Skip to content
Nov 14 19

It’s Not About The Metrics! It’s What You Do About Them!

by David Brock

We seem to be metric crazy. Every organization I meet has a whole alphabet soup of metrics. Terms like ACV, MRR, ARR, TCV, LTV, CAC, Churn, Retention, Bookings, Revenue, Quota Attainment, SQL, MQL, Conversions, ATV, Win Rates, Velocity, Customer Growth, Product Growth, Share, Onboarding Time, % of people at quota, Voluntary/Involuntary Attrition, CRM Utilization, Pipeline Loading, Account Planning, Dials, Appointments, Proposals, Customer Meetings, Demos, Time spent per call, Number of questions per call, Types of questions per call, on and on and on. Vanity metrics like number of cups of coffee a day and time spent in the bathroom per day are the next to come into vogue-we must be able to find some connection to performance through those.

We measure everything we can. We track those measures over time, seeing whether they go up or down or remain unchanged.

Our computers are filled with dashboards, we post key numbers and charts on the walls of our conference rooms. We are all about the metrics and numbers!

But what do they mean? What’s behind the numbers? What happening that creates these numbers? And most importantly, what do we do about them?

I’m stunned by the number of organizations I work with that are “numbers/metrics” focused, but do nothing about them! Recently, I sat with a group of very talented sales leaders. They had been doing reasonably well, but they were trying to figure out how to drive growth.

We walked through a number of very elegant dashboards. One metric caught my eye, it was a very interesting pipeline quality metric. It showed they have a pretty significant pipeline quality issue. I asked if they could show me more about that. “Click, click, click,” a few keyboard strokes and I could see the three year history of that metric.

Surprisingly, it had been about the same, every month, for the past few years. I asked, “What are you doing about this? Why hasn’t it changed? It’s should be 15-20% of what you have been experiencing. This has a significant impact on the quality of your pipeline and the quality of the opportunities your people are chasing……”

They looked at each other, then at me. While they had been measuring everything, the metrics became ends to themselves. They had missed a critical link:

Metrics are only a means to identifying performance improvement opportunities. They aren’t the end, they are, in fact, just the beginning.

Most of the organizations I work with, unwittingly, have fallen into the same trap. New tools and technologies enable them to measure more than they have ever been able to measure in the past. The metrics enable them to gain deeper insights into performance issues, they provide managers the opportunity to identify performance leverage points.

But by themselves, they are meaningless. We have to get into the metrics to understand what they mean, what were the things that contributed to them being good or bad? What actions do we need to take to improve performance?

Be Sociable, Share!
Nov 13 19

Being Mentored And Mentoring

by David Brock

Mentoring takes all forms, some of the more unusual are the most helpful, particularly in my experience. Through my own career, I have had a number of “formal mentors.” Early in my career, in addition to great managers who coached my day to day performance, I was assigned to very senior executives in my company. We would have formal discussions, monthly, and every once in a while they would invite me to participate (most often as a fly on the wall) in key meetings they conducted. These experiences helped me learn and helped me gain broader perspectives about business. They helped me perform better in my job and helped me prepare to move to greater positions of responsibility.

Early in my career, many of my peers became great mentors, even though they may not have realized they were serving that role. Watching them, asking them questions, having them watch me, having them “set me straight” were hugely valuable, though sometimes, I wasn’t smart enough to “hear” what they were saying, or I was too stubborn to “hear” what they were saying. Fortunately, they persisted through my resistance.

Over time, mentors changed and how I was mentored changed. Changing mentors, or having several at one time has been helpful. Not that I don’t appreciate any single person, but I learn more through a great diversity of perspectives and experiences. I found myself looking for mentors in different places–definitely outside sales and selling, often outside of business.

Where we often look for mentors who are “seasoned” or “experienced,” I started seeking very young people, new to business or in very different “careers.” While most didn’t know they were mentoring me, they taught me a lot about how to think differently, they had different perspectives which forced me to think differently.

I’m blessed, being a “consultant,” I have many clients who are mentors, again informally. teaching me new things and through their diversity in experience, helping me consider different perspectives.

I am also blessed being in a community of “consultants” who selflessly share their ideas, perspectives, often taking the time to debate and explore many ideas.

But through my career–through my life– there have been a small group of consistent, unselfish mentors. They aren’t worried about my career, my growth in my career, my business success. They worry about me as a human being. They have been my family. I’ve written about my dad in the past. My sisters, sister in law, brothers in law, nieces/nephews are great sources in “setting me straight. My mother is a rock, totally dedicated to to our family.

But my greatest mentor continues to be my wife, Kookie. She “knows me,” knows what I’m capable of and how often I fall short, and continues to encourage me–often by calling out my BS.

I met Kookie at IBM. I was a new sales person, cocky and thought no one could teach me anything. She, at the time, was one of the top 10 sales people in IBM–though I never fully realized that. For some reason, she took an interest in me (or perhaps it was pity). She had a role where she could work with me, selling very complex solutions in my accounts. I learned a lot from her, and she wasn’t shy in “mentoring” me, often in the form of “Dave, stop being such an asshole!”

It was actually several years before our relationship blossomed into a “romantic relationship,” (She claims she just got tired of setting me up with all her friends, only to have me screw it up.)

But I was blessed to watch how she sold, how she engaged people–both customers and IBMers. She had a relaxed but focused manner in all her conversations. She was welcomed into the offices of some of the biggest names in business, both then and now. Whenever she called, she simply said, “It’s Kookie,” and she immediately got access to any executive.

It took me a while to figure it out, but then I realized, even though she was one of the top performers in the company, her success was driven by her “caring.” Her caring extended to all her customers, from the top execs to the operations people in data centers. It wasn’t unusual to get a call at 2:00 am from an operator saying, “Kookie, the systems are down.” She would nudge me, saying, “You have to drive me downtown,” or some place. I tried replying, “Take a cab,” once–but quickly learned. Even though she couldn’t repair them, she would always go to keep them company and make sure everything was working right.

Kookie and I moved into management roles at roughly the same time. I continued to learn from her about leadership. She had high expectations of everyone, but was very fair. I think it was her caring for her people and their success that made the difference. Even though she was one of the very best sales people around, she focused on making them successful. The other thing she did was protect her people from over zealous executives in the company. I remember a very heated discussion she had with the CEO of the company she was at another tech company. That CEO has become a Silicon Valley legend. He was trying to be “helpful,” and she told him that his help wasn’t helping. At one point she said, “John, back-off, let us do it, if we don’t fire us!” Needless to say, they got it done, it was the second biggest value deal the company had done to date.

Our dinner discussions were always interesting, deal reviews, pipeline reviews, talking about people problems, all sorts of things. She always helped me explore ideas and take different perspectives.

Somehow, Kookie always knows what’s better for me, or what I need to change far earlier than I do. I never would have become an entrepreneur without her challenging me to do something different.

One night, at dinner, I was going through my “whining.” I was COO at a company, I’d been hired to drive a turnaround, we were very successful, but I was getting frustrated with what was going on. She asked, “You’ve always dreamed of starting your own company, why not now?” I couldn’t believe it, I had always been a “big company” person, and here she was encouraging me to do something very different. We had a discussion that went for hours about all the risks, the finances, what if I failed. She was very blunt in the discussion, at the same time very encouraging. But at one point she said, “It’s time to shit or get off the pot, you can’t continue to whine and not do anything about it.”

Today, it’s the same. Over the weekend while we puttered around the house, we did an account review. I was reveling in the success a client was having, but she knows it’s at moments like this that I get overconfident. She started hammering me with questions about, “What more can you do?” “How can you help them achieve more?”

While she left the world of “big business/technology” a number of years ago and is now a professional chef, many of her former employees still call her for advice and coaching. Most have moved on, so it’s not deal or account reviews. Some are CEOs, others are VPs of Sales or Marketing. They like talking to her, using her as a sounding board. They know she will always ask the most important questions, that she will call them on their BS, but mostly that she cares. (For those of you that have Sales Manager Survival Guide, my favorite chapter is the last chapter. It’s about our legacy as managers, it’s really Kookie’s story.)

Mentors are important. Mentoring is important. But the best mentors often come from the most unusual places—and often they are right under our noses.

I’ve been blessed to have been mentored by dozens of people over my career. I continue to look for mentors in various areas. But the most impactful mentor and I are about to celebrate our 38th wedding anniversary.

Happy Anniversary Kookie! Thank you for helping me be better than I ever dreamed I could be. I love you!

Afterword: I wrote more about this some years ago in “My Best Mentor.”

Be Sociable, Share!
Nov 11 19

Sales Managers “Closing Business”

by David Brock

I was struggling to meet with a sales manager. He really wanted to talk, we had critical issues he had asked for help in addressing.

He kept postponing our calls, “Dave, I’m running all out, I’ve really got to be out in the field closing business for my people…..”

We finally had our meeting. I started the meeting asking, “Bill, how’d all those deals go, did you close them…..”

Bill went on and on, using a lot of our meeting time, talking about the meetings and his finesse in closing deal after deal. Of course there were a few that were still in process, and, 1 or 2 that were lost. But in the course of the conversation, I learned that Bill had once again saved the month.

I asked him, “Is it your job to close deals? I thought that was what sales people are supposed to do.”

He looked at me for a moment, then said, “I have to get out there and make these deals happen! My people want me out there helping them.!”

I asked, “Are they developing the deal/closing strategy and are you supporting them in executing that strategy?”

He was getting frustrated, saying “Look Dave, I know how to do deals, I know how to close them. I’ve been doing this for more than 20 years, there is no one better at closing deals in our company than me! Why are you obsessing on this line of questioning?”

We tabled the discussion, moving on to talking about his sales performance problems.

You can probably guess where I am going.

Yes, Bill had some systemic performance challenges with the team. Among the leading challenges was, according to Bill, “They can’t develop and execute an opportunity strategy, managing it through closure!”

“Why do you think so many of the people are having such great difficulty executing these strategies?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” replied Bill, “If I don’t close the deals for them, they don’t get done…..”

“Bill, have you ever considered that you might be the problem?”

To his credit, while his face turned red, and I could see he was trying not to explode, he asked, “Why would you suggest that?”

We walked through our conversation about his busyness in closing deals. We discussed how he was taking away the responsibility and accountability of sales people developing and executing closing strategies.

We finally discussed that what he thought was being helpful really wasn’t helpful, then started developing some strategies that transferred the responsibility for closing from him to his people.

Bill struggled throughout this discussion. He was worried, he didn’t want to lose business that he knew he could win. He didn’t quite trust a few of the people to do the job. Finally, it was a huge Adrenalin rush to sweep into and account and close deals. He wasn’t sure he wanted to step back from that.

We walked through all these and more. Slowly you could see Bill beginning to realize that, though well intentioned, he was creating much of the problem, as a result he was limiting their ability to grow, consequently, the company’s ability to grow.

We developed a plan where Bill would leverage his experience to coach his people on deal strategies and closing business. Where Bill was being asked to participate in customer meetings, rather than driving them himself, he asked the sales people to lay out their strategy and describe how he could best support them in implementing the strategy.

About a month after this meeting, Bill and I met again. “How’s it going? It was easier to calendar the meeting, you aren’t running around like a chicken with it’s head cut off,” I said.

Bill laughed. “To tell you the truth, it’s been a bit of a struggle. I find myself biting my tongue and counting to 100. I still want to dive in to do the deal….. But we haven’t lost any, and the team is becoming much more comfortable themselves. I only go on these calls when they are guiding the strategy and defining my role in helping them execute the strategy.”

“How’s their performance going? How is your own going?” I asked.

“The performance is actually improving faster than I expected. We are all still learning. As to my own, I’m more in control of my own time. I’m accomplishing things that only I can be doing that I’d never had the time to do–so my own performance and productivity is improving.”

Bill isn’t wholly convinced, but it’s been too short a time. What he is seeing is that his people are taking greater ownership of the deals and executing their strategies. His role has changed from execution to coaching and supporting. He’s also seen his time freed up so that he can accomplish more of the really important things he hadn’t been able to do.

Are you really being “helpful” when you take the opportunity away from your sales people and managing it yourself? Are you helping them grow and develop when you do that? Are you spending your time where you have the most impact?

Be Sociable, Share!
Nov 8 19

Expecting Our People To Think For Themselves

by David Brock

I’ve not been following my normal cadence of blog posts the past couple of weeks. Normally I publish 4-5 a week, in the past two weeks, I published about a third that number.

Part of the reason is I’ve been consumed with doing my “day job,” which is helping clients drive higher levels of sales performance than they have ever experienced. But normally, that doesn’t divert me from writing, it actually gives me ideas for posts.

But the past couple of weeks, I’ve been in a bit of a dark place on the “state of selling.” I’ve been obsessing with the trend I see with too many sales executives and too many sales organizations to dumb down the sales person and to let–no, expecting– the sales person stop thinking for themselves.

This trend is, unfortunately, doing exactly the opposite of what our customers need and what enables us to create the greatest value with them. Critical thinking, the ability to help customers analyze difficult situations and problems, the ability to help them make sense of the turbulence and complexity they face, to help them gain confidence in the decisions they make are the most important things a sales person can do.

These are about the only things that customers value in their interaction with sales people.

These are the things that only a sales person can do. No clever marketing campaign, no digital marketing programs, no personalized web interactions can do this. They can’t help the customer with where they are at (each individual) at this moment, for their specific situation.

Sadly, too many sales executives, too many clueless corporate executives; all supported by vendors and consultants trying to sell them something are in a mad rush in exactly the opposite direction.

Their goal is to instrument and design every word that comes out of the mouths of their people. To define every action, their sales people take. To put customers on an assembly line where they are touched by an SDR, moved to an account manager, moved to a demo-er, moved to the next step and the next and the next…until the customer makes a decision.

This is all done in the name of “efficiency.” It’s done to reduce the cost of selling. Several years ago, an executive actually told me, “People who can think and execute for themselves are too expensive and too hard to find. I can easily hire cheap people who don’t have the capacity to do this…..”

They have organizations of people who depend on the script and the customer sticking to the script. They want to be spoon fed the answers to every situation, so they don’t have the responsibility of figuring it out or the accountability to make it work (“I did what you told me to do, it’s not my fault.”)

There is so much wrong with this statement and mindset, but it is becoming increasingly pervasive amongst sales leaders, who themselves are falling victim to this same problem. Rather than think of what is most critical for their success, their organizations’ success, their people’s success, and their customers, they just follow what they see others doing. Rather than doing the hard work of creating organizations, cultures, and workplaces where people want to work, contribute, grow and develop. Where the organization stands for something–for their customers, for their people, for the markets they serve, and the industries they represent; they follow the crowds.

And daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly we see the results of these great strategies. We see declining sale performance, we see customers doing everything they can to avoid sales people, we see average tenures of sales people and managers plummeting to 16.5 months (I have yet to figure out how 10 month onboarding, 9-18 month sales cycles, months to build sufficient pipelines, etc makes this a workable equation.)

We have marketers, both in trying to pick up the slack of sales non-performance, and seeing an opportunity for themselves, believing they can solve the customer problems remotely. Cleverly designed, personalized marketing programs, great web sites, the use of AI (because it’s the “in” concept), and everything else will make up the gap.

We are doing our customers, our companies, our people, and ourselves the greatest disservice.

Ironically, when you actually do the cost analysis, the very cheapest sales person on a “Cost Per Order Dollar” basis is the sales person with richly developed critical thinking, problem solving, sensemaking, project management, and empathy skills. The cheapest sales people are those with those skills who care about their customer and their customers’ success.

The reason is very obvious, yet too many are blind to it. These people are the most productive. These people have the highest win rate, the highest average transaction values, the shortest sales cycles. These are the people the customers call seeking advice on the next project. These are the people customer refer to their peers and others they meet.

These are also the people who push our organizations to be better–to create customer experiences that retain and grow customers, to develop products our customers need and want to buy, to provide services that fill the gaps in our customers’ own capabilities.

These people may be well paid, and should be, but they are the cheapest revenue generation resource we have!

And, it is relatively easy to do this. We have to expect our people to think for themselves, we have to train them–giving them the skills to think for themselves, and we have to trust them to think for themselves.

Fortunately, the future is not as dark or bleak as I portray it. There are an increasing number of leaders that recognize this. Some always have and have built the organizations that are consistently the best in the world.

Some are discovering it, frustrated by seeing that nothing is working. Tehy are discovering there is no magic sales methodology, no great sales enablement programs or tools, no marketing or sales automation tools, and most consultants are one trick ponies. They are going back to basics, they are putting the right people in place, coaching/developing them. They are expecting them to think for themselves and trusting them to do so.

I believe the future is actually very bright. I see a renaissance in the profession and practice of selling, driven by leaders and sales people who can think for themselves. Perhaps they recognize it’s what customers want and crave. Perhaps they’ve hit rock bottom and have exhausted all other possibilities.

Our futures, our success, our customers success, our companies’ success is not built on the strength of our products. Those are simply table stakes.

Our success is base on one thing only, expecting ourselves to think critically. Expecting our people to think critically. Holding ourselves and them accountable for that. Trusting them to do so.

Be Sociable, Share!