Stress Test

My nephew just completed the first 90 days of his new career in the high-risk insurance industry. The interesting thing is he almost didn’t have the opportunity to take on this new role after spending six years in real estate. After several interviews at various levels of the company, he met with the founder. Everything went well until he got up to leave.

That’s when the key decision-maker looked him in the eye and said: “Ryan, when I was in your position, I would finish an interview and wonder, ‘Where do I stand?’ So I want to let you know what I’m thinking. To succeed in our business, we need people who are 10s. I see you as a five. That’s not meant to hurt your feelings, just to let you know I’m not sure you’ll make it here.”

Although caught off-guard, Ryan said, “Well, I respectfully disagree and hope you’ll reconsider.” They shook hands and parted. After a few hours, Ryan had time to digest the unexpected ending, so he wrote a polite email to this gentleman outlining why he sees himself as a 10 and exactly what he would do to prove that. The next day he received an offer.

A few weeks after starting at the company, Ryan was sharing this story with a couple of veteran salesmen. They smiled and told him the founder did the same thing after their interviews. “He gave you a five?” one of them said. “All I got was a four.”

Successful salespeople have to be comfortable overcoming deflection and rejection. This veteran leader utilizes a unique interview technique to test candidates. Is there something similar your company could adopt to see who rises to the top and responds appropriately?


Forward Motion

Over the last year I worked to develop a relationship with a large company in the transportation industry. This included starting over midway through when the person who oversees their coaching practice left the organization. Several months after that setback I had a terrific conversation with the new director. Finally, on her recommendation, I interviewed with two HR specialists to become part of their stable of coaches. I waited patiently as two weeks passed without hearing a word. Then I received an email informing me they selected someone else.

As the disappointment set in that I wouldn’t be coaching their senior leaders, I felt the dejection of rejection. It’s not a feeling I enjoy, and it’s one reason being a salesperson will never be in my career plans. I moped around for about an hour, went outside for some fresh air and about every 30 minutes until bedtime kept falling back into wondering what went wrong.

The next morning I woke up refreshed and with a new attitude. While I could have sat around feeling sorry for myself – ‘How could they not choose me?’ – that would have only wasted time. It wouldn’t have changed anything.

Then wisdom arrived: This was not about me being qualified or talented enough to coach their leaders; it was about the decision-maker selecting what is best – from her perspective – for their organization. My role in the process was to be authentic. I did my part. She did hers. This time there wasn’t alignment. Tomorrow will be another opportunity with another organization. I’m ready.


Grass Is Always Greener

Last week I was facilitating the quarterly check-in meeting with one of my oil and gas client’s teams. These 55 energetic folks are responsible for delivering $120 million in revenue this year. As you might imagine, they are feeling some pressure to execute efficiently. One person began her comments by saying, “Everyone needs to understand our industry is changing quickly…” The only thing I remember about the rest of her statement is it appeared she was trying to justify some of the challenges they’ve faced thus far.

My guidance was to suggest they not fall back on a “we’re different than everybody else” crutch. I mentioned the airline commission cuts of 1995 – and ultimate elimination a few years later – and how one-third of travel agents evaporated from the industry.

I asked how many of them would like to be a printer right now. No one volunteered. Then I said, “Imagine you work at Amazon. You’re sitting on top of the world with Kindle…until Steve Jobs introduces iPad. How are you feeling today?”

Evolution. Commoditization. Overcapacity. There will always be something that jumps up and disrupts the smooth road you’re walking.

I was the co-owner of a sports travel company during the commission cuts. People across the industry were screaming for a class action lawsuit. We took a different approach – gathering our leaders and asking, “What now?” It took about a year for us to discover a better path. Today, that business – which I sold to my partner – is a two-time recipient of the “Best Travel Company in North America” award.

Of course, there was a class action lawsuit regarding the commission cuts. We eventually received a check for about $1,000. Good thing that wasn’t the change we counted on for success.