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3 Critical Sales Leadership Lessons You Can Learn from Kitchen Nightmares
Posted on April 11th 2012
To stimulate your ongoing and by now thoroughly ravenous appetite for more delectable sales leadership fare, the name hovering up in the article heading will surely set this particular table in fine culinary style.
Owners of a once thriving and popular restaurant are struggling, in vain as we know, to keep their establishment from going down the drain, literally. As is often the case, they have owned the restaurant for a good many years, successfully satisfying their loyal patron’s palettes with consummate skill and dedication, for a good part of its existence. But something, somehow, somewhere along the way has changed, and the restaurant is inextricably failing – fast! Customers have quietly but decisively disappeared. The staff has grown complacent and combative, and no one has any real clue about what or who to blame. The bills go unpaid and teeter atop messy piles of unopened mail in an over-stuffed office. In the dining room, tables and chairs remain eerily vacant, night after night.
The restaurant owners are truly perplexed, yet remain characteristically defiant. “The food is not the problem” they stubbornly insist. “Customers never complain!” They remain genuinely baffled by the mysterious deterioration of business and the continuing decline of morale among seasoned staff.
The scene I am describing is from the reality TV show called “Kitchen Nightmares”, starring renowned and irascible chef Gordon Ramsay. At the beginning of each episode, Chef Ramsay – after a brief introduction to the owners – routinely follows the same tried-and-true procedure. He sits down at a table and orders food. Lots of food.
One by one, he sends each plate back to the kitchen with his patented grimace of distaste. The food is completely, and on occasion, horrifically inedible. It is either flat, flavorless, or flawed in some fashion. After tasting the array of noxious victuals, he goes back into the kitchen to meet the chefs who have noticeably lost their passion, or at the very least, their appetite for customer satisfaction.
In the kitchen, the owner claims total ignorance to what is going on. He did not know that the pantry is crammed with inventory – and he is certainly unaware that much of the food spoils before it can even be served! He is blind to the obvious fact that the kitchen lacks any semblance of organization, that it is filthy, disgusting, and downright unsanitary. He literally did not, and does not, see it.
After watching a few episodes of Kitchen Nightmares, you will realize that Chef Ramsay follows the same recipe to serve up a consistently tasty creation of drama that unfolds in exactly the same way:
Step 1: Chef Ramsay meets with the owners, and discovers they are defiantly in denial, and therefore bizarrely desperate for some solution to magically appear on their menu.
Step 2: Chef Ramsay tastes the food, and discovers it is inedible at the very worst, unsatisfactory at best (and who, in anyone’s mind, needs another less-than-mediocre restaurant.)
Step 3: Chef Ramsay visits the kitchen, and discovers the so-called chefs have lost their passion, and the kitchen itself is in disarray and thoroughly dysfunctional.
Step 4: Chef Ramsay’s team revamps the kitchen and the dining room. The décor and kitchen equipment are both brought up to date, and food preparation ethics undergo a transformation.
Step 5: Chef Ramsay creates a new menu of local, rustic culinary delights that reignite a passion for the restaurant that both the chefs and the patrons thought were lost forever.
It is not hard to notice a trend here, and to guess how each restaurant will be miraculously saved from the chopping block.
So, if you are wondering just how I plan on transitioning to some perfectly pointed relevance to sales leadership principles, here goes: It really doesn’t matter whether your enterprise depends on culinary expertise, or whether you happen to be a tinker, a tailor, or a candlestick maker. No matter if your product or service is on the cutting-edge of cool, or rests upon the time-tested standards of superior craftsmanship – without effective leadership and attention to fundamentals – your enterprise will eventually falter. While you admire your past achievements in the mirror, if your sales goals are slipping below targeted levels, then it is time to move on from the denial stage, and embrace the ugly reality.
If your sales are not where they should be, consider the three main lessons of Kitchen Nightmares.
Something is wrong and it is your job to fix it: Sure, you employ experienced sales managers and capable sales reps who know exactly what they are doing (and they’ve been doing it for a long time). To be very blunt, it doesn’t matter. Without demonstrating a clear sense of leadership from the top (that’s you!) even they will begin to falter. You own the responsibility, and are accountable, for the end results.
- Get out in the field
- Go on sales calls
- Call customers
- Sit in on internal sales meetings
- Know your numbers and verify!
It always comes down to the fundamentals: If you are perplexed as to why sales are not where they should be, start with the basics. You will find your answer there. Never assume your customers are happy just because they don’t complain. Most will not take the time, or bother to voice their concerns. Instead, they will simply stop buying from you. Your first clue, that customers and prospects aren’t satisfied, will hit you in the head when it hits you in your bottom line. There are other clues that lay hidden under the cloak of what appears to be day-to-day normalcy. Unfortunately these are much easier to miss and more easily go un-noticed. For instance:
- Reps are extremely loyal to their managers. Therefore, you don’t notice that managers are not providing the quality coaching and mentoring that reps need.
- Reps are calling on the right prospects and deals are closing. In this case, it’s easy to miss that reps may not be sufficiently identifying real needs or communicating the proper degree of value required to close a higher percentage of deals.
- Managers express optimism with no indication of underlying concern. Remember that a lack of leadership thrives in a vacuum.
Staff and customers deserve processes and technology that change with the times: Using processes that have been in place since the beginning of time, and by default, neglecting to keep your systems up to date, are two sure-fire ways to not only frustrate your reps, but alienate your customers. And without them, your enterprise is dead in the water. Reps (and managers) need the right tools that ensure peak productivity and performance in today’s highly competitive world. Your customers, thanks to Google, are far more knowledgeable than ever before. And CRM alone is not enough. Revamp your business with top notch tools like Cloud9 for forecast and pipeline management, count5 for sales activity reporting from the field, and Active Conversion for marketing automation and lead follow-up.
In any successful organization, and specifically one whose very existence is driven by the engine of its sales force (and whose isn’t?), the leadership role is defined by an instinctive ability to transform knowledge and energy into a cohesive and collective call-to-action in order to achieve goals.
And to come full circle with my culinary illustration of resurrecting a failed enterprise, successful leadership is not about dealing with nightmares that arise in your sales organization. On-going, successful sales leadership relies on a consistent demonstration of accountability, and an unwavering attention to the fundamentals. Combine those ingredients and customers will flock to the table.