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Are you getting the right shoes?

What sort of shoes do you wear to work? I imagine it depends on the job that you perform. For example, if you spend most of your day in the office or a call centre a nice pair of comfortable sneakers may be the right choice, going well with the jeans and nice for standing around the water cooler. If you are more executive or customer facing you may prefer well-polished leather shoes, nice flat soles for walking on carpet all day, they look good in meetings when you sling one leg over another while checking important things on your latest model iPhone. Perhaps you work in the warehouse or factory, in which case a good pair of solid work boots with chunky non-slip soles and steel capped toes for safety and comfort while standing up all day, while mitigating injury risk.

Those of us in field based sales roles have a mix, sometimes in the office, sometimes on customer sites, often driving in a car or standing for long periods at trade shows and in stores or worksites. Here a compromise shoe is ideal. I personally prefer a leather slip on with steel capped toes, a good mix of support, safety and style. Easy to slip off at airport security, comfortable enough to stand in for hours, safe enough that if I drop a door closer while putting it in my car it won’t crush my toes.

As a former shoe sales consultant I can assure you that getting the right fit is vital, a shoe that is a half size too small might be alright for walking around the store, but wear it for an hour and you will experience discomfort, wear it for a day and you will be in real pain.

When it comes to work vehicles for your outbound field sales crew the same logic should apply. As quoted in a piece I read recently on a new product site1, “there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all solution”. Perhaps the vehicle will be used only for local trips around town, in which case a more compact hatchback or van could suit, maybe even electric. Or it could be for a rep who travels out of the city occasionally, in which case a medium sized wagon or SUV with a smaller petrol engine could be ideal. For those who cover a lot of miles a more capable vehicle may be required to provide safety and comfort to the employee spending hours behind the wheel, maybe diesel for extra torque and lower emissions. Of course personal preference and physical attributes need to be taken into account as well. A very tall person may have different needs to someone with a lower back problem.

A company cannot simply select a single vehicle to be the ‘one size fit’s all’ that is suitable for all situations, regardless of the needs of the driver or the conditions likely to be encountered. Regrettably I have recently come across exactly this situation in a company that simply should have known better.

I wondered how they could make such a seemingly obvious faux pas.

The answer may well lie in whether it is a ‘Customer Focussed Company’ or an ‘Operations Focussed Company’.

Customer focussed companies recognise that customer experience is the number one way to build your brand. You can have a fantastic competitive advantage by simply delivering on the promises you make as a business. Make quality products, make them easy to buy, deliver them on time at a fair price. Encourage, motivate and reward your people to keep them happy as their satisfaction is contagious. Be an ‘employer of choice’. Sounds easy right?

Operations focussed companies on the other hand is all about doing things ‘by the book.’ If a customer complains then they need to be educated into the ‘right way’ of doing things. Money is made by cutting costs, not by increasing sales. Sales reps are a bunch of layabouts eating well on the company dime and are easily replaceable. Why give them fancy cars? Why not standardize on a cheaper model? After all it would save a lot of money.

While we are at it why not use cheaper work boots for all staff, regardless of where they work? Make ‘em all the same size too, let’s just say size 9. Because one size clearly is better for all.

The problem is that it isn’t (unless a size 9 work boot is ideal for you) and the relentless focus on operational improvement and continual cost cutting ends up with a demoralised and demotivated salesforce who have to look outside the organisation for opportunities to feel valued, appreciated and rewarded for a job well done.

The sweet spot is to have a customer focussed and operationally excellent company where all staff are working to achieve the same goals. Great delivery improves the customer experience, which make for a compelling sales tool. To quote Ian Whitworth from Scene Change2, “Sales cures all problems. If you have operational and service delivery issues, you can fix them. If you have no revenue, you don’t have a business.”

So invest in the right tool for the job. Make sure your employees feel appreciated and valued. Celebrate the wins. Give them some ‘skin in the game’ and allow some actual input to show them that their voice is heard and their opinions and choices matter.

Not just letting them choose the colour of the wrong shoe.

Andrew Ward.