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Jan 12 18

Leadership, Vulnerability, And Being Human

by David Brock

For some reason, articles on “Leaders must show vulnerability,” have been flooding my in-box recently.  I get it, leaders must show vulnerability, but what does that mean?

As I think of these articles and dozens of others on other leadership qualities, I wonder if we make this far more complicated than it need be.

The authors of these articles are just describing behaviors they see in leaders, attaching multisyllabic words to them (because that’s what writers and consultants do.).

But at it’s core, one of the characteristics of great leaders is that they are human.  Somehow, leaders and followers seem to think leadership is different, that leaders are on a pedestal and are somehow different–perhaps more superhuman than we mere mortals.

But when I look at the great leaders I’ve known (and I’ve been blessed to have worked for some and been around a number of inspired leaders), what strikes me most is their humanity.

Like all of us:

  1. They have strengths and weaknesses.
  2. They aren’t super human or perfect.
  3. They have dreams.
  4. They have fears and uncertainties.
  5. They laugh and cry.
  6. They make mistakes.
  7. They get angry and impatient.
  8. They get frustrated.
  9. They get confused.
  10. They need help and want to be helpful.
  11. Sometimes they listen well, sometimes they don’t.
  12. Sometimes they take feedback, sometimes they don’t.
  13. They want to connect with others.
  14. They want to share experiences with others.
  15. They worry about trusting and being trusted.
  16. They sometimes say the right things and sometimes say the wrong things.
  17. They do tremendously inspired things, at times.
  18. They do tremendously stupid things, at times.
  19. They spill coffee on their shirts, burp, and have “bad hair” days.
  20. They appreciate good jokes and being able to relax.
  21. They worry about their jobs and whether they will keep them.
  22. They care about others and want others to care about them.

They are no different than any one of us, they are simply human.

Yet somehow, we tend to treat people in leadership roles as something different.  And too many in those roles want to think of themselves as different–perhaps better than others.

They are in their jobs, supposedly, because they have the skills, attitudes, behaviors. capabilities to be excellent in those roles.

But isn’t that what we expect of everyone in each job, whether they are leaders or not?

Rather than suggesting behaviors leaders must adopt, wouldn’t things be much simpler if we just expect leaders to be human?

Rather than setting leaders on pedestals, thinking of them as “different,” aren’t we better off thinking of them as human, trying to excel in their jobs–just like all of us?

Rather than leaders setting themselves apart from everyone else, what if they recognized they are just like everyone else and started acting and behaving as human beings working with other human beings?

Rather than ascribing characteristics of leaders, wouldn’t we be better served by ascribing characteristics of top performance in each role–then put people in those roles who have those characteristics/competencies?  Shouldn’t we be doing this for every role in the organization?

Somehow, this notion seems much more simple than all the other things, like demonstrating vulnerability, and so forth, that we talk about when we talk about leadership.

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Jan 11 18

Running To The Edge Of A Cliff At 200MPH!

by David Brock

Recently, I was talking to a group about prospecting.  I wanted to create a way they could visualize the importance of ALWAYS prospecting.

They had reasonably good pipelines, most were consumed on working those deals.  As you might guess, most were doing everything they could to avoid prospecting.  They were using their pipelines and the work they were doing to close those deals as excuses not to prospect.

Their sales cycle was roughly 6 months away.  Somehow, they kept rationalizing, “I’m busy now, I’ll worry about filling my pipeline in a few months.

I presented all sort of data around, the number of prospects they had to meet with to qualify a sufficient number of deals to add to their pipeline, the amount of time that would take, and so on.  While, intellectually, they “got” what I was saying, none of them were internalizing the urgency around needing to continually prospect, despite having healthy pipelines.

I shifted gears, I asked them to visualize their pipeline in front of them, at the end of the pipeline was a cliff.  I said, “Imagine you are running toward the edge of that cliff at 200 MPH.  What are you going to do to prevent you from running off the edge?”

When we are working our pipelines, we are running to a cliff.  We eventually reach the edge of the cliff and plummet into an abyss.  That cliff is always there.  Depending on our sales cycles, we run off the edge 90, 180, 360 days out.

We can’t  wait to backfill our pipelines.  There’s no magic, but we just run off the edge of the cliff if we aren’t prospecting.  If we have a 90 day sales cycle, and we wait 60 days to start prospecting.  Even if we are able to fill our pipelines in one day, we run off the edge of the cliff!

The trick is, how do we keep pushing out the edge of that cliff?

The only way is to integrate prospecting into your daily routines.  Regardless how healthy your pipeline is, the cliff is there.  Regardless how busy we are working deals in our pipeline, the cliff is there–and the edge gets closer every day.

But prospecting every day causes you to keep pushing the edge of the cliff out.

In our company, each of us vividly sees the edge of that cliff.  We’re busy every day selling and delivering.  But however busy we are, we see the edge of that cliff looming in front of us.  We know the only way we push the edge out is to prospect every day.  We don’t know which of the people we reach out to may have a need (though we are highly targeted), but we know if we don’t reach out, we run off the cliff.

Are you running of the edge of your cliff at 200 mph?


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Jan 10 18

Forecast Accuracy, Peeling The Onion

by David Brock

We are barely a week into the New Year, but yesterday I found myself in a conversation with an executive team about the forecast.  They were looking at the January forecast and starting to think about the quarterly forecast.

Sales executives are obsessed with forecasting and forecast accuracy.  In my past lives, as a sales executive, I don’t know how many hours I spent looking at the forecast.

I’d play endless games with my sales ops VP, controller, and the RVPs.  We’d have spread sheets and other reports, looking at different puts and takes on the forecast, trying to figure what was rock solid, what wasn’t, what we might be able to risk.

RVPs would be on the phones, interrogating the field managers, who in turn, would interrogate their people to figure out what we could forecast.  We’d look people in the eyes, questioning “Are you certain…..?”  If we saw a waiver, we’d wonder and interrogate further.

Despite what each person said, at every level of management, we’d always add our own “English” on the forecast….  “John is always overly optimistic, Jill sandbags every forecast……”

We knew the forecast would never be perfect, but it needed to be as accurate as possible.  After all, the rest of the company was dependent on it.  Manufacturing/production planned their build schedules and managed the supply chain based on our forecasts.  We set analyst and market expectations based on the forecast.

Every month we’d go through the same exercise, every quarter we’d double down our efforts at accuracy.

Every sales executive I’ve encountered goes through their own version of this torture (for themselves and their teams.).  The tools we use have progressed beyond Excel spreadsheets and CRM, but we still go through the machinations, guesstimates, and the same activities we always have gone through.

There has to be a better way—at least one that can create a similar outcome with much less time.

What if we started peeling back the onion on forecasting and forecast accuracy.  How can we drive more accurate forecasts, how can we simplify the process?

Naturally, the information we have to develop our forecasts will vary by the types of things we sell, the volume and velocity by which we sell them.  If we are selling production parts/embedded components, inevitably, our customer supply chain people are deeply involved in the order forecasts.  This helps drive production planning.

If we sell high volume/high velocity or transactional items, there are many analytic techniques, leveraging historic trends and current activities that can help us.

If we are involved in complex sales, for example enterprise software, professional services, capital equipment/systems, design wins for production parts and so on, we are dependent on the assessment of sales people.  How do we improve our forecasting then?

Peelng back the onion on this part of the forecasting process, an accurate forecast is dependent on a high quality, high integrity pipeline.  The pipeline is the first source of data we look at to begin our forecasting process.  But if we have sloppy pipeline discipline, if there is no integrity in the pipeline, it’s impossible to develop an accurate forecast.

Unfortunately, too many of the pipelines I look at are wishful thinking.  There are deals that have been stalled since before the turn of the century, but sales people insist they are solid.  There are deals that are  deals only in the imaginations of sales people, but are not qualified opportunities.  There are real deals, but target values and target close dates are filled with uncertainty.

These deals are spread through the pipeline, those in the closing and proposing stages are those that feed the forecast, but how did they get to those stages, are they really in those stages, or are they wishful thinking?

But in peeling back the onion, we can’t stop at the pipeline, we have to ask ourselves, what drives a high integrity pipeline.  It’s the individual deals in the pipeline.

Are they qualified, is there a compelling urgency in the buying group to make a decision by a certain date?  Do we have a strongly differentiated, winning  deal strategy?  Does our solution create superior value for the customer, and are we creating superior value in the buying process?  Can we and our customers connect the dots on how this opportunity contributes to the overall corporate priorities?

But we have to peel the onion even further:  Do we have a strong sales process that our people are using?  The sales process is the foundation of strong deal strategies.  It’s built our our best experiences of success.  It forces us to focus on our sweet spot and to viciously disqualify deals that aren’t in our sweet spot or where there isn’t a compelling need to change.  It forces us to align with our customer buying processes, doing the things that help bring clarity to what they are trying to achieve.

The sales process is the foundation to everything we are trying to achieve.  If we don’t have a strong sales process, if our people aren’t using it as effectively as possible, our deal strategies will be weak, our pipelines will be weak or flaky, and it will be impossible to develop a high integrity forecast.

The analogy is, regardless of how fancy a house you build, if it is built on weak foundations, it will crumble  (Residents of the Bay Area only have to  look at the Millennium Tower as a vivid example of this.)

Yet too often, I encounter sales executives focusing their time on the forecast, not looking at the things that drive the forecast and forecast accuracy.  It’s amazing what happens when you start at the foundations.  A great sales process drives higher win rates, compresses selling cycles, higher deal value/margin.  The sales process enables sales people to develop strong, value based deal strategies.  These, in turn, build stronger pipelines, which help build better forecasts.  But even better than better forecasts, they drive better results.

And, after all, forecast accuracy is not our goal.  An accurate forecast that under performs our expectations is not very helpful.  Harnessing everything we do, delivering on the results for which we are accountable is our job.  The forecast is simply a report on how well we are executing.


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Jan 8 18

Sales Enablement And Talent Management

by David Brock

Talent, that is attracting, growing/developing, retaining great talent is critical to sustained sales performance.  Surprisingly, talent management doesn’t get the necessary attention from sales management and sales enablement.

Hold on, before you start hissing and throwing things at me…… Let me explain.

Talent management must be a top priority for Sales Leaders/Management.  I’ve been on a rampage about this in a number of recent posts.

Sales enablement can do a lot to help sales management with Talent Management.  It’s doing a lot already, providing training, tools, content to help develop sales people, and help them perform at the highest levels.

But I think it can do so much more–yet I don’t see a lot of discussion on this among Sales Enablement Professionals–or at least it needs to be much more explicit.

Let me explain…..

The first issue is an overall mindset issue.  Organizationally, all of us tend to accept the talent we have.  We’ll always have an organization of A, B, C players, we need to move the needle on each of them as much as possible.  As a result, both sales management, and sales enablement tend to focus on improving skills, and development.  Hopefully, sales management is also focused on addressing performance management.

But too often, we simply have the wrong people, nothing we do will enable us to achieve and sustain high levels of performance if we have the wrong people/talent.  While we try to improve their skills, we are wasting time, resource, opportunity.

To drive performance in an organization, we have to formalize what we are doing for talent management—from the point of acquiring/hiring, onboarding, ongoing training/development, and retention.

This starts with rich competency modelling for each role in the organization—over the life cycle of that role.  The modeling has cover attitudes, behaviors, culture fit, skills, experience, capabilities, and other dimensions.

The model has to look at the life cycle–what are we looking for when we initially put someone into that role (e.g recruiting), where do they need to be after onboarding, where do they need to be as they develop in the roles, how do we keep them engaged and retain them.

We need this for each role in the sales organization:  SDR, AE, Field Sales People, Pre-sales, Sales Specialists, Managers, Sales Support, Sales Enablement, and so forth.

Sales enablement already provides a lot of support in developing the skills/capabilities of the talent within the organization, but I think it can provide a much stronger leadership role.  Here are some ideas:

  1.  Developing “life-cycle” competency models for each role in the organization.  It doesn’t make sense for each manager to be developing their own versions of competency models.  Sales enablement (and perhaps sales ops) have the best view of what is needed in each role in the organization.  A key function within sales enablement should be leading in the development and continued upgrade of these competency models.
  2. Perhaps an amplification of the prior point, but without these competency models, and a talent development roadmap, how does the sales enablement organization assess it’s own priorities in the programs it provides?
  3. Providing training/tools/support to managers in leveraging these competency models as part of an overall performance management framework.  This includes enabling managers to put these talent management models in place for each person in the team, training the managers how to do these things, providing managers the tools/support needed to coach and develop the people on a long term basis.
  4. Evaluating/Positioning every sales enablement program in the context of each reinforces the talent development strategies suggested in the competency models.  We all have a tendency to do more—provide more training, provide more tools, provide more content, provide more…..  But absent a context of what we are trying to achieve, specifically, with each person and each role in the organization, often we fall short of what we could and should be doing with sales enablement programs.  The talent management framework provides a more holistic view of what we need to be doing, where the priorities are, what we need to have in place, and how we execute at scale.  We can tie each initiative to talent management goals, providing a better framework for understanding sales enablement effectiveness, than merely, helping people sell more.
  5. Too often, sales enablement gets diverted or directed to address the latest crisis du jour.  The talent management framework and competency models provide a stronger set of tools to keep focus on the important, rather than the urgent.

Sales enablement already does a lot to help develop the capabilities and impact of sales people.  But too often, it seems to be in a context oriented to the programs it conducts, rather than how the programs fit into our talent management priorities.

Perhaps it’s not different, but just a different way of looking at things, and making sure we are leveraging sales enablement to its full potential.


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