A rule of thumb as a sales manager is you should know, within about 90 days of hiring a sales rep, if they’re going to work out for you.
The exact timeframe varies depending on their sales experience, or their lack thereof. My belief is that with “no experience” sales reps, you hire slow and fire fast. If you have your finger on the pulse of your department, you should know if your new rep is going to make it or not. What about the Henry Petersons of the world? The reps that are not going to be your top billers -- maybe ever. The reps that just comes in daily and gives it their best. How do we treat them? Are we always giving praise to the top billers and somehow leave the Henry Petersons to feel left out? I know coaching football and being a sales manager are two totally different professions. However, the parallels of sports and business -- especially sales -- are obvious.
I think sometimes we overlook the Henrys in our sales departments. We do play favorites a lot with those up-and-coming sales reps who dominate starting out, while someone like Henry gets lost in the shuffle because maybe they don’t fit “the eye test.” Often the Henrys leave your sales team and show up somewhere else doing an exceptional job, when we counted them out or left them on the bench long ago. Often we overlook the value that a Henry Peterson brings outside of just his billing numbers. There are reps that play the role like a Director of Mirth -- a person who keeps things lively and entertaining in the sales bull pen with some well-conceived jokes. Are there any reps in your sales department that kind of act as the glue that holds everything together? In many sales departments, they are not the top biller. We need to make sure we recognize these reps.
In my sales seminars, I use the story of Henry Peterson to illustrate that there are important people to the overall health and wealth of a sales team beyond their individual numbers.
Decades ago, Henry Peterson was a high school football player in Virginia. Henry was a very fine athlete and a good student. Henry wanted to go to college, and he wanted to play college football for a coach he really respected. He wanted to go to Georgetown and play for Coach Lou Little. The equivalent today of a high school player wanting to go play for Nick Saban at Alabama. Coach Little would later go on to fame coaching at Columbia University. Henry enrolled at Georgetown and tried out (walked on) for the football team. He wasn’t a star anymore because he was surrounded by so many high school scholarship athletes. Henry just barely made the team.
Henry Peterson sat on Coach Little’s bench for four years. Yet, Coach Little described Henry this way: “Henry, he’s a special guy; he doesn’t play much because his talent level isn’t up to the other guys. But Henry, he’s the glue that holds this team together. He’s the spirit of the team.” Coach Little went on to describe what the glue that holds the team together means: “The spirit of it all in every system, family systems, sports teams, company teams. There are people whose function is not to be brilliant, not to be the Einstein, but (to be) the collaborators in the best sense of the word, the people who keep the team going and motivated. That’s what Henry’s role was on our Georgetown team.”
In Henry Peterson’s senior year, one week before Georgetown’s biggest game of the year, his father died. Henry was thrust into a conflict situation. He knew he had to go home to see his mother, brothers, and sisters. Yes, in his mind he was abandoning the team. Coach Lou Little had no misgivings; he knew where Henry should be. He said, “You go home kid, you go home and be with your mother, brothers, and sisters.” Henry responded, “But coach, what about the team?” Coach Little said, “You go home and on game day we’ll say a prayer for you.”
During the middle of the week, Coach Little called Henry. “How you doing son?” Henry said, “It’s terrible coach; this is the worst thing that has ever happened to me. I don’t know what to do.” Coach Little exhorts, “You stay where you are kid, and take care of your mother, brothers, and sisters.” Henry did take care of his family and he buried his father.
Game day arrived and who walked into the Georgetown locker room? None other than Henry Peterson in full gear. Coach Little hit the roof. “What are you doing here? I thought I told you to go home and take care of your family!” Henry responded, “I did take care of them coach, but I had to come. And coach, can you do me a favor?”
“Anything,” was Coach Little’s response, “anything you want.”
“Coach, I want to start.” Henry said.
“Well, not anything Henry. This game’s more important than you and me,” was Coach Little’s reply. “You’ve been sitting on my bench for four years, I just can’t put you in -- a lot’s riding on this game.” Henry pleaded, “Just this once coach.”
Lou Little finally gave in, but with a stipulation. “The first time you make an error of any sort that compromises this team’s effort, you’re coming out! Understand?”
Henry got his wish and they shook hands on it.
Henry Peterson started that Georgetown vs. Fordham game and proceeded to run for 171 yards and three touchdowns. If you follow football, you know that’s as close to single-handedly winning the game as it ever gets. Henry was not off the field for more than 30 seconds when Coach Little came rushing over to him half furious and half amazed and asked Henry, “Why didn’t you tell me you could do that? You’ve been sitting on my bench for four years!”
Henry said, “Coach, did you ever meet my father?” “No,” said Coach Little. Henry continued, “Did you ever see us in the springtime walking hand in arm, around the campus, and I would be pointing things out and talking to him?”
“Yes, a couple times. What’s your point?” asked Coach Little.
“Coach,” said Henry, “my father was blind, and today was the first time he could ever see me play.”
Henry Peterson went on to a great career in sales. His determination to be a part of his team’s effort in the biggest game of the year set the tone for the game. Henry called that moment his “sweet spot in time.” All of us have that sweet spot Henry talked about, that time when he knew that his potential was far greater than anything he ever had accomplished or considered before.
(For Kimberly "Liquid Fire" Futrell)
Sean Luce is the Head Instructor for the Luce Performance Group International and can be reached at Sean@luceperformancegroup.com orwww.luceperformancegroup.com. Sean’s new book The Liquid Fire can be found on Amazon.com.