Your Fairy Godmother Ain’t Coming

by Rick Phillips

“Let’s see how this works,” said the consultant. “In the last five years, your marketplace has been in complete gyration, undergoing an unprecedented transformation. Your customers have dramatically changed, the way they buy has completely changed, and half the people you are calling on are new. They are asking for more and they are much more sophisticated. They are also negotiating harder, demanding more of your people’s time, expecting to pay less and taking longer to send what they do pay.

Additionally, the number of business you sell to has changed. There are more competitors out there than ever before, offering more services than the marketplace ever dreamed of five years ago; and they are doing it faster, cheaper and more reliably than was possible five years ago.

Your sales people have more confusion than focus, they are selling more and making less than five years ago, and you can’t reach anybody because everybody has voice mail (sound familiar?).

In the face of all this, you expect your business to survive and grow, managing and selling the same way you have for the last ten years, when everything else in the marketplace is unique and different?”

Tough questions, but then few of the really important questions are easy. The problem is that we have to face the really tough questions, since so few of us live in a fairy tale world where all of the stories end with “they lived happily ever after.”

When Cinderella dreamed of going to the big dance, she was fortunate enough to have the able assistance of her fairy godmother. With one wave of the wand, Cinderella was transformed from a social waif to the belle of the ball, destined to steal the heart of the handsome prince.

The bad news is that there are some businesses out there today that will never get to the ball, unless they too have access to a fairy godmother. Someone needs to tell them, “Your fairy godmother ain’t coming.”

“We have always trained our sales people this way.” If you are looking for a one-way ticket to mediocrity, just keep doing what you have always done. If IBM, Ford and Xerox can’t survive doing it the same old way, what makes you think that you can?

Things are changing; what made an organization successful yesterday may not hold true today, and will probably fail tomorrow.

Habits within any organization tend to perpetuate themselves, because at one time they worked.

Railroads used to work well too, but they have been replaced, first by the interstate highway system and then by cheap airfares.

You and I can’t afford to hold on to “the same old way” either, especially if it’ s not working. Our sales professionals, indeed all of our employees, depend upon our leadership. They expect us to have a firm grip on what is going on in the organization, it’s future and the industry. Their faith in us and our direction begins to wane when they see our thinking and decision-making turning habitual, predictable, inward and out of touch with reality.

Tough questions:

      • What new skills training are you providing your sales people? Is it making a difference? How do you know?
      • What new information do you have on coaching your sales professionals?
      • How much time are you spending in the field with your sales people?
      • What are you doing to reinforce sales training on a weekly basis?
      • What percentage of your gross profit margin are you spending on training your sales people?
      • How are you managing your sales professionals differently than five years ago?


“I don’t have time to talk to my salespeople.” Faced with the growing demands on leadership in most organizations, many managers have found themselves increasingly isolated from the front lines. In addition to the obvious problem of lack of accurate information, this communication vacuum has other serious side effects. The sales team may begin to feel that their input is unwanted or thought irrelevant. Worse yet, they may feel that management is avoiding the truth or intentionally creating artificial barriers from the obvious, since they don’t have the answers.

Peter Senge, in his book The Fifth Discipline, explains that “The hallmark of a great organization is how quickly bad news travels upward.” The first tough question is: How fast is the bad news reaching your desk?

Tough questions:

      • How often do you set aside one hour to privately speak to each of your sales people?
      • How “open” is your open door policy? (If no one is using it, then it’s not working.)
      • How much time are you spending traveling with your sales people in the field, in front of customers?
      • When was the last time you were able to ask a sales person about one of his or her family members by name?
      • How well are your salespeople communicating with their accounts…and how do you know?
      • When was the last time you went to a sales person’s office to congratulate the rep for an order?
      • How often do you hold meetings outside of the office? How often do you sponsor social gatherings?
      • How often do you review accounts one-on-one with each sales person?

Welcome Mistakes

Making mistakes means that someone is trying something. Naturally, too many mistakes can create problems, but I will submit that more serious problems exist if your sales people aren’t occasionally taking risks to make things happen for the organization and the customer.

Rosabeth Moss Kanter says, “Wise executives worry more about invisible mistakes – failing to take risks, failing to innovate to create new value for customers.” Fear of making a mistake erects an artificial barrier that stifles creativity, innovation and growth. Mistakes can be learning experiences; and the tolerance of those mistakes of enthusiasm and creativity will encourage more learning experiences and, ultimately, corporate progress.

Tough Questions

      • What’s new?
      • When was the last time you “publicly” congratulated someone for sticking their neck out and taking a chance?
      • How are you encouraging risk taking?


Change, Communications and Mistakes are just realities we must address as our organizations face the increasing demands on business today. One thing remains certain: it is up to us, because we know the fairy godmother ain’t coming.


Copyright © 1996 Rick Phillips. All Rights Reserved. Used With Permission.Rick Phillips is a management, sales and customer service speaker and consultant based in New Orleans. He is president of Phillips Sales and Staff Development (PSSD), a nationally recognized training firm he founded in 1984.

You can contact Rick at:

Phillips Sales and Staff Development
P.O. Box 29615
New Orleans, LA 70189
Phone: 504- 241-7704
1-800-525-PSSD (7773)
Fax: 504-242-4179
E-mail: [email protected]