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Oct 4 18

There Is No “Playbook” For Buying!

by David Brock

Playbooks are big.  There are lots of tools and never ending content around playbooks for marketing and sales.  Inevitably, these playbooks are intended to guide us through our marketing and sales processes–providing us relevant questions and content to move the customer through their buying process.

Every playbook I’ve seen is very linear in its approach–start at the beginning of the customer buying process, then go sequentially

Classically, we have always thought of buying as a linear process:  Define a problem or opportunity to be addressed, identify needs/, goals, assess alternatives to meeting those needs/goals, make a decision, implement.  We map critical buying activities, informational needs, decisions, exit criteria for each stage of the buying process.  All to help provide the customer a roadmap through this linear process.

This is done in the spirit of being helpful, and facilitating the in an orderly, effective, and efficient navigation through this process.

We align our own marketing and sales activities to this buying process with the intent of creating value for customers as they navigate the process and to maximize our ability to influence their decisions about the solutions they choose.  We optimize our own organizations around this model–creating awareness, driving demand, creating MQLs which, hopefully, SDRs convert to SALs passing them on to AEs to qualify, discover, propose, and close.

We develop playbooks and battlecards to help us navigate this buying and selling process.  We provide roadmaps as some form of “customer playbook” to help them navigate their process, addressing the issues we think they should address.

All vert logical, straightforward, and focused on helping customers, marketing, sales converge on a decision in very predictable ways.

But is that really how buyers buy?

The more we understand the buying journey, the more we understand it isn’t that logical flow.  Some years ago, Hank Barnes describe it a “Squishy,” (I still think that’s an apt description).  More current Gartner research shows it as chaotic.

Each situation is different.

It proceeds in stops and starts.

It circles back on itself.

Players change.

Priorities and requirements change.

It may be budgeted, or it may also be an budgeted initiative.

Goals/objectives change.

It starts and stops….

Through the process, customers are seeking information, not only about products, but what others have done, how others have approached similar problems, trends/issues, events that impact what they are trying to do.

There is no “single source” of information they rely on, they leverage multiple information channels simultaneously–web sites, sales people, experts, peers, and others.

In the end, the majority of buying processes end in no decision made–less because the customer can’t select a solution, more because they can’t align themselves around a work plan or navigate the buying process.

And then it may start again–perhaps a few months or a few years later.

As one reflects on this “journey,” some key ideas come to mind.

Our marketing/sales playbooks focus on what we’d like to see happen, but aren’t aligned with what really is happening.

Our selling processes tend to assume a linear buying flow, so our selling processes need to be tuned to reflect the chaotic flow of the buying journey.

More importantly, this chaotic flow is not what the customer wants to happen, it’s more a reflection of the internal complexities and dynamics that exist within the customer’s own organization.

This presents us a huge opportunity.  How can we help the customer reduce the complexity, simplifying what they are trying to achieve?  How do we help them simplify and navigate this process more successfully?  What can we do to help them succeed–because if they don’t succeed, we never will.

This requires us to develop new skills and capabilities.  Critical thinking/problem solving skills–to understand and help the customer make sense of what’s happening and how to proceed.  Project management, facilitation skills to help the customer navigate the complexity of their organizations and their “process.”  Curiosity to understand what’s happening and why, to understand the issues that serve as roadblocks to the customer’s ability to make progress.  Agility/nimbleness/flexibility–to be able to adapt to where the customer is, without being constrained by our own views of the process.

There is not playbook for buying, consequently, we must rethink our own playbooks, if we are to help our customers succeed.


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Oct 1 18

Sales And Sales Management Is Broken

by David Brock

I have to admit being consumed with CSO Insights latest Sales Performance Report.  If you haven’t had the opportunity to read it, make sure you take the time to download and study it.  It’s filled with fascinating analysis, each chart presents huge opportunities for performance improvement.

The chart I keep coming back to is their 2018 SRP Matrix, reproduced below:

Usually, as we look at charts like this, we focus on comparing Level 1, Level 2, Level 3 performances, perhaps being somewhat self-congratulatory it we are at a Level 3.  There are profound differences between poor performers and top performers in the percent of people making quota and win rates of forecast deals.

Ironically, the difference in poor performers and top performers in making plan is probably within the boundary of survey error, even if it isn’t the difference is only 2.1%.

But, as one looks at the data, one can’t help being struck by the huge wastes built into selling.  It begs the the question, “Would we tolerate the same level of waste or non performance in any other part of the organization?”  Clearly, the answer is, “Absolutely not!”  But why do we let this happen in sales (and my guess in marketing.)?

Complex sales is unlikely to be as predictive (even with AI) as a manufacturing process.  There are just to many opportunities for variance that are outside the control of sales.

But that’s not an excuse for the level of “waste” we see in sales.

Let’s focus our discussion on Level 2 performance–since that’s right in the middle and since the majority of organizations fall into that performance level.  But the same discussion applies to Levels 1 and 3.

We see, organizationally, most of these organizations are actually making their overall goal.  94% is a very high level!

But as we go deeper, that attainment is a result of only 54% of sales people making or exceeding their own goals.  This is a little difficult to assess, part of it is impacted by the games managers play in setting quotas.  A certain amount of over-assignment is necessary, we know 100% of people won’t make their individual goals, but too often, the numbers are arbitrary or way too high.  But beyond that, there are other challenges.  What’s happening with the other 46%?  Why are so many not making their goals?

Imagine the overall revenue growth and performance improvement we would get if we could get more of them meeting their goals?  While 94% are meeting their goals, one could/should argue they are dramatically underperforming the potential, they should be over-achieving their goals.

Alternatively, if we are in a low/slow growth market, we could restructure to reduce what we are spending on selling–accomplishing the same results with fewer people, at significantly less cost.

But then we drill deeper into the data.  We win only 46.2% of forecast deals!  Are you as astounded as me?  That’s forecast deals!  These are deals well into the buying/selling process.  They are deals that sales people and sales managers have high certainty about they will be won–enough to commit to a forecast!  How are we so far off?  53.8% of the deals we are “certain” we win, we actually lose or the customer doesn’t reach a decision.

Piling on, these are only the deals we forecast we will win.  But then there are all the other deals that we work, that we compete on, that we invest our time on.  These, probably, represent the majority of sales time and resources, since what we forecast is a small part of what we compete in.

Imagine the sheer amount of resource dedicated to failure.  Imagine either harnessing that resource to be more successful, or in the least balancing our spending on selling.

It seems that trying to understand what causes these huge failure rates and massive overspending should be the focus of management.  We should be asking ourselves:

Why are we making plan, yet 46% of our people aren’t?  What can we do do reduce that number?  What would our performance and growth be if rather than accepting 54% of our people making plan, we raised it to 75%?  What would that mean to our investors and shareholders?  What would that mean to our market share?

Why are we actually winning only 46.2% of our forecast deals?  What happens to the 53.8% of the deals we thought we were going to win, but didn’t?  How can we reduce this number?  How do we win more of what we forecast?

Finding the answers to these questions  can lead us into profound improvements in sales performance and productivity.

This analysis is tough, it requires deep understanding of what our people are actually doing and where we can improve performance.  It means both sales managers, sales ops, and sales enablement need to do deep analysis.

Instead of doing this analysis, trying to assess these performance gaps and what causes them, instead, we focus on doing more.  We accept these performance levels as though they are fundamental laws of physics.  Simplistically, to reach higher levels of sales, we simply have to do more of everything that we are currently doing—not look at how we do it much better.

We drive for increased activity levels—more emails, more calls, more meetings.  We drive for more content, more leads, more tools.  If doing X critical activities produces certain results, the thought is, to increase results by 20%, we simply increase X activities by 20%.

We don’t assess non-performance or non performers.  The data shows only 5.4% of our sales turnover is involuntary or performance related.  But if we are performing so poorly, might it be that a much larger number of our people aren’t performing?

I don’t understand the focus on more and the absence of focus on performance.

Based on this data, it appears we are under exploiting what we already have.  It seems if we just do better at what we already are doing, we have massive opportunity for performance improvement, growth, and over-attainment.

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Sep 30 18

“Take Your Eyes Off The Ball”

by David Brock

We all know the importance of focus, of eliminating distractions.  I’ve written about it in this blog.  Book after book, blog posts all preach the concepts of disciplined focus, minimizing distraction, keeping our eyes on our goals, keeping our eyes on the ball.

It’s very important, too few people do this–generally top performers are viciously focused.

But sometimes this focus is limiting, we become prisoners of our own experiences.

Sometimes, we gain new perspectives, we get new ideas, we consider alternatives we might never have considered when we look at things completely outside what we normally do.

Studying an industry or market completely different—and distant from the markets you normally focus on can give us new ideas to consider applying to what we do.

Some years ago, I facilitated an “innovation” workshop between two disparate groups.  One group came out the the semiconductor industry, they sat on one side of the table in their blue shirts/khakis.  The other group was in an extreme sports business, they sat at the other side of the table, wearing torn T-shirts, motorcycle leathers, full sleeves of tattoos, and the visible piercings were in interesting places.

As we started, each side discussed some of the things they did in their businesses, some things they did to innovate, and a variety of approaches to engaging customers, learning and engaging customers.

As the conversations progressed, each side learned huge things from the other.  What was common and standard practice for the extreme sports folks, was new and innovative to the semiconductor team–and vice versa.

Each group found new ideas to innovate simply by adopting what had been common practice in a distant industry and adapting it for their own organization.  I have called this “artful plagiarism.”

There are other things we can do to broaden our perspectives, reading materials far outside what we normally read.  If you normally read books on sales/marketing; try reading history, philosophy, great works of literature.  Alternatively, next time you are about to jump on an airplane, go to the newsstand and pick up 2-3 magazines you would never read.

Go to a trade show or conference that’s not directly related to your company or your job.

When you are on the road/traveling, take a few hours and do something different–go to a museum or gallery, understand the history of the place you are visiting.

In projects within your own company/organization, invite people from different functions to participate.

In addition to learning things new, broadening our perspectives, finding new ideas in non-traditional places—I’ve found it a huge amount of fun and source of energy.

Sometimes, perhaps in a disciplined and structured way, it’s good to take your eyes of the goal.  We might find new ways of achieving them.


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Sep 28 18

Insist On The Highest Standards

by David Brock

Too often, as I work with organizations, teams, and individual, I find people “settling.”  By that, I mean, there seems to be some sort of fatalistic attitude or closed mindset that keeps them from doing their very best and seeking the very best from everyone around them.

We see it manifested in all sorts of ways:

Sales people not taking the time to prepare or research, because they are too busy.

Focusing more on what we do, than our customers’ business challenges because it’s too tough to understand what they care about.

Pitching, rather than engaging in deep conversations because that’s too tough.

Chasing bad quality deals, knowing our probability of closing them is lower than if we focused on our ICP.

Not using the sales process or developing a strong deal strategy because it requires too much work/thought.

Not hiring the best, but settling on what we get just to fill an open position.

Not coaching and developing your people because it takes too much time and is often frustrating.

Not expecting the best of your people.

Not addressing performance issues.

Sloppiness around meeting commitments–even things like being on time.

Constantly seeking short cuts or what’s easy (as opposed to simplifying).

Always finding excuses or assigning blame.

….and the list can go on.

Then, every once in a while, I run across an individual, team, or an organization that’s different.

They do the hard work.

They don’t take short cuts,

They are constantly learning and trying to improve.

They accept responsibility.

These people/organizations are, by no means, perfect.  Like all of us, they have successes and failures.  They tend to have more successes than failures, primarily because they learn from each experience and constantly seek to improve.  They tend to be top performers and achieve top performance more often than others.

Above all, the insist on the highest standards.  Personal, team, and organizational.  They have their own internal compasses that drive them to achieve, to be the best, to not compromise/settle in performance.  They have high expectations of themselves and everyone around them.

Interestingly, these high expectations tend to be contagious–they raise the standards of everyone around them.

As we think about how we improve our own performance and that of our organizations, perhaps the first step is simple, it’s all about constantly seeking and insisting on the highest possible standards in everything we do.  Seems like everything else sorts itself out.


Afterword:  While I write this, I’m listening to the news, dismayed by the terrible examples set by leaders in both our political parties, it seems few  have high standards of personal performance.  It’s a terrible example for everyone in the country and for those in other countries watching how our leaders perform.


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