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Dec 17 18

Start/Stop/Pivot/Restart Sales Strategies

by David Brock

Sales, as with most things, is something that demands regularity in execution.  By that, I mean, there are many things a sales person or manager has to do to perform.

Some of the obvious:  Prospecting, working deals, planning calls, developing proposals, developing territory/account plans, pipeline management/forecasting, time management, learning/training, one on one’s  with managers (hopefully for coaching), and yes, even administrivia.

All of these are components of the “whole job.”  We have to do all these things, all the time.  If we skip one, for example, prospecting, it eventually impacts all  other areas.  Skipping prospecting means eventually our pipelines run dry and we don’t have deals……

Great performers, carefully balance their time, focus, activity across each element, because they understand all are interconnected and impact their performance.

Unfortunately, too often, managers and sales people don’t recognize this.  Priorities and work activity are shifted to focus on the latest “crisis du jour.”  Managers are worried about pipelines, so the focus is on prospecting.  Sales people are directed to spend all their time prospecting, spending too little on the other areas.  Or we need to hit quarter end numbers, so the entire focus of the whole organization is on closing deals or bringing deals from future quarters into the current quarter.  Or we have a new product launch and all efforts are diverted to launching that product.

Recently, I worked with a sales organization.  They were having pipeline and deal problems, but suddenly, management had a different initiative and priority.  It was important, but the problem was it totally consumed all the time of the sales people for several months.  In the mean time, already anemic pipelines became even more anemic.  Deals that were struggling were either lost or threatened, due to lack of attention.

As one might expect, the discovery of these challenges led to another “crisis,” this time with another focus on filling the pipeline.  And this will lead to another and another.

I see this in too many organizations–Start, Stop, Pivot, Restart, Stop, Pivot, Restart, Stop, Pivot……

In organizations that have long/complex buying/selling cycles, these actions are devastating.  Working out of them, stabilizing performance can take years.    And in our rush to results, the reaction is simply doing more of Start/Stop/Pivot/Restart…….

It’s impossible to drive consistent performance with this approach to managing time.

Selling, like anything, requires us to do the whole job–all the time.  We can’t pick and choose the parts that are our favorites.  We can’t do just the easy/fun stuff.  We can’t constantly shift our priorities and focus.

If we started doing the whole job, all the time, there would be less need for Start/Stop/Pivot/Restart.

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Dec 17 18

Sales Talent Is A Problem, Is It Worth Solving?

by David Brock

I just read a provocative post. Sales Talent Is A Problem, Is it Worth Solving, by the folks at CSO Insights.  It’s an interesting view, in the spirit of “Yes, and…..” I’d like to add to the discussion.

I suppose answers to the question depend on your mindset.  A closed mindset would probably say, “No!”  The article presents a few points of view that reinforce that.

People with closed mindsets would tend to address things from an internal orientation.  How do we structure the sales organization to be most efficient?  How do we reduce the variability in sales people and what they do, creating the lowest cost ability to acquire customers.

Many would also cite technologies that, supposedly, diminish the need for sales talent.  After all, AI and ML will solve all the problems of the selling world.  It will tell us who to call, when, what their problems are likely to be.  It will scripting the perfect conversation making sure we limit our discovery questions to 4, and our discovery pitch to 9.1 minutes  (some how the concept of a discovery pitch seems odd, how do you do discovery if you are pitching.  But one AI vendor has the data supporting this.  You just do one for 9.1 minutes and you win.  If it stretches to 11.4, you lose.)

If we structure our engagement process to be more transactional, the assembly line process becomes very attractive.  We specialize our various sales roles, moving customer widgets from sales specialist to sales specialist.  SDR to BDR to Demo’er to AE to Closer to Customer Care—-rinse, wash, recycle.  This mechanized view of selling, means our view of talent is very different.  We are looking for people that can execute their specialized roles very well, train them to do those without deviation.  Ultimately, we can look at displacing many of these with Chatbots, and as buyers develop their capabilities, our Chatbots will engage with their Buying Chatbots.

People with closed mindsets will interpret the data, “Buyers are used to getting minimal sales involvement,” or other data that says “Buyers will leverage 3+ channels through their buying process,” (Gartner), coming to the conclusion that buyers have a preference to minimize sales involvement.

But dive into the research more deeply, what it really tells you is that buyers are agnostic on channels.  They have no preference of digital, sales, or any other.  What they want is great insight, timely, accurate and relevant to their specific needs.

If anything, one could interpret the data as sales having driven the customer to the alternative channels because of our inability to do the things they need.  Which, at its root is a talent problem—do we have the right type of people, are we equipping the with the right skills/tools/processes to create value in every interaction with the customer?  It seems the customers are voting by their actions and they are voting no.

A closed mindset will lead you to certain conclusions about sales talent, inevitably, it will lead to an answer , “Meh!”

A growth oriented mindset would approach the question slightly differently.  First, people with a growth oriented mindset would start in a completely different place.

Rather than starting with an internal, efficiency oriented focus, they would start with an external focus.  They would start with customers,  They would ask the question, “What are our customers facing?”  They would follow that with the question, “How can our sales people best help our customers deal with what they face?”

We would see two major trends emerging.  Many “buying processes,” are, in fact very transactional.  In looking at the transactional buying processes, much of what I’ve discussed will apply–ultimately, these should all be handled untouched by human hands–on both the buying/selling sides.

But the major issue we would see confronting our customers is massive turbulence.  This turbulence is characterized by all sorts of terms, a few or which are:  Transformation (digital and otherwise), complexity, disruption, information overload, overwhelm, confusion, distraction, massive change, confusion.

They would also see that no customer, no market, no function is immune to this turbulence.  It impacts every organization, every individual.

Growth mindset people would see that helping our customers make sense of what they face, helping them navigate their way to solving these problems, is what great sales people and organizations do.

If anything, they would see a massive increase in the demand/need for help from their customers.

At the same time, they would recognize, it takes a different kind of sales person to be able to deal with these issues.  Different skills, capabilities, experiences.

They would also come to the conclusion that the sales talent problem isn’t just worth solving, it becomes a key differentiator in capitalizing on the demand from customers looking to make sense of the turbulence they face.

The organizations/leaders that recognize this opportunity, that want to provide leadership in helping customers address “turbulence,” will capture huge share.

The organizations/leaders that recognize this opportunity will recognize that  sales talent is THE problem worth solving!

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Dec 12 18

Letting Form Triumph Over Substance

by David Brock

One of my favorite authors/thinkers is John Gardner.  About 35 years ago, a mentor introduced me to his work about 35 years ago.  One of his most profound books is entitled Excellence, Can We Be Equal An Excellent Too.  I reread the book at least once a year.  There is one phrase in the book that I’m obsessed with, “Do not let form triumph over substance.

Too often, I see sales people, sales managers going through the motions.  They are doing the things they think sales people or sales managers should be doing, without understanding the purpose, why they are doing these things, why or if they are even important or the right things to do.

Too often, we have a picture of doing things:  “We have to do pipeline and reviews because that’s what sales people/managers do,”  “We have to do this many prospecting emails and calls, because that’s what we are supposed to do,”  “We have to use the CRM system because my manager tells me to—but when you talk to the manager, the manager doesn’t know why,”  and on and on.

Recently, I had a conversation with a manager.  He was outlining things he wanted to do in the Sales Kickoff Meeting.  I asked him, “Why are you doing those?  Why are they important to what you want to achieve?  How will they contribute to the ability of the team to achieve their goals?”  He paused, then said, “Well we’ve just always done that, I thought that’s what we should be doing….” 

As we talked about it, it turned out those things hadn’t produced results in the past, but out of “form,” he and the management team were doing more of the same.

The problem is, focusing on the “form,” we can get mindless, robotic behaviors, doing the things we’ve always done, because we’ve always done them, or we have some image in our minds of what sales managers/sales people should be doing.

Too often, we stop looking at the substance of what we are doing—Why should we be doing these things?  Are they the right things to do?  Should we be doing different things, or doing things differently?

Those of you who are Simon Sinek fans will recognize this as a variant of “Start With Why.”

But this is a critical concept, not just in tactical sales execution, but as we look at what we do over the long term.  We are wasting our time, our customers’ time, and our people’s time just be doing things because we have always done things this way. 

We have to constantly examine why we are doing these things–getting to the underlying substance.

In each interaction with customers we should think:

  • Why is this important to this customer now?
  • Why am I choosing to do these specific things for this customer or this situation? 
  • Is this the most effective way to do this?  Could I have a greater impact by changing my approach?
  • Does this create the most value for the customer in this interaction?

As managers, we need to think of these same types of issues with our people/teams:

  • Why is it important for them to do doing these things right now? 
  • Does this help them improve their performance, producing the outcomes we expect?
  • Is this the most effective/impactful thing for them to be doing?
  • Does this help them grow, professionally?
  • Why is this important to them?  What’s in it for them  (to often we focus on our own needs)?
  • What should we be changing about what we do and why?
  • How can I be most helpful to each person on my team right now?

Our customers, our companies, our markets, our competition is dominated by change/turbulence.  We will not thrive if we let “form triumph over substance.” 

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Dec 11 18

Stupid Works In Sales

by David Brock

I’ve been writing a number of pieces looking at the future of the sales profession.  I’d be remiss not to include a discussion of stupidity in selling.

Stupid works, and as long as stupid works, we will continue to see organizations invest in doing things stupidly.

Stupid behavior exists everywhere, and selling is no more immune to stupidity than every other sector.

People respond to stupid emails.  After all, people purporting to be Nigerian Princes are making money.  There will always be some people that will respond to scams.  And enough respond that the people exploiting these tactics to make money.

While that may be an extreme case, people will respond to bad emails, bad phone calls, bad pitches.  They respond out of their own ignorance of alternatives, out of inexperience, out of haste, distraction, or for any number of other reasons.  As long as “enough” respond, sales people will continue to leverage those stupid tactics.

As these techniques don’t produce enough, the easy answer is “crank up the volume.”  Just do twice as many emails or twice as many phone calls.  Managers will go to their management, with the argument, “Here’s what we’ve produced in the past, if you just enable me to double, triple, I can produce more……”

Sometimes, stupidity works or at least appears to.   Smart buyers buy from sales people doing stupid things.  The issue is, “do they buy as a result of what the sales person has done, or in spite of what the sales person has done?”  For example, hot products/solutions don’t need great sales skills.

Too often, we continue to do stupid things, thinking it was because of what we’ve done, rather than in spite of what we have done.

Customers will, and should, take advantage of stupid.  If they have determined the product will solve their needs, despite how they’ve been sold, it’s usually very easy to exploit stupidity to get the best possible price.  Be careful here, I’m not saying that sales people, even great ones, don’t have to discount.  But usually, this is a considered decision or after they have exhausted everything else.  Stupidity enables discounting, as a standard, because they don’t understand value or don’t value what they sell.

However, while stupidity will always exist, it is not a strategy for growth, it is not a strategy for market leadership.  It is a strategy exploited by followers struggling to survive.

Some times smart organizations do stupid things, just look at the bad emails in my Inbox.  These, usually are corrected–it may take some time for these stupid things to get the right visibility.  Sometimes, they run under the radar for a long time, but eventually, they get visibility to people who recognize what it is, stupid.

Stupid is sustainable only in organizations that are driven by performance.  At some point, in any performance driven organization, stupidity reveals itself to be a low performance strategy.  But despite, the lip service of many executives, many organizations just want to get by.  So stupid can thrive in those environments.

While stupid works, it doesn’t work as well or as profitably as smart.

Stupidity will always have a place in sales, hopefully, it will always be threatened and, over time, represents a smaller percentage of sales behaviors.

Having said this, stupid is uninteresting and a waste of thoughtful people’s time.  Yet it’s amazing how many smart people get sucked into discussions driven by the stupid–you can’t fight stupid or argue with the stupid.  You just crush it not being distracted by stupid.

I’m surprised I’ve invested about 613 words in this  (perhaps I’m being stupid).


Afterword:  Thanks to Dr. Howard Dover for provoking this idea.


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