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What a Little Green Monster Taught Me About Sales Talent

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Today we have a guest post from Allison Delagrange. Allison is is a General Sales Manager for Federated Media in Fort Wayne, Indiana. She’s a 2005 Taylor University graduate, coach to a team of top-notch sellers on 97.3 WMEE, mom to a little princess and twin boys, and wife to one handsome dude. Allison loves to help others succeed and share insights she’s learned over the course of her 10-year career in sales.


Sometimes great insights come from the most unlikely places. Just in time for Halloween, I’d like to share with you what a little green monster taught me about sales talent.

Meet the Little Green Monster, Mike Wazowski

I first encountered Mike a few years ago when his happy face lit up my television as the animated star of Pixar’s Monsters University. For my then preschool-aged daughter, it was love at first sight, and for quite a while, the movie practically played on loop at my house. As a sales manager who’s constantly thinking about talent, it was only a matter of time before I would find a recruitment analogy here. With that in mind, here is Mike’s story.

Mike is a small green monster with a silly smile and the cheerful voice of Billy Crystal. He lives in Monstropolis, a city powered by energy that’s generated through the screams of children. These screams are captured by premier monsters, known as “scarers.” After a school field trip to Monsters Inc., the company that employs the city’s most talented monsters, young Mike is determined that one day he will become a scarer himself.

Fast forward eleven years, and Mike enrolls at the Harvard of scaring programs—Monsters University. Mike approaches his studies with boundless enthusiasm and unparalleled discipline. While other monsters hit the party scene, Mike hits the books. He practices grimacing faces in front of the mirror. He rehearses his roar. He sweats it out on the treadmill. He’s a top-notch scare student.

The stage is set for Mike to deliver an award-winning scare performance at the semester’s final exam. But circumstances change when Mike is involved in a mishap which elicits the attention of Dean Abigail Hardscrabble, a legendary monster who is the epitome of scary. Having watched Mike from afar, Hardscrabble has her own assessment of Mike’s scaring ability, and she proclaims to him, ever-so-condescendingly:

“What you lack simply cannot be taught. You’re just not scary.”

And with that, Mike is dismissed from the scaring program, his dreams crushed.

Okay, so there’s more to the story (and a likeable ending, I might add!), but I’ll end my synopsis here, avoid the spoilers, and dive into a few lessons that Mike’s story brings to light.

Lesson 1: You can’t teach talent.

Mike is the perfect student. But Hardscrabble needs creepy monsters who can tower over their prey with razor sharp fangs and deafening roars. With his small stature, crooked smile and roar that provokes more giggles than screams, Mike just isn’t scary. Even Mike’s incredible study habits, paired with the most amazing teacher, cannot change the fact that he isn’t designed to instill fear in young souls.

Similarly, there are must-haves I seek when recruiting sales talent for my team. An obsession with winning. A drive to make money and to be recognized for a job well done. An uncanny ability to understand people from all walks of life. An internal need to constantly produce results. These aren’t traits that I can instill in someone. They are rare gifts that either do or don’t exist at the core of a person’s being. Just like no amount of studying can turn Mike into a scary monster, and nothing I do as a sales coach can make an account manager more competitive, curious, or courageous. I can only nurture and develop existing talent.

Lesson 2: You need a Dean Hardscrabble.

I find myself cheering for Mike and wanting him to master the scaring program. Mike’s work ethic shines so brightly that it temporarily blinds me to the fact that he’s the least threatening monster on campus. Then Hardscrabble comes along with a dose of reality, announcing what I already know but hate to admit: Mike isn’t scary! His passion for scaring can’t compensate for his lack of talent in that area.

As a sales manager, I need a Dean Hardscrabble: an impartial, expert third party who can call it like it is when it comes to identifying talent. Too often, I discover a candidate with a real passion to get involved in our industry, and my judgment is clouded by how much I admire that person’s zeal. I convince myself that the candidate has talent in areas where he or she does not. That’s why it’s critical to rely on The Center for Sales Strategy and Talent Plus to be the Dean Hardscrabble who can make an unbiased judgment on whether the candidate has what it takes to be successful in this field. Without this type of consultation, it’s too easy to become a cheerleader for a candidate in a game that he or she was never designed to play.

Lesson 3: The world is a better place when we’re all doing what we were created to do.

Mike is devastated when Hardscrabble kicks him out of the scaring program. But, forced to discover a new path for his life, Mike makes an amazing impact on the Monsters University campus. He joins a fraternity, bringing together a group of misfit monsters, and it becomes clear that he has a real knack for leading, educating, and motivating a team. He brings out the best in the monsters around him, and I can’t help but wonder if Mike would’ve realized these talents if Hardscrabble hadn’t kicked him out of the scaring program.

As a sales coach, it’s natural for me to try to help others succeed. Unlike Hardscrabble, it would be hard for me to dismiss a hard-working, loyal character like Mike. But the world is better when we’re all doing what we were created to do, and sometimes helping someone succeed means directing them to a different path where their true talents can be realized. I’ve interviewed many individuals who are loaded with talent, just not the qualities I need to fill my account manager role. I’ve looked up a few of those names from the past, and I smile when I see that many of them are doing great things in the community and on career paths that are perfectly suited to them. I’m content because I didn’t waste any of these candidates’ time by offering them a career that mismatched their talents. Instead, they had the chance to find other ways to make a positive difference in the world.

Small Monster, Big Message

The child in all of us wants that Hollywood ending, where Mike graduates at the top of his scaring class and proves that hard work really does pay off. Instead, he gets kicked out of the program before the final exam. While it’s hard accept that we really cannot do everything we set our minds to, it is encouraging to know that, with the right coaching and a lot of heart, we can excel in the things that we were made to do at the core of our being. Who knew a such a big message could come from a small green monster?

Happy Halloween! May you have talented creatures on your sales staff. And if a little green monster comes knocking at your door, give him a high five, and tell him thanks for the lessons in sales talent.

Talent Resources

Topics: hiring salespeople, Talent, Sales