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Feb 24 20

Social Selling, Bar Hopping, And Relationship Commoditization

by David Brock

Listen to the proponents of “Social Selling,” and it is the future of selling. It is the way for us to “develop relationships,” extend our reach, capture new prospects and customers.

The Social Selling experts talk about extending the size of your networks, many talking about how many 100’s or 1000’s of connections their methods can help you achieve in weeks.

The platforms, themselves, are structured to facilitate making thousands of connections. I remember the early days of LinkedIn, where with each connection, they warned you to only connect with people you know well. In many cases it was very difficult to actually send a connection request. We were required to provide the right email address.

Today, Linkedin provides daily recommendations of hundreds of people I can connect with. They went to the same universities, maybe worked for the same company, maybe live in the same area, maybe have the same titles, maybe have similar interests. And all we have to do is click on the recommendation to send a connection request.

And once we have those connections, the tools enable us to mass email and prospect at scale. Every day we get dozens of automated messages from people who are interested in “collaborating,” “partnering,” “learning more.” Yet they have never taken the step to developing a “relationship” by looking at my profile and learning a little more about me or what I care about—or the person they are “connecting” with and what they care about.

Or the LinkedIn discussions, all of which follow the same format: Provide a provocative statement, take a position, show your vulnerability, declaring your “authenticity” by asking for feedback. Then they measure the reads, likes, comments. Inevitably, they are less interested in discussion or learning, but more interested in agreement and likes. But they are more interested in leveraging these discussions as megaphones to expand their presence, not something to learn.

I fall victim to these, I think the person is genuine and wants to learn. I often respond in the comment stream, or reach out through InMail to offer observations and insight. But I’ve learned, these people aren’t really interested in learning, they are the new generation or broadcasters, seeking only to build the size of their audience. And they may use that audience to advertise their services, getting people they don’t know or care to know to sign up, pay their money, and not hear much different.

As I reflect on Social Selling and the commoditization of relationships, it took me back to my bar hopping days of college and early work life. I remember our “gangs” would travel bar to bar, event to event, often having contests of how many people could we meet, how we could have fun for a few minutes, and, possibly, get laid.

We weren’t looking to establish “relationships,” with each person acknowledging the shallowness of the process. But we were just out to meet people, have fun, maybe dance, then move on. We weren’t really interested in deep conversations and learning, sometimes prompting a buddy with some sort of “rescue me” signal so we could get out of conversations we were trapped in or the few people that wanted to establish relationships.

We collected names and phone numbers, so we could expand our partying network, learning where we might go on the following weekend. We created “sophisticated” mechanisms for getting the word out, with certain people serving as “network nodes” (that’s my nerdy description), getting the word out to their networks, ultimately meeting at a bar, restaurant, party, party, or concert–then moving on to the next one.

For it’s purpose, at a point in time, bar hopping and partying served its purpose. We had fun, we got one night stands.

Over time, those “relationships” became very unsatisfying. We learned we wanted more depth, more meaning, more longevity. And we learned to get more of those things, we had have less of a lot of the other things–mainly the number and shallowness of the barhopping relationships.

There’s a lot of science that supports this empirical observation. There’s the concept around “Dunbar’s Number” which posits we can only have somewhere around 150 meaningful relationships.

We see customers increasingly dissatisfied with “one night stands.” They are looking for more meaning, they are looking for more depth. They struggle with complexity, overload, overwhelm, uncertainty, change, meaning. They are looking for sensemaking, they are looking for decision confidence.

While they may not be looking for “deep, meaningful” relationships, those they experience, now, leave them dissatisfied. We see this, visibly, by the increasing difficulty of connecting and engaging them.

As with major cultural, individual, business, and societal “transformations,” the initial steps are fraught with misstep and failure, often taking years/decades until we figure things out and they become a part of who we are as people and societies.

Clearly, Social Selling, is one of those nascent efforts. We are seeing how unsatisfying it is, and will be looking for the next new thing–probably going through iterations and refinements over the next 10 plus years.

We have to be careful not to confuse our current efforts with Social Selling, with Digital Transformation. What much of the early research is showing is that Digital Transformation is intensely human and personal. And we are still a long way from understanding what that means.

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Feb 18 20

Lessons For Sales Leadership

by David Brock

One of my favorite podcasts is the Lessons For Sales Leadership, hosted by Brent Adamson. Both Brent’s skill as an interviewer and his “heavy hitter” guests make this one of my favorites, and one where I learn from great sales leaders.

Part of the reason I like the podcast is that Brent interviews some of the most experienced practitioners in the world. Not consultants or guru’s with an opinion, but senior leaders who, daily, are responsible for guiding the efforts of thousands of people, generating billions in revenue.

These leaders are deeply thoughtful about their strategies, customers, and the people in the organization. They deal with issues of rapid change, complexity, disruption, culture, and values in ways that drive overall growth and results.

The quality of the podcast is both a result of the deep experience of these wickedly smart people, but also Brent’s skill as an interviewer.

With that as a preamble, you can imagine my surprise when Brent called me not long ago asking, “Would you be a guest on my podcast?”

My initial reaction was, “Gee, Brent, you’ve had so many great discussions from great practitioners, are you looking for comic relief?”

In any case, Brent prevailed and I had one of the best experiences I’ve ever had on a podcast. We had a wide ranging discussion, talking about the challenges sales organizations and leaders face. We talked about the importance of culture/values/talent; back to basics on sales execution; innovating in sales; and a range of other things.

I hope you enjoy this discussion as much as I did!

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Feb 17 20

Not All Revenue Is “Good Revenue”

by David Brock

You are probably reading this title thinking, “Dave has finally flipped out. We knew he was headed that direction, but he’s gone!”

Let me explain myself, revenue is important. But it’s important to look at the composition of that revenue to understand not only how it meets your current goals/objectives, but how it positions your organization/company for future growth.

Let’s dissect what good and bad revenue looks like:

First, it’s sales responsibility to execute the company strategy in the face of the customer. Stated differently, sales has to sell the entire product portfolio, not just their favorite products.

Let’s imagine a company that’s looking to grow. It introduces new product, services, perhaps goes after new markets. Gaining traction in those areas is important to the future growth plans. But if sales people continue to focus their favorite products to their favorite customers, they won’t be executing the company growth strategy—even if they are making their numbers. Those new product group or the growth initiatives will fail, the company will miss it’s strategic growth targets.

For example, let’s imagine a company that has two product lines, A and B. Let’s also manage two sales people. Sales person 1 has a quota of $10M, she makes it by selling a balance of products A and B. Sales person 2 has the same quota but makes it just by selling his favorite product, product line A.

Which sales person has done a better job? Many of you would say, “They both did great! They hit their goals of $10M each!”

But I would submit sales person 1 did a better job. She hit her goals with balanced performance of selling the entire company portfolio. I would, also, say that even though sales person 2 hit his goal, he underperformed the potential. Surely there were product line B possibilities in his territory, he just didn’t bother to chase them. In reality, had he looked for all the opportunity in his territory, he might have sold much more than $10M.

As we look at sales performance, we have to make sure the sales people are balancing their performance across the entire product line they have responsibility for selling. If they aren’t they aren’t maximizing the potential of their territory, or executing the strategy the company expects to be executed.

Let’s look at another more challenging issue. Let’s say our company has 80% of it’s revenue coming from an increasingly mature market. The market has passed it’s peak and is in decline. In this market, pricing becomes a challenge. As the company and it’s competitors are facing declining revenues, to win business, they will have to discount more and more. And, over time, the margins become unacceptable–even though you may be hitting your revenue goals.

Unless the company does something, it’s on a death spiral. It needs to find a way to shift to products/markets that drive growth. But too on, particularly if these products are the “family jewels,” they continue to invest in their slow death.

It takes an astute management team to recognize this, protecting as much of the base as they can, yet recognizing if they don’t make the shift to new offerings/markets, the company fails. It’s a delicate balancing act–there are lots of different tactics/strategies to do this. Sometimes in means consciously taking a short term revenue hit, to make the transition from bad revenue to good revenue.

Revenue is important, but we want to focus on revenue that enables us to continue to grow and expand–we want to focus on good revenue.

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Feb 14 20

The Courage To Be A Great Sales Leader

by David Brock

It takes great courage, self confidence, and conviction to be a great sales leader.

Think of the job for a moment. It’s a job where there are no “right answers.” There are a variety of methods, strategies, and approaches to achieving the organization’s goals. Each has it’s pros/cons, none is guaranteed to work. But you have to do something.

It’s a job of immense complexity, change, disruption, and uncertainty. Our customers are changing (and facing changes) rapidly, our competition is changing-with new competitors appearing every day, our markets are changing, and our companies are changing. Despite all of this, great sales leaders must figure out how to adapt, change, and respond.

There’s the timing challenges, specifically time to results. Anything we change or implement now, may take months or years until we see the results of those changes. For example, if we implement a new sales methodology, we have to go through several sales cycles to know that we are getting the results, with the consistency, we expected. And if those sales cycles are long…… Of course we look for all the early signs, and leading indicators, but we have to have the confidence we have made the right choices and the courage to give them the time to work.

Very little is actually in our “control.” We don’t control our customers or markets. We don’t control our people. We have to have the confidence that we have the right people in place. That we’ve done everything possible to equip them to perform at the highest levels possible, that we are continually coaching and helping them improve. We have to have the confidence they understand what they need to do, how to do it, and that they are driven to perform. Then we have to have the courage to let go and let them do their jobs.

We know we will fail, possibly more than we succeed and that we have to constantly learn, change, innovate and adapt. We know nothing is guaranteed. We know the only answer to virtually every question is, “It depends….”

Yet we know if we don’t succeed, we fail our customers, we fail our companies, we fail our people, and we fail for ourselves and what we want to achieve.

In the face of all of this and more, we are driven to do our jobs. We are driven to constantly learn, improve, adapt, and change.

It takes great courage, confidence and conviction to be a sales leader.

It takes caring, as well–but that’s another post.

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