Tall Sales

Learn and Earn

A business has both internal and external customers (employees and clients), says Gaynor. It's basic math: Please both groups, and sales go up. And his employees often need a pat on the back: "Salespeople, in general, ride emotional roller coasters. They frequently run into rejection," says Tony Alessandra, author of The Sales Manager's Idea-a-Day Guide: 250 Ways to Manage and Motivate a Winning Sales Team--Every Selling Day of the Year (Dartnell).

But it's hard to enjoy your job-and thrive in it--if your brain matter is hardening. Hence Learning to Learn, a five-week, three-hour-a-week required course for all employees. They learn how to retain information, and everybody is assigned to read newspapers, magazines and two books: Tuesdays With Morrie (Doubleday) and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Scholastic Trade).

"The average person forgets 50 percent of what they listen to [within] the next day," Gaynor says. "They forget 90 percent of what they listened to within a week. And within a month, it's virtually forgotten altogether." Scary stuff, when your sales meetings are packed with information. But Gaynor remains enthusiastic that TNG can overcome the stubborn memory by giving reading a critical role in the learning process. In fact, it was a book--Timothy Gallwey's The Inner Game of Work (Random House)--that inspired Gaynor to make his company "a learning-based organization."

The book has since become the company bible. The main theme in Inner Game is this, says Gallwey: "The potential of human beings to learn from their work experience is not fully taken advantage of. To do this requires acknowledging the way in which individuals, teams and corporate culture can interfere with the worker's learning and potential expression of excellence."

"Salespeople, in general, ride emotional roller coasters. They frequently run into rejection."

That is a philosophy Gaynor takes to heart. New employees attend an intense three-week seminar, where they study the workplace culture, the complicated computer system and specific sales tactics. Common stuff, of course. Most successful companies offer training.

But then Gaynor's employees take Learning to Learn, and some time later, they move into Learning to Learn: Level Two. Mann, an instructor, explains: "We go into a more in-depth understanding of the principles of The Inner Game of Work, such as mobility, focus, redefining work, thinking like a CEO and coaching for managers."

When employees reach Level Three, they study personal and professional development. And Level Three, Mann says, "will never end."

Impressive? Or a waste of time and money? "It is an investment," argues Alessandra. "For instance, IBM has found that for every dollar they invest in training, they get $25 in return. Of course, if you're looking to save money, training is one of the first things an entrepreneur will cut."

Indeed, several months after implementing TNG's learning programs, Gaynor saw customer satisfaction rise to 90 percent. Turnover virtually stopped. And Knight talks of one training success story regarding a woman who had never touched a computer before coming to TNG. "For two weeks, she cried every day," he says. But he stuck with her and had her spend an extra week in training.

Says Gaynor, "She ended up being the first to do $1 million in sales. She's still the sales leader on the floor."

Geoff Williams has written for numerous publications, including Entrepreneur, Consumer Reports, LIFE and Entertainment Weekly. He also is the author of Living Well with Bad Credit.

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This article was originally published in the August 2001 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Tall Sales.

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