Every month we sit down with a local sales leader to learn about his or her sales philosophy, company culture, and the unique challenges they face within their sales organization. This month we sat down with Travis Smith, General Manager at Ernest Packaging.
Travis, tell me about a funny sales situation you’ve found yourself in.
I was selling door-to-door in Texas, and they had a very dark screen on their door. This business left their door open but they had a screen door that was very dark. I put my face really close to the door so I could see through it, and I hear a guy start talking. All I heard was “You have the biggest nose I’ve ever seen on a door-2-door salesman.” Maybe not the funniest… but maybe the most memorable. I did not make the sale.
If you could seek advice from any leader in history, who would it be?
I’m going to have say Abraham Lincoln. The emancipation proclamation, baby! He ended slavery.
So, what advice would he have for you at Ernest?
He would give me coaching on how to keep everyone together. I think he was able to make tough decisions with a bigger vision, so I think he would coach around that- Keeping the vision, making hard decisions, and keeping everyone together at the same time.
What’s your favorite sales movie? Why?
It’s got to be Will Smith’s “Pursuit of Happyness.” I think it did a really good job articulating the drive that makes sales people great.
Tell me about your sales culture.
I think the sales culture at Ernest is about clear expectations, a fun environment, a clear vision on why we do what we do, and a healthy competitive environment amongst the sales people themselves.
What is your philosophy on sales and leadership?
Sales allows a person that has the entrepreneurial drive and spirit to capitalize on their raw talents. I think sales gives sales people the opportunity to do what they do best at the highest levels with the most autonomy.
My philosophy is that I neither need nor want to change people. I want to find what makes them great and support them. I also want to find out their goals, remind them of their goals, and help them think bigger than they currently think. I see my role in sale leadership as somebody who can remind them of who they are, what their goals are, and what they can accomplish. I like to constantly put their goals and vision back in front of them.
What’s the perfect size sales team for you today?
I would say 8. I have 7 today. But the real number is 8 talented and driven sales people.
What do the best reps on your team do differently than the rest?
The top salespeople have a clear vision on what they want to accomplish long-term and they don’t let little hiccups get in the way.
How do you like to reward your performers?
People want to be rewarded in different ways. Some like public recognition. Some would prefer something more material. One thing we do that I think is a lot of fun is recognizing the top performer by having them sign a sales rep of the month banner. We keep that banner as a form of legacy. And Ernest is also doing a yearly dinner and event at a destination city – It’s a great event for both the employee and their spouse.
And of course sometimes I think that simply telling my employees that I appreciate them can have more value than actual awards. Reps know when they are truly appreciated and valued by their boss.
What’s the #1 bad habit that reps need to “unlearn” at your company?
Selling on price alone; Next question.
Every employer has a special set of “secret sauce” interview questions. Tell me about some of the unique questions you like to ask when interviewing sales reps.
I like to ask them who their greatest mentor in their lives is and why. I also like to see who their worst boss was and why. I want to see what works and doesn’t work in leading them.
What’s the worst answer you’ve ever heard in an interview?
When I asked a candidate when she first learned that she was competitive. She said it was when she lost a soccer game, and she stepped on her opponent’s leg and broke it. I believed her, but that one scared me a little bit.
I’ll also give you one that I hear all the time. When I ask them why they would be good in sales and they tell me they are “a people person.” I just don’t see the connection between being a “people person” and applying your trade as a skilled sales professional any more so than a teacher, or counselor is a people person.
And what about the best answer?
Oh man. All these absolutes. The best. The worst. These are tough, Adam. I had a rep that I had expressed some concerns with. And she said to me, “Somebody is going to take a chance on me because I’m a winner. And whoever gives me the chance is going to be very happy they did.” And she was right by the way. Her delivery was perfect. I did take the chance, and she’s one of my top performers.
What are your top 3 favorite leadership books?
“First Break All The Rules,” “Think and Grow Rich,” and “Fierce Conversations.”
I’ve read the first two. What’s “Fierce Conversations?”
Fierce conversations coaches people on how to have difficult conversations, how to approach them, and how to position and how NOT to position them. They also have a seminar- based out of Seattle. I always tell people to take that seminar. It’s amazing.
Keep Portland Weird. Give me a weird Portland issue that affects you…
So, our office is in the Port of Portland. I would like to see a change to the laws so I can pull weeds on my property even though they are native to the soil.
Wait….expand on this. What do you mean? What does your property look like right now?
Well, we have a bunch of weeds around the office. I’m not allowed to pull them. I asked if I could spray them, and I was told to leave them alone because they are native to the soil. Portland…..
Final question. Give me your favorite quote.
“A good leader masters the courage to interrogate reality.” It’s from one of my favorite books- “Fierce Conversations.”