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Appearance Is Everything
by Frank Lee

"Perception is reality."
"You only have one opportunity to make a good impression."
"If you look successful, you will be."
"If you want to make money, get a tan."

Bill could recite phrases like these and often did. He looked the part. He wore the right designer clothes, drove a luxury car, and lived in the right neighborhood. The Kouros aftershave added to the allure as did the manicured nails and carefully ruffled hairstyle. The first impression he gave was that he was a highly successful insurance broker. This impression was enhanced within the first 5 minutes when everyone he spoke to learned that he belonged to one of the most prestigious golf clubs in the country, knew the right people (he always dropped a name or two), and was currently thinking of trading his BMW for a Mercedes. You could not blame people for thinking he was also a top producer.

Appearance Is NOT Everything

What Bill did not disclose was that these trappings of success were part of a carefully constructed sham. While he did make just enough money to maintain the pretense, he was steadily sinking into a pile of debt. The image had consumed much of his financial resources and was now starting to eat into his emotions.

What people did not see was the frightened Bill, the Bill that lay awake at night wondering how he was going to make that next car payment. Common sense told him to trade for a cheaper car but that was not acceptable to him. "You can always sell yourself out of trouble," he told himself, quoting yet another guru-like saying.

Bill's manager often spoke about Bill in management meetings. He found himself defending his poor performance. Bill was a likeable person even when he appeared to be somewhat arrogant. Then there were those big deals Bill was working on. Bill often reminded him that if even one of them closed, he would be the largest producer the company had ever seen. The other managers were less tolerant but then they did not have the pleasure of working with Bill every day. They looked at pure numbers and came to the conclusion that Bill was just not cutting it.

"The other agents are selling well. Why does Bill not do what they do?" one misinformed manager asked.

Bill's manager responded that Bill was different. He had this ability to get bigger deals. "Besides," he admitted, "I don't think Bill has the stomach for those smaller cases." Actually, Bill had told him they were beneath him.

Another manager retorted sarcastically, "Sounds to me like he has big case-itis."

Bill's manager promised to work harder with him, even go out on calls with him. He knew even as he said this that it was not going to happen. Bill had always managed to avoid having him ride along. He had lost it the last time he had insisted. Bill felt that his manager was treating him like a novice. He was a veteran and did not need to prove his mettle to his sales manager.

Cold Calls? Are You Kidding Me?!

When I first met Bill, his company had just issued a request that all agents make a minimum number of cold calls each day. Most of the other agents had grumbled but soon realized that they had no argument against it and they did them. Bill went ballistic.

His manager had asked me to help Bill. He felt that he was salvageable and was willing to invest in getting him on track. Not today!

In his small but immaculate office, Bill was spouting profanities. I listened for a few minutes and then asked him why he thought this was such a terrible thing. He told me that he was producing enough business and had no need to make cold calls. It was okay for the other agents because they obviously needed to drum up extra business but he worked purely on referrals because that was the more professional way to do business. "You just have to rub shoulders with the right people," he told me confidentially. When he finally calmed down, he agreed that cold calls would probably not do any harm even though he was above all that. He would get the office secretary to make his.

Happy that he had found a solution through dialogue with me, he leaned back in his expensive chair and told me we were now going to talk about cigars and fine wine.

Shameless Manipulation

"Do you know, Bill, that I have worked with some of the best professional sales people in the world and they tell me that they prefer to make those cold calls themselves."

"Really?" Ben was mildly interested.

"Yes." I continued, "They regard those calls as their life blood and don't feel comfortable trusting such an important task to a secretary who did not have the skill and talent that they had. In fact, one of the most professional sales people I have ever met told me that he religiously makes two cold calls every day. This is a person who makes nearly a million bucks a year in commissions. He told me that he felt those two cold calls every day were sacred. He was not about to turn those over to an amateur."

Ben was more than mildly interested now. "These top guys do it themselves?"

Bill started making cold calls that same day. Predictable? Of course. Shameless manipulation? Guilty! However, it was needed to get Bill started on a long road to recovery from an exorbitantly expensive call reluctance habit called Hyperpro.

Hyperpro Call Reluctance

Hyperpros are people who are over-concerned with image. They spend a great deal of time physically and psychologically checking themselves out in the mirror. Appearances become more important than earning the right to the appearance. They avoid situations in which they could possibly look bad. Looking good is more important to them than making a sale. That manager was right about Bill. Hyperpros often suffer from big case-itis, always chasing that big case at the expense of smaller, more attainable sales.

Hyperpros make image an end in and of itself. It's almost as if they're using symbols of success as a way to compensate for their own lack of self worth. It's as if they're saying, "Maybe you don't like me but did you notice that I'm wearing a Rolex?"

Hyperpro Call Reluctance is funny when it occurs in your competitor but not so funny when it gets closer to home. It's costly because it causes you to avoid sales situations just because you may look bad. It makes you avoid admitting mistakes because that makes you look bad. It prevents you from allowing sales managers to ride with you because they may find things about you to criticize. It stops you from asking for help because that makes you look vulnerable and not professional.

One former Hyperpro sales person I know once told a group, "It hit home how much this was costing me when I watched them tow away my Mercedes because I could no longer make the payments, when I could not buy Christmas gifts for my kids because I did not have the money. That's when I fully realized how much this call reluctance had prevented me from doing the things that had made me successful in the first place."

I found out about Hyperpro Call Reluctance many years ago. I was a novice insurance sales person. One day I came across a sales legend, the best insurance sales person in town. I actually trembled when my prospect told me that he was a client of this famous salesman, I'll call "Mr. Sales." I made all the right placating statements and exit gestures and then got out of there fast. After all, I could never compete with someone of his stature.

Two days later, the prospect called and asked me to come back. "Why?" I asked in disbelief. It turned out that he had told Mr. Sales he had spoken to me. Mr. Sales reacted by disowning him! "If you're going to talk to stupid idiots like Frank Lee, then I don't need you as a client." I got the business that day.

Back then I had no idea what Hyperpro was. All I knew was that I could now target the mighty Mr. Sales because all I had to do was to get his clients to tell him that they had spoken to me. I didn't know the word "Hyperpro" back then but I learned that I could predict how Mr. Sales would behave. I don't think Mr. Sales realized how much money he had contributed to the Lee foundation.

And Bill?

Bill took the SPQ Call Reluctance Test that confirmed the behavioral evidence we had seen in living color. When I explained the test report to him, he did not believe me. He went home, sulked for a few days and then asked his sales manager what he thought. He didn't believe him either. But he did believe himself. Bill was smart enough to count. He realized that he was going down fast and he needed to do something to salvage his career and earn the money that would allow him to maintain his expensive lifestyle.

It took some time before he would admit it. When he finally did, we were able to help him take a baseball bat and beat it all the way out of the park. Today he still lives in that expensive suburb, still wears Kouros aftershave, still has regular manicures, still plays golf at that prestigious golf club, and still wears his hair in that carefully-ruffled, non-conforming style. He did upgrade his car to the Mercedes and he expanded his designer wardrobe to include Versace. The difference is that Bill can now afford it all.

Bill still looks good and still makes incredible impressions on people but this time it's genuine and he feels good, not guilty, about it.


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