Many people have asked me and many others have wondered how come a dyed in the wool, hard-nosed Yorkshire man like me came to get involved in some of the ‘new age” techniques that I have studied, things like NLP and Clean Language. These are psychological disciplines and techniques for helping people to get motivated and dealing with their state of mind by removing the things that can block their progress and advancement and preventing them from fulfilling their potential. What would make me take these things and turn to coaching as a career after many years of successfully making lots of money in big business?
It certainly wasn’t the money, I earned much more before, but as they say, money isn’t everything. It’s much more satisfying to help people on their way to a successful life than sitting in an office whilst a successful training department operates around me. In fact I needed a new challenge, because of the quality of the people in my team. I’d delegated so much to them over the years and they were so good at their job that they didn’t need me around anymore and they deserved their chance at the big chair.
Well it’s never been secret and the story I am about to tell I have shared with many people who’ve attended my courses and there are only a few changes in what I’m about to say from what I said to delegates who have worked with me. I am now going to share it with a wider audience and I’m going to share it with you.
To begin this tale, which is absolutely true, I have to take you back to time when I was a young salesperson struggling to make a living and trying unsuccessfully to achieve my target. Like many successful salespeople I started out as the less than successful salesperson learning the job as I went along. I desperately wanted to succeed, because I knew that this was the field that suited my temperament and my personality and I needed the money at that time.
I had worked in Canada for two years as a salesperson before I returned to England and I had a reasonably successful year working in sales in North America, and I was looking forward to starting a sales career in the UK. I was fortunate in getting an opportunity with a reasonably large office equipment company working in Sheffield. My boss was of the old school and insisted on being called Mr Davies even though he only had three direct reports and we could’ve worked on a much closer, more friendly basis if we had been on first name terms.
I worked hard, and in my view I worked much harder than my colleagues in the same business, they may not have agreed. I made all the cold calls, I knocked on the doors, I worked on my demonstration technique and it was one of the best in the country, I know this, because I was selected to demonstrate our product to the president of our major competitor on our stand at a major national business show. I was dedicated to making my opportunity into a success.
Unfortunately none of this made a difference and at the end of the month I would find that I had achieved 70% of my target. It never varied it was always 70% and it didn’t seem to matter what I did, nothing seem to change the result.
Now we have a development program common in sales for developing people who are trying hard, and yet not getting the results that they deserve. The sales manager accompanies them on a working day and this technique is known as a field visit. By using a the field visit the manager can observe the salesperson in action and give coaching and tips that will help the salesperson achieve better results.
I worked for this company for over a year and Mr Davies only accompanied me the one time and that was when some of the top management were visiting the branch and he didn’t want to be around when did. What I got by way of motivation was a message that was placed in my message box, (we didn’t have email in those day, we had a box into which our messages were placed and the regional administrator would read it out to us along with any sales leads, or bulletins that happened to come along). My monthly message read like this:
” You have failed to achieve your target in the last month and unless there is an improvement, action will be taken”.
Signed Mr Davies.
The promised action never happened, nor did anything else, I was just left wondering when the axe would fall. As I look back, I probably wasn’t doing so badly and it isn’t uncommon for a salesperson to take time to develop, however my personal expectation was for more than that and I was very good at applying pressure to myself.
It may seem therefore, that I’m being very hard on my manager and maybe I am, because clearly he was in need of help. He needed instruction and training in order to do better job in his role as I needed his help in mine. I have no doubt that he wanted me to succeed, but he just didn’t know how to do it. He needed an experienced coach to show him how to get a better result from his people.
That didn’t help me at the time however, and the thought that I have expressed above about helping him never entered my head. All I knew was that the bank manager was phoning my wife on a daily basis to ask how we were going to tackle the overdraft that had developed. She was pregnant with our first child (a daughter, Victoria and more about my relationship with her in a future blog) and she wasn’t used to financial stress and was very worried.
I was stressed too and I was desperate, so much so that I found myself in a Sheffield bookshop looking at the sparsely populated shelves of self-help books (they weren’t so common in those days as they are now). I picked up a book called “The amazing results of positive thinking by Norman Vincent Peel”. The author was a preacher in a church in New York and also had his own radio show over in the states. He was quite famous and he worked in partnership with a psychologist, Dr. Smiley Blanton, and together they established a religious/psychological clinic in America.
Given the author’s background it’s not surprising therefore that the book was chiefly religious and very Christian and also very psychological. At the end of every chapter he would urge the reader to join a church of their choice and experience the benefits that God would rain down on us all. Now at this point when I am telling the story to people on my course I usually say: “I am not a religious person and as I read the book I discounted the religious part of what I was reading”, and this was true, I did.
The book was full of motivational stories about people who have suffered hardship and people who were struggling to find success and this resonated with me in my position. The book had a different Christian message to the one I had heard as a child. The message I had received then was that I should be satisfied with my lot, be grateful for what I had and not to bother god by asking him for more than I was due to. The new message was that God wants you to be successful, he wants you to have all of the good things in life and if you put the faith in him, then you will get everything that your heart desires. Very much in tune with the American dream, the “You too can be President if you want it enough” message was loud and clear.
To all the Christians and the Muslims and the Buddhists and the Sikhs and any religion that I may have left out who may be reading this, I want to stress that this was about my reception of the message and not necessarily what the message is. It seemed to me that the church was run by people who had lots of things and not by people who didn’t have them. I am quite happy to accept that I may have got the message wrong.
The miracle that happened during the time when I was reading the book was stunning, I thought so then and I still do to this day, it’s not often that you get to experience an everyday miracle. I didn’t knowingly do anything differently from the way I had worked in all my previous unsuccessful months and yet I achieved in that month 250% of my sales target.
Take a little time to think about that, it’s perfectly true and it did happen.
Nothing had changed outside, Sheffield still had the same number of rainy days and wet slate roofs that had been so soul destroying before and yet something had changed inside me. I began to see customers as people and not as a means to an end and another remarkable thing about it was, that the customers seem to be in on the secret. They were more positive and they wanted to give me the business, whereas before I thought that they didn’t even want to see me and certainly didn’t want what I was selling.
Within two months of this happening I joined another company and they seemed much more progressive. They had an “open door” policy, managers were called by their first name and I got so much field visit time that sometimes I wanted to stop. I became one of the top performing salespeople in that company, then moving to managing a team and then, after a while, I became a sales director for one of the biggest regions. I enjoyed a very successful 30-year career with this company and I was very happy to do so.
I have wondered since that time whether I gave God enough credit for what happened to me during that sales month and I happily now concede that I didn’t. You see I am rationalist and my instinct was to find out what had happened, I wanted to know what had changed and whether I could make it happen again for myself and for other people.
I then began a search, which took me through courses, as I previously stated, in NLP, in clean language techniques and much else, and I will tell you something about these future blogs.