We Thought We Were Special Teams. Sales Thought We Were The Cheerleaders.

I was a mid-level marketing manager at a Fortune 100 manufacturing company, with many divisions acting in silos and whose revenue was driven by a highly compensated sales culture. The sales process was consultative, complex and rooted in long-standing customer relationships. We were the dominant player, but the landscape was changing, as competitors were more and more able to offer ‘cheaper-better-faster.’ Enter Marketing, in a relatively new function, who proposed augmenting the sales process with analytics, positioning and customer segmentation so that we could keep or capture share we were losing.

There was resistance from the ‘big dog’ sales guys, the ones who had been there the longest and who were responsible for our largest customers. Their perspective was that relationships drove sales and they responded by suggesting more of what they were used to Marketing provide: golf events, convention sponsorships, high-profile speaker venues and the hospitality invitations that went with them. “Keep strong the relationship and the sale won’t be in jeopardy,” they said. Marketing took the scientific approach: “Segment the market, align the sweet spot based on a variety of metrics (including profitability), win.” Some of our current customers would fall out, several new ones would drop in. The landscape would look much different. So different that people’s paychecks were at stake, egos. Beloved by Sales, the customer events were perceived as bigger wins and relationship gold.

Sales. Marketing. Standoff.

Enter the Division President, a big believer in letting people figure out how to get the ball in play. He blended his background in college football with personal charm to build your confidence and motivate your drive. He seemed to easily dismiss the haters, doubters and non-believers and this was the kind of environment he created for his team. He said that every time he got knocked down on the field, he had to get back up, and it made for good training for his sales career. He led the tightly knit sales team for 15 years and his influence was instrumental in our position as the dominant player. He cared about relationships above all else, but he, like many fine athletes, hating losing, and he knew it was time for the ball to move.

The current market, along with our data, did the convincing I suppose, and we got the greenlight for our approach with some major sales proposals. But it couldn’t be our approach and that’s what the Division President understood: Sales had the years of institutional and customer knowledge, we just had data and science. He implored that we work together. Ugh. We thought we were special teams. Sales thought we were the cheerleaders. Then he said, “You know, working this way is new, but we don’t win ‘em alone and we don’t lose ‘em alone. How you get there, well, you might just want to use your relationships with each other.”

It really doesn’t take a lot of words to build your confidence and motivate your drive, if it’s from someone who cares about building a healthy environment to succeed. So we did, and there were wins and some particularly crushing losses. We continued to get back up, though. Good training for any career.


Susan Kolon is a healthcare communications consultant and wellness coach.

How Dirty Money and Manicures Led to Life-Long Health Habits

When I was in my last semester of high school, my schedule left me three afternoons a week without any classes, starting at 1p.m. I couldn’t leave campus unless I had a vocational job. I was going to college, so that was out. However, if you could convince the Vocational Director that a job would prepare you for college, he would relent. I pored over the lists of jobs and ‘bank teller’ caught my eye, but not for the needed math skills; I was really interested in how cool it would be to hang around a vault that held a lot of actual cash. I kept that to myself and got the job, including Saturdays.

On my first day, my father dropped me off with this advice: “Listen more than you talk, do what you’re told, and think of this as school.” He explained that while I would be learning applied math (I had no idea what that meant), I would be getting other kinds of applied learning, too, but I would have to look for those lessons on my own because “the bank is a business not a classroom.”

Indeed, I had to catch on quickly, as the afternoon rush accounted for much of the bank’s business — customers who owned liquor stores and made many deposits in lots of dirty multi-denomination dollar bills. There was no Purell in those days and no time to run to the ladies room to wash my hands, so I was careful not to touch my face. Lesson #1. And although the other tellers kept up a steady stream of gossip about customers and their after-hours activities, for the most part, I kept my mouth shut. It was enough for me to concentrate on keeping my money straight and looking out for counterfeit $100 bills.

Once as I was balancing my drawer, the busy head teller passed my station. “Who taught you to count your cash?” she barked. “Um,” I stammered, not wanting to rat out the training teller. “Here,” she said, “let me show you.” As I stood in awe of her fancy, manicured nails, she showed me proper grip and hand position and how the paper then flowed from right to left as she counted aloud, using her fingers to align the bills in the same order. It was magical, took seconds to count a pack, and completely changed my work pattern. I mimicked her movements, but the 17-year-old in me asked, “How come the nails?” As she handed over my bills, she smiled and said, “Customers spend more time looking at their money than looking at me. It’s my way of making their trip here more human.” This was YEARS before the concept of ‘1:1 customer experience’ entered our lexicon. Lesson #2.

My breaks coincided with the senior loan officer’s lunch. The loan officer was someone the others admired: she was pretty, smart, and to me, popular. There was often a line to see her; the fact that she brought in revenue went completely over my head. With my father’s advice ringing in my ears, I peeked from behind my book and watched in fascination as she leisurely ate her lunch: a small sandwich, one piece of fruit, cookies. Never more than two and always last. Meals at my house with six siblings were less about food and more about feed. On a day I noticed there no cookies in her bag, she tugged on the waistband of her skirt, sighed and left. This was my first exposure to balanced eating. One time she looked up and said, “Are you interested in what I’m reading?” “Yes,” I said, not in the least, eyes fixed quickly on her banking newspaper. This smart, kind woman spent her next few breaks thinking she was teaching me about commercial paper but she also taught me about presence and treating yourself with respect and self-worth. Lesson #3.

The bank’s branch manager was a no-nonsense war survivor from Armenia, the perfect complement to the Middle Eastern immigrant customer base who had settled in Detroit. She spoke several languages and much of her job seemed to be holding tough conversations with customers. A colleague told me people made incorrect assumptions about her intelligence and her decision-making authority because she was a woman and she was Armenian. This came as a surprise to me, given I went to an all-girl high school and was told I could do and be anything. During downtimes, she took walks around the block. This was considered unusual because no one walked in the suburbs and not for any purpose than to just walk. I often watched her from the drive-in window, wondering if she cared that people were talking about her while she was gone. I always knew it was her when she returned: the front door swung open wide, she sailed in as if a gust of wind blew her through and she looked as refreshed as the beginning of the day. No, she didn’t care; walking made her feel great. Lesson #4.

These lessons became my self-care health habits. I walk every day and eat in moderation because it makes me feel good. I am conscious of how my hands “present” (as well as the rest of me) so that my interactions with people are more respectful and human. I continue to look for lessons on my own with colleagues, with clients, and especially with those just starting out. Because my health can always use a good, new habit.

By the way, I did get to go into the bank vault. And it was super cool.

Susan Kolon is a healthcare communications consultant and wellness coach. She can tell you at any time — by denomination – the number of dollar bills in her wallet. Right next to the Purell.

Health Shaming: A Trend that Looks Good on Nobody

At a first meeting with a new health coaching client, I see a list in front of her. A long list. I couldn’t read it but I had a feeling. I began by asking her the question I ask every new client: “What are you feeling good about with your health right now?”

She physically responded by sitting back, head tilted and eyes widened: “That is the not the question I expected,” she said.” “You see, I have here a list, a list of my problems. All the things I am not doing. ”I continued: “Let’s start by talking about what you’re feeling good about.” With some probing, she was able to come up with several. This led to an illuminating conversation about her values and her motivators. By the end of our time together, we had connected and had begun to explore her readiness to change some health habits and gauged her confidence in doing so. She remarked she felt listened to and in control. She was open to new possibilities and in charge of the first step in her journey toward better health: I literally felt it in her hug and saw it in her gait as she moved down the block.

Imagine a different scenario: one where she was one-upped, interrogated or guilt tripped? And then being told she must change: health shamed. Shaming is an odd, disturbing trend right now…by one definition: ‘to be negatively evaluated by others or one’s self.’  Who thinks that would work? Where would my client’s confidence to achieve be and where would she develop the tools needed to sustain long-lasting change on her own? Had I ‘health shamed’ her, I am certain I would not have her as a client, and more importantly, she would not be on the road to better health. Understanding, kindness, honesty and belief in someone…well, that looks good on everybody.

So let’s honor ourselves this New Year. There are lots of other things to fight fire with fire. The road to long-lasting health deserves positive partnership and diligent effort, building confidence and self efficacy with every step and in every bite. It’s a brand new way of looking at yourself and your abilities.

Susan Kolon is a healthcare communications consultant and wellness coach. Used with client’s permission.