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Sep 20 19

On Innovation

by David Brock

Innovation is important. We all know there is a limit to doing the same old things, over and over. Even though we may do them in greater volume or greater velocity, over time they become…….well old…..and not very effective.

So we struggle to innovate. We think of the great new revolutionary or disruptive idea. We reflect on people like Thomas Edison and his inventions (like the light bulb), or the invention of the internal combustion engine, or Al Gore inventing the internet (sorry, I couldn’t resist).

We tend to think of “innovation” as radically new and disruptive.

These type of innovations are, relatively, few and far between.

But if we are to improve, if we are to respond to the challenges we see in business, with our customers, or even those within our own company, we have to innovate. We have to think differently than we have before.

Sometimes, what we think is innovation, really isn’t—or it isn’t innovation that can have an impact. Some of our innovation is copying—we look at what our competitors are doing and we do the same thing. While it may be helpful, we can never be a leader by copying our competitors or near competitors. At best we can only be a close second.

But there’s another source of innovation that sits between the radically new and disruptive (think light bulb) and copying our competitors.

I call it artful plagiarism. Here’s how it works.

Look in a very different place than you traditionally look. For example, a different discipline or function. Or a very different industry. Or a very different topic area.

Assess some of the things they do and see how you might adapt them to what you do and how they might improve their performance.

Yeah, you are scratching your head thinking, “Here Dave goes off rambling again….” Let me explain though some examples:

  1. Look at a very different industry. When we benchmark or copy, we tend to look within the same industry or near industries. It’s really difficult to innovate, we tend to copy each other and stair step each other. Instead, look at industries at least 2-3 adjacencies away. Understand some of their best practices and look at how you might adapt them to your industry and company. I’ve cited an example we did a number of years ago, helping two clients innovate. One was a fashion designer in the extreme sports industry. The other was one of the largest semiconductor managers in the world. Both were trying to learn new things and innovate, but were prisoners of their own and their markets’ experiences. Yet the fashion designers saw things that the semiconductor folks were doing. They saw ways they could tweak and adapt them and they would be revolutionary and disruptive in their own industry and company. Likewise the semiconductor folks saw things the fashion designers were doing that could be adapted (artfully plagiarized) that would be new and innovative in their markets.
  2. Look at other functions. I spend a lot of time with manufacturing people, design engineers, product developers, programmers. I’ve found lots of things they do, that can be artfully adapted to selling. For example, the Toyota Production System is the cornerstone to most manufacturing and lean practices. But there are lots of things in TPS that can be adapted to sales (I wrote an eBook on this a few years ago, ask me for a copy). Of some of you have seen me writing a lot about sensemaking. Actually sensemaking has been extensively developed in a lot of lean/agile development (think coding) and, ironically, in social change. There are a rich array of tools, techniques, processes and models that support sensemaking approaches in those areas. But I’m now working with a team of folks, looking at how do we adapt those well known practices to selling.
  3. Read different books, hang out in radically different places or with very different people. As I said before, we become prisoners of our own experiences. We can’t see outside those bounds. But if we expose ourselves not to new ideas, but very old ideas and practices–but in very different places, they become very new and innovative for us. So, for example, I’m reading a book on philosophy, learning, and social change. It was written in the 60’s to address changes in the education system. But as I read it, I continually think, “What ideas do they have that I can artfully adapt to sales and leadership?” Or, I sit on the board of an entertainment company focused on rap, hip-hop and urban culture. Imagine that, an older white guy who thought the Beatles, Beachboys, and Metallica were cool (Metallica still is). But I’m learning a lot through them, I am even beginning to rhyme, but it will take some time………(Ok, a lot of time). Likewise, they value me on the board, because I bring them a different experience base and ideas that are new and fresh for them.

Innovation is about new and different. It’s about step function changes in how we think, what we do, and how we grow. But that doesn’t mean it’s new new, or the very first ever…. It can be something very old and common place somewhere else, but when applied in our company, our industry, our markets, and with our customers can be radically different from past practice.

Innovation doesn’t need to be that hard. It’s simply about looking in very different places, at what may be commonplace or mundane, but when tweaked and adapted to our worlds, is new, innovative, and game changing!

What are you doing? Where are you looking? How are you artfully plagiarizing.

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Sep 16 19

“I’m Drowning In Reviews!”

by David Brock

Recently, I was speaking to a number of sales execs. We were talking about how to improve the performance of their teams. One manager in frustration said:

“I’m drowning in reviews, it seems I spend all my time in deal, account, pipeline, forecast, prospecting, and other reviews. And I’m falling further behind, I feel I have to review every deal, every account, everything—I can’t possibly do it! I feel so out of control!”

This broke the dam in the conversation with this management team, all jumped in stating that they felt out of control, they didn’t know what was going on with their people, the felt compelled to review everything, but didn’t have the time to review everything.

I hear similar comments from too many managers. They feel out of control and their method for getting back into control is a drive to “know” everything that’s going on.

Clearly, that’s impossible. Worse, it’s a waste of time—not only the manager’s time but their people’s time. Inevitably, people spend too much time in review meetings or updating CRM or preparing reports.

And it’s a constant cycle, since things are always changing, managers are going through the same cycles week after week. In the conversation referenced above, another manager said, “I feel I have to review the top 5 deals for each of my sales people every week….. Otherwise, I don’t know what’s going on and whether we’ll make our numbers.” This manager had 8 direct reports, that meant he was doing 40 reviews a week on the same deals he had reviewed the previous week. If each review was only 30 minutes, that’s 20 hours a week on those, not to mention the account reviews, pipeline/forecast reviews and other reviews.

Effective reviews are critical–both from a business management point of view, but in helping our sales people grow and improve their effectiveness. The problem is, we conduct reviews incorrectly, as a result we accomplish little more than an information exchange and waste a lot of time.

Most reviews are information exchanges. Managers asking for status reports and information. Whether it’s about a deal, an account, the pipeline, or prospecting results. In these reviews, managers seek a lot of data to help them “be in control.” They often get into tell mode, instructing people on what to do next.

What if we changed our review process? What if, rather than looking at information exchange, we dug deeper. What if we started trying to understand how our people are executing the process–for example the selling process in executing their deal strategies? What if we started coaching them, helping them think better about what they are doing, how they are improving their ability to execute the process?

We can learn what our colleagues in manufacturing learned decades ago. It is impossible to “inspect” quality into manufacturing. This meant they had to inspect everything. By focusing on the process, they learned that if the process was working effectively, they could expect the results would be good.

We need to focus our reviews on understanding how well our people are executing the process, we have to help them improve their ability to execute the process. We have to understand how they think about what they are doing, and develop their capability to improve their ability to execute.

The magic of this is that we see our people consistently executing the process, as we see they are thinking about what they are doing and improving their ability to execute, we move from having to inspect everything.

If they are executing the process in a few reviews, for example our account planning process, we can safely expect they are applying the same principles in every other situation. If they aren’t, we can also expect they aren’t doing those things in other situations.

Focusing on the process, improving their ability to execute the process and think about what they are doing drives huge improvement. Doing this means we can spend more time on those situations where our people really need help and where we can add value.

As long as we view the review process as information sharing and updates, we will never be in control and we can never conduct enough reviews. When we change our perspective to a coaching and process focus, we have to conduct fewer reviews and have a greater impact in those we do conduct.

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Sep 16 19

It Is ALWAYS About Execution

by David Brock

I’ve been writing a lot about our Sales Execution Framework and a “Back To Basics” approach to sales management and selling. These articles have generated some interesting calls and reactions.

A lot of the discussion has been around sales training programs, new approaches, or new tools that companies have implemented–or tried to implement.

I had a tough conversation with the EVP of Sales of a mid sized company. He was angry and declared he would never invest in sales training again. He said, “Over the past several years, we’ve invested $100’s of thousands in training our people on new sales methodologies, they simply don’t work!”

I asked, “What were those programs?” He responded with two well known suppliers. While I might quibble with their approaches, they are basically very good and I know they produce results. I shared that observation, expressing my surprise that he hadn’t seen some improvement.

I asked, “Tell me about your follow up reinforcement and coaching. Tell me how you incorporated the principles into your execution cadence. Tell me about….”

You can guess his response. They didn’t do anything. They expected sales people to use the new skills, but didn’t have a disciplined reinforcement and coaching program on them.

We know the data on sales training uptake, something like 90% of sales training is not being utilized within 30-60 days after the training is completed. Yet we continue to invest billions, every year, in training.

Alternatively, organizations invest in new technologies aimed at improving sales efficiency. Months later, we look at the adoption of those technologies, finding “compliance” very low.

The tragedy is this stuff works! But if you don’t implement or execute consistently, you are just wasting time, money, resource, and sadly, opportunity. With some caveats (I’ll get to these later), it is not the fault of the vendors, but the fault of sales management.

I know I am sounding like a broken record, but time and time again, I see the same issues in organizations. Most of the organizations I work with are very mature. They’ve spent millions on training and technology. At all levels, at least theoretically, they know what they should be doing and they know how to do it (through the methodologies, training, programs, technologies they’ve implemented). The issue is they simply don’t do do those things they know should produce results! They fall back into doing what they have always done, but which is no longer working as well.

This is simply a failure in implementation, execution, and leadership! Shame on any sales leader that blames the failure on the vendor (assuming you are dealing with a high quality vendor). you are responsible for putting these things into practice.

Having said this, vendors have culpability in this issue. Responsible vendors will insist their customers have an implementation, coaching, and reinforcement plan in place. Responsible vendors insist in participating in formal progress reviews in the 30-60-90 days following the implementation. Vendor who don’t have this as part of their plan shouldn’t be considered.

This may sound schizoid, there are a lot of new technologies, new methods, new ideas that help improve our effectiveness and efficiency in engaging our customers and doing our jobs. But unless we actually use them in a disciplined way, if we don’t use them consistently and grow our abilities to execute them well, we are wasting our money, and, more importantly, our resources and time.

Afterword: Our sales execution framework provides a “back to basics” guide to the fundamentals of sales execution. Reach out if you want a copy, dabrock@excellenc.com.

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Sep 15 19

Bits And Pieces, September 14, 2019

by David Brock

It’s been a while since I’ve published one of these. The purpose of the “Bits and Pieces series is to point you to outstanding books, events, podcasts, and other resources.

I won’t do reviews of the materials, at most a comment. Please trust that if I put it on this list, I think the work is outstanding and worth your time.

The UnAmerican Dream, Carlos Hidalgo. This is a stunning book on Carlo’s personal journey to find sanity in his life and to focus on those things that are most important and drive meaning in one’s life. Carlos is a great friend and his message is very powerful.

21 Letters On Life And It’s Challenges, Charles Handy. Charles is one of the best business thinkers/philosophers in the world. I’m a huge fan of his writing. This book is a little different, it’s reflections on life and what’s important. A good companion piece to Carlos’ book. Also, I encourage you to pick up any of his books. You will get a unique perspective on business, leadership, and effectiveness.

Self-Renewal: The Individual And The Innovative Society, John Gardner. Long time readers will recognize John Gardner. I’m a terrific fan of all his work. Like Charles Handy, the depth and quality of his thinking is stunning. The clarity with which he writes about issues is stunning. It was originally published in the 60’s, I first read it in the 90’s. A friend recently suggested re-reading it, because of it’s huge relevance to the issues we as individuals, organizations, and societies are dealing with.

Prognosis: A Memoir Of My Brain, Sarah Vallance. This is a fascinating book about Sarah’s experience with a severe brain injury and her struggle to recover, both mentally and to re-establish relationships and work.

Unlocking Leadership Mindtraps: How To Thrive In Complexity, Jennifer Garvey Berger. I actually am a fan of all her books. This is relatively new and outstanding. The title is description enough.

Range, Why Generalists Triumph In A Specialized World, David Epstein. This has been a very popular book. It’s really outstanding in looking at how expertise and experience, can be very limiting in addressing many of the challenges we face in business and society. It’s a great companion piece to Berger’s book.

Principles In Action, Ray Dalio. This is actually an IOS App that is a companion piece to Dalio’s Principles. The App not only has the full text of the book. but it provides case studies and other materials. It provides a facility for you to start building your own priniciples and can become a powerful guide to your own development.

Farnam Street: I’ve mentioned this website a number of times in prior posts. This is probably one of my favorite resources to look at every Friday evening and Sunday mornings. The focus is on learning, critical thinking, mental models, decision-making and more. It is consistently one of the most thoughtful resources I’ve found. The blog and podcasts are on my weekly review list. I’ joined their learning community, which is a premium offering going much deeper into these issues, hosting very thoughtful community discussions. This should be a must read on your lists.

Enjoy these. Please let me know resources you find powerful in your own learning.

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