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Oct 9 17

The Flip Side Of AI/Machine Learning

by David Brock

Everyone in sales and marketing is jumping on the AI/Machine Learning bandwagon.  Mistakenly, too many think of these technologies as the silver bullet that will enable us magically to increase engagement, increase our ability to connect with customers, and fill the ever widening gaps in quota and revenue attainment.

Everyday, I see dozens, if not more articles on the power of AI/Machine Learning in sales and marketing.

What is ironic, even comical, is most of the thinking is only about sales and marketing.  I get the feeling these tools are the secret discovery of sales and marketing, that give us the edge on the customer.

It’s not surprising to see this.  After all, sales and marketing have a propensity to be very self centered and internally focused.  It’s always so difficult to put ourselves in the customers’ shoes or behind their desk to look at things from their point of view.

But just as we see great promise in leveraging AI/Machine Learning technologies to help us in engaging customers, doesn’t it stand to reason there is a great opportunity for our customers to apply and leverage AI/Machine Learning in their buying processes?

If I were a customer, one of the first applications would be to combat the overwhelming volume and outreach inflicted on us by sales and marketing.  Stated differently, my AI will block your AI.  Perhaps, I can “teach” the machine to only let in a select small number of communications that are meaningful and relevant to me.

Second, I would teach my AI to be insight developers–delivering unique insight about my business, my markets, my customers, my competitors, trends, issues in the markets that impact me.  It could marry our internal operational performance, our strategies, our priorities, with signals from the outside world.  Perhaps not giving solutions, but helping increase our awareness to opportunities and threats to our specific functions, and our business.

Third, I would simplify my web research, when I’m looking for answers.  I’d expect my machine to cull, filter, interrogate, consolidate the things most impactful to me, freeing me up to focus on the things most meaningful to me.

Fourth, I would find a way to leverage AI within our buying group, to help us more effectively align our diverse priorities, goals, agendas and manage our buying process to more successful outcomes.  I’d seek to extend this capability to drive greater success at internal problem solving/project success and internal effectiveness.

If I were an entrepreneur seeking to exploit the capabilities of AI/Machine Language, I wouldn’t waste my time with sales and marketing.  The market is already too crowded, too fragmented.  I’d focus on creating meaningful buying tools to help our customers be more successful in their own efforts?  Doesn’t seem that anyone cares about our customers ability to exploit AI/Machine Learning.

Any VC’s reading this, contact me….I’ve got a notion of a business plan/solution.

Any smart data geeks/entrepreneurs interested in attacking a greenfield space, contact me, could be an interesting ride.

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Oct 8 17

The Future Of Sales

by David Brock

I have been invited to participate in a discussion on the “Future of Sales,” with a small group of wickedly smart practitioners.  I can’t express how much I’m looking forward to the discussion and learning.

In many cases, predicting the future can sometimes be done with an artful projection of the past.  Not with sales/marketing–at least not in these transformative times.

For my part, I see a number of critical issues at the organizational and individual level.

At the individual level, I see a huge shift in required competencies.  The traditional skills/competencies we look for in sales professionals will be table stakes.  High performing sales people are going to have to be curious/creative thinkers.  They will have to have extremely strong critical thinking/problem solving skills.  They will have to to be nimble/agile/adaptable, and exceedingly comfortable with ambiguity.  They have to be masterful project managers, resource managers (both internally and with customers).  They have to be continuous learners and teachers.  They have to be masterful change managers.  They must be comfortable with complexity (knowing both complicated and complex). They have to help their customers and their own organizations manage/and simplify.  They must have deep understanding of people and empathy for the challenges individual and organizations face.  They have to have growth oriented mindsets.  They have to be business people who sell, not sales people.  (You might be thinking I’ve missed “Leaping over tall buildings with single bounds, and faster than a speeding bullet—that’s table stakes).

At an organizational level, many of the same skills/competencies are required.  As sales organizations, we have to set the example and drive the focus of the enterprise around customer-centricity.  Organizationally, we have to become systems thinkers, recognizing we don’t optimize performance by focusing on the pieces/parts, but we need to include holistic thinking about how these impact each other–not just within the sales function, but within our extended enterprises.  We have to develop “ecosystems” thinking both in looking at our own organizations, but also in looking at our customers and markets.

One of the biggest issues sales (and business) executives will have to address is complexity.  As our solution offerings become more complex, as we look at sales stacks, as we look at increased workloads/expectations of our people. as we look at just the challenge of getting things done within our own organizations–managing complexity, driving business simplification becomes one of the greatest performance issues for the organization.  Sales faces a triple whammy on complexity and business simplification.  In addition to organizational and product complexity, we have the complexity of managing/working with partners and the complexity of getting things done with our customers.

Related to the organizational complexity, leaders will have to be sensitive to the impact of all of these things on individuals, the overload and overwhelm factors (Read Your Help Is Killing Me).  More than anything empathy becomes critical in the leadership role.

At an organizational level, we have to be dealing with all these things that impact organizational excellence/performance in a rapidly changing world.  Transformation is being forced on us!  Changing business models, the digitization of business processes, changing markets all drive the need for nimbleness and agility at a leadership and an organizational levels.  We will have to learn how to change the course of “super tankers” at the same rate as we can quickly change the course of a ski boat (The boaters and water skiers will get this difference).

Key to building agility and nimbleness at an organizational level is creating learning organizations.

At an organizational level, our ability to understand, accept and manage risk/uncertainty will have to change in order to survive.

I’ll stop here.  The challenges and opportunities for the future are massive and exciting.  They are game changing for those who can navigate them effectively.

If you are sensing a “But………”

There’s a huge one.  The world is changing at a rapid pace.  We can’t ignore it, it’s happening in spite of what we do or don’t do.  The winners, individually and organizationally are those who successfully identify and tackle these issues.

But if you don’t have the basics of individual and organizational performance mastered, it will be impossible to address these challenges.

Sadly, too many organizations have not yet mastered these.  Too many are doing the same things they have always done, just at a more frenzied pace.  The data on quota and revenue performance is getting worse, not better.  Customer feedback on the ability of sales people to engage in meaningful, high impact ways is plummeting.

Rather than creating Challenger sales people we seem to create Challenged sales people (and organizations).  Rather than building smarter more capable sales people, we seem to be dumbing down sales people and organizations, wishfully thinking that technology, automation, and our ill-informed views of AI will save the world.

So what’s the future of selling?

There will be a certain amount of carnage as some organizations fall so far behind in individual and organizational capability, they will not survive.  Sales people, who can’t or refuse to adapt, will be displaced.

The vast middle, will muddle along, getting what they can, where they can.  Margins and share may be impacted.  There will be churn at all levels, at the top, as CEOs become dissatisfied with performance, this will cascade through the organization.  At all levels, they will grasp for straws, looking for the silver bullet that always eludes them–because it doesn’t exist.

Likewise, a certain number of sales people will muddle through.  They will be increasingly threatened in their roles or become transient sales people, with relatively weak earning power.

And the gap with those few high performing organizations will widen.  These organizations will create long term customer loyalty, huge share and margin growth, huge competitive differentiation.  Sales people at this highest level of performance will be highly sought after, by companies and customers.

Some of us will have the feeling of deja vu—the future of sales doesn’t look a whole lot different.

The good news (and there is hugely good news), all of this is simply a matter of choice and commitment to execution.  Top performing sales people and organizations have already made it and are reaping the results.

So where you are and where you can be is, relatively simple.  It’s a choice and a commitment to execution.  All the rest flows from that.


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Oct 7 17

“All Generalizations Are Wrong…..” Be Aware Of Expert Advice

by David Brock

1000’s of blogs from real and self-proclaimed experts appear every day.  Each asserts they have “the answers.”

Often, these answers are based on deep experience from the writer.  We can learn a lot in reading those.

We are hungry for answers.  Each of us faces challenges that are real and very difficult.  We are anxious to find answers, often leaping to “magic solutions” based on the experience of some pundit.

But there are no silver bullets.

These solutions are based on specific experiences these experts have had, but have been generalized to address and attract interest from a broad audience.

But each of our circumstances and situations are different.  While we can learn from generalized solutions or points of view, the really tough work is evaluating, combining multiple approaches, and adapting a solution to our specific circumstances.

As we look for solutions, it’s important not to blindly follow generalized advice or “guaranteed quick fixes.”  It’s important to think critically about what works and what won’t work for us.

That’s the heavy lifting each of us must constantly do in learning, executing, growing, and achieving.  If we aren’t committed to that heavy lifting, then we are committed to a life of following “bright shiny objects,” but will be unlikely to achieve our goals over the long term.

Read avidly, read widely, be skeptical, assess what works, what doesn’t work for your specific circumstances.  Develop the solution that works for you and your organization, don’t try to copy someone else’s generalized experience.

Above all, remember:

“All generalizations are false—-including this one”  Mark Twain



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Oct 5 17

Sales Effectiveness: Focus On The Individual Or The Organizational Performance?

by David Brock

The other day, Matt Dixon and I were having a discussion, trying to solve all the problems of sales.  As is often, the case in these discussions, we started reflecting on a lot of broad and, possibly, esoteric issues.

We started talking about what ultimately may be a Chicken/Egg issue.  We were considering, “Where is the next big rock to turn over in driving sales effectiveness?  Do we focus on driving individual performance or do we look at overall organizational excellence?”

To jump ahead, the answer is, “We have to do both!”  Further, the answer to where do we start is, “It depends.”

Sometimes, however, I think we spend too much time focusing on the individual sales people.

When I talk to top executives about their revenue growth and sales problems, ultimately, the conversation get to, “We have to fix the sales people, they just aren’t performing!”  Ultimately, we look at things like turnover/attrition, quota performance, revenue performance, win/loss, activity, do we have the right people, do they have the right skills.  The focus is on sales people as individuals, seldom on the overall performance of the pieces/parts of the organization.

Inevitably there are issues with the individual sales performance.  The execs put in action plans to improve performance.  The action plans are all over the place:  Fire the low performers, invest in training, invest in tools, invest in new programs to help the sales people, develop new incentives, focus on activity levels.

All the actions focus on sales people as individuals.

There may be some blips of improvement, but often these are short lived or insufficient.  Inevitably, these leaders look at the next fix for individual performance.  Give them more training, give them more tools, fire the low performers, give them more programs……..

We keep cycling through things that focus on the improvement of individuals.  Yet somehow, performance improvements aren’t realized.

Perhaps the performance issues lie somewhere else.  Perhaps the overall function of the organization and the interrelationships between all the pieces/parts the sales organization is where some of our challenges are.

But it’s seldom that we look at performance from an overall organizational perspective.

In most organizations and complex B2B sales, the sales person is dependent on a whole number of things for their individual success.  It may be specialists, it may be support from product management or marketing, it can be any number of things critical to the ability of the sales person to lead the sales effort.

In most organizations, particularly larger organizations, the sales person spends a huge amount of time navigating the organization to get things done in moving their deals forward.

In many organizations, the sales people are distracted by well intended people (marketing, product management, customer service) doing their jobs.

All of these have impacts on sales performance.  All of these are organizational issues and organizational performance issues.

Few of these are “fixed” by focusing on sales people as individuals improving their individual capability.

Yet it’s seldom that executives look at these organizational performance/dynamics issues and how they impact sales performance—at least until they become crippling.

I’m seeing more and more organizational performance issues impacting individual sales performance.  For example, it’s not uncommon for us to see “Time Available For Selling” at 9-22%.  As we assess these issues, we see good sales people distracted by the complexity of getting things done in their own organizations.

Increasing voluntary attrition is another indicator of organizational complexity (or bad front line sales management).  We’ve seen numerous cases with unusually high voluntary attrition rates–and very good sales people leaving.  Typically it’s because they find it difficult getting things done in their organizations or have managers that have driven them out of the business.

Driving the highest levels of sales performance requires constant attention on everything that impact performance.  Maximizing the abilities of individuals to perform, as well as tuning the overall organization to maximize its collective performance.  Focusing on one or the other won’t solve the problem.


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