As managers and leaders, we create (consciously or unconsciously) dozens of “training” moments for our people, every day.
Our people watch our every move, drawing conclusions about what they should be doing, how they should be behaving, where they should invest their time, and what their priorities are. What we do and how we act become more impactful than what we say.
It’s so simple, yet we make so many mistakes:
- We want our sales people to use the tools and systems we’ve invested in—but we still ask our admins to print out a report, or send us the updated Excel report.
- We want our people to use the sales process, but we never use it when we do deal reviews.
- We want our people to stop pitching, to question, probe, and understand the customer; but we don’t listen to our people–we just tell them what to do.
- We want our people to listen to and understand the customer, but we don’t listen to them.
- We want out people to continually learn and improve, yet we haven’t picked up a book or gone to a workshop in years.
- We want our people to be customer focused, yet we spend all our time behind our desks or in internal meetings.
- We want our people to change, but we do the same things.
- We want our people to feel empowered and take responsibility, but we micromanage expenses, pre approving every customer visit.
- We sometime tell our people to do as we say, not as we do—but guess what……..
Think about yourself, you watch your own manager. You care about the things she cares about. You focus on the things she thinks are important. You watch how she conducts herself, how she spends her time, how she works. Everything she does influences what you do (consciously or unconsciously).
We talk a lot about the importance of culture, but culture is really the cascaded and collective set of conscious or unconscious behaviors and attitudes we see every day. They are the examples set by our top leaders, reinforced by their direct reports, repeated by their direct reports, all the way down the food chain and throughout the organization. These actions, behaviors and attitudes become who we are, how we are perceived and how we act — they are our culture.
If we talk about being customer focused, but we aren’t employee focused (afterall, our people are our customers), then we will never be customer focused.
If we talk about fulfilling our commitments to our customers, yet we don’t fulfill our commitments to our people–then customer service will become lip service.
If we talk about being a learning organization, but we punish mistakes, our people won’t be creative, they won’t experiment, they won’t change or innovate.
If we talk about the importance of change, but don’t actively solicit and use the ideas of our people, our customers, our shareholders and community–we’ll stay the same.
The most impactful (and cheapest) training we can implement is being aware of the example we set–and making sure we set the right example in everything we do and say. People are watching, they are paying attention and acting.
I spend a lot of time in group meetings or 1 on 1’s with sales people trying to understand how they do their jobs and trying to understand what they need to be more effective and drive bigger numbers.
To be honest, most of the time I have to bite my tongue as I listen to the litany of things they need to be successful.
It always starts with more and better products–along with the lowest prices. When I hear that, I think, “If we have that, why do we need you?”
It then goes on to laundry lists including, more and higher quality leads (what they really want is people ready to issue a PO to us), more and better collateral, more and better case studies, references, tools, demos, better competitive information and good “knock-offs,” easier contracts, better customer services, stronger marketing programs, stronger corporate branding, better value propositions, better insight pitches, better call scripts, and—don’t forget—tons more and better quality leads–purchase ready customers.
There are also complaints about how much time they are spending on non sales activities, how tough things are, how unreasonable quotas are and how bad the commission plan is.
Then they want the formula, they plead, “Just give me the formula, the magic words to use, the things to do that will make the customer immediately pull out a PO.” Stated differently, they are asking, “Tell me what to do.”
Inevitably, at the end of the session I say, “We’ll see what we can do–what fits the priorities and is affordable/doable, but in reality you will never have all the stuff you want to have, but you still have to make your numbers.”
This always provokes the response, “Then what will we do? How can we possibly make our numbers?”
In my ever sympathetic and sensitive way, I respond, “(Wo)man up! It’s your job to figure it out!”
In truth, that’s really our jobs as sales people—Figuring it out–for ourselves and for our customers.
We’ll never have the customer who will open up completely, tell us everything they’re thinking, have a well defined buying process, a clear decision making process, well defined needs-that happen to fit our solutions perfectly, an unlimited budget, and plenty of time to listen to us. It’s not maliciousness on the customers’ parts, they are struggling as much as we, they often just don’t know.
We’ll never have just the right products at the right prices (free is never the right price). We’ll never have all the programs, systems, tools, materials, support and other things we’d like. It’s simply impossible and unaffordable to do this.
We can’t wait, we can’t do nothing, we can’t complain.
It is what it is, so if we are to help our customers address their opportunities and improve their businesses; if we are to achieve our goals, we have to figure it out!
The real difference between top performers and everyone else is they have already figured this out.
They aren’t waiting for the answers, programs, tools, leads, whatever it is. They aren’t deterred by a customer who “just doesn’t know.”
They’ve already figured out that their job is figuring it out.
They get creative, they try something new, they find answers in the most unusual places. They aren’t afraid to fail or make a mistake, because they know that’s part of figuring it out.
They know the customers are probably struggling themselves, that they haven’t figured it out—so they recognize part of the value and differentiation they create is helping the customer figure it out. It may be through unique insights. It may be through collaborative conversations. It may be through wandering around, talking to a lot of people–then sorting through the information.
They’ve also discovered they don’t have to be right. Since both they and the customer are on a journey of discovery, they will find the right answers and the right approach on that journey.
Where their peers may be looking for answers and direction, top performers are looking for ideas and willing to experiment.
Top performers are never deterred by not having what they need–they figure out.
Figuring it out is a critical sales competency–in fact it’s a critical competency for anyone who wants to be a top performer in their profession, organization, or business.
Figuring it out is “learnable.” We aren’t born with a “figure it out gene.”
Figuring it out is not aimlessness, in fact it is very purposeful and goal directed. People who “figure it out” are doing it to achieve something. They don’t spend a lot of time doing things that don’t help them reach their goal.
Figuring it out requires curiosity, an insatiable appetite for learning, an ability to think critically and a desire to be a problem solver. It requires openness to different ideas and points of view, a willingness to be wrong, and a willingness to fail. Figuring out requires understanding where we’ve made mistakes or failed, learning from these and improving.
Ultimately, I think figuring it out is more about a choice we make.
Your customers need you and your help. Do you have the ability and willingness to figure it out?
I’m obsessed with metrics and numbers. Call anyone in our company for help on sales performance and we will ask you to dump all sorts of data on us: Historical performance, historical performance by sales person, by customer segment, by product, by region, pipeline metrics, sales cycle time, win rates, average deal value, deal distribution, customer retention, customer churn, new customer acquisition, share of customer, share of solution, share of territory, any number of activity metrics, phase of the moon/tidal currents and their relationship to the sales cycle. OK, the last data point is just experimental—we can’t yet draw conclusions on sales performance based on phase of the moon.
We’ll dump the data into our “magical analysis” programs and start coming up with observations and lots of questions.
I see a lot of sales executives and managers obsessed with numbers and metrics as well. They measure everything, have endless dashboards, and always knows their numbers. It’s what they do with the numbers that is the problem. Usually, they start pounding on their teams–“We aren’t making enough calls! We don’t have enough in our pipeline! We need to step up sales on this or that product! We need to increase average deal values!
Numbers and metrics are important, but blind focus on the numbers is wrong. It’s important to know your numbers. It’s important to know where you are against your numbers. But you can’t address opportunities or performance issues just by focusing on the numbers.
Numbers should drive questions about what they mean. Why is our sales cycle increasing? What’s causing our average deal size to decrease? Why is our customer retention slipping? How do we improve win rates? How do we increase our prospecting effectiveness? The questions go on and on. Do the numbers indicate an individual is struggling and we need to coach them? Do the numbers indicate a systemic change that impacts the entire organization–perhaps as a result of changing competition, changing customer buying patterns, and so forth.
Numbers should generate questions which drive the search for understanding. Numbers are the results of things that are being done or not done within the organization. To improve our numbers, we need to identify those things that are adversely impacting the numbers. We need to understand what those things mean. We need to determine what we need to change, what we need to do differently.
Too often we think the numbers provide the answers, when instead they are only indicators that drive questions and the development of answers to those questions.
To the managers living by their spreadsheets and dashboards, managing and tweaking the numbers—we know math works. Don’t over analyze the numbers, invest your time in trying to understand what the numbers mean. Question them, use them to develop questions, search for what’s causing the numbers to be what they are.
It’s only through this, that you’ll find the answers to drive your numbers in the right direction.