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Great Salespeople Wash Their Cottage Cheese - Part 1

Furniture World Magazine


Theory and practice of transcending the curse of ordinary competence.

The August/September issue of FURNITURE WORLD contained an article, “The World’s Greatest Furniture Store” (posted to the Marketing Management index on www.furninfo.com) that looked at Jim Collins’ ideas in “Good To Great” from the perspective of an entire furniture store operation. This two part series takes his concepts to the level of entrepreneurs on the sales floor.

Sometimes salespeople get good at their jobs and they breathe a sigh of relief. ”Phew, I am good,” they think to themselves, believing that good is good enough.

This attitude can be called the “curse of competence” a syndrome that leads potentially great salespeople to complacency. Yep, it zaps us! We get sabotaged and surrender. We start to lead “Stepford” lives, doing our jobs, and going through each day on cruise control.

That’s why good is the enemy of great. Based on five years of research, Jim Collins, in his terrific book, “Good To Great,” looks at the premise that “great companies have always been great” and that the vast majority of good companies remain just that - good, but not great. He asks if a good company can become a great company, and if so, how?

He also points out that moving from good to great is “not just a business problem, it’s a human problem!” Yes, some home furnishings retailers and individual salespeople are good. The reason that most of them will never become “great” is that they get satisfied… then they settle… then they start to slide… sideways at first… then backwards. These poor souls start to dwell in mediocrity. Why not? After all, they feel that they are good, maybe even bordering on very good. Yes, good is definitely the enemy of great! But the “great” news is, good to great does happen.

You’re the entrepreneur; the professional sale consultant. This is your company. Let’s look at how to take “Me, Inc.” and “transcend the curse of competence.” Let’s put some new tools in your tool box to get from good to great. What’s involved here? “Entrepreneurial success is fueled by creativity, imagination, bold moves, and visionary zeal.” According to Mr. Collins, to capture this zeal and kick-start our imagination and creativity, we need to create a culture of discipline in our thoughts, ideas, and our actions.

Great sales consultants act because they have a need to produce results. They do what has to be done… whatever it takes. “They are self-motivated by an inner drive to produce the best results, and create something great.” They practice and prepare. They combine a culture of discipline with an “ethic of entrepreneurship” that helps them to reach the next level. They work on becoming great professionals who are living their passion, which is to improve performance so that they can better help their customers.

This process starts with creating a culture of discipline and sticking to it. Passion is the spark that ignites your performance. It defines your purpose, gets you going and keeps you running so you can get to great!

When you are passionate, you have an incurable need to produce results. Jim Smith defines this passion as, “An unwavering resolve to do what must be done. Passionate people are self-motivated by an inner drive to produce the best results and create something great! They set exacting standards for every performance.” They are passionate about building a great company and a great life!
Passion + Purpose + Performance = Professionalism = GREAT!

Now that we’ve established the ground rules for becoming a great retail sales consultant working for “Me Inc.”, we can look at specific ways to achieve this status.

As the “Polished Professional” who is getting to “great”, you must differentiate yourself. You are not just a commodity who is selling a commodity. Marjorie Brody, founder of Brody Communications, says that, “the biggest mistake we make is allowing people to see what we’re doing as a commodity. You’ve got to sell on value, customer service, on delivery, and on the idea of a long-term investment. Don’t be a commodity. One can buy commodities with the click of a mouse.”

Your customers must recognize the value of your service, your expertise, and the fact that they need you! Tell customers that your company will stand behind its furniture and that you will stand behind it too. Then make sure that you actually stand behind your promise. THAT’S what “Louise” wants to hear.

You are now her partner and advisor who will help solve her problems and offer long-term solutions. You’re a professional consultant creating an ongoing relationship with a client. You are not a clerk, or an order taker selling just a price, or a product.

You are now starting on the path that leads from merely good, to positively great!

Disciplined to become the best, great salespeople seek continual improvement. They want to learn and grow. Their motto, “Life is a classroom. Its lessons are never ending!”

Jim Collins points out, “Those who turn good into great are motivated by a deep creative urge and an inner compulsion for sheer unadulterated excellence for its own sake.” In fact some can even take it to the point of fanaticism. In this extreme state, he says that they end up “Rinsing their Cottage Cheese!”

“The analogy comes from Dave Scott, who won the Hawaiian Triathlon six times. In training, Dave would ride his bike 75 miles, swim 20,000 meters, and run 17 miles - on average, every single day. Dave Scott did not have a weight problem! Yet he believed a low-fat, high carbohydrate diet would give him an extra edge. So, Dave Scott, a man who burned 5,000 calories a day in training, would literally rinse his cottage cheese to to get the extra fat off.... He believed that rinsing the cottage cheese was simply one more step.... that added to all the other small steps to create a program of super discipline.”

Of course he didn’t need to do this. It was, however, one more way to help him feel empowered. One more way he could take himself, and his performance from good to greater - er!

“Much of the answer from “good to great” lies in the discipline to do whatever it takes to become the best... and then to seek continual improvement... It’s really just that simple. And it’s just that difficult,” says Collins.

Many good salespeople know that a piece of furniture has been double doweled, glued and screwed when they see it. They’ve been working in the business for a long time and they feel that if they don’t know it all, then at least they know most of it! This is one attitude that keeps good salespeople from becoming great. Hey, remember that when you’re green you grow and when you are ripe, You Rot!

A great teacher, David Whyte, author of, “Crossing the Unknown Sea” defines work as, “the place where the self meets the world.” This insightful book is based on the thoughts and beliefs of the English poet William Blake as he takes us into the real journey, the real pilgrimage called work. Blake calls a sense of dedication and a commitment to a chosen profession, a firm persuasion. “To have a firm persuasion in our work,” he says, “is one of the great triumphs of human existence. We do feel that we could move mountains, as if we could call the world home… To have a firm persuasion, to understand that the consummation of work lies not only in what we have done, but who we have become while accomplishing the task.”
This paragraph exactly describes “great” entrepreneurs as well as great sales consultants; people who are committed to their work as an act of continually learning; constantly becoming. They are not satisfied with basic competence. Instead they have a firm persuasion in their work. Their goal is to become “great,” and to make a positive contribution. In the process they make a difference. Their store becomes the best one to assist their consumers. And customers know that this great store (this great salesperson) cares about their needs, is able to listen for these needs, and is ready to fulfill them.

This article on going from good to great will continue in the October/November issue with a discussion of additional skills that great sales consultants use.

Cathy Finney is President of Ancell Affiliates \"T 'N T." She is a noted motivational speaker, sales trainer, and management consultant. Her latest audio tape series on follow-up is called "The Marketing of "Me, Inc." -Taking Your Company Into the Next Millennium--10 audio tapes plus a comprehensive "how-to" manual that helps your people turn all the customers into "clients!" Questions can be addressed to her care of FURNITURE WORLD at finney@furninfo.com.