Interview with Carsten Rothmann, Sales development manager at Alm. Brand.
Lack of ambition and a ton of explanations and excuses were replaced by concrete plans that made sales more efficient. Respect for cultural differences in different parts of the country had to be taken into account when planning the process.
– Provocation is Lars Moeller’s biggest strength. He is unique when it comes to challenging people wherever possible. And he is able to use provocation to create results.
Carsten Rothmann, sales development manager at the Danish insurance group Alm. Brand Insurance og Pension has used ResultPartner’s Race®concept in three sales offices and is preparing the launch of the concept in all of the insurance companies’ 15 sales offices. Initially, he didn’t want to do so.
– Consultants are usually good at talking. Only a few of them are good at accomplishing anything, says Carsten Rothmann.
He decided to use Lars Moeller and ResultPartner’s Race®concept and adds with a forthright and ingrained skepticism:
– Lars Moeller is talented. The way I see it, this is, however, not a magic formula or a re-invention of the wheel. He works hard, but it is also requires hard work and cooperation from us, the client. Apparently, that is also the way he sees it.
Carsten Rothmann emphasizes that training and pedagogical skills are not the elements, he focused on in the cooperation with Lars Moeller.
– If Lars Moeller was pedagogical in the classic sense of the word, he would stop when reaching a certain point, but he doesn’t. He crosses the line and provokes people so that they will become downright angry to begin with. I mean it in a positive and constructive way when I say that he offends people, and that is actually his biggest strength. I would never invite him to teach or train people collectively. His strength is to approach people individually and in small groups. And where others would stop he pushes it 15 percent further.
– And that is where we need to be before it helps – before things start to happen.
The insurance boss has experienced being summoned to meetings to listen to employees who felt deeply insulted.
– Some adore this concept. Others can’t handle it. I try to not to be swayed into thinking that he is provocative. But I act as a filter for the provocative consultant. However, basically they do feel that this project is important. People figure out that the denial doesn’t work. You have to swallow your pride and move on.
– And it’s hard to realize how bad the situation is and then move on. I actually don’t know how big a part Lars Moeller plays actually plays when they reach that given point, but it doesn’t matter because it works. Something happens. Perhaps he could cut down the provocations a bit; but on the other hand this is after all how he achieves the results. And we will after all continue to use him at the other sales offices.
– He sticks to his concept. It sounds trivial. You see, everyone claims they have a plan, but his plan actually works.
Had to drop a bomb
The combination of provocation and persistent follow-ups seems appealing to Carsten Rothmann.
– And the content is also a strength. We are dealing with extremely specific plans. It is easy for a salesperson or a manager to figure out what they are supposed to do. He can really teach them to be persistent and creates a foundation for a structure that develops the business. The strength of Race®concept is the structure – to create it and then follow up on it.
According to the sales development manager, Lars Moeller has a special ability to “summon ambitions.”
– He does so in a way that is so invasive that you need to clear the way for him in advance. You see, the initial stages of the Target Meetings take you to the edge. It is pure psychology and affects you strongly when ambitions are lined out sharply for each employee or group.
A number of approaches were tried internally before it really became necessary to call in outside assistance.
– The diplomatic way was abandoned and at some point one could say that we short-circuited. Results development had to be turned around faster than what we would normally do in accordance with the history. We had to drop a bomb. Naturally, we didn’t want to actually scare people, but it was necessary to send a clear signal.
ResultPartner became the clear signal for the sales managers at Alm. Brand Insurance and Pension as the development hadn’t moved in the right direction for a long period of time.
– An outside consultant has a lot more opportunities to push it to the edge than we have. It is a question of the “good guy” and the “bad guy”. Internally, we had tried many things like pep talks and such. But we needed someone who could push our boundaries by using innovation and untraditional behavior.
Carsten Rothmann would have preferred if they internally could have rectified the development that had come to a stop. But they needed to seek outside assistance.
– If we had a little more backbone we would do it ourselves. Then we would right the wrong ourselves. But the culture isn’t always designed that way in the financial sector.
Alm. Brand Insurance and Pension has for a long period of time measured the results on a weekly basis for the affected sales offices.
– It takes six to eight months before the changes generate stable results. But the first time you meet Lars Moeller you also sense results. The hard edge affects you immediately and then it takes a while to feel it on yourself. This is achieved through pure business coaching from week to week.
In the longer run, the hard-hitting results of ResultPartner’s entry speak for themselves.
– All 15 sales offices in Alm. Brand Insurance and Pension increased with seven percent over a year. The three sales offices in the cities of Glostrup, Elsinore and Randers, which had hired ResultPartner, increased by 21 percent.
The sensational results in the three departments exposed to ResultPartner’s Race®concept whet our appetite.
– This is naturally a reason to continue. We measure on a weekly basis and can see the clear figures. We may not deliver results every week in accordance to the scheduled ambitions, but we have achieved the goal. I’m of course pleased with the 14 percentage points.
Hire with consideration
It was okay with Carsten Rothmann when Lars Moeller set ambitious goals in cooporation with the insurance agents.
– I realize that there was a need to shake things up. However, I didn’t always understand why they would set the goals so high that the result was almost doomed in advance. It may seem like a psychopath provocation without much sense when, for example, the sales managers in corporation with Lars Moeller sat a goal which meant that they had to visit 23 clients in one week. The sales representatives got stomach aches as they could not pay so many visits in a week. And it wasn’t necessary to visit that many. They achieved an improved result of 14 percentage points without visiting 23 clients a week. This was impressive enough in itself. Sometimes these sky-high goals made me think that Lars Moeller couldn’t comprehend the structure of the company at all, but it is apparently a part of his working method.
Carsten Rothmann had to “perform CPR” once in a while.
– Some of them felt that they were completely weighed down and then we had to go in ourselves and have a chat with them. I will even take a bout with Lars Moeller once in a while. But we continuously extend the contracts with him. That is how it is. Now, all the other 12 sales offices are next – for six months at a time.
The sales development manager at Alm. Brand Insurance and Pension points out that you can’t just decide to use ResultPartner’s Race®concept on a whim.
– Here, the management has to come completely to terms with themselves. Otherwise, it will not succeed. Whoever buys this must be fully aware of the special consultancy type. It is not a solution you rashly choose because “it is smart”. And both parties have to really want it and come to terms with each other. It is expensive to have a consultant walking around in the affected departments of a company for 6 to 8 months. But the weekly coaching and energetic follow-up really works. The execution process is unique and works in this case, says Carsten Rothmann.
The problem was lack of sales
ResultPartner’s number one challenge in the work with Alm. Brand Insurance and Pension was the lack of sales. When Race®concept was about to be implemented, the top line was the obvious sore point and had been so for some time.
– Carsten Rothmann, the company’s sales development manager, is very ambitious and very persistent and having such a sponsor provided us with a good starting point, says Lars Moeller.
– Right from the start we were challenged by the fact that Carsten Rothmann is sitting in a department that deals with staff and development and therefore isn’t involved in the operations. He is the ruler without a country so to speak and can only motivate and activate, but not order managers and employees to do anything. He can basically only speak to their goodwill. The fact that the task was initiated by a staff department was a special situation. Such a structure will always produce some complications for the consultant who is about to begin the process of change. After all, ResultPartner was sent by the head office. This establishes a very weak mandate when the consultant arrives at the site, in this case the sales offices. I came to work in a set-up where I was send by a staff department at the head office.
Sales efficiency was the challenge in the sales organization.
– Sales weren’t as well as they should. The managers and employees had not managed to increase sales in the sales offices that I worked with. Precisely that type of sales channel with several centers around the country had been a controversial way to do business for many years. The sales office structure is expensive to operate because there it is a relatively small unit that requires premises, a bit of management and more support. By the nature of things, they have to sell more than the insurance agents who go out in the field to create the same profitability. However, a few years ago the company decided to retain and invest in the sales offices. A regular boost of sales offices was initiated and investments were made in many initiatives. One of the initiatives was outside assistance and this came from ResultPartner.
During the past two years, Alm. Brand Insurance and Pension managed to improve the sale by ten percent per year in all 15 sales offices around the country. Initially, ResultPartner only worked with the three sales offices in Randers, Elsinore and Glostrup respectively. Here, sales increased with another 38 percent so the three centers ended up with an improvement of 48 percent in total. The goals were set “sky-high” from the beginning – so high that the company’s sales development manager, Carsten Rothmann, was sometimes puzzled.
– This is the core of the entire Race®concept. By setting very ambitious goals you increase the motivation and execution power of managers and employees. We experience time and time again. There is an incorporated motivating power in setting as high goals as possible.
People are more motivated to succeed with something big than with something small.
– But why set the goals so high that they become unrealistic?
– Firstly, it is not me who sets the goal. The managers and employees do it themselves. And after all, realism is associated with the past and not the future. Realism has no relevance here when we speak of the future. Who knows what is realistic and possible in the future?
– Anyway, who says that you have to achieve all the goals every time? Goals can be used differently. If the goal is used as a motivating force to perform better, it is necessary to set sky-high goals. This is exactly where ResultPartner faces resistance every single time. When I challenge people on their ambitions they almost always want to go along with it – to a certain point. At one point it is said: “The goals have to be realistic”. Then you know that the limit has been reached. And that is the limit I challenge and cross. And yes, many sit with their arms crossed during exactly this part of the process. Some say that it is nonsense to set such high goals and I refute the criticism with tangible examples of plans and projects that became possible even though they seemed impossible in the beginning. Most of our cases have actually ended up that way. We are constantly looking to push the boundaries of what is possible with our method. Today, the sales development manager at Alm. Brand Insurance and Pension and the managers and employees of the company’s sales office in Randers all replies with a big no when I ask if they thought that they would be able to reach as far as they actually did.
– What happens when people don’t reach the sky-high goals?
– The psychology is much stronger than we would be able to understand in advance. For example, 23 sales meetings in one week don’t have to be an expression of a goal, but can tell you something about the effort. It may be true that there technically speaking has to be held 23 meetings in order to reach a sales volume that is twice as high as the current one. But maybe people will begin to think about it and figure out how to reach the same sales figures with 16 weekly sales meetings. You are forced to look at how the effort can be constructed. It could very well be that you could achieve the same goal with less effort and more intelligence. That is only a good thing. To put it frankly, you simply have to get moving.
Differences of mentality within the same organization
The different approaches to the managers’ and employees’ different personalities were also a recurring theme in the case study with Alm. Brand Insurance and Pension’s sales offices. ResultPartner had to realize that one organization can be challenged by having to solve the same tasks in different ways. The method used in Copenhagen was far from the method used in Randers. Big differences in mentality made it impossible to use the same method in both places. “One size does not fit all”.
– From my point of view, the ambitions were immediately much bigger at the sales offices in Glostrup and Elsinore than they were in Randers. Already at the beginning of the process, when they had to set goals, the levels of commitment and enthusiasm were very different. In Randers, there seemed to be a tendency to be more grounded and to be satisfied with less. It was easy to get the managers and employees to discuss very big ambitions in Glostrup and Elsinore. They didn’t feel uncomfortable by talking about goals they had never come close to before. The incarnated Jutlanders were more cautious and more skeptical. The difference was that the Copenhageners dared to promise more than you could be certain of achieving. In Randers, they only promised as much as they were certain “could fly”.
– Sales were too low in both centers. That much was certain. But the problem was different and the solution also became different. When solving the same problems with different people you have to use different tools.
– The task required a different approach on our part. My task was getting the managers and employees in Glostrup and Elsinore to understand what they had committed to. In return, the people in Randers had to understand that you can reach much higher goals if the bar is set higher. It was a question of different techniques. The reality was that they ended up achieving almost the same result.
– Actually, I felt most secure and confident about the fact that we would achieve the goals in Randers. On the other hand, it also became a challenge to get them to come out of their hiding and promise a little more than they thought they could keep. And in Copenhagen it was a challenge to get them to relate to what they had promised.
– It is a crucial fact that we would not have achieved those results if I had coached both places in the same way. It is crucial to understand the diversity and work with it. Alm. Brand Insurance and Pension’s sales offices are just another example of the problem with “one size fits all”. There are too many initiatives which don’t work at all when the head office is implementing something that is the same for everyone – without taking into account that the people, who need to execute, are different.
The personal and persistent approach and coaching requires that the consultant uses a careful and sometimes complicated working method.
– It is not an option to put the wool over peoples’ eyes and say that this is easy and quickly done. You have to consider it carefully. If you want to achieve extraordinarily high results you must not rely on it to be done in one pull during a weekend seminar. During a period of difficult conditions you can’t achieve great accomplishments with a workshop and some follow-up. It requires an extended and persistent effort of change, says Lars Moeller.
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