Selling People Short: Underestimate and Lose

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In most cases when we underestimate, we lose.

Underestimate your inventory and you lose sales. Underestimate your staffing needs and you lose sales. Underestimate customer response to an ad and you lose sales. Underestimate an opponent and more often than not you lose sales.

In today's competitive environment no one can afford to lose sales or, more importantly, current and future customers. In most cases the typical reaction to these situations is that we get frustrated or even upset. And why shouldn't we? It has just cost us sales, profit and, more critically, customer loyalty.

But what amazes me most is that we don't get frustrated or upset when we underestimate our employees' abilities, which happens quite often. No, we don't have that same reaction, although we should, because when we underestimate our people we get:

  • Lower productivity
  • Lower sales
  • Lower margin
  • Lower profits
  • Lower customer loyalty
  • Higher customer returns
  • Higher associate turnover

All of this happens, but we don't get frustrated. Why? Maybe we don't recognize it when we are doing it. Or is it because this issue is harder to quantify in terms of missed sales and profit, so it does not stand out? Whatever the reason, what we fail to recognize is that someone does get very frustrated about this, and that person is the associate.

I have yet to work for or with a company that has not done this at some point. I have been guilty of it in my own career. How many times have you caught yourself saying things like "They can't handle it;" "We don't want to overwhelm them;" "They won't understand it;" or "It's over their head."

Yet when we set low expectations, employees, surprisingly, never fail to meet them. The cost to the company is far greater than any of the circumstances listed up top, as now the associate, the person who takes care of our customers, feels frustrated.

Every company wants to improve sales and profits, but many wrongly figure it is too difficult for their associates to comprehend. Maybe the problem isn't our people — perhaps the real problem is that we don't know our people. For example:

"Mary" works full time and is a mother of four. At home she balances the checkbook, budgets the family expenses and is constantly searching for how to stretch the family dollar. Do you think she can understand margin, payroll and expense control?

"Bob" works part time and attends school. He is a math major with a minor is statistics. Sales, margin and profit is all in the math — don't you think Bob would comprehend?

"Sarah" is recently divorced. She was the accounting manager at her last job and is a member of Toastmasters International, the oral communication and leadership training firm. Accounting manager means she has managed others, and joining Toastmasters shows initiative to better oneself and relates well to training and management skills. What is her potential?

Do you recognize any of these people? You should, because they're out there working in your store right now. If you feel your employees can't handle it, it's probably because you don't know them well enough. Most people want to prove their value to the organization with the hope of recognition and advancement. Are you're providing those opportunities?

Don't use your people to do a job; utilize their abilities to maximize potential for you, your company, the customer and most importantly them.


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