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Coach’s Diary: What’s in a Name?


Business partners learn that sometimes titles speak louder than words, in the latest installment from Olivia Stephanino's casebook.

Craig and Suzanne sat in my office looking worried. Anxious about the future of their new accountancy practice, both had been experiencing sleepless nights.

Now the pair – childhood friends – were finding that their anxieties were taking their toll on their respective marriages too. Clearly, things needed to change – and fast – if Craig and Suzanne were to avoid disaster in every area of their lives.

The root cause of the sleepless nights was that the accountancy practice simply wasn’t attracting enough new clients – in spite of the three dedicated (and highly experienced) sales people that the organisation had taken on.

One of the problems was that Craig and Suzanne’s practice offered similar services to every other accountant in the area. However, the pair felt that with a pro-active sales campaign, they should be able to win enough new business to show a profit, even with their already substantial overheads.

I asked about the sales people’s backgrounds – and it soon became obvious that they really did know what they were doing, as they had seen substantial successes with their previous employers.

As Craig poured another coffee, I asked whether he and Suzanne ever went out to see prospective clients. His response was swift, “No of course not, that’s why I employ salespeople!”

Suzanne looked a little embarrassed at Craig’s waspish response – chipping in that both of them were hopeless at selling, which is why they had taken on sales professionals to get around the problem.

Looking at them, I began to see the situation in a new light. “Do you think that the people with whom you want to do business expect to see the practice partners, rather than a sales person? Is it possible that your prospective customers feel in an intuitive way that you don’t really respect them – and that if you did, you would attend the sales appointment personally?”

Wanting to explain it more graphically, I continued, “It is the same principle of sending someone a letter with a first class stamp – it shows greater respect than sending someone a letter with a second class stamp, which is subliminally stating the fact that you perceive the recipient as second class too.”

Craig looked perturbed, as the realisation that he needed to make sales appointments himself began to sink in. Clearly it wasn’t a thought that made him feel good. Suzanne sighed saying, “Well, if that’s what we have to do to succeed, then I guess we are going to have to learn to get better at it.” It was clear that Suzanne didn’t relish the prospect either.

I knew that there had to be a way that we could make it work – after all, if we can get man to the moon, then sorting out this issue should be pretty straight forward.

Looking at their weary faces, I suggested that there was indeed another way. “How about giving each of the sales people a new title – such as ‘New Business Director’? This would show prospective clients that you respect them enough to send someone senior to an appointment – and would avoid you having to attend those appointments yourselves.”

Both Suzanne and Craig nodded their approval in unison – and the relief showed on their faces. As they left my offices, they promised that they would be calling their printer that afternoon to have some new business cards printed for their sales people.

* Olivia Stefanino is a leadership development consultant and executive coach, who works with blue chip organisations, SMEs and individuals. Download your free e-booklet “128 ways to harness your personal power” at


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