Articles providing practical, field-tested advice to sales professionals.

Location: Houston, Texas, United States

Thursday, April 14, 2005

When the University of Houston was expanding the College of Business Program for Excellence in Selling due to the rapid growth and demand for training in Houston, an advisory board was convened. This was the first time such a board had been convened in the history of the industry, and included Carl G. Stevens. Following is an excerpt from an interview Alice Adams, Employment Correspondent with the Houston Chronicle, conducted with Mr. Stevens during this exciting event.


Carl Stevens, president of Carl Stevens and Associates Inc., remembered teaching a class at Ohio State.

“We asked how many had given serious consideration to a career in sales,” he said, “One hand went up in a room of 40 students.”

Tracking that same class five years later, Stevens found 75% of the students were in sales or were migrating into the sales arena.

“But, while people often went into sales because they had failed at something else, today’s mandates take the sales professional to a higher level,” he said.

Reminded of a meeting with a professor from The Julliard School of Music several years ago, Stevens believes today’s sales arena demands training for professionals at Julliard’s same high level.

“Imagine how great it would be for those playing by ear to have a degree from Julliard,” he said. “So why isn’t it just as valid to say, ‘How great it would be for those playing by ear in sales to have an equivalent degree in selling from Julliard?;”

Stevens said he spends much of his time consulting companies and speaking at seminars around the world. But his ideas about selling never have stagnated.

“I think we’re seeing the need to be more selective in picking sales teams,” he said. “But back in the day, it was never unusual to see the best salesman or saleswoman moved into management. Sometimes that’s a mistake.”

But Stevens said there are more chinks in the traditional sales organization’s armor.

“We’re not only selecting poorly but we’re preparing teams poorly as well,” he said. “If we don’t’ prepare them well, we can’t retain even the top producer for very long.”

He once asked an audience of chief executives, “If everyone in your company brought in the amount of business as your top sales person, what percentage would your business increase?”

The consensus was 1,000% - without ever raising overhead, as the majority of the increased business floats to the bottom line.

“So we say, find out the areas of basic weaknesses and address them so you can start getting more production, but we need to realize that 60% of all candidates don’t have the chemistry to succeed in sales,” Stevens said.

According to Stevens’ data, about 20% of the sales candidates today have all the right stuff to make it in professional sales. Another 20% of sales people hired will never make it.

“So, we have to screen more thoroughly to get the right people into the sales jobs we have,” he said. “The next thing we need to examine is attitude. Are they willing to work hard?"

Tiger Woods, for example, has created a true-to-life legend of practicing eight hours a day, just like almost anyone who succeeds in anything.

“I’ll never forget that after Tiger Woods won an early tournament, he turned to his practice coach and said, “Don’t go away, we’ve got work to do,” Stevens said. “That work included spending another four hours on the greens, practicing weak shots.”

Stevens advocates looking for the candidate with “fire in the belly.”

“We want people who have good habits, who work hard and who want to succeed enough to keep working,” Stevens said.


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