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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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Sep 11 19

Buying Is About The Customer Achieving Better Outcomes

by David Brock

I was reading a LinkedIn discussion thread, it started with a premise that people love to buy stuff. I’m not sure that’s true, at least in B2B. But Bob Apollo and Scott Santucci started a great sub-discussion. I wanted to expand on this.

Too often, because we focus on our jobs and achieving our goals, we lose track on why customers buy, instead focusing on selling. While it seems trite, while we may attempt to sell, it’s useless, possibly counter productive activity, until the customer chooses to start their buying journey.

But why do buyers buy? What gets them started buying?

Fundamentally, buying can only happen when the customer has a need to change (but not all requirements to change drive a need to buy). That change is driven by the need to solve a problem, to address an opportunity, to improve on what the customer currently does.

But we lose sight of this, we focus on what we need to do and not what the customer needs to do, why they are doing it, or what they are trying to achieve.

What happens when we start focusing on what the customer cares about, rather than what we care about? What happens when we shift the focus of our conversations to what the customer is trying to achieve, and why they are trying to achieve it?

People don’t buy because they love buying, they buy to achieve something. We are always more effective when we focus on what the customer is trying to achieve and how we help them do that better than any other alternative.

Selling doesn’t have to be more complicated than this.

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Sep 10 19

Learning From Our Failures

by David Brock

As much as we want to, and should, focus on our sales successes, a large part of sales has to do with failure. We win some, we will always lose some. We try a certain approach, say a prospecting program, or a new sales initiative, or a deal strategy.

In the “old days,” we used to do win/loss reviews. They don’t really seem to be part of the vocabulary of most sales managers. Most sales people don’t seem to take the time to reflect on failures to learn from them.

It seems the only time we look at our failures, is when we have failed massively, and often, it’s the “new management team,” assessing the strategies and performance of their predecessors.

Some have argued we should focus more on our successes. I’ve seen some pundits argue we should focus on win reviews, learning what works and drives success, and figuring out how to do more of those things that cause us to succeed.

There is merit to this point of view, but inevitably, focusing only on this will prevent us from growing as we might, we only succeed in growing with the market. We only get our fair share.

There is great risk, however, to this point of view. Focusing on what we’ve always done to be successful, fails to acknowledge how things are changing. How our customers are changing, how are competition is changing, how our markets are changing. Focusing on our success limits us to looking at the way things were, not the way things are currently or where they are going.

I’m an unabashed competitor. I believe it is our “God given right to 100% share of customer and share of market.” It’s our job to figure out how we do this! (OK, I can already hear the shrieks and accusations of arrogance and so forth. In truth, we can never achieve this, but the mindset changes our approach to things.)

To do this, to grow our share, to grow faster than the market, we have to learn from our failures. We have to ask ourselves tough questions. Too often, when we do this, we focus on, “what went wrong, who do we blame?” Instead, we need to start asking ourselves, “What’s changed with our customers, markets, our competition? Where are they going? What should we do differently?”

Failing to learn and change from our failure condemns us to only one thing, continued and increasing failure.

Afterword: There is another school of thought on failure, deriving from the Agile/Lean/Startup world, which is fail fast, fail often (I’m overstating slightly). This is a great article on that perspective. The conclusion is similar, what do we learn from our failures: We Need To Stop Glorifying Failure. Thanks to Hank Barnes for calling this to my attention.

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Sep 9 19

Sales Pipeline, Quantity Or Quality?

by David Brock

You probably think this is a trick question, the answer is obvious, isn’t it?

Be careful before you respond too quickly……

Now, I’ve got you worried and wondering, particularly long time readers.

Many of you would say, Quality. You would be partly right.

“Aha,” you think, “It’s both!” You would be partly right.

Now you are probably thoroughly confused.

Let me add to the confusion. I look at hundreds of pipelines every year. Based on the majority of those pipelines, one would think the obvious answer is “Quantity!” The mantra of too many managers is, “Fill your pipelines, you need at least 3 times coverage!”

But any self respecting sales person should always be able to meet any management dictate for pipeline coverage. They just cast a wider net, abandoning their ICP and fill their pipelines with crap. But they get their managers off their backs.

Which brings us back to the starting point, Quantity or Quality? To which I respond with a resounding, “Yes, and……”

Yeah, I know you are getting frustrated and think I’m playing word games, so let’s dive it.

Quality is the number 1 most important thing about a pipeline. If you fill your pipeline with garbage, but have a full pipeline, everything goes wrong. You waste your time on bad deals, spending too little time on those that you can win. Your win rates plummet, your sales cycles skyrocket, you end up in a death spiral.

If anything, in tough times (or even all the time), you should tighten your qualification standards, letting only the very most qualified deals into your pipeline. An interesting thing happens when you improve the quality of the qualified deals in your pipeline. Your win rates go up, your average transaction values go up, and your average sales cycle begins to decline. Which means you have to have far less in your pipeline to make your numbers.

While quality is the number 1 criteria, we can’t ignore quantity. We have to have a sufficient number of high quality, qualified opportunities in our pipelines to achieve our numbers. But we can never relax our criteria for what makes it into our pipelines.

Too often, the quantity issue is one we address blindly. Too many managers use the 3 times coverage metric. Just last week, I was reviewing a pipeline, in one case, the sales person had a better than 50% win rate. She only needed to have 2 times coverage for her pipeline. Forcing her to have 3 times coverage would have diverted her from the highest priority deals. It could have actually reduced her productivity. On the other hand, one of her colleagues had a 25% win rate. If that person had filled his pipeline, meeting the manager dictate of “3X” he would never have made his number. He needed much more!

The “right quantity” is dependent on a whole number of things, and to determine the “right quantity,” we have to balance all these factors–but never reducing quality.

But, quantity and quality are never enough. Velocity is critical. We don’t have healthy pipelines if there is no movement in the pipeline! (One might, fairly, argue that’s also a quality issue.) Some years ago, I was doing a pipeline review. The sales person was proud, he said, “I have more than 3 times coverage in my pipeline.” Our initial pass showed reasonable quality–but with some concerns. At least 50% of the deal in his pipeline had deals that had not moved in 100 days (for a company where the average sales cycle was 90 days!). In reality, this was both a velocity and quality issue.

Some of you are trying to reach behind yourselves to pat yourselves on the back. You are used to reading my posts, or you had already said, pipeline health has to be measured by quality, quantity, velocity!

Not so fast! (You knew I had to be going town this path.)

There’s more to healthy pipelines than this.

Balance is important. Pipelines that have good quantity, quality, and velocity are important, but they must be balanced. If the bulk of our deals are clustered in the top or bottom of the pipeline we have revenue timing issues. If our pipeline is bottom heavy, and we aren’t finding and qualifying new opportunities, we will have very unhealthy pipelines.

Mix is important–at least if you are responsible for selling multiple product lines. Let’s imagine your company wants you to sell both product line A and the brand new product line, B. You are uncomfortable with product line B, you know you can fill your pipeline with product line A, creating a healthy pipeline and, ultimately, making your number all through product line A. But the corporate strategy is to sell all it’s offerings. So even while it’s easier to focus on just product line A, you are being irresponsible. You must be pursuing qualified opportunities for both product lines, so your healthy pipeline should have a healthy mix of these two product lines.

Mix is important in another sense. We want to retain and grow our current customers, but we also need to acquire new customers. If your “territory” includes both (that is you aren’t just pursuing new accounts, or aren’t just assigned to a current account), you have to have a good mix of current and new customers in your pipeline. Again, your pipeline has to be consistent with your company’s overall growth strategies.

There’s a lot to think about in building and maintaining a healthy pipeline. It’s never an issue of just quantity, or just quality. Too often, however, we see sales people and managers not understanding all the variables and how they interact. As a result, they have unhealthy pipelines, and will not achieve their goals.

Which causes one to ask, “How do we fix unhealthy pipelines?” Most would respond, “prospect more, find more qualified opportunities,” and you would proudly say, but they have to have to be quality opportunities, with the right mix, balance and velocity……”

To which I would respond, “Not so fast………” 😉

But that’s the topic of another post. You can get a sneak peak at one of the answers by looking at this post.

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