What I Learned From Xerox On Making Resolutions Happen

XeroxWearing my best suit, clutching 25 copies of my resume and flat broke, I approached the Xerox booth at the SF Job Fair. They were the big blue- chip firm at the fair and had the longest line in the hall. I left to visit the other company booths until the Xerox line died down, then stepped up to take my shot.

I looked the sales manager in the eye, shook his hand and handed him my resume. He looked me and my suit up and down, then said, “Why do you think you could work at Xerox?” No doubt that question had thrown a lot of people back on their heels, causing plenty of bowing and scraping throughout the day.

But I was having none of that. I reached into my pants, hoisted my balls onto the table and replied, “Why would I want to work for Xerox? I’m a closer, and everywhere I’ve worked, I’ve made people money. What would Xerox do for me?”

That’s all it took.  He handed me his business card and said, “Call me first thing Monday morning.” He hired me Monday afternoon.

I learned three important things in my time as a Sales Rep for Xerox:

  1. I was not cut out for life in a huge multinational corporation
  2. My title of “Reproduction Specialist” was very misleading
  3. You can’t manage results – you can only manage activities

That last piece is the reason I can now set and achieve goals. It is the greatest strategy for success in any field, and the most common mistake people make when setting goals or New Year’s Resolutions.

Xerox had me forecast my sales revenue each month and wouldn’t allow me to fling a number out there without showing my math. They were smart enough to know you can’t predict your results accurately, because sales, like many areas of life, is unpredictable. What you can predict, is that if you perform specific tasks that lead to opportunities to close sales, then a percentage of those opportunities will turn into money.

So you’d start with your goal, apply your closing rate, then work backwards to figure out how many of which activity you would have to perform to reach your goal. If you had a 2% closing rate, you’d have to make 100 calls to get appointments with 10 qualified prospects in order to close 2 sales. A simple numbers game.

Xerox knew that if its sales reps didn’t do that math and schedule those activities, any sales “forecasting” would be fiction and subject to a huge flake factor. So they didn’t let you predict your outcomes (sales), they made you commit to and schedule the number of activities (cold calls and presentations) you’d have to perform to reach your goal.

Today as I create goals, I avoid the mistakes most people make. I don’t say “I’m going to lose 20 pounds” (result). I say, “I’m going to drink 4 liters of water a day, eat no sugar or carbs 6 days per week, and exercise 30 minutes per day 5 times a week (activities).

If I measure my progress each day by how well I complete those activities, I will undoubtedly lose the weight. But if I just declare I’m going to lose a certain amount in a certain period, well that’s just fiction and subject to a huge flake factor.

This is why New Year’s Resolutions don’t work for most folks. If you just resolve to get a certain result, you will probably fail. But if you resolve to conduct (x) amount of specific activities in (y) a definite time frame and you have (z) a mechanism to keep you on track, then hell, there ain’t anything you can’t achieve.

5 thoughts on “What I Learned From Xerox On Making Resolutions Happen”

  1. Yes, I have been been seen this at work in my life since I started my spreadsheet for my activities based resolutions for 2016. It’s fun looking at the spreadsheet and assigning points when I am completing what I committed to. It reminds me of a some really great teachers who really engage their students to figure out their own grading because the student is so intrinsically motivated to achieve certain goals. This is proving to be a really useful tool for helping keep me on track towards my goal especially completing a trail Marathon in 2016:)

    1. Thanks Don. I think you hit the key idea – intrinsic. You truly have to want it for yousrelf enough to beat back the fear and self doubt…

  2. Great story/insight. I’ve printed an excerpt about managing activities not goals to share with my team tonight.

    By the way, why didn’t you share this with me before I committed to losing 5 lbs. by the end of January or I face the consequence of two weeks without ice cream? As a result, I’ve been without ice cream for over a week already as part of my attempt to lose the weight!

    1. Ha! Save it for your cheat day, my friend. 5lbs is a lot to lose in a month for a skinny guy like you, but you’ve still got a week and a half…

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