Don’t Try to Teach Pigs to Fly

There’s one sure thing about trying to teach pigs to fly – it annoys the pigs and frustrates the teacher. As a sales trainer, I share many of the same frustrations. I’m often asked to use my “wizardry” to turn water into wine, i.e., to train the untrainable, and it just doesn’t work.

Square Pegs in Round Holes

It’s not that the individuals are necessarily untrainable. It’s that they are not suited for the role of a salesperson and no amount of training will make them into one. Ever try to pound a square peg fit into a round hole? You usually end up damaging both the peg and the hole. If you’re going to do any pounding, at least use an oval peg. Less damage and less frustrating.

There are a lot of frustrated sales managers out there who are at their wit’s end with some of their people because, despite all the training, coaching, and assistance, they just don’t measure up. Could it be that they’re trying to teach pigs to fly?

Universal Problem

This phenomenon is not limited to individuals. Here are a couple of company-wide examples:

One of our clients, a major consulting company, felt it was losing business because its consultants in the field didn’t recognize or capitalize on opportunities within the organizations they were working with. It was decided to train all the consultants to sell.

Before undertaking the project, I insisted on evaluating the consultants to see who were suitable for the sales role and who were less, or not, suited. We used an instrument called the Sales Temperament Assessment or STA. Over the years, we’ve identified 18 different sales temperaments, two of which shouldn’t be in sales at all and the others are likely to be successful to varying degrees, depending upon what they are selling. In this case, it turned out that about half the consultants had the basic temperament to succeed in sales and the remainder fell into the two categories of people who are not likely to be successful.

Somewhat Successful

The training went ahead as planned with the result that about half the consultants became more aware of potential opportunities and the other half continued to do what they did best – consult. The result was a minor increase in sales and a major increase in anxiety among the consultants.

Animal Farm

The second example is a major international corporation that provides professional consulting and other services to a broad range of organizations around the world. One of its major strengths is that the company hires only the most qualified people.

Some time ago, an edict came down from on high informing the professional staff that if they expected to move up the internal career ladder, they must generate business (sell) on their own.

This was tantamount to gathering all the farm animals into a corral and informing them that, from this day forward, in addition to their primary functions as cows, chickens, pigs, sheep, etc, they were also to act as horses. Now, the horses aren’t going to have any problem with the edict, but the other animals are going to get a bit stressed out.

An Exception to the Rule

To be fair, another of my clients, an engineering firm, provided sales training to all their senior engineers and ended up with a 20 percent increase in billable hours. Sales training can work.

You’re Not Immune

While these examples just happen to be about consulting firms, I see this phenomenon occurring in many different organizations. I suppose they think that selling is so easy that anyone can do it a popular misconception.

When will companies and managers learn that they can’t take Fred from accounting or June from production and put them into sales. Yet that’s what happens too often, especially when companies are faced with reducing staff.

Rather than laying off Fred or June, they put them into sales where they flop around like fish out of water until they finally die. Then everyone stands around saying how sad it was that Fred and June couldn’t make a go of it, but at least they were given a chance. Without making sure that Fred and June at least had a chance at success, all the company has done was to give them a chance to fail and destroy their self-confidence.

You can’t take Fred from accounting and move him into sales anymore than you can take Susan from sales and put her into accounting and expect anything other than chaos and poor performance.

Making the Right Fit

Smart companies and good managers know that part of their job is to put the best person in the right position and then support the individual. It doesn’t matter if that person comes from within the organization or is a new hire.

I’m not implying that engineers, consultants, or even accountants can’t sell. To be sure, there are engineers, consultants, and accountants who can sell just as there are salespeople who can engineer and consult. For the most part, engineers engineer, consultants’ consult, etc., and rarely do the two skills cross. Frankly, after some of the expense accounts I’ve monitored over the years, I wouldn’t let a salesperson near the accounting area unless I was interested in some very creative accounting!

So, as sales managers and sales-oriented companies, make sure you fit the person to the job, not the job to the person. There are tools out there to help you make those decisions. We can help.

Bottom Line

Don’t get stuck trying to teach pigs to fly.