Sometimes you just have to give someone a chance.
This is a true story.
Just about a year ago, we were working with a multi-national dental manufacturer who needed to employ additional sales people. They’d had a run of sales people who hadn’t worked out for one reason or another, so we were keen to find candidates who would stay the distance and produce results.
We put ads in the paper, spoke with recruitment agencies and got a list of hopefuls.
Any of you who’ve ever employed someone will know what happens next. Ken (the MD), Barbara and I scanned the resumes to cull the list. I’ll admit it, Ken and I were pretty brutal in our selection process and we weeded out most of the candidates.
One of those was a gentleman called Mohamad Khaled.
His resume was on a single sheet of paper, told us almost nothing about him, and so gave us very little tangible stuff to go on.
Mohamad was a qualified dentist (he’d qualified in Romania , worked in Paris , and was now in Sydney ). But he wasn’t working as a dentist. When we read this resume, he was a manager for a Kings Cross convenience store. Before that he’d worked as a gardener for Victoria Barracks, and then as a mail clerk.
Ken and I both immediately jumped to the conclusion – “Hey, this guy’s not going to be able to cut it – he’s never been in sales, not sure how well he speaks English, he’s been working as a labourer and so on…”
I know, I know, being judgmental is not a terribly nice way to be, but we’re human and it’s amazing to see how many prejudices get conjured up about people we haven’t even met, just from a name and background.
Barbara picked up Mohamad’s resume and said, “This man obviously works hard. We don’t know his circumstances and he’s obviously doing whatever he needs to do to feed his family. Let’s interview him.”
Against the odds, she insisted that we interview him and give him a chance. “What did we have to lose?”
So Mohamad turned up for his interview.
Picture a tall, dark, good looking man in a very well pressed suit, with extremely well polished shoes. (My grandmother taught me that you can judge a man by how well he keeps his shoes, so I was immediately impressed!)
Mohamad came across as an extremely well educated, softly spoken, cultured man, who spoke some five languages fluently and could get by in some forty others!
We were impressed by him and his attitude, but still had some major reservations about his sales ability.
We decided to get him in for a second interview and then a third.
On the basis that you should always hire for attitude and train for skill, we persuaded Ken to hire him. Boy was Mohamad pleased.
Now the hard work began.
Mohamad would go surgery door to surgery door trying to sell his wares. He was very softly spoken and quite shy, and got a huge amount of rejection (sadly, a lot of it based on his name and country of origin).
On one occasion he was point blank told by a client that if he didn’t come out to the pub with them, he’d never get any business from them. Other clients took one look at his name and the fact that he came from Lebanon , and told him that he wasn’t welcome in their surgeries.
But Mohamad had a goal. He wanted to succeed. Really succeed. We’d given him a chance when he’d been rejected time and time again, and he wanted to pay us back for the faith we had in him. (Add to this his dream of owning an eight cylinder Mercedes, but that’s another story.)
I won’t say it wasn’t a hard slog for all of us. Mohamad couldn’t sell to save his life. We all worked with him on his attitude towards selling, his sales skills and above all, listening! We believed in him when there was no proof that he would succeed.
Slowly, oh so slowly, Mohamad started to make some small sales. He had big plans, but not the results on the board. The other salesman who started at the same time (who was experienced), was pretty well outstripping him by a large margin.
It reminds me of the tortious and the hare. Mohamad’s progress was agonisingly slow. Still, he kept plugging away, building relationships.
We haven’t worked with Ken for a while, and I was wondering how Mohamad was going.
Well today, almost a year since we hired Mohamad, I got one of the most uplifting calls I’ve had in a long while.
Ken rang me and told me about how he had just promoted Mohamad to Senior Sales Executive. Mohamad was averaging over THREE TIMES the sales of any other sales person in the organisation, including some who’d been in the business fifteen years! He was using his masterful skill at relationship building to get each client to recommend him to the next prospect. He was creaming it!
As the saying goes, “no man is an island”.
Ken also deserves some major kudos. It wasn’t easy working with Mohamad in the beginning. Ken had his numbers to make and he needed to spend a lot of time with Mohamad, supporting, encouraging and sometimes banging heads! Ken could have pulled the plug on many occasions, but didn’t.
If you’re reading this, you have no idea just how proud I am of both of them. Ken took a huge leap of faith, trusted us and hired Mohamad. To us, there’s a great deal of satisfaction knowing that it paid off.
As for Mohamad, I believe he demonstrates the strength of the human spirit. The spirit to overcome all odds, go for your dream and do whatever it takes.
I learned some major lessons working with Mohamad.
I learned not to judge a book by its cover, see the potential in someone and then put into place the support mechanism so that they can succeed. (Oh, and did I mention, believe in them, even when they might not do so themselves?)
Once again, it also reinforced my belief that you should hire for attitude and train for skill. There are no born salespeople. It takes training and dedication to succeed in whatever field you choose.
Who have you got around you that would shine, if only you believed in and encouraged them while providing a framework for them to succeed?