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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.

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Nov 4 19

Predictable Buying

by David Brock

We spend lots of time and money trying to create predictable revenue, increasing the predictability of our sales approaches.

We constantly engineer, refine, tune and re-engineer what we do and how we engage our customers to produce POs.

We optimize our efforts, looking to be as efficient as possible, achieving what we do in the fastest time and lowest cost of selling possible. And every once in a while we also look at effectiveness…..

But, if we look at most data, it’s not working, or at least as well as we hope. Fewer people are achieving plan, though they are following the “formulas.” Customers are deferring engaging sales later and later in the process (which for some reason we like, because it reduces our time and costs, making us more efficient.)

The percentage of customers with budget and an intent to buy that end up making no decision, other than to keep doing what they always have exceeds those who are buying. They still have the need, but they just couldn’t navigate themselves to a conclusion.

And virtually every survey shows how little too many customers value sales interactions. I’m interested to see a question on a survey, “Choose your least favorite activity, going to the dentist or talking to a sales person.” I think most of us know the answer. (And I’m a sales person at heart.)

As we see these trends, it’s amazing that we don’t redefine how we look at the problem–that is helping customers achieve their goals, solve their problems, resulting in buying.

What rather than looking at making selling more predictable, we changed our thinking to make buying more predictable—both for the customer and, as a result, for us.

When you start analyzing it, it’s really not that complicated–but somehow we and our customers make it so. But we would consider the following:

  1. Why change? Buying is part of a change activity. If the customer doesn’t have a compelling reason to change, there is no need to buy.
  2. When do we have to have the solution in place producing results? Change isn’t a meandering journey, it’s very purposeful. It generally says, “We need to have something in place by this date…. If we don’t the consequences/risks become unacceptable.” Too often, customers don’t have this solidified in their minds. As a result they get diverted by the latest crises, or they drift, much like a boat caught in a current, it’s going somewhere, just not where it intended to go. (In case it was too well disguised in my prose, a fundamental question the customer must know the answer to, in dollars/risk terms is: What are the consequences of doing nothing or missing our target date?)
  3. How do we align the differing agendas and priorities of those people involved in the buying process? Until the customers get “in the same boat, rowing in the same direction, in cadence,” there is likely to be a lot of activity and no progress. From a sales point of view, this is exciting! They are having meetings, lots of meetings! They must be doing something, we should be there helping them!
  4. How do we buy? Underlying this are a whole lot of questions, but often the customer misses them. Some of the fundamental ones are derivatives of the first 2, but include: What are we trying to achieve, by when, what should we be looking for? What questions should we be asking others who’ve done similar things? What questions should we be asking ourselves? What questions should we be asking partners, our own customers, and potential suppliers? What do we need to learn in order to move forward successfully, who do we learn it from? What are the risks, what do we need to have in place to manage them to an acceptable level? What does the implementation/change management look like, where will we encounter resistance, how do we manage it? How do we get buy in, not only from our management but, from the people who will be impacted by what we are doing? How do we keep this project focused and moving forward, as things are changing around us?
  5. How do I deal with my own personal fears, uncertainty, concerns? What am I looking for, personally, how do I achieve it? What happens to me if we fail?
  6. Then there are all the things having to do with working with potential suppliers (US!) We know about that–at least from our point of view, but we should look at it from the customer point of view.
  7. In the end there is one question (actually the consolidation of lots more): How confident am I/We in the decision I/we are making.

You can see, there are a lot of things the customer(s) is struggling with. There are a lot of things that derail the process, slow it down, cause it to zig-zag, and back track on itself.

Usually, as sales people we are oblivious to this. Because we focus on the predictability of what we do and our selling motions. We aren’t paying attention to, we aren’t asking, we aren’t establishing the connection with the customer to understand what they are going through and concerned about.

Or maybe, it’s simply we don’t care! We care more about what we are trying to achieve, not realizing we achieve nothing if the customer doesn’t achieve their goals!

But the only way we can make revenue and selling predictable is to make buying more predictable.

Ironically, we have a huge ability to help the customer with all the issues outlined above. After all, we’ve gone through dozens, hundreds, and thousands of situations before. We’ve seen what works and what doesn’t work.

We know how similar customers have dealt with similar issues.

We know the answers or how to help the customer discover the answers. And by doing this, ultimately giving the customer confidence in their decision, we create the most differentiated and sustainable value possible!

It’s amazing how much clarity we get by changing the way we look at things. Perhaps the best question we should be asking ourselves is:

How do we make buying more predictable!

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Oct 31 19

“It’s Like Cheating On Your Homework, You Might Just Learn Something”

by David Brock

A client/friend and I had just completed a number of reviews with his team. As with most pipelines I see, many of these people’s were anemic. They just didn’t have enough opportunities to enable them to achieve their goals. Even if they won 100% of the opportunities in their pipelines, they would fall far short.

We asked, “What are you going to do? How are you going to get your people to generate more opportunities?”

There was a lot of hand wringing, hemming and hawing. They knew they needed to prospect, but as many of us think, it’s just such a pain in the ass.

But there isn’t any other way to generate new opportunities, particularly when the phones aren’t ringing.

We suggested a number of prospecting programs, intensifying account planning, going back to old customers, conducting some campaigns. While the teams were saying the right things, you could sense their reluctance.

We finally helped them set some goals for target prospects, conducting some campaigns, agreeing on a certain number of high quality prospecting calls per week. The teams agreed on their plans, we have follow up calls to check on their progress and to continue coaching.

After the series of calls, my friend and I were talking about their reluctance and why they hadn’t been prospecting. He said, “It’s kind of like cheating on your homework, you just might learn something….” His statement is a slightly more colorful version of my blunt and impatient, “Just do it.”

I see these kinds of behaviors all the time, not just in prospecting. Whether it’s developing and executing strong deal strategies, executing a buyer aligned selling process, understanding/articulating differentiated value. Or with managers it may be coaching and developing their people, conducting high impact reviews, hiring/onboarding/developing/retaining the best talent.

Too often we know exactly what we should be doing. We even know how to do it. We just find all sorts of excuses not to do those things we know we should be doing.

Often, we aren’t as good at doing those things as we should be. We need to learn and improve. But we never give ourselves the opportunity until we just start doing it.

We may get our teeth kicked in a few times. We need to pick ourselves up, try something new, adjust our approach. And we need to keep doing it until we figure it out—even if it’s by accident.

Too many sales people and managers want to be spoon fed, they want the answers to eliminate the hard work and learning that experience gives us. They fool themselves through avoidance.

But if we just do it, even if we don’t do it quite right, perhaps “cheating” a little, we might just learn something and improve.

The alternative, doing nothing is untenable.

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Oct 31 19

Sales Is All About Relationships

by David Brock

Sales IS about relationships. This truism is often parroted, but too often, has many and divergent meanings. What do we mean by relationships, what are the relationships we seek to develop as sales people?

There’s the old stereotype of a relationship oriented sales person, where selling is only about the relationship–usually some socially oriented relationship. This is the sales person that’s always bringing coffee, taking customers out to lunch, inviting customers to any number of events. They are the sales person that always sends your spouse and kids birthday cards (believe it or not, I still get them from sales people who used to sell to my wife.) They believe the value is in the friendship, being likable, and sociable.

There’s the “service” oriented relationship, where sales people act as information concierges. They believe their greatest value in the relationship is serving the customer need for information, providing the customer all manner of information about products and solutions. They don’t seek to challenge the customer but rather to be responsive to their needs.

Then there are the sales people building relationships based on the value they can create with the customer in improving their business and helping them grow/achieve–both at a business and personal level. While there may be social aspects to these relationships, as well as information concierge aspect, that’s not the core of the relationship. In these relationships, we certainly want to be responsive to the customer, but the core of the relationship focuses on business value. They are about how we can co-create value, enabling each party to achieve their goals.

All these relationships are built on trust, but the trust that one is driven to help us learn, grow, achieve The trust based on business value, not just a social exchange, seems somehow to be more profound.

Relationships are important in sales. But we have to be clear about what we mean in building relationships and those that really matter to our customers.

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