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Sep 9 18

Relationships Matter–But What Does That Mean?

by David Brock

Andy Paul wrote a terrific piece on relationships (visit TheSalesHouse to get some of his thinking).  There is a lot of discussion, pro and con, about the importance of relationships–but little of it drives any clarity about what a relationship is, and why it matters.

There are the “old timers,” who view relationships as key, but define relationships as friendship.  Their approach is to exploit the “relationship,” but not the value they create in helping the customer achieve their goals.  They cite the years of “relationship,” the lunches, golf games, birthday cards to kids, etc.  They trade on this friendship, expecting to get preferred treatment in the sales situation.  (Sure doesn’t sound like the kind of friendship that I value.)

There’s the polar extreme, those who don’t believe relationships are important or meaningful in sales.  Often, these are those with the assembly line version of selling, optimizing our process, treating the customer as a widget they move through the process—lead, SDR, Demo, Account Manager, Specialist, Customer Experience Team…  The customer is an object upon which we execute our selling process, working the numbers.

Neither of those extremes is about relationships, neither of these extremes understands the importance of relationships with our customers.

Andy poses that relationships are about “connection.”  Not the kind we brag about in LinkedIn (how many connections we have).

Connection has a context–it may be around a certain issue, a certain initiative, something common we each want to achieve.

Connection is about meaning–it is about creating value with each other.

Connection involves an active interest in learning–both our individual positions and points of views, but in learning something new–moving forward, making progress.

Connection is about caring–it is about human being engaging with each other, perhaps not agreeing, but about caring enough to listen, learn, and respect each other.

Relationships may involve friendship, but don’t need to.  And true friendships are not about exploiting that friendship as leverage over one another.

Connection is critical to our effectiveness as sales people.  If we can’t connect with our customers, we will never be able to help them achieve their goals, as we achieve ours.

Connection is critical within our own organizations, if as managers we can’t connect with our people, we can’t help them maximize performance.  If we can’t connect with our colleagues, peers and managers, we can’t align to achieve our shared goals.

I worry about those who believe relationships are to be manipulated.  They don’t understand what connection is about.

I worry about this who believe relationships are unimportant, that sales is a mechanistic process, focused on optimizing our own efficiency, but not worried about connecting with their customers.  If this is what drives success, it means we don’t need people involved in the process and our respective bots, interacting, can be far more effective than humans could ever be.

I worry about those who don’t value relationships, it is through these connections that we learn, grow, improve, and achieve.

Relationships are about connection.

Connecting with our customers our people our communities is what makes us better as individuals, organizations, and a society.


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Sep 6 18

Change–Never More Than Three!

by David Brock

We all know how difficult it is to change.  Whether it’s our own personal habits/behaviors, those of our teams, our organization/company, or getting our customers to change.

There endless pithy quotes both about the importance of change and the challenges of change.  There are 1000’s or articles (add one more to the stack) about how to drive change.

I’m not sure I have the magic solution to change.  How to make it less painful (I’m not sure we really want to make it less painful)?  How to make it easier, how to get people to accept it.

Perhaps the only piece of wisdom, based on painful experience, is change–but don’t change too much.

Now I know this could be really misconstrued.  Where it’s necessary, I’m all for massive change, major shifts.

What I mean is too often, we try to change too many things at once–and that’s where we fail.

We fail simply because human beings don’t have the capacity to do more than a few things at one time, really well.  And many would argue, justifiably, that we can only do one thing really well at a time.

As managers, when (if) we coach, while well intended, sometimes the impact of our coaching is the opposite of what we intended.  Usually, it’s because we are trying to correct everything about what a person is doing, their behaviors and how they can improve their performance.  “You need to use the sales process, you aren’t planning or executive your calls effectively, your prospecting is insufficient, you need to build your pipeline, you aren’t updating CRM, you don’t understand your customers’ business……”

I’ve shared the story of a “friend” trying to help me with my golf swing.  “Keep your head down, bend your knees, rotate your shoulders, keep your elbow tucked in…..”  Trying to remember and execute all these things at once actually made me worse.

Likewise, when we try to address all the things our people need to change at once, when we keep piling on, they get confused.  They end up changing nothing or even getting worse.

While there may need to be many things our people need to change about how they execute or their behaviors, we are most effective when we focus, ideally, on one thing at a time–but never more than three (and these should be closely related).

This puts a huge, but appropriate, onus on sales managers.  We have to be thoughtful about what we prioritize to coach.  We have to think, “what is most important, what will have the biggest impact?”  As much as we may be distracted by other things we want to address, we will confuse the person we are coaching and dilute the impact of our coaching.

We are much more impactful when we focus on one (never more than three) key areas, coaching those consistently across different activities they impact.  When we see an area that needs to be coached, we look at how it applies to deals, prospecting, calls, prospecting, account/territory plans, time management, teamwork, and so forth.  Typically, we see behaviors that aren’t limited to just one aspect of the job, but impact several areas of performance.  We have a greater impact in changing behaviors when we focus on that behavior across a variety of activities the sales person does.

In focusing on one key area, we can drive rapid change and improvement, then move to the next area, then the next.  Making a number of very fast, focused improvements enable the sales person to make greater progress and to sustain that progress rather than confusing the sales person by trying to fix everything at the same time.


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Sep 6 18

Why Do People Buy?

by David Brock

I can already picture half the readers.  Raising their eyebrows, perhaps rolling their eyes, thinking, “Well Dave, the answer is obvious……..”

The obvious answer is to address needs, perhaps to solve a problem.  Once that is acknowledged, the more sophisticated immediately leap to understanding the buyer’s journey.  Too many focus only on the “seller’s journey.”  hoping the buyer is interested in riding along.   Inevitably our focus is on buying and selling, but we are still not aligned with the customer and their journey.

Yet the customer is on a different journey.  Of course they are addressing a need.  That could be developing a new product.  It could by opening new markets.  Or improving operations–reducing costs, improving quality, improving productivity/efficiency.  It could be about implementing a new strategy that drives overall business growth.   It could be addressing problems and challenges in their operations.  Or addressing new opportunities.

Too often, our focus is not on the customer journey–just the part of the journey we are interested in–the buying part.

Inevitably, this creates a challenge in our ability to connect effectively with the customer.  We are supposed to be focused on what they are trying to achieve, but we keep translating that focus into the part we are interested in.  Stated differently, their task is not just buying, it goes far beyond this.  This separation causes a disconnection between what we do and what our customers need to do/achieve.

The more we focus on buying, or even more narrowly, selling, the less helpful we are to what the customer is trying to achieve.

What do we do about this?  Some thoughts:

  1. Recognizing buying is just part of the customer journey, is an important first step.  Understanding the customer’s task is far broader and trying to understand those tasks is important in aligning with what the customer is trying to achieve.  Making sure the customer understands we recognize this difference is a great first step (Empathy is always helpful.)
  2. Understanding the importance of the buying part of the journey, relative to the rest of the journey, helps us figure out where we can be helpful and where we can’t contribute.
    1. In some cases, for example a new Financial Management system, a new Machine Tool, the buying part of the journey may be a significant part of what they are trying to do.  We can play a major role in the success of their project.
    2. In some cases, buying will only be a small part of what they are trying to do.  They may be implementing a major new business strategy, involving massive changes to their organization, operations, how they engage customers, and so forth.  Our solution may only address a small part of the strategy.  We may, further, be unqualified in addressing the broader parts of their journey.  Trying to help them, where we are not qualified to help, causes more damage.  We need to define, with the customer, where we can play, and how we can be most helpful in that part in which we can contribute.  And then we need to back out on the areas in which we cannot contribute.
    3. We need to recognize the overall project may involve a number of disparate buying journeys.  For example, a customer building a new plant has numerous buying journeys–getting the land, building the facility, putting in the manufacturing lines, staffing the plant, deciding on the software that will be used, looking at who will supply meals in the cafeteria, deciding who will supply soap and toilet paper in the bathrooms……  Some of these are major buying decisions, some are simpler, but these are tasks in the customer journey and things they need to get done to achieve their goal.  Not recognizing that we are just one part in what they are trying to do demonstrates our lack of understanding of their goals and causes us to be unaligned with the customer task.
    4. In all of these variations, perhaps the area in which we can be most helpful, is that whatever part of their journey is focused on buying what we sell, making that part of their journey as simple as possible, creates tremendous value to the customer.  It removes one of many challenges they face, enabling them to more effectively complete everything else in their project.
  3. Understanding we fit in their overall priorities and project is important for another key reason.  While we may be successful in the part of the journey that involves our solutions, if they aren’t successful with their entire project–we may never get the business.  The most visible example of this is the “embedded product sale.”  We may sell components of a larger product the customer is trying to bring to market.  The customer may choose our products as part of their project—but they may later decide to cancel the overall project.  While we “won” the business, we’ve ended up getting nothing out of this.  Stated differently, there are a lot of things that impact our ability to get an order, than just having them select our products/services.  We need to understand this and its impact on our ability to achieve our goals.
  4. We talk, sometimes arrogantly, about taking control of the process–but in reality as we look at the entire customer journey and how small the buying journey may be as a part of the overall project, there is really very little that is actually something we can “control.”

At this point, you may be throwing up your hands, thinking, “What do we do, how do we connect with the customer, how do we help them with those parts of their project where we can be helpful?  How do we, at the same time, achieve our goals?”

I think there are some bright spots in this, perhaps, bleak picture:

  1. Demonstrating our recognition of the customer’s tasks and the project they are undertaking-beyond just buying, demonstrates great understanding and more effectively aligns us with the customer.  They don’t expect us to solve things that are outside our capabilities, but they want us to understand their task is more than a buying journey.
  2. Always helping the customer “connect the dots” between what we contribute and the customer’s larger “job to be done,” is critical.  After all, the customer must complete the whole project, including the buying part, to achieve success.  Remember, “for the loss of a horseshoe, a kingdom was lost.”  Even if we are the “horseshoe,” we play a critical part in the customer’s success, we can’t forget this or let them forget this.
  3. Recognizing that buying is just a part of what they are doing, everything we can do to make buying simpler, the more we free them up to focus on the success of the rest of their project.  That creates huge value for the customer.

Customers don’t buy just to buy.  They buy as part of an overall effort to achieve their objectives/goals/project success.

If we focus just on the buying journey, we are not maximizing our ability to connect with the customer and create value with them.


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Sep 4 18

Are You Removing Roadblocks For Your People?

by David Brock

I was sitting in a series of reviews.  Sales people were walking through their pipelines, key deals and other issues.  The team was struggling to make their numbers.

Of course, there were a number of execution issues, with each sales person, there were challenges they had created for themselves.  Chasing poorly qualified deals, not executing the strongest deal strategies, poor planning……

Their manager coached people on various areas, all focused on improving their abilities to execute.  As one would expect, each person needed different coaching.

But through the reviews, there two or three consistent themes that arose.  There were some roadblocks, created by their company, impacting the ability of the sales people to perform.  As we concluded the reviews, I spoke to the manager about these roadblocks.  We had seen similar things, each expressed in a different way by the sales team.  But it was clear that things the company was doing (or not doing) were impacting the ability of the sales people to perform.

This is very common.  Our people’s performance is impacted not just by how they execute, but by things the company does or doesn’t do, purposefully or not.

No amount of coaching will eliminate these problems because they aren’t problems with our people, but problems we create for them.

It’s important to understand these roadblocks to performance and to do everything possible to eliminate them.

Increasingly, we are seeing internal complexity of our organizations becoming an issue impacting sales performance.  Ironically, often in trying to be helpful to our sales people, we actually make it more difficult for them.  These are roadblocks to performance.

Or problems in other parts of the organization–quality, delivery, customer service–it can be anything.  But these problems become barriers to our people’s performance.

Or we’ve put processes, systems, approvals, or other things important to the business, but things which impact the ability of our people to perform at the highest levels possible.

Or it could be the absence of training, tools, support…..

Roadblocks can take any form.  But when we see them impacting our sales people, it’s our job to do what we can to remove or reduce them.

Are you identifying roadblocks for your people and doing everything you can to eliminate or reduce them?


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