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Feb 18 19

Sales Person As Sense Maker

by David Brock

The world, both our customers and our own, is best characterized by turbulence.

By this, I mean each of us, at least if we are paying attention, is pummeled by information overload/overwhelm, massive disruption, escalating change, increasingly confusing choices, increasing complexity, transformation, time compression, risk, uncertainty, and distraction.

Too often, our customers are struggling to cope, to keep up, to understand, often to survive. At the same time, they are trying to learn, to grow, to improve, to achieve.

In the face of all of this, how can we create the greatest value with our customers, how can we be most helpful?

I think it is encapsulated in the concept of “Sense-Making.”

By that, I mean, helping the customer make sense of the turmoil and turbulence they face. Helping them sort through everything thy are being pummeled with, helping them identify a path and chart a course forward, to solve their problems, to achieve, in fact to thrive, despite the turbulence.

I believe sales people are among the best to do that–at least in the context of the problems that we solve. Whether it is helping with massive, enterprise wide change, or taking something off their plate, so they don’t have to worry about it.

We are the best equipped to help our customers manage, learn, and grow, because we see others addressing the same issues every day. We can help them understand and navigate the issues they face, providing greater clarity.

Being a sense maker requires, perhaps, different skills and mindsets. We have to have the empathy to understand how our customers feel. We have to understand them, their businesses, their markets, their customers. Perhaps, it’s helping them feel less alone, that they are the only people/organizations facing these issues.

We have to help them figure out where they want to go, how they should be thinking about the issues and the potential solutions. We have to help them learn how to mobilize within their own organizations, navigating both their problem solving and buying processes.

These are non trivial issues, there are no easy solutions, but we can help them discover these and move forward. We can help them make sense of what they face and what they want to achieve.

Afterword: I will be expanding on the concept of Sense-Making in other posts. Increasingly, this single concept will become the biggest area in which sales people can help their customers.

Afterword: One of the most important books you can read is: Sensemaking: The Power Of Humanities In The Age Of The Algorithm, Christian Madsjberg. While Madsjberg addresses far broader issues, the principles apply to everything we do as sales people, in complex B2B sales and as leaders within our own organizations.


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Feb 18 19

The “Voices In Our Ears”

by David Brock

I have to confess a weakness to spy/thriller movies. They are great Saturday evening fun. On “date night,” I try to encourage my wife we should see one, she usually finds something else .

The cool/high tech spies, often, have an earpiece. There is always someone at “control,” telling them what’s happening, advising there is a bad guy around the corner and help will be 5 minutes to late. Where would Tom Cruise be without Ving Rhames whispering into his ear?

At the same time, I also think, “Isn’t that voice in the spy’s ear annoying, doesn’t it distract him from what’s going on?” I think “Control” senses that, so they tend to minimize the idle chatter.

Those voices intrude on our everyday world, my car GPS keeps trying to tell me what to do, it’s annoying and distracting, so I’ve turned “her” off. My mobile, keeps prompting me with alerts and other things to distract me, my office phone announces who is calling. Today, I was on a video conference, while simultaneously getting prompts from my office phone and mobile on two different calls. These distracted me for only a couple of seconds, but it was enough that the people on the other end of the video call noticed and asked if something was wrong. Fortunately, it was with a long time client, not a prospecting call, I apologized, muted everything and we continued.

Sorry for the long preamble, setting up this discussion. Increasingly, we are seeing technology that enables “voices in our heads,” or “prompts on our screens.” These are real time suggestions on what we might say next, in the conversation we are currently conducting.

I think the technology is very powerful, offering great promise, but I worry about the current implementation as a “voice in our heads.”

I have two key concerns:

The first is the distraction factor: How do we pay attention, being present, with the prospect, or customer, if we are also paying attention to the voice in our head or the prompt on our screens? We already experience the impact of distractions on calls all the time. We know when someone is not really paying attention to us, that they are answering emails as they talk, cruising the web, or looking at texts. We do it ourselves, often, embarrassingly asking, “Uh, I’m sorry, I missed that, can you repeat yourself?”

We experience this in meetings daily, where people are physically present, but not there.

There is endless data about how stunningly unproductive we are when we pay attention to the voices in our heads, or the prompts on our screens.

My own personal experience is amazing. I’ve stopped, completely, all other distractions (OK, I slip up every once in a while). It’s amazing what happens, and how much more engaging the conversation is when one isn’t distracted. We actually get real work done–imagine that!

While this is a hugely important issue, there’s something more important.

We know, as coaches, that our coaching is far more effective and long lasting when we help our people learn and discover the best way of doing things themselves. We know that “telling” them what to do is stunningly ineffective. They don’t learn, they don’t grow, they don’t improve. We end up having to constantly be telling them what to do. (This has been known for millennia–“Feed a person a fish……”) And there is a huge amount of science supporting this.

The implementation of many of these technologies, combines these two devastating things–distracting our sales people with the “voices in their heads,” and suggesting what they should do, rather than helping the person discover them for themselves.

I’m really trying to be open minded and not let the fact that I’m one of those “old guys,” impact my thinking. After all, I did co-found, grow, and successfully sell one of the earliest AI based enterprise analytics companies. I, also, sit on the boards of a couple of companies doing very exciting things in AI/ML. So I think I get the technology, and can begin to grasp some of the potential.

But I struggle with much of the implementation we are seeing, particularly in platforms to “help” SDRs and other inside/phone based sale professionals. I wonder if the “voices in the head” or “prompts on the screen” approaches are really the most effective, or if there is a better implementation of the technology that can drive the performance and productivity of people.

I have to confess to being frustrated and venting. Over the last couple of days, I’ve been participating in an online chat, promoting “voices in the head.” They even cite scientific evidence that says you can be productive when distracted–though they admit it is still less than the productivity achieved when not being distracted.

I don’t mean to be rude or impolite, I actually quite like the technology. I just think the implementation is way off, and there is a much better way to implement these technologies, for greater and more enduring effect.

Of course, that’s not as cool and sexy as a spy with and earpiece and the voices in his head……

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Feb 10 19

Stop Chasing Customers You Can’t Help!

by David Brock

I’m often asked the fastest way to improve sales productivity. The answer is simple and should be obvious, “Stop Chasing Customers/Prospects You Can’t Help!”

That statement is likely to elicit a resounding “Dugghhhh!” The reality, however, is that sales people waste too much time chasing customers they can’t help or worst, customers that don’t want/need their help.

Every day, I get literally 100’s of emails, and at least 20 calls from sales people wanting to sell me something. Most don’t care about what our company does, they just believe they can “help me,” pitching their products/services. Most pitches are irrelevant to me and my company. As a result, they waste my time, their time, and their brand equity.

I wish I could say some small percentage did research on me or my company, but it’s not evident in their communication with me.

Why do so many sales people waste their time chasing customers they can’t help? Some thoughts:

They don’t care about helping, their job is selling. They and their managers believe selling is simply a numbers game (it is, but you have to look at the numbers in the right way). The more emails, the more calls, the more likely you hit your numbers. The attitude is literally dialing/emailing for dollars.

Continuing from the previous point, they don’t know how to help. While they would never admit it, they view their job as presenting their product, it’s the customer’s job to figure out whether they need it. I don’t know that this is selling, though people with sales titles do this. It’s actually easier and faster for me to hit up a website. Plus, I get better information than dealing with someone who is ill equipped to go off script, “Can I connect you to someone who really understands this stuff?????”

They conduct non-discovery. Yes, you read it right, it’s non-discovery. They are asking what they think are discovery questions, but they are meaningless. Of course I’m interested in growing my business, of course I want to increase the profitability of the company, of course I want more qualified prospects. Just because I reply affirmatively to those, doesn’t mean I want or need what you are selling, or that your solution can even help me and my company.

They don’t take the time to understand who they can help and why they might need help. Sales people understand their products, “We solve these problems, we help you achieve these things….” But they struggle to translate that into identifying specifically who needs help. They know they are supposed to call “these personas” in “these industries.” Maybe they even know they are supposed to ask “these questions,” looking for certain answers.

We do our best work and we create the greatest value for customers who want and need our help. Our job is to find them by focusing on our ICP. Then doing our homework, within that ICP, trying to determine who is most likely to have a need now–or by helping increase their sense of urgency about doing something now.

We are responsible for producing revenue, but regardless of our wishful thinking and persistence in calling people, we don’t produce it unless we focus on those who need and want our help now!

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Feb 9 19

My Single Best Productivity Hack!

by David Brock

As you know, I’m continually focused on getting a little better every day. I go through my ups and downs, but am generally making great progress.

I’m almost embarassed to say this, I’ve just rediscovered something, it’s my single best productivity hack and has done amazing things for me.

A little background. I’m rarely in my office, but when I am, I’ve designed a workspace to focus on maximizing my ability to focus and be productive. For example, I have an office with a beautiful view, but I’ve arranged my workspace so I look into a corner of my office with no windows. When I want to think and reflect, I have a couch near the window, I sit there.

At my workspace, even though it appears to be in disorder, there is an orderliness that makes sense to me. Everything is in its place, everything has a purpose. It just may not look like it. (Marie Kondo wouldn’t approve)

But most of my work focuses on my computer(s). Some years ago, I got into the habit of having multiple large screens on my desk. Right now, I have 2, 30+ inch screens side by side. I can arrange everything on my screens. The right most screen usually has my calendar and to-do list, along with my CRM system. The left screen is where I do my work, whether it’s email, writing, doing projects, preparing for presentation, and so forth.

Over the course of the day, I end up opening lots of windows on both screens. All the web windows have multiple tabs.

When I travel, it’s not much different, except I’m limited to the 13 + inch screen on my laptop. I have a clever piece of software that enables me to open some screens on my Ipad, so I have the poor man’s version of two screens.

Inevitably, I end up switching between screens, apps, windows on either system.

And all those open windows want to make sure that I don’t forget about them, so acorss the top bar they constantly try to capture my attention. Even though I try to stay focused, Gmail or Outlook may be blinking at me, showing a rising new mail count. LinkedIn and Twitter, also don’t want me to forget them, I see rising notification numbers. Each window and each application I have open doesn’t want me to forget, “Dave, I’m over here, there’s some cool new stuff you have to look at……”

Even though I try to ignore them, they manage to catch my eye. I resist as long as I can, but inevitably get sucked in and diverted.

I also run everything on Windows (even on my Mac’s). So the bottom bar on Windows is always showing me all the apps I have open. My eyes can’t help but being distracted by those.

As disciplined as I am, all these apps, web sites, and windows keep trying to pull me from what I need to do right now.

But then I had an “Aha” moment. What if I completely closed everything except the single app or window that I’m working on. For example, right now, I only have the word press window open in my browser. There’s nothing else. No flashing messages from LinkedIn or Gmail. No word document in another window, just a single window and a single task, complete this post.

Yes, I do open other windows, but only when I need it for the task I’m focused on. For example, I will need an image to put on this post, so I’ll do a quick search, find an image, then close that window. Or when I am calling someone, I always have their LinkedIn profile on one screen and their company website on another.

Yeah, you all have probably figured this out a long time ago, but it’s game changing in terms of eliminating distraction and improving my productivity.

As much as I appreciated both Mr. Jobs and Mr. Gates for creating the concepts of windows and enabling us to have lots of things going on at a time. It seems, I let it get out of control and got sucked into keeping as many windows open as possible.

Now I’m down to 1 at a time, sometimes 2.

Anyone want to buy a 30+ inch screen?

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