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Apr 24 15

Skilled Adaptation Or Clueless Reactions?

by David Brock
Downhill Skier

To the casual observer, the fluidity with which a top performer adapts to a challenge may be hard to distinguish from the clueless reactions of poor performers.  Both seem to be “rolling with the punches.”

As the customer shifts, both the top performer and the clueless performer shift–but in very different, often subtle ways.

The clueless performer simply reacts.  The customer does something, the clueless performer reacts and responds.  This may provoke other actions from the customer, to which the clueless performer responds.  This back and forth process continues until the customer is bored and tells the clueless performer to go away, or the customer finally figures things out for themselves and makes a decision, which the clueless performer has had little influence on.

If lucky, the clueless performer may get an order, but it’s really any person’s guess.

Top performers are different.  Yes, like the clueless performer, as the customer shifts in their buying process, they shift–but through skilled adaptation, not clueless reactions.  What’s the difference?

Tamara Schenk wrote a brilliant article on Adaptive Competencies, it’s really a must read to understand this concept.

To be skilled in adaptation, one has to first master all the basics.  We have to be expert in using our sales process and mastering our sales skills.  We must understand the alternatives the customer may consider–our competitors, doing nothing, or doing it themselves.  We must be deeply knowledgeable about both our own products and services, but also about our customers’ businesses, strategies, priorities, markets, competition and customers.

These provide a framework or context of what creates success.  It provides a framework for the high performer to evaluate the current situation.  To assess, what’s driving the customer, what has may have caused them to react a certain way, to have turned left when we expected them to turn right.  It’s the ability to assess what’s happening, understand why, and purposefully determine next steps to achieve their goals that drives the skilled adaptation by the top performer.

Without this framework, without being masters in leveraging and executing it, the sales person is clueless in assessing, “How do I adjust my strategies and execute to get the outcomes I want?”  It’s the absence of this that causes everyone else to cluelessly react.  Rather than driving the situation, they are driven by all the customer, competition, and lack of knowledge.

Skilled adaptation requires more, it requires constant learning, constant refinement of our base models and frameworks.  It requires recognizing those things that no longer contribute to success and quickly adding those new things critical to success.  Stated differently, it’s the Agility, Jill Konrath refers to in Agile Selling.

And top performers do this constantly, seamlessly, in real time.

Tamara uses the model of a skier in her article, but it’s what we see in any top athlete, artist, and top performer—they make it look so easy, they make it look graceful, fluid, seamless.  Yet in reality, they are constantly adapting, shifting and changing.  The skier has run the course dozens of times in practice, they run the course dozens of times in their minds, before they even start.  They have a line or strategy in mind at the starting gate.  Then on the course, the skier is adjusting to a slight change in the snow condition, changes in the condition of the course, wind, light, equipment, what other competitors have done.  We don’t see those hundreds of adjustments.  We just see a fluid winning performance.

By contrast, we can see the unskilled skier is poorly prepared and has no plan other than “go fast.”  They point their skis downhill, flail, struggle around the gates, choose the wrong line, are thrown by ruts, patches of ice, softer snow.  They don’t know the fastest course, how to attack the gates.  Instead, they react, adjust, react.  Each reaction slows them down, costing them time–ultimately causing them to lose and fail.

Skilled adaptation and clueless reaction are very different and produce very different outcomes.

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Apr 23 15

Change Sucks!

by David Brock
Three heads in the sand

Change sucks, particularly when it’s inflicted on us.

Often, don’t understand what’s going on, why, what it means to what we should be doing.  We’re asked to do new things, sometimes things we don’t know how to do, sometimes things we don’t like to do or want to do.

The natural tendency is to resist.  To go back to what you were comfortable with doing in the past.  To complain to management and complain about management.

Sometimes, we think, “This too will pass,” so we ignore things, keep our heads down, do what we always did, and hope we can get by without management paying attention.

Shame on any management team that doesn’t engage people in the process.  Shame on those who don’t address concerns about why, what it means to each person, what new things everyone should be doing, what old things should be stopped.  Shame on any management team that isn’t providing the training, skills, tools, and coaching to help people understand and execute!


Now that we’ve gotten that out of our systems.  Now that all those things are done, you may not like the changes, but it’s your job to jump on the bandwagon, own the changes, and embrace them.

We don’t get to not change.  We don’t get to opt out–unless we choose to leave the organization and get a new job.

Recently, I had a conversation with a sales person.  She was very upset, considered that she was working in a “Hostile Workplace.”  You can guess how my ears perked up in hearing that.

I asked why she considered it Hostile. The response was, “They are making me do new things.  They are making me change what I used to do and I don’t like it.”  The list of complaints went on.

I asked if she understood why management was driving the changes.  She responded, “Well, we weren’t achieving our goals….competition is beating us….sales are declining….we’ve had to go through rounds or lay off’s…..”

I then said, “Well, doesn’t it make sense to change what we are doing and how we are doing it?  Aren’t the changes focused on more effectively achieving your goals?”

She replied, “Well, yes, but I still don’t like it and I don’t like them forcing me to do it!”

I asked, “If you don’t change and do these things, then you won’t make your goals, isn’t that correct?”

She wasn’t liking what she was hearing.

I went on, “Clearly, your job has changed.  The management team has talked about the changes, they’ve provided you tools and training, they’re working with you to make sure you can perform in this new environment.  So what’s wrong?  Why do you consider this a Hostile Workplace?”

She wasn’t liking what I was saying, she was still resisting, “Well I don’t like it.  I don’t want to do these things.  Making me do it is creating a very uncomfortable environment!  I really want to do things my way!”

I replied, “Then if you are so uncomfortable, you probably really should think about whether you want to continue to work here.  If you feel so strongly, you may be better off working someplace else.  You need to decide and take responsibility for the decision.”

Clearly, it wasn’t what she wanted to hear.  I don’t know what she will do.  If she chooses to do nothing, but stay with the company, then she will ultimately be fired because she isn’t doing her job.  And she deserves that.

I’m not real sympathetic with these types of discussions.  Each of us always has a choice.  If our managers and company are driving changes that we don’t understand, that’s one thing.  But if we disagree, if we don’t jump onboard wholeheartedly, then we need to leave.  Our jobs may change.  If we choose not to do our new jobs, then we are choosing to leave the company.

When we choose to work for a company, there are certain things we must do.  Some of them are “conditions of employment,” some are simply requirements of doing our jobs.  By working for a company, we are saying, “I am agreeing to do those things they are asking me to do.”  If we don’t agree, we have no place working for that company.  We won’t be successful, we won’t be happy.

Our companies need to change, so sometimes the “rules/jobs” change.  We have to decide whether we want to do these new things or not.  Choosing not to do them means a choice to leave.

Manager’s need to have the courage to have these discussions with people.  It’s not about forcing them to change, it’s giving them the opportunity to choose.  If they choose not to change, then they have to understand the consequences of that choice.  But people need to be given that choice and must take responsibility for the consequences of the choices they make.

Change sometimes sucks.  If we don’t like it, we always have choices.

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Apr 22 15

What’s The Customer Doing During The “57%” And Why Sales Should Celebrate!

by David Brock
57 varieties

I have to admit I’m getting relatively pissed off with all the discussions around, “Customers don’t want to see sales people until they are 57%  (up to 70%) though their buying process.”  There are reactions ranging from:

  • Sheer joy:  Sales people saying, it’s great, that means they are only focusing on serious buyers, it shortens their sales process, and all sorts of other nonsense.
  • Sheer relief:  Again sales people saying, all that front end stuff is the really tough stuff.  We don’t have to prospect, find, qualify, do need/requirements discovery.  It’s all marketing’s job to provide the content that gets us to be on the shortlist 57% of the way through the journey.
  • Sheer terror:  Sales and marketing alike thinking, “What if we don’t get enough calls when they are 57% of the way through the process?  How will we make the numbers?”
  • Mixed terror and opportunism:  CMO’s and marketing thinking, we own the 57% now, it’s all up to us.  How do we attract people, how do we develop the right content, how do we move them through the process?  The opportunistic side is, we need more budget, we need more tools, we need more people and resources to do all this stuff.  (Interestingly, we don’t see a shift of resources from sales to marketing to cover this, we just see net increase in spending, does this make  sense?)
  • Sheer terror on the part of corporate and others:  How can we control and drive outcomes when we have so little direct influence over what the customer is doing through their buying cycle?
  • Continued prognostications on the death of the sales person–with all this activity shifting, we don’t need as many sales people.
  • And consultants love this because it is the source of endless books, blogs (and I’m guilty too) with prognostications ranging from doom and gloom about sales to cautious optimism.

I’m not sure this is what my friends Matt Dixon and Brent Adamson really intended, when they cited that data in Challenger or others mean when they cite similar data.

When one looks at the research, it’s actually pretty limited in the statements it makes about what customers are actually doing during that “57%.”  The research says, they are shifting where and how they learn about products and solutions.  They are relying increasingly on information at company websites (recent research shows this as one of the highest “go to” destinations for customer research.)  Along with this they are looking for meaningful relevant content from suppliers about products and solutions.

So the opportunism from marketing is actually quite justified, we have to be doing a much better job of attracting, educating, engaging customers as they engage digitally.

They also rely on user experience, discussions, and other forums.  It’s not their primary digital research but it’s an important channel we have to develop and influence.

And there are other important digital (and, surprisingly non digital resources like conferences and tradeshows) that are part of what customers are doing during that 57%.

A conclusion we all draw from this is the role of the sales person has changed.  Where the sales person used to be the primary channel for customers to educate themselves about products and solutions, that role is increasingly be displaced by digital and other means of learning about products and solutions.

But here’s where I think all the discussions miss the point.  We are still making all of this about the product!

I’ll repeat myself, the research says that the “57%” is customers self educating about products and solutions.

But is that all the customer is doing when they are in a buying process?  Is buying really just about researching solutions and products?

And buying is just a small part of the customer change management process anyway.

Customers don’t buy just to spend money.  They buy to achieve business objectives, whether it’s to address new opportunities, to solve a problem, to better serve customers, to improve their operations.  All of these activities involve more than just buying.

From a sales point of view, we probably should be celebrating the 57% and rooting for it to be 70%!

Not needing to educate customers about our products and solutions frees us up to create much greater value for our customers!

It frees us up to start educating customers about opportunities they are missing, problems they don’t realize they have, things they can be doing to better serve their customers.

It frees us up to start talking to customers about their dreams and engaging them in rich discussions about their personal and business future.

It frees us up to start helping the customer realize they must change!  To help them recognize their current state is unacceptable, they must do something different.

It frees us up to help the customer figure out what that means.  What is the problem, opportunity they want to address?  How do they develop a plan of attack?  Who needs to be involved?  How do we establish a project including, milestones and goals to get them where they want to be by a certain date?

It frees us up to help them in the tough work of aligning diverse agendas, priorities, and goals.  We can help them define and scope the problem establish the goals, develop the plan.

It’s probably an area they may not have much experience in addressing, but since we help customers solve similar problems every day, we are freed up to help the customer really understand the problem and what they might do about it.

When they get to the buying part, rather than having to focus on educating them about the product, we can focus on helping them learn how to buy.

As sales professionals we should be celebrating the 57-70%.  We really don’t create a lot of value in educating customers about our products and solutions.  We create more sustainable and differentiated value in all the other stuff.  The 57-70% frees us up to focus where we have the greatest impact!

Too many of us, sales, marketing, corporate execs, are caught in the past.  We think it is about our products and solutions.  We try to make it about our products and solutions.  For those, stuck in a long and thankfully gone era, they should be terrified.  They have become irrelevant!

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Apr 16 15

Committed To “Not Succeeding?”

by David Brock
failure success

I don’t know anyone committed to failure.  Just the idea of it, sets one on edge.  Being accused of being “committed to failure,” is offensive.

But not being committed to failure doesn’t mean we are committed to success.

If we were totally committed to success, we would do those things are proven to make us successful.  And we would do them all the time.

We know–or should know, that customers don’t want to be pitched about our products.  They don’t care about our products, they care about their own businesses, goal attainment, their own business and personal success.  So if we are totally committed to success, we would be driven by those things customer cares about–and that we can help them address.

We know that we are more successful when we use a sales process.  We see the data, people/organizations that use a sales process have more sales people making quota, and have better revenue growth than those that don’t have or don’t use a sales process.  So if we are totally committed to success, it would be unthinkable not to use the sales process rigorously.

We know we are more effective when we research, prepare, have a plan and execute.  If we are committed to success, we would do this for our deal strategies, we would do this before each call, we would do this in expanding our share of account, we would do this in expanding our share of territory.

We know if we want to maintain our price/margins, we have to create, demonstrate, and communicate value that justifies the pricing/margins.  We know the customer must say, “Those things are important to me!”

We know it’s important to establish, build, and maintain trust and credibility with our customers.  If we are totally committed to success, we would be cautious in the commitments we make to our customers and we would meet 100% of those commitments.

We know the world is changing, our customers are changing, so if we are to be competitive and  win, we must continually learn, we must continually refine our strategies, we must continually improve.  If we are totally committed to success, we are curious, we are committed to learning, improving.

We know that if the things we are doing don’t produce the desired outcomes/results, then it is crazy to continue doing them, expecting a different outcome.  If we are committed to success, we know we have to change.  We have to identify what drives success and start doing those things—–all the time—everyday.

We know that sometimes we succeed and sometimes we don’t.  Sometimes, despite all our best and smartest efforts, we fail.  Perhaps we made a mistake in execution, we had the wrong strategy, the competitor was better, there were hurdles we couldn’t overcome, there were requirements we couldn’t meet, or the customer just wanted something else.  But we know we can learn from those failures, change, and improve in the future.

I get confused when I see people not doing the things they know are required to be successful.

I wonder when I see them do the right things some of the time, but then fall back into bad habits because doing the things that create success require too much work, may be inconvenient, or take time.

I wonder when I see them to the same things, that produce the wrong results, over and over and over.

I wonder when I see them do the same things they did years ago, when they know things have changed–but they won’t.

Surely, they aren’t committed to failure, but they don’t seem to be committed to success.

I wonder, are they committed to being successful sometimes.  Perhaps, they are thinking, “I’ll be committed to success on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays (except during the summer).”

It doesn’t make sense to be sometimes committed to success.

So perhaps they are committed to not succeeding.

But somehow being committed to not succeeding, seems a lot like being committed to failure?

Am I missing something?


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