The managing director of Audi Australia shares his shortcuts to business success
“YOU’RE CONSTANTLY NEGOTIATING IN LIFE – IT’S JUST HUMAN NATURE”
“IT’S MORE OF A REVOLUTION than an evolution,” admits Paul Sansom. The managing director of Audi Australia is describing the almost sci-fi levels of technological change now shaking up the car industry. Artificial intelligence, self-driving cars and emission-free mobility are coming soon to an automotive showroom near you.
Managing such a transformation sounds like a mighty challenge. Yet Sansom is calm and upbeat. It’s confidence borne partly from the fact that his brand is already renowned for its restless sense of innovation. Audi’s famous slogan: “vorsprung durch technik” helpfully translates as “progress through technology”.
But Sansom’s pragmatic acceptance also reflects the reality of Audi’s position and, indeed, that of countless industries striving to thrive in the age of disruption. “If you don’t embrace change, then you’re probably going to have some tough times and the opposition will get ahead of you,” Sansom says.
From dealing with the boss from hell to refining your sales technique, read on to discover Sansom’s business lessons to hit the accelerator on your own career.>
Don’t wait for your HR department to offer you relevant training. To fast-track your path to the corner office, take charge of your career development and work out the exact skills you need in order to progress. “It’s up to you,” Sansom says. “You have to be master of your own destiny.”
Prior to Audi, when Sansom was working at Volkswagen, his boss offered him a promotion to the role of planning manager. Aware that it would be a number-crunching job wading through endless Excel Spreadsheets, Sansom shuddered at the prospect. But he eventually decided to accept.
“I thought: I’m going to take that job because it’s going to be the stepping stone to the job after that and create a bigger opportunity for me further down the line once I’ve got that experience.”
Sansom battled through the role for two-and-a-half years. “I couldn’t say I enjoyed one day of it,” he admits. Today, he cites that time as the most valuable education of his career as he was thrust into a crash-course in his industry’s internal logistics from manufacturing to imports.
“Sometimes as you’re moving through an organisation you have to take on roles that you know are probably not your strength,” Sansom says. “But you should do them not just to develop that strength, but to get exposure to all aspects of the business. I wouldn’t be MD of Audi Australia today if I hadn’t taken that role,”
YOUR MOVE: Do an honest self-appraisal of your professional skill-set. Determine the specific gaps between where you are now and where you want to be in five years time. List your shortcomings then assess the training or experience that you need to shore up your weaknesses.
SELL WITHOUT SELLING
Selling isn’t limited to call centres, shopping centres or car showrooms. Sansom takes the view of Daniel Pink (author of To Sell is Human) that it’s the key process behind most daily interactions. “This morning my two-yearold wanted cookies for breakfast and I had to sell him on the fact that he had to eat some eggs instead,” he says. “You’re constantly negotiating in life – it’s just human nature.”
After holding a variety of senior sales roles, Sansom knows how to seal a deal. But if you want to become a better salesman, he suggests, forget over-the-top pitches or negotiating hacks. Far more important is to concentrate on forging genuine relationships. “The qualities of really good salespeople tend to be the human qualities – the ability to connect, to find common ground, to put the customer at ease and get them talking about their requirements, before then finding a way for your product to fulfill them.”
At the same time, warns Sansom, the ability to display empathy and trust will only get you so far. “You can’t just start selling because you’ve got decent interpersonal skills,” he says. “You have to learn your product and really know your stuff. Otherwise a customer will unpick you very quickly.”
YOUR MOVE: Don’t bother faking enthusiasm or exuberance in order to close a sale. The best salesmen are even-keeled according to a study in Psychological Science. Researchers tracked 300 sales people over three months and found that “ambiverts” – people who aren’t particularly extroverted or introverted – were 32 per cent more successful than more sociable sellers.
What’s your boss like? Perhaps you’ve got an inspirational mentor who’s patient, encouraging and wise. But even if your head honcho is a mean-spirited buffoon, they can still teach you more than basic resilience (and how to self-soothe with hard liquour).
“I’ve learnt a lot from good leaders,” Samson says. “But the best lessons have actually come from the worst leaders I’ve worked with. Those were the strongest lessons. I observe a lot and whenever I see what I perceive as bad examples of leadership then I make sure that if I ever catch myself doing them I’ll quickly scrub them out. I’m conscious of those things because I’ve been on the other end.”
Tapping into the benefit of the “negative mentor” empowers you to prosper from an otherwise grim situation. Even if you’ve got the boss from hell, learn from their examples of what not to do and how not to behave.
YOUR MOVE: Train your boss like a dog. Want him to stop yelling at you? Use the animaltraining technique the Least Reinforcing Scenario. Stage one: ignore the behaviour you’re trying to eradicate. Stage two: reward the calmer conduct that follows – that could be by giving compliments or sharing a bit of good news.
THE BEST LESSONS HAVE COME FROM THE WORST LEADERS I’VE WORKED WITH
INVERT THE PYRAMID
The standard leadership model is shaped like a pyramid with the boss sitting at the pinnacle behind his mahogany desk. This hierarchical structure leans towards the dictatorial. The boss barks out orders that his underlings then scurry to execute. “But if everyone is just waiting for your next instruction, I think that’s quite limiting for an organisation,” Sansom says. “Plus you have to be a superhuman leader to actually manage that if you have nine direct reports. You can only go so far.”
The alternative? Flip the pyramid so the leader sits at the bottom delegating responsibility and encouraging his team to work more autonomously. “As a leader, you want to surround yourself with the best people and then unlock their talent by letting them be their best and reassuring them it’s OK to make a mistake – just not the same one twice!”
The tricky part of this, Sansom explains, is that not everyone will necessarily embrace that added responsibility. Some people like to be told exactly what to do. “You’ve got to see what sort of organisation you’re inheriting,” Sansom says. “You can’t just flip a switch and change the culture of a business overnight. Be aware that people move at different paces.”
YOUR MOVE: If you want to be a better boss, talk more and type less. Face-to-face communication is the best way to stop an electronic wall isolating you from your employees. Group emails are fine for posting facts, but conversation is far more effective for a manager, says Rodd Wagner, coauthor of 12: The Elements of Great Managing.