By the time the plane reached cruising altitude, dawn had broken. The passenger in seat 2-A turned his attention from the window and asked the flight attendant in the first-class cabin for another cup of coffee. His clothing had already pegged him as a business traveler, but now something in his manner caused the attendant to update her appraisal. Another worried executive, she thought. Like so many these days. Is it just me, or did the guys in good suits used to look a lot happier?

Her perception was accurate. Mike was, indeed, an executive — a vice-president of marketing, to be exact—and he certainly was worried. But the flight attendant could not have guessed just how peculiar this particular business trip was.

Mike himself could scarcely believe the reason he was on the plane to Phoenix. My job depends on some mysterious sales rep I’ve never met, he thought. Tony, my man, whoever you are, I hope you can show me a way out of this mess. Because I sure can’t figure out the answer.

The flight attendant was right about another thing. Mike used to be a lot happier. Only a year ago, he was a corporate hero. It was at his urging that his company trained and certified its sales force in a new system called Action Selling. At the time, the company’s annual rate of sales growth was stuck at 2.5 percent, average for its mature industry. After the training, the growth rate more than doubled to 5.1 percent. The new system was a tremendous hit with the sales force, and Mike’s CEO was delighted with the results. At least for a while.

But the CEO wanted more. He was under pressure from stockholders to increase both revenue and profits at a faster clip. When the quarterly numbers came in 90 days after the training was completed and showed that the new sales system was a smashing success, there had been jubilation. But a month later, the CEO called Mike into his office.

“We still need more customers, and we need more business from current customers,” he said. “I suppose it doesn’t exactly surprise you that those two things are at the top of my list,” he added with a smile.

Not exactly, Mike thought. You’re a CEO, after all.

“Let me explain…”

Duane Sparks

About Duane Sparks

Duane Sparks is founder and chairman of The Sales Board, the authoritative source of practical and leading-edge information about the art and science of selling. He has created Action Selling sales training products and learning systems that transform sales organizations. Duane is author of these best-selling books: Action Selling, Selling Your Price, Questions (the Answer to Sales), Masters of Loyalty (How to turn your sales force into a loyalty force), and Sales Strategy from the Inside Out (How complex selling really works).

Discover how the best sales training process can make spectacular improvements in sales skills. Action Selling: How to Sell Like a Professional (Even If You Think You are One).