where I have the most experience, the selling of commercial fitness equipment, the capital requirements and support expertise to prop up a representative are significant. This would be akin to a top performing car salesperson starting their own dealership.  But they could start their own brokerage could they not?

Of interest here is that yours truly departed a company in 2010 to start out on my own.  That would be option 2B.  That’s right, I was one of those people.  I learned a lot with my first organization for 15 years and then felt I had reached an impasse and had to leave.

The change, at that time, propelled me into business ownership and took my career to another level.  But that other level brought increased investment and exposure financially along with the eventual strong results. (We eventually sold our business in 2015 to the company I work for now.)

The ironic aspect of this, was that I never wanted to leave.  I understood all that my first organization had taught me. The competitive advantage it provided me so I could focus on serving customers.  That organization, however, stopped doing those things to support me and our customers suffered. Products started taking too long and other aspects required to be supported were stopped. In fact, I tried for 3 years to help the first organization get back on track, without success.

In my case, I had no choice. I had to leave.  Either the company and/or the industry.

I knew going into the new venture, what the requirements in running a business run much wider and deeper than simply sales.  I also partnered with 2 people who were very good at aspects of the business that I was not.

Conclusion:

I don’t think I would change a thing.   I think people leaving are part of the process of running a business and/or managing a team.  The key is developing a process that increases the chances of a good hiring fit and shortens the learning curve to performance.   

I have been on both ends.  The employee and employer. The sales representative being managed, and the manager.

I am teaching my son to find an organization within an area he is of interest, that has a great onboarding program.   Regardless of where you go from there, you can not lose!

Greg Lawlor is a former schoolteacher and 25 year veteran of sales, management and business ownership.  He continues to learn something new every day!

Physical Activity Changed (Saved?) My Life

The words resonate with me almost 40 years later: “You did not workout today did you?”.

In 1981, At 16 years old, I had started going to the gym to rehab my shoulder and strengthen my body to play ice hockey.  I had already had a few bumps and bruises, was almost 6ft 2” but, predictably my muscles had not caught up to my growth!  I needed to get stronger if I wanted to keep playing at higher levels, and boy I wanted to play at higher levels! (that is another story for another day!)

What Mom said to me that day has stuck with me since. She noticed the difference in my mood on workout days vs non workout days.  Enough to let me know.

My time at the gym led me to a part time job there.  Doing fitness assessments and onboarding for new members/exercisers.  It allowed me to build my knowledge, experience and confidence in a physical activity setting, and gave me another physical outlet (in addition to hockey) that allowed me to focus at school (my membership was now free as I worked there!)

When it came time to make a decision what to study in university, I had 2 choices: Commerce/Business or Physical Education. The former I was good at, the latter I was curious about.  My dad was a teacher, and my role model, so I thought teaching and physical activity would be a good pursuit.  So, that is what I did. (My dad, by the way, was the one who suggest that I follow my passion. A very wise man indeed as  that advice has always stayed with me)

I got my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Physical Education from McGill University.  I studied topics like exercise physiology and the movement sciences. I learned about sports skills and the methodology around teaching and coaching. That included the science of regular exercise and the impact it had on the body and the brain.  My career path was locked in.  I was going to apply all my learning as a teacher in the schools!

I coached and taught for 8 years at all grade levels.  All in a position of leadership around physical activity.  Some friends from university introduced me at that time to the love of my life, mother of my son, and partner for the last 31 years. 

Once I stopped competitive hockey in university, I continued to play different sports well into adulthood. Volleyball, golf, slow pitch, basketball, skiing, cycling and mountain biking, flag football and eventually back to hockey. Physical activity was always a staple to my ways. It was always a part of my life. A big part. Oh yes, and I went to the gym regularly.

Yours Truly On The Big Stage.

There was a feeling after being active that I could not duplicate any other way.  When I was not active, my mood was not the same, neither was my patience or focus or ability to get things done. My energy levels changed and my addictive personality focused on less constructive outlets.  I am very grateful that I have had the wisdom to recognize the power activity had on my life. I also thank my mother who reminded my and help me light the bulb!

The activities also allowed me to be a kid again. To revisit a time where all I did was play outside. Every sport and activity imaginable from hide and seek to tackle football to 1-2 hour bike rides (as a mode of transportation). To play. To develop social skills.  When got my first full time teaching job a few hours from home, playing in the rec basketball league allowed me to meet a ton of new people.

The post activity time  turned into my best thinking time and most productive time.  It is when I planned my lessons and planned my practices. Planned my next career and live moves.

My teaching time was a real joy. Teaching young people skill development, and seeing their eyes light up and their bodies adapt to the new activities. 

The only frustration was the imposed reduction in physical education time for students. This was the mid 90’s and government, at the time, felt PE, like the arts, home economics, car shop and music were expendable. Budgets were cut. Instead of daily PE, students now only had gym class 1x per week.  The demand for the good ole’ gym teacher was declining.  I was offered other subjects I could teach.  I was not as passionate about that possibility. 

I don’t think future generations have been too keen on that either. Since the mid 1990’s we have seen a horrible impact on lack of activity in our youth. 

The decline in PE teaching opportunities led me to explore other options.  I got a temporary position as intercollegiate sports coordinator for the college for Dawson College in Montreal. Loved that job, as I worked with student athletes and coaches, organizing all the behind the scenes work to give them their competitive opportunities. But that was a replacement position, and ended after 1 year.

I answered an ad in the paper for a commercial fitness equipment sales representative for a new company in the area. They offered the job to the guy with no sales experience.  The compensation was all commission, and I think I was the only applicant who would take that gig.   It was the summer and I figured if I did not like after a couple of months, I could go back to teaching.

Selling exercise equipment led to long hours and low pay as I learned the ins and outs of the business. But I still had my connection to physical activity.  

The more I performed, the better I got paid. “Wow” moment.  Over the next few years, I performed well.

After a few years that led to new territories and markets and management and ownership opportunities. Management and ownership gave me a new teaching platform and a business education like no other. (I ended up getting that business education after all!)  

While this was happening, we had our son, and yes, he developed his own interest in sports and activity. And yes, I coached many of his teams growing up. 

Now in my 50’s, and on the “back nine”,  I still very involved in fitness.  My passion for fitness and active living has opened doors and led to a great career in the equipment and education side.  Still a teacher, but a very different classroom.     

Physical activity has opened the doors to many great experiences!

As a father, husband, businessman and coach, I have had to find ways to stay active through a busy lifestyle over the years. 

I always prioritized physical activity, because I knew I was different without it.  I was not the person I wanted to be without it.  I made decisions I did not like without activity in my life.

The Problem with Exercise On The Internet

Exercise online is a bit of mess.

The problem with social media and what we see on the interweb is that most of it is inappropriate. I don’t mean inappropriate in a “parental guidance “sort of way, although there is too much of that as well (put some clothes on people!! ).  I mean more inappropriate for you and me.

Random exercises performed by someone who is ½ our age, or has 10x more experience in the gym, or is a freak of nature, or has no injuries, or (I can go on and on) is not the best guidance for most of us.

I can come up with a few different examples.

Here is one I see often. Back squats.

The squat that we did in high school or perhaps our sporting years, with bar loaded up on the back of our neck and down we go!  Back up, Down we go.

The old school lifters will tell ya that all you need is master the squat, deadlift and bench press and you are good to go.  But those guys have been doing that for 25 years!

The new school fitness coaches will give you all kinds of variations to keep things interesting.  Too many sometimes.

The answer is somewhere in the middle for most of us.

See the rest of the article with video support over on the A040 blog

Our journey continues,

Greg

Sprint Intensity Training to overtake HIIT?

The Sprint 8® Protocol is more intense than interval training, but worth the effort, according to its creator Phil Campbell.

In two hospital-based studies specifically on Campbell’s Sprint 8 Protocol, the research shows an average drop in body fat of 27% with no change in diet. Campbell attributes the results to a natural increase in human growth hormone.

Our team at STAK Fitness/Matrix Canada is implementing this program with organizations as I write this. Stay tuned for more details on progress.

see the full story here: http://www.digitaljournal.com/pr/3188584/