BANTER OR BULLYING?
CHARACTER BUILDING, OR CHARACTER DEMOLISHING?
How important is it for everyone to be resilient, thick-skinned, even hard-nosed?
Life can be hard. Without one or more of these traits we run the risk of being beaten down by the more forceful and ultra-confident types.
To illustrate, let me describe an extreme version of this:
A confident go-getter enjoys ‘banter’ with their colleagues. One colleague is a less confident and seldom joins in with the exchange of ‘winding-up’ and derisory comments. To some, this makes them ideal targets for such banter, and the comments start.
Initially teasing, they are easily shrugged off. But, they continue, and can develop a hint of mocking. Others, wanting to remain with the confident and ‘favoured’ group, will find themselves joining in, sometimes without intending to. Within a short period of time, perhaps a few weeks, one person has become the butt of most of the ‘banter’ going on.
Originators of office/school/group banter will claim it is ‘character building’. They believe they are helping those bearing the brunt of the humour to gain a thicker-skin, to ‘man-up’. The ‘Butt’ may well attempt to join in, but will show their inexperience in making quips and digs and will likely receive more ‘digs’ as a result. Initial banter is usually ignored, but continued and it gradually eats away at the recipient, resulting in lost esteem and confidence.
Life is hard. Perhaps we should encourage this form of banter to help weed-out those not capable of defending themselves and so to form stronger teams.
But, what are we doing if this continues unabated? We are making someone’s life pretty miserable. They will see it as bullying and will find it more and more difficult to become involved, contribute, socialise and engage.
Then there is the other extreme, where we cosset and protect the weak and avoid all banter and ‘wind-ups’. I remember when a boss I had in the mid 90’s apologised to me for swearing. He assumed that, as I didn’t swear, it must be that it offends me. Bless him! Extreme swearing does offend me, but the occasional ‘Anglo-Saxon Derivative’ (as my English teacher used to say) can add richness to the language. The reason I didn’t swear was because I had four young impressionable daughters at home and Dad swearing, even inadvertently, was not the example I wanted to give them.
There is another way. I saw this happen once and it had a great positive impact on me. At one stage in my career, the boss was also the chief source of the office banter. He would rip into anyone, strong or weak and wind them up to a high level. Most of us recognized this and responded in kind (to a lower level; we wanted to stay in good books). There was one chap who did not take this well. He was a really nice guy and had much to contribute to the group. However, it was clear that he was enjoying being at work less and less. His mood changed and his engagement with all of us was less frequent and helpful. He was becoming isolated. This was not the group’s intention, but none recognised it for what it was and no-one wanted to suggest to the boss that he stopped. In the end, the boss sorted it. He was perceptive and understood fully the risks to the team and to our colleague. The boss took him to one side and had a chat with him. The next thing I know, our colleague was smiling, animated and seemingly in awe of the boss! His output increased and his loyalty knew no bounds. He was even seen to join in with the banter occasionally.
What did the boss say? Eventually, my colleague confided in me.
In a nutshell the boss had told him that he was sorry that such actions and comments were upsetting him. He told him how valuable and valued he was, how he should ignore anything that offended and to regard it as immature behavior on their part. He wanted my colleague to come to him and tell him at any time if anything was bugging or upsetting him, because he wanted him to be happy in his work and to enjoy his time. The boss, even said he regretted the way he behaved but that it was now expected of him and he was worried that any change would be regarded as a weakness.
In showing humanity and humility, the boss had succeeded in turning round the whole situation.
Perhaps this is the best approach when such ‘banter’ risks getting out of hand; risks losing a colleague, or worst of all, demolishes someone’s self-confidence and self-esteem.
There is no easy answer. But, taking account of people’s feelings can result in stronger teams, stronger relationships, and stronger leadership.
Whether you like or loathe the man, and there seems to be little middle ground Boris has always had a very focussed approach to Brexit. He has a plan and a strategy, rightly or wrongly.
Comparing this withe Sales Process, and there are many prarallels, he is attempting to obtain the best deal for the UK from the EU.
In every sale, the backstop; the very last option has to be a no-deal. In other words, ‘I am prepared to walk away and neither of us benefits from this relationship’. But to make that a useful negotiating tool, it must be an option available to you. If you are not prepared to walk away, no matter how much you want the deal, then the opposition will use this to their great advantage and to your disadvantage.
If they know that you are not allowed the option to walk away, the ‘no-deal’, then they will find it much easier to impose their needs and wishes over yours. It gives you a weak position from which to negotiate because they know that in the end, you will have to accept a deal that favours their needs.
Unfortunately, parliament do not understand this, or, they feel that the risk of ending up with no deal is too great. So, Boris’s hands were tied.
This point is similar to that discussed in my blog of March 2019 where the delegate was not allowed to walk away without the order. Here as well, his negotiating power was weakened and the customer had, and played the advantage.
This is not an easy line to follow. It may result in bluff and counter-bluff and a cool head is needed. However, simply believing that you have the power to walk away from the deal (even if you have no real intention to do so) may be enough to help strengthen your position.
Make sure they believe you have the choice, and then secure a better deal.
Three essentials needed by those selling into technical markets:
1/ Technical knowledge
2/ Training/Coaching in Technical Sales
3/ Motivation & self-belief
Why is technical sales training and coaching so essential?
Managers will notice a lack of confidence in those new to technical sales, and sometimes even in those who have been selling in technical markets for some time.
Lack of confidence results in reduced motivation. Less motivated salespeople will under-perform. Under-performance limits success, reducing self-belief, and so confidence dips further. This results in reduced productivity and profitability.
Likewise, the converse is true. Help in the form of training and coaching in technical knowledge and selling skills for technical markets will boost confidence, motivate and ensure more and faster success.
I remember clearly the time when I was a new sales engineer. I knew that my technical knowledge was good, but not yet complete. My confidence in selling was very low, likewise my self-belief that I was any good at selling (although I never let on!). Clearly, my bosses had seen more in me than I had; they had more belief and confidence that I would be successful. If I had thought of this I may have grown more quickly in the job.
A little sales training was offered and taken, but this was very general and did not address the specific issues met when selling in technical markets. My technical knowledge was built on the job with frequent returns to the engineering lab for help and advice. Mostly, I learned on the job.
The perceived wisdom is that for any new salesperson it would take at least a year, possibly two to become cost effective and profitable.
What if you could reduce that ‘delayed profitability’ significantly? What if it took just a few months rather than a year or two? Wouldn’t that result in more profitable sales, and faster?
Reducing the delay by nine months to a year would make a substantial difference to the number and value of the sales achieved. What extra value would that be? An extra 20 or 30% of sales from that person? It could be more. Put a value on that percentage. Would it not make sense to invest a little now to reap faster and larger turnover?
They say that the average time that a good salesperson stays with one company is no more than 2-3 years. Without training or coaching, the time when experience starts to make them profitable can be 18 months to 2 years. They may just have become profitable to you when they decide to move on. With good, tailored training, you could extend that profitable time by up to a year. Now THAT IS worth the investment!
Motivation, self-belief and self-confidence come from experience and from support. Experience takes time, but support in the form of training and coaching makes a significant difference by shortening personal development and bringing forward success.
Training and coaching result in more knowledge, skills and confidence. And hence more sales.
That’s a good question…..
When training a sales team from Samsung recently, I was asked a question which prompted a lot of thought and soul searching. I was able to answer it, but was the answer just too easy?
The question? Where does an ethical sales person ‘draw the line’?
The answer is simple, and quite straight forward: ‘wherever your conscience lets you draw the line’. This is obvious, clear and fits all. However, is it a helpful answer?
The example given by the team member was of a potential customer who used their own ‘pressure buying’ techniques that quickly strayed into bullying; the Genghis Kahn school of negotiation. Apparently, the buyer would throw his pen onto the table and demand loudly that they accept his terms or get out. Other tactics of similar aggressive and intimidating nature were used. Would YOU sit there and take that abuse?
He had my sympathy. Most experienced sales people have had situations of similar severe discomfort. While the buyer rants, raves and threatens, you are sat there wrestling with your own conscience and professionalism. What are your options?
There are many as every situation is different and requires some ‘thinking-on-your-feet’.
Below I describe the two extremes and an ideal.
1/ Fight back? This is the most satisfying. Potentially it can gain respect from the buyer and a mutually beneficial solution could be possible. However, it is extremely risky, as it may escalate the emotions and temper to the point where errors are made, opportunities are lost, and things are said that should never be said by true professionals. Are you reducing your own standards by lowering yourself to their position?
2/ ‘Take it on the chin’; in other words, sit there and use silence or passive resistance as your main tool of defense. This is a very professional approach that will make the buyers behavior seem very childish and clearly bullying in comparison. However, there is also the risk that they will then take your reluctance to engage in a fight as weakness and assume their argument has been won.
3/ A carefully judged balance between the two, whereby you respond to aggressive posturing with a firm insistence and repeated ‘no’. Your volume would be higher than usual but less than theirs; maintain eye-contact as much as possible; your words would again be professional, but your manner should show you standing firm but being fair. Consistency, professionalism, repetition and firmness are needed, with a clear message that you will not be intimidated.
The salesman was strong and held his ground as best he could. Give-in to a bully and they will always bully you. If you cannot work with them, and you have the authority, you can walk away, but do not let them win.
Yes, it is up to you and your conscience. Sometimes it may be a balance between needs and conscience. Apply your own positive, firm approach but do your best not give in to intimidation. When you can, retain the moral ‘high ground’ and give little away. No-one likes a bully, and it is a great shame that some believe this is the way to behave in modern society. However, one cannot deny that they still exist, and we must deal with them while achieving our objectives AND remaining professional.
Thursday 23rd June 2016 was a landmark day for many reasons. The outcome of the referendum surprised a lot of people and delighted others. But, why am I blogging about the referendum of all things? One word: INTEGRITY! As many of you will know, I fly the flag for honesty, openness and integrity in business and particularly in sales.
Sales and selling has long suffered a bad press due to the involvement of those with little or no integrity; those who firmly believe the end-justifies-the-means and the means can be anything at all to win the business.
There’s the parallel. The press is now talking about the ‘fallout’. Now we hear that key arguments and figures were in fact a ‘mistake’. We have now heard that ‘immediate emergency measures’, means ‘we’ll have to look at it in a few months-time when the dust is settled, as we need stability’.
AND THEY WONDER WHY WE DON’T TEND TO TRUST OR RESPECT POLITICIANS AS MUCH AS THEY WOULD LIKE US TO!
If a certain PM, a particular UKIP leader and a well-known chancellor had done things differently; perhaps they could have kept their integrity AND continued to influence people ethically and positively! They would have remained respected, believed and would still be able to influence.
The Salient Points:
- Politicians need to be good at sales and selling. They are in a position of influence and the people expect to be led and advised with honesty and integrity.
- NEVER ASSUME what people want, or the outcome of an initiative. Making assumptions as to what people think, expect, want or need is a recipe for disaster. Identify and clarify the need, what is really the issue, then aim to fulfil that need. Assuming everyone, or at least a majority are going to agree with you is never a good idea.
- If you seek to influence and persuade your customers, or in this case ‘the electorate’, it’s always a good idea to provide accurate facts and reasoned argument.
- If you have competition, do not make it personal! YOUR ARGUMENT SHOULD NOT BE LACED WITH PERSONAL ATTACKS ON THOSE WHO OPPOSE YOU! Sell it on its merits.
- If there is any possibility that you may lose the argument, after all there is always ‘the unforeseen’, have a CONTINGENCY PLAN, which helps you to carry on, but perhaps in a slightly different direction. (‘Damage Limitation’)
- If you want to remain a supplier to your customers (or ‘in office’), then the following applies:
Be clear and consistent in what you say, giving enough facts to allow an educated decision to be made by your customers (‘the people’). This wasn’t done well in the referendum.
These facts and arguments must not be exaggerated, or untruthful, because, surprise-surprise, truth will out, particularly in the fall-out after the event. This happened on both sides.
Customers (the public) will see this disparity between what you promised and what you deliver as a clear manipulation of the process to achieve the sellers’ (politicians’) own ends. They are MUCH less likely to buy from (vote for) them again. The PM is going; others will likely follow.
A customer who is given all the facts they need in order to make an educated and reasoned choice, and these facts are given accurately, without exaggeration, fabrication or vagueness of interpretation, will be happy to deal with you again. IF the final answer is ‘NO thanks’, they are still likely to return and engage with you again. Customer retention and loyalty is only possible if you maintain this integrity.
If you are proved to be false or manipulative, then you should not be at all surprised if the customer then goes elsewhere. That’s politics as we know it!
As it should be in SALES and in POLITICS, it is down to motive, intent and conscience. I aim to sleep well every night. Do you?