Seven Reasons Sales Training Fails

Make a friend, sell a house.

Warren Vestal, Sales Trainer

I’ve worked in sales off and on for quite a while now–probably most of my working career, actually.  One thing I have noticed in common with each job is that the sales training focuses almost entirely on the technique of selling.  It’s really this technique, typical of “greasy salesmen,” that tends to drive customers to put up the very barriers that the sales training emphasizes on breaking down.  It’s been my experience that just “making a friend”–that is, to say, building trust by legitimately caring about the customer–is the easiest way to sell anything.  Some people are naturally amiable, and they tend to make customers feel at home and not pressured which builds confidence, trust, and–most importantly–repeat business.

There has only been one company (who shall remain nameless) I worked for that emphasized product knowledge as much as the technique of selling, and it was also the company I had the most success selling for.  Simply put, if a company does everything it can to build a confident salesperson by focusing sales training on product knowledge and industry awareness, then a salesperson will be honest and open with that customer–improving everyone’s bottom line.

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Hotel Paris International: A Comprehensive Strategic Human Resources Proposal

Begin by developing a clear plan to direct all actions.

The Hotel Paris International, in order to meet their mission of using “superior guest service to differentiate the Hotel Paris properties, …increase the length of stay and return rate of guests, …and boost revenues and profitability” should begin a comprehensive human resources overhaul by developing a clear plan to direct all actions during the overhaul process. This plan should begin with outlining each step as it should be performed. To start, in an effort to streamline hiring worldwide, job descriptions should be clearly defined and standardised. Once job standard job descriptions are developed, then aggressive recruitment can be instated to provide an almost-constant pipeline of applicants, which will also make the interview and hiring process more competitive. Qualified applicants should not require extensive training in Hotel Paris’s systems, but some introductory or orientation training should be phased in to further standardise operations. In addition, periodic recurrent training may be beneficial. Once reliable and consonant employees have been integrated, systems of performance evaluation should be introduced and maintained to ensure quality service company-wide. Finally, in order to retain valuable employees, a superior reward system should be implemented, and compensation should be fair within industry standards.

Without proper job descriptions, employees can become shiftless and morale drops quickly.

Clearly defined job descriptions are important to maintaining a happy and motivated workforce. Without proper descriptions, employees can become shiftless and morale drops quickly because of frustration from the “I wasn’t hired to do this” attitude that many under-appreciated employees exhibit. Not only can proper job descriptions enhance existing employee morale, but it can also (and most importantly) make future recruiting and training much easier. Hotel Paris’s first priority should be to develop comprehensive descriptions for all front-line positions, then work their way up the corporate ladder. This is most easily done by having supervisors make observational surveys of their subordinates, coming up with a list of tasks and duties for each position. To enhance the company’s mission of being customer-oriented, some customer service duties may be added to each description—especially in front-line positions where customer interaction is most likely. Once these surveys are completed, job descriptions can be disseminated to all positions company-wide where employees will be elaborated as to their expectations. The employees that fit the positions best will be retained, those that do not will be let go through attrition, and overall morale will improve. Improved morale will translate into better customer service and lower turnover rates.

Internal promotion retains valuable employees who have a vested interest in the company as well as allowing for job mobility worldwide.

Once concrete job descriptions are in place, the task of overhauling recruitment becomes priority. As some employees may have left because of new expectations, those positions must be filled. As there is no uniform standard for recruitment and hiring, several key factors must be considered. First is internal recruitment; promoting from within is one of the easiest and cost-effective ways to fill positions within a company. Intracompany memos (employee newsletters, etc.) can advertise available positions at each location, and qualified prospects can apply directly through the company HR department. Internal promotion retains valuable employees who have a vested interest in the company as well as allowing for job mobility worldwide. Second (and the first priority in external recruitment) is media coverage; a wise choice would be to advertise in several media outlets in each market and survey applicants to determine which outlets are most effective at attracting not only qualified applicants, but also which of those applicants are hired. One of the best sources for applications is a “careers” section of the corporate website, these applicants often perform more research into a company and are typically proactive in their job selection process. Headhunting can also be a valuable tool in recruiting new corporate-level managers if there are no viable options at the front-lines. No matter what the methods determined, Hotel Paris must keep regional preferences in mind and advertise accordingly. Once the most effective media outlets have been determined, then HR can keep a pipeline of potential interviewees ready for callbacks any time that a position must be filled.

The interview process should include a skill assessment tailored to each job description.

Interviews should be standardised as much as possible company-wide; that way, a desk clerk in Paris has the same (or very similar) qualifications, attitudes, and skills as a desk clerk in Los Angeles, Miami, or London. A customer who chooses Hotel Paris for one city should expect to see the same level of service and care in any other city they travel to. In addition, the interview process should include a skill assessment tailored to each job description which may or may not include behavioural assessments or technical evaluations, depending on the position. Security guards, housekeepers, and anyone else with front-line access to guests’ security (keys, rooms, parking areas, etc.) should, obviously, pass a criminal background check while a desk clerk should be able to handle computerised data entry while having impeccable “people skills” such as courtesy, manners, and tact. A set of standard interview questions can allow managers to perform effective interviews coherent with the mission goals set by the corporate HR department. These questions can be inferred from job descriptions as well as by interviewing model employees already in those positions to determine their thought processes and proliferate those attitudes throughout the company.

With the proliferation of the Internet, computer-based training can be a significant cost-saving measure.

Even when hiring good employees that should, arguably, need little-to-no initial training, an initial training period can be prescribed in order to streamline and simplify the transition to the position. Some initial HR department training can be incorporated into the orientation process, indoctrinating the new hires into corporate culture and showing the rudiments of individual jobs. After an initial orientation period, new hires can be formally trained on-the-job by either their immediate supervisor (who will have taken a course in OTJ training) or by a training manager whose job it is to train new hires in a particular position at any location. The orientation training can be done at the group level in a classroom setting or at the individual level via computer-based training (CBT). With the proliferation of the Internet, the latter can be a significant cost-saving measure as it can be updated from a central HR department and maintained by the corporate IT department. Also important, in order to maintain superior employees, is to institute a program for continuous and recurrent training. Recurrent training can vary from job to job, from formalised training on new equipment to customer service workshops and even professional certification programs where applicable. This continuous training program can also support internal promotion by providing supervisor or manager candidate workshops focusing on important concepts such as leadership and conflict resolution. The important thing to consider here is that it is not the amount of time devoted to training, necessarily, but the quality of training received as well as the quality of employees hired into those positions, which the earlier stages of this comprehensive action plan have already addressed.

Safety in a service industry can not be avoided.

In addition to training employees in the basic functions of their jobs, health and safety training should be a recurrent system that encourages strict limitation of workplace hazards. This sort of training can be facilitated through video lectures and online seminars that identify particular hazards associated with each job function. From the obvious benefit of not harming employees, focusing on health and safety of employees will translate to the overall welfare of the guests in our charge. For example, housekeepers using various cleaning products will not mix certain chemicals that can give off noxious gases if taught correctly. Pool attendants can keep decks clean and clear so that guests or other employees do not slip and fall. Safety is an utmost priority for any business, but in a service industry, where a safety violation can potentially harm your customer, it can not be avoided, and so, standard company-wide training in safety must be incorporated into orientation and recurrent training programs.

Thanks to specific job descriptions, human resources can develop performance appraisals tailored to each position.

Having formalised job descriptions and standard training procedures, Hotel Paris can now focus on the task of actually maintaining day-to-day operations with their employees. The most effective method of ensuring that the new hiring and training policies are effective is to perform periodic appraisals of employees’ work. Thanks to the new, specific job descriptions, human resources can now develop performance appraisals tailored to each individual position. At this point, HR should develop benchmark metrics to best evaluate employee performance. Can a desk clerk keep an average five-minute check in/out time? Can a housekeeper keep an average ten-minute cleaning time? How many instances of customer security violations are recorded monthly? Can the kitchen maintain a thirty-minute delivery time on room service orders while holding the highest standards of quality (as defined by customer comment cards)? Those employees that are able to maintain standards should be rewarded not only through their basic wages, but also, periodically, through incentives as these have been proven to foster a high level of morale leading to improved teamwork and, consequently, customer service.

The best way to keep employees happy and focused is to incentivise the pay schedule.

There is an old adage in business that says if you keep your employees happy, then they will keep your customers happy. This has been proven time and again in various industries from air travel to steel production. In order to attract (and retain) the best talent possible, Hotel Paris must raise the base pay of their employees in all job categories to above that of the local industry average. Likewise, the best way to keep employees happy and focused on the mission-at-hand (“superior guest service”) is to incentivise the pay schedule. Through (now well-defined) performance appraisals for each job, managers can pay employees on a sliding scale based directly on the nature of the quality of their work. Housekeepers can be compensated for maintaining a quick pace while working together to ensure quality in their room maintenance. Desk clerks can be rewarded for keeping a quick registration pace and high marks in customer comments. Security guards can be rewarded for preventing incidents by staying vigilant. Having defined performance metrics allows employees to know exactly what they are working for and seeing those rewards come through concretely keeps morale high enough to maintain that level of service defined in the strategic mission statement.

New benefits systems allow some benefits to be traded for others, depending on employee preference.

In addition to wage compensation, a comprehensive benefits plan can help retain quality employees and keep them career-focused rather than looking to Hotel Paris as a job to help cover a few extra household expenses. New lines of thinking in benefits packages produce systems where some benefits can be traded for others, depending on employee preference. Instead of a “use it or lose it” system for awarding sick days, a new “a la carte” system can allow employees to trade unused sick days for extra pay or scheduled vacation days. In addition to keeping employees happy by giving them an enhanced measure of control over their benefits packages, there is the added benefit of incentivising actually coming in to work every day. Missing a day due to illness (or personal errands, as many employees tend to use sick days for long weekends or to handle other personal matters) may not mean a loss of normal wages, but it can mean a loss of bonus pay or that extra vacation time. Employees also not wanting to use sick days will take care of their health better, further reducing insurance spending—saving thousands (or even millions) that can be used to pay better wages, build new locations, or renovate existing hotels. Making these benefits available to employees as soon as possible (immediately, or, at most 30 days) will further motivate the new hires into a high sense of duty and performance instead of waiting through a long probationary period watching colleagues enjoy benefits that, in all fairness, were earned just as diligently.

Happy and fulfilled customers are the direct result of happy and fulfilled employees.

As Hotel Paris implements the steps outlined in this action plan, a culture of equality and fairness is only sure to arise thanks to new policies regarding treatment of workers and compensation. To restate an earlier idea, in a service industry, happy and fulfilled customers are the direct result of happy and fulfilled employees who are the direct result of an ethical and fair-minded management team. Basic company ethics can be introduced during orientation training, but they are best ingrained through action on the job. When a company hires the best, they should not have to worry about labour relations or unionisation. In order to better stay focused on changing employee concerns, not only should an open-door policy be implemented where a subordinate can address their concern with an immediate supervisor, but a direct human resources hotline can be opened that will address all concerns in an anonymous and immediate manner. Having a sense of importance in the company supported by strong incentive pay and egalitarian corporate culture can virtually eliminate any concerns regarding union labour as well as making sure employees take ownership which will lead not only to superior customer service, but also to long-lasting, career-oriented employees, saving time and money in recruitment, hiring, and initial training costs.

This Is the First Weekend in America With No Saturday Morning Cartoons

The end of an era.

Saturday morning American broadcast TV was once animation’s home field. Filling a cereal bowl with artificially colored sugar pebbles and staring at the tube was every kid’s weekend plan. Not any more: For the first time in 50-plus years, you won’t find a block of animation on broadcast this morning. It’s the end of an era.

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Trust Your Engineers

My boss asked me to build a portable display unit for a product we manufacture: a small solar panel “installed” on a mock-up of a shingled roof. I opted to use our industrial-strength adhesive to glue the solar panel to a block of wood screwed into the mock roof. I was on a little bit of a time crunch, so the boss was concerned with the amount of time it would take for the adhesive to cure. He made a suggestion:

Why don’t you just drive a screw through [the panel] and into the wood?

I stared at him blankly as if to give him a moment to reconsider the folly of his question, then I answered: because it will shatter the tempered glass on top of the panel. He examined the panel, tapping on the glass surface.

Nonsense! This isn’t glass; it’s some sort of hard plastic! You should be able to drill through that with no problem!

All right, then. You’re the boss.

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For posterity, I entombed the shattered glass in packing tape before hanging the new art installation in my laboratory. The title: Always Trust Your Engineers.


Steve Jobs on Entrepreneurship

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

Steve Jobs, June 12, 2005.

Tech Firms Make Lots of Money Off Your Face—Here’s How

More reason to move forward with the Sparticus Experiment

Tech companies are beginning to use facial recognition software to make your life easier—and to profit from who you are and what you want.

Source: Tech Firms Make Lots of Money Off Your Face—Here’s How | WIRED

AT&T: “We clearly have competitive prices” (circa 1988)

Remember when you had to pay for long-distance telephone service?

One of AT&T’s “The Right Choice” series of advertisements from the mid-late 1980s. This one features then-director of market management Nina Aversano explaining why AT&T is the best market choice for long-distance telephone service in the deregulation era.