Confessions of a 30 Year Change Agent Consultant


It’s now over 30 years since I entered this profession of consulting, conference speaking and business performance transformation.

It’s time to come clean..

It’s not that I have been hiding this information, but, like many of the ideas that have suggested I change course or try something new, I was listening to a podcast with Rich Dad/ Poor Dad author and long term mentor of mine, Robert Kiyosaki, interviewing author of the best selling ‘Influence – The Psychology of Persuasion’ Dr. Robert Cialdini the other day and the Cialdini said ‘Tell people about your failures as well as your successes..’


Cialdini found in his research into influence and communication effectiveness that other humans relate very powerfully to someone willing to share their failures as well as their successes.

Often we think prospects and clients are only interested in our successes.

If Cialdini recommends it and Michael Jordan does it, I realised I should (and maybe you should) too..

‘I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.’



Every time a Senior Manager or MD or CEO or Sales Manager has not been directly involved in the Training/ Business Improvement programme, the programme has either failed or failed to deliver the results we had hoped for.

It makes sense doesn’t it?

You’re asking people to change old patterns, step out of their comfort zones, do things different to get different results.

If the Senior Manager is not involved, the people (and other Managers) start drifting back very quickly to where life is comfortable, what they know.

JFK made this quote famous and it rings so true when it comes to Sales and Business Improvement programmes.

‘Victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan.’

LESSON: The CEO, Sales Manager, MD must be involved and be seen to be involved in the programme workshops. Yes it takes time and energy, but if they are not IN the workshops, they are making a statement by not being involved IN the workshops.

One of the reasons IBM and GE led the world in their industries for so many years was that Senior Leaders including the CEO actively participated and lead Leadership, Change and Innovation workshops in their companies.

They didn’t sit back in their offices and leave it to a Trainer or facilitator. They worked alongside and with the Trainer and Facilitator.

My failure was I did not sell or enforce that rule strongly enough in those programmes where I would say we failed.


Another key failure was where I allowed (or acceded to) the CEO cutting and pasting from the Business Improvement Program menu rather than insist that the program needed to stay as a whole program if it was to work.

I would map out an integrated plan for a Sales Breakthrough with say 10 different components, then the CEO or MD would say,

‘We like parts 1, 3 and 7 but we don’t want to do parts 2, 4, 8,9 and 10 – we don’t think they are necessary.’

I should have pushed back or sold better and I didn’t.. a failing.

You couldn’t say to the Brain Surgeon

‘Look I’ll take the anaesthetic but I won’t take the cut to the head..’ so why should I let the CEO only take the parts they like and let the other parts slide?

For example, where the CEO said ‘We don’t need to do a Perception Map to find out where the problems are. I already know where the problems are.. Just train the staff and that should do it..’

Then when we start the program, acting on the CEO’s advice, all these other ‘hidden problems’ come out of the woodwork that threw the whole program off course.

Sun Tzu says ‘If you know the enemy and know yourself you need not fear the result of 100 battles..’

Which then leads to the next failing.


Another example of choosing from the menu was ‘no we don’t need to do those silly ‘Sales Personality’ profiles on our team. Just train the people we have..’

Only to find that the majority of the team had very low persistence, low resilience, and low prospecting motivation or even low empathy and rapport building skills.

More than 35 years ago Harvard Business Review reported the research of Mayer and Greenburg which concluded:

‘A very high proportion of those engaged in selling cannot sell….If American sales efficiency is to be maximized and the appalling waste of money and manpower which exists today is to be minimized, a constructive analysis must be made of what selling really is and how its effectiveness can be enhanced….We must look a good deal further—into the mysteries of personality and psychology—if we want real answers.’


Mayer and Greenburg proved in the Insurance industry, automobile sales industry and several other industries that unless you are pre screening and testing for two key traits – 1. Ego – the desire to compete, make the sale and win and 2. Empathy – the ability to read the other person and their feelings – you are wasting your time and money with sales training.

They wrote that the successful salesperson must be like a heat seeking missile

Sensing what the customer is feeling, he is able to change pace, double back on his track, and make whatever creative modifications might be necessary to home in on the target and close the sale.’

Where I haven’t tested for this in programs, where I have been way too amiable, we have trained ‘non heat seekers’, and have failed in hitting our breakthrough targets.

Lessons: Test for heat seekers before you invest in training them.


This has been a rare failing but sometimes it has happened.

Where the workshop or training or intervention has ended up too much ‘chalk and talk’ or ‘opinion airing’ and not enough ‘drills increasing skills.’

The skilled workshop attendee can throw red herrings and hot topics up just long enough to ensure they clog the training event and minimise the amount of time for drills and role play (knowing that in a drill or role play their lack of skill and effectiveness will be highlighted..)

This is a trap for young and old players.


If you are serious about skills improvement you absolutely must involve the body.

Old behaviour patterns can only be changed with DOING-NESS not a TALKING-NESS.

Just as a football player or tennis player cant just talk about how to kick or how to serve the ball, you too in sales and management cant just talk about how to do it, you also must practice it.

Practice – Make Mistakes – Measure – Correct – Get Feedback – Do it Again…

It’s a Feedback Cycle – Its called DP – Deliberate Practice – where you Deliberately and Specifically aim to improve either key parts of the Sales Cycle or the Whole Process.

·     How you develop rapport

·     How you do a prospecting phone call

·     How to handle a specific objection – ‘we have an existing supplier..’ or ‘that seems very expensive..’

·     How to negotiate

·     How to get commitment or close a sale

If you’re not actively practicing these key components of the sale ON A DAILY BASIS, you can be guaranteed you are losing sales and missing out of revenue..

Top Sales Producers and Top Sales Teams practice on A DAILY BASIS..

Where I have been sideswiped or railroaded or remiss in getting the bodies involved earlier, I admit again, I have failed..

LESSON: Get the bodies involved early in practicing key aspects of the Sales Process both in the formal sales training workshops and on a daily basis in the office and in the field. Like any professional athlete, Make it part of your DAILY SALES ROUTINE..


The fact is, the Senior Managers and the Sales Managers must be Sales Coaches.

They need additional and separate training in how to be effective Sales Coaches.

Where I have let this be cut out of the program, I have failed to optimise the team performance.

Where the MD or CEO has convinced me his or her Sales Managers were already good Sales Coaches I should have verified that using my own diagnostic processes.

I should have asked the staff or team members first.

I should have asked the Sales Managers did they think they were good Sales Coaches.

I should have cross verified the answers.


What the Sales Managers do in between the Sales Training workshops makes all the difference.

If they fail to take on the role of Leader-Coach, the programme will be neutered.

Most Sales Managers have been trained by Sales Managers with little or no coaching in how to be a coach.

Most have been trained in the ‘School of Hard Knocks’ or the ‘Old School Sink or Swim..’

If you want high staff turnover and sub standard, fear driven performance, keep that strategy up.

If you want high performance, take a leaf out of the book of one of Australia’s and the World’s Most Successful Sports Coaches Dr Ric Charlesworth when he says ‘The important work occurs in the preparation and training, then in providing support and feedback once in the contest. Your employees need to be prepared and supplied with the right resources, and then support and feedback on a continuous basis in order to perform.’

I have failed where I haven’t spent enough time Coaching the Coaches..

Lesson: Make sure in any Business Improvement Program you allocate time and resources to training the ‘On the Job Coaches.’ This is one of the reasons the Six Sigma Business Improvement program for Manufacturing works so well.

I outline this in some of my workshops but again, where I have acceded to client requests and allowed that to be cut from the program, we have missed the mark.

Sure we have still improved sales and performance, but not to the level that would have been possible.


If I were a Catholic the priest would now say ‘go say 30 Hail Mary’s..’ or some other way to assuage my guilt.

As I am not Catholic, all I can do is take 100% responsibility for these failures, learn from them, share them with you so you don’t have to make the same mistakes, and get on with the rest of my life helping clients who are serious about creating Sales Breakthrough’s and Optimising the Potential of their Teams and Businesses.

Leigh Farnell
Business Innovation and Growth through Sales and Service Teamwork

If you are interested in learning more about Leigh and his workshops on Essemy, please visit this link.