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I'm Sorry—You're Just Funny!
by Frank Lee

Jenny is one of the least social creatures I know. It's not that she's rude; she simply does not allow the rules of etiquette and niceties to get in the way of her speaking plainly when voicing her opinions.

I had done a presentation to a group of financial advisors one afternoon and had joined a group of salespeople at the evening dinner. Jenny, a respected financial advisor, was at my table. So was Pete, a well-manicured, meticulously neat financial advisor. He was holding court, regaling us with his expertise and triumphs in the sales arena. I must admit he sounded very impressive.

Every once in a while, he would casually drop names of important people he had met who seemed to be impressed by his sales abilities. He mentioned a few times that he was a top salesperson in his company. Each time when someone else said something, Pete would deftly use the person's words to launch into another one of his miraculous exploits. He used wit and wisdom to keep our attention.

Not knowing Pete, I naturally assumed he was a very successful financial advisor. He certainly looked and spoke that way. Jenny seemed to be absorbed by him, clinging onto every word, not saying anything herself. I thought she was rapidly falling in love with him. So I was surprised when she finally spoke up.

"I'm sorry, Pete," she said, "you're just funny! You know that's not true." She then abruptly turned away from him and began talking to me.

If I was surprised, you should have seen the look on Pete's face. A faint blush appeared on his cheeks, his eyes almost popped out, and a slight snarl marred his good looks. Staring at her back, he swallowed three times. Then, collecting himself, he pompously turned away from her and began talking in a whisper to the person next to him.

I was amused but did not say anything until a few short minutes later when Pete stood up and walked away. "Where did that remark come from?" I asked Jenny.

"Oh, I know Pete," she replied. "We work together. He's not the top salesperson. In fact, he's one of the mediocre salespeople. But I think he believes all the nonsense he spouts. I think he really believes he is a top salesperson. I've heard all those stories before. He knows I've heard them all before. He knows they are not true, and he knows I know they're not true. I've had two martinis tonight and I just didn't feel like letting him get away with them one more time."

What's with Pete?

This really piqued my curiosity, so I pumped her for more information. It seemed that Pete had once been a very good salesperson but, as his client base grew, so did his obsession with his image. It started out as simply wanting to create a good first impression and dressing for success.

Gradually at first, and then rapidly later, his career started to slide. Sales did not come as easily as before despite his improved appearance. When sales slowed down, instead of listening to advice from others, he became more obsessed with looking good. His manager had urged him to prospect for new clients. Pete refused, believing that his clients would refer him to their prosperous friends and he did not need to prospect the way other lesser mortals needed to.

When his client base started to erode, he complained about the unfairness of life and the ingratitude of certain people. He was genuinely offended when a client decided to use someone else. The other salespeople in the office liked Pete and tried to help. Jenny even handed him a hot lead once. He refused all offers of help. He condescendingly accepted the hot lead and then did nothing with it.

Now he was just another ordinary salesperson in a company that did not tolerate ordinary. He was on his way out, but you would never know this from talking to him. Jenny said she felt sorry for him.

"But how long can you feel sorry for someone who refuses your sympathy and help?" she asked rhetorically.

Jenny's Unvarnished Assessment

"What do you think happened?" I asked Jenny. I already knew the answer but I wanted to hear it from her. She was not too shy to tell me.

"Here's what I think," she told me. "He started out full of energy and with great expectations of himself. I believe that he wanted to be the very best. He almost got there too. At one time, he was the top salesperson 6 months running. His clients were very loyal to him. Success must have gone to his head. He stopped doing the things that made him successful. He started talking and acting like a superhero. That put a lot of people off, including his clients.

"But do you want to know what I think really happened to him? He got scared. Success came too easily and he was afraid people would see through him. Deep down, I think Pete was still just an ordinary guy with extraordinary ambitions. But Pete was a scared little boy and he used all that fancy stuff to shore up his image. When the slide came, he used fancy stories to make us all believe that he was still the top dog when we knew he had already changed back into a runt. I think he was scared, so scared that our offers of help drove him even further underground. Pete was even scared to admit that he needed help. I think he felt this would have made him look stupid or more mortal. We could have helped him, but his fear drove us all away."

Jenny was describing someone I had seen many times before. This was a classic example of Hyperpro Call Reluctance out of control. (See my November 2002 article on Hyperpro Call Reluctance, Appearance Is Everything.)

Like so many call reluctances, it started out as something good. There's nothing wrong with wanting to look good, to create good first impressions. When it gets out of control, that's when it becomes call reluctance. Jenny was right about something else—it's a fear, and fear causes us to do some pretty strange things.

What Happened to Pete?

Unfortunately, Pete was one of the unlucky ones. Nobody cared enough to go to any lengths to save him from himself. Perhaps nobody knew what to do. So Pete left the company, joined another financial services company, stayed 6 months and then left to join yet another. After that, nobody seemed to be able to pinpoint him. Nobody seemed to care.

In all fairness to his managers, they did try. They tried to shame him into doing better, but that only made his Hyperpro Call Reluctance worse. They tried reasoning, but they did not understand this was not a logical problem. Talking it away is never an option when dealing with emotional problems.

Pete Was Unlucky

Pete really had some bad luck because he could have been helped, and he could have salvaged his sales career. Today there are tools available to sales managers to help them do just that. Pete was unlucky because his company did not know what was available to them.

Other companies have already discovered the works of call reluctance pioneers, George W. Dudley and Shannon L. Goodson, world-renowned authorities on the impact of fear in the workplace. They exposed Hyperpro with all its idiosyncrasies and then developed the only known cure for it. Their landmark book, The Psychology of Sales Call Reluctance, has long been a business best-seller. It shows salespeople and their managers how to recognize and deal with sales call reluctance.

Do Hyperpros Even Listen?

Sales managers can spot Hyperpro Call Reluctance, but what do they look for? A study done with an insurance company several years ago may provide a clue. This company advertised extensively, getting people to call for information. Their bank of telesales operators were supposed to convert these inquiries into sales. They tested their people, and then let us monitor their calls. They discovered something about one select group of telesales operators—they converted far fewer callers into clients. This surprised them because this was a group who knew more about their products than the other operators.

Who were they? Hyperpros. Why did they convert fewer callers? They spoke more often than they listened.

Hyperpros are so intent on demonstrating their own knowledge and shining skills, they often do not respond to questions being asked of them, and they often answer questions not asked. They habitually drove callers insane. "Look how clever I am!" they seemed to be saying.

"Look how impressed I am," the callers said in response. And hung up.




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