I had the good fortune of starting in sales with Varsity Spirit Corp., a small company that now is the world’s largest in its industry. When I started with Varsity, we were the David in the “David and Goliath” story, competing with companies more than quadruple our size. With hard work, great leadership and innovation, we became the Goliath.
My boss understood the perils of success and often said to his management team, “We’re doing great, and let’s make sure we do not believe our own press.” Translation: Let’s make sure we don’t forget what got us to the top.
Success is great; arrogance is not. Arrogance often has two siblings called complacency and mediocrity. This combination kills sales and puts companies out of business. Jim Collins, author of “How the Mighty Fall,” shares research on the five stages of decline by companies that once were on top but tumbled to the bottom. And guess what Stage One is – it’s hubris, believing your press clippings. Collins said in this stage, employees become arrogant, often losing sight of or forgetting which factors created success in the first place.
As business speaker Tony Robbins preaches, act like you did in the beginning. So what can you do to make sure your mighty sales team doesn’t catch the virus of arrogance?
1. Practice positive paranoia. One of my successful, non-arrogant vice presidents of sales continues to enjoy great sales and success. She balances the success with humility and reality testing. She always asks herself and her team the question, “What could our competitor do to put us out of business.” She understands that when you are on top, you are also the target to hit and beat.
2. Create learning cultures. I like to ask clients if their business has changed in the last six months, last year or even the last two years. Hands always shoot up. Then, I hit them with a zinger question: “Has your sales team changed or up-leveled its approach or skills in the last six months, the last year, or last two years in order to keep up with the ever-changing demands of business?” Arms slowly lower and the duh moment sets in. The reality is your team can’t add value unless it is learning new ideas, thoughts and approaches to share with prospects and clients. The arrogant salesperson thinks they know it all. The great salesperson recognizes that learning and improving never stops, regardless of repeated successes.
Make sure you and your sales organization don’t fall into the first stage of decline — hubris. Be confident, not arrogant. Celebrate success and practice positive paranoia. The top of the hill is a great view. The bottom of the hill, not so much.