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When The Going Gets Tough

by David Brock on June 13th, 2012

We’re about to enter the second half of the year.  People are looking at their pipeline’s and results to date, too often seeing a big gap in their ability to meet the full year’s numbers.  Panic is starting to set in, “We have to make the numbers!”

Too often, as people rush to “fix” the problem, they do the wrong things, unwittingly making things worse.  It’s not unusual to see a frenzy of internal meetings to assess the problem and fix it.  It’s important to determine what the underlying problem is, but too often, these are “all hands,” frenzied, hand wringing efforts.  Too often, they consume too much time of front line sales people and managers–who should be increasing the time they spend with customers.

Another knee jerk reaction is the frenzy of initiatives.  Everyone, well intended, has ideas and initiatives.  They deluge the sales force with new things, “here’s a great program to overcome the sales problem,”  “we’ve done this promotion,” and so on.  Sales people struggle to understand then apply these initiatives.

Finally, there’s the mistaken view that cranking up activities and speed will solve the problem.  Make more calls, prospect more, do more demos, do more proposals.  “We have to double our efforts!”

All of this is usually accompanied by executives running around, waving their hands, cheering people on or issuing threats.

Usually, all these do is divert focus, confuse the sales people, and potentially confuse or aggravate customers who end up being the victims of all these initiatives.

Here are some thoughts to address this performance issue:

  1. Slow down, take the time to think, analyze and focus.  We have to increase the intensity of focus and purposefulness.
  2. Clean the funnel!  Too often, in times like this, the quality of the pipeline erodes tremendously.  People are overly optimistic, to the point of wishful thinking.  Get all the garbage out of the funnel.  Regardless how bad it may look afterwards, at least now you can start to understand and isolate problems.  Do you have good opportunities that are stalled–customers are slowing their decision-making?  Do you have a good volume of opportunities or do you need to bring in more?  Do you have the right flow for those that are qualified?  Facing reality in the funnel, regardless how bad that reality is, forces you to identify the real problems.
  3. Tighten your qualification criteria, viciously disqualify opportunities that are not in your sweet spot.  This runs counter to what people usually do, but you need to focus on finding the highest quality opportunities, resisting the temptation to chase “quantity.”
  4. Identify and prioritize the problems.  Stalled deals, insufficient deals, increasing losses to competition, sales force skills, execution problems?  Usually, there are a number of problems that result in this performance gap.  Focus on the highest priority problem only!  Change is always difficult, change under extreme pressure for results is more difficult.  Trying to solve too many problems creates confusion and de-focuses people.  Focus the entire team on thie highest priority problem!  Identify the tactics, steps and activities to solve that problem.  Execute it, with intensity, across the entire organization.  Measure progress weekly, report results, report successes people are having so that others can emulate them.
  5. Radically simplify the path to solutions.  The solution and actions expected of the team have to be dirt simple!  Complex, convoluted strategies will fail.  The answer is always straightforward.  While it will not be easy to execute, make it as simple as possible.  Eliminate anything that’s a distraction, reduce the activities to the critical few.  Don’t waste time on the unnecessary.
  6. Leverage the power of the entire organization!  Too often, it becomes, “every person for themselves.”  It’s impossible to make progress in a systematic manner with everyone doing their own thing, albeit well intended.  To some degree it’s a forced march, but get everyone on the same page executing in solving the same issue.  Learn from each other, reinforce each other.
  7. Don’t get distracted.  There will always be distractions.  You may see some success in unrelated areas.  It’s important to understand this, but be careful about changing course, chasing this recent success.  You may see competitors having success in areas and may be tempted to follow.  There is no end to “executive value add” from other parts of the organization.  If you have done the right job in the first place, you have identified the most critical, systemic issues.  Until you see evidence, through execution of the programs you have identified, that you are wrong, don’t abandon course.  You have to believe you have identified the highest priority problem, that you have identified the right corrective actions, and you have to be committed to executing them!
  8. Seek compression in everything.  Compress the cycle as much as possible.  Leverage your sales process (if you don’t have a strong sales process, the problem becomes virtually unsolvable), see how many activities you can compress into one sales call.  Set stretch goals for each sales call or meeting, accomplishing more in fewer calls.
  9. It is not business as usual!  The tempo and cadence of the organization has to increase.  There is a difference between tempo/cadence and wild activity.  Tempo/Cadence is purposeful, it is focused and disciplined.  There is no frenzy of meetings and activity.  In fact, there is a calmness and quiet but intense focus on execution.
  10. Think out of the box.  Be creative, think of new approaches.  At the same time, don’t be dissuaded by “We tried that before and it didn’t work.”  Look at everything.  Don’t let your old “rules” confine you.  Are there things you can do differently?  Are there simple creative ideas that can help.
  11. Execute daily, don’t give up!  If you have completed everything in the first problem, move to the second.  Keep going and don’t stop until January 2!

Later, be sure to look at what you have done.  Assess what worked, what didn’t work.  Incorporate the things that worked into your standard processes and strategies.  The problem that got you into this performance gap in the first place are likely to occur again.  Seek to prevent them by learning from your experience over the next six months.

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