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May 7 21

What Is Your Development Plan For Your People?

by David Brock

My friend, Tibor Shanto, and I were talking this morning. He asked me a fascinating question, “Why don’t managers have a development plan or roadmap for developing the capabilities and performance of their people?”

The question caused me to pause and reflect. Very few managers sit down with their people and develop a plan to help them learn, grow, and contribute at higher levels. Mostly, if managers are coaching performance at all, it’s tactically oriented; how do we win this deal, how do we fill the pipeline, what are you doing in this next call…..?

But we know, if we are going to maximize performance, if we are going to achieve our quarterly and annual goals, we have to have a longer perspective than just dealing with what is happening now. We have to have a plan, with our people, to grow them and maximize their performance.

As I reflected, I realized, as managers we would find it unacceptable for our people not to have account plans for their key accounts. It would be unacceptable for them not to have territory plans, maximizing the growth within their territories. We invest millions in software tools to help do these things, we invest additional millions in training to do these things, we invest thousands of person hours in account and territory planning.

We know that to maximize our performance in territories and accounts, we need to develop and execute plans for what we will be doing with them over the next year or more. When I was responsible for major accounts, I would make my account planning process a collaborative process with my customers. We would sit down periodically through the year thinking about what we could accomplish together. We would review what we had accomplished, based on our previous sessions. We looked at what we had missed. We looked at what more we might do.

My customers appreciated this, because they knew we were doing this to focus on the areas in which we might be most helpful to them. It gave us the opportunity to think about how we worked together to help each of us achieve our goals.

All of us know how important this process is. As managers, we know these are important to proactively driving growth, both in our accounts and our territories. Any sales person not doing this would immediately be put on a performance improvement plan.

But let’s shift our perspective.

How many managers are going through a similar process with each of their people? How many managers have developed a plan to maximize the performance and potential of each person on the team?

The process is actually very similar to the account planning process. We identify goals and priorities for the year. We identify strengths and weaknesses. We look at what the sales person want to achieve in their performance and personal growth. We look at roadblocks to achieving these things. We help our people identify things they may not have thought of before. We help them learn, grow, and change.

Like our accounts, we have shared objectives with our people. We need them to perform at certain levels, they have goals and objectives for their own achievement.

So think about it.

What is your “territory plan” for your team? What are you doing to maximize the performance and growth of your team?

What is your “account plan” with each person on your team? What are you doing to maximize their growth and performance through the year and into the future?

Can we be any less accountable for maximizing the potential of our teams and people than our expectations of our people in their accounts/territories?

May 6 21

“Selling Without Feeling ‘Salesy'”

by David Brock

I just had a few minutes free time and skimmed Clubhouse to see if there was a discussion I might listen to. I stumble on one entitled “Selling Without Feeling ‘Salesy'” I didn’t listen to it, but it struck a nerve.

We hear that all the time, expressed both by sellers and buyers. (As a side note, we never hear buyers of being too “Buyersy.”)

The salesy terminology conjures up the worst images, including the sleazy manipulative stereotypes portrayed in movies like the Wolf of Wall Street, Boiler Room, Glengarry Glenross, Wall Street, or Cadillac Man. We immediately think of sales people who develop relationships, not because they value the relationship, but they can manipulate the individual to get a sale. That back slapping, joke telling person feigning interest, just to get some of your money. We think of all the slimy techniques–methods of qualifying or manipulating a person, questioning/objection handling/closing techniques. People focused not on the value they create with the customer but only on the commissions they will get from the PO (Hmm, am I starting to hit close to home?)

Buyers and sellers alike detest the classic stereotypes. We laugh at them, congratulating ourselves that we are above these techniques.

But now we look at buyer analysis and their attitudes of sales people. They have an evolving definition of being too salesy. Some of things include:

  • Not understanding our business, problems, opportunities.
  • Focused only on their products, yet not knowing the products and how they help the customers.
  • Wasting buyer time, creating no value.
  • Being more focused on closing the order than customer success.

We see customers preferring other channels of buying, preferring to minimize the involvement of sales people. The whole concept of the digital buying journey dominates their buying preference.

Somehow the buyers think sales people—while not demonstrating the sleazy behaviors we see in the movies—they are still too salesy, not being helpful to customers. Their focus is still about their products and getting the PO. They don’t understand the customer.

So how do we achieve our own goals, without being too salesy?

I think it’s the recognition that the only way we sell something is through helping the customer achieve their goal. If we focus our efforts on helping them understand what they want to achieve, how they can most effectively achieve it, or how they can achieve success, if we make it all about them; we can also achieve our goals.

If we genuinely care for the customer we build relationships that are deeper than a PO.

Some of you may think, “But we still have to accomplish our goals, I don’t want to waste my time.” But if we are focused on the right opportunities. If we focus on our ICPs and customers who need and want our help, our interests are aligned. It’s when we get out of that, focusing on the wrong opportunities or trying to convince a customer that has no need or doesn’t want our help, then we become “salesy,” at least from the customer point of view.

Regardless of how we sell, if our highest priority is getting the order when we need the order, when when our goals and interest supercede the customers, then we become too salesy.

Are you salesy or are you creating differentiated value with your customers?

May 6 21

“Tell Us Your Top Business Challenge”

by David Brock

A very large telecom company sent me this marketing email. It was one of those, “Dear Occupant Or Current Resident” emails.

The subject line was “Tell us your top business challenge.” The message continued, “Our experts want to help your business thrive.” There were links to resources about their products. Then the message went on, “It’s your turn to tell us what you want to know. [Our High Speed Networking Product]] can help you find the right solutions to your business challenges.” More links to product pitches. The rest of the note was on their expertise in solving business problems and links to their products. So without even responding to the question, Tell us your top business challenge, they were presenting solutions.

I suspect this campaign was inflicted on 10’s of thousands of small business owners. I suspect dozens of marketing people spent a lot of time embedding as many product links as they could into this email, with all the appropriate tracking id’s that would drive still further emails.

There was a time when I might have thought, “It’s an OK campaign, not great, maybe a ‘C +.'”

As you read this, you probably can think of something similar you have done, whether it’s an email campaign or a prospecting call. We’re tempted to think, it’s not bad, we are focusing on learning the business issues and challenges…..

But we can’t resist getting into what we sell as a solution to whatever business challenge our customers have. In this prospecting email, apparently very high speed internet and related services are the solutions to every business problem customers are likely to have. I suppose, at the root of every product development problem, every manufacturing or logistics problem, every customer experience problem, every business strategy issues, financing/cashflow, revenue generation problem is “high speed internet.”

The analogy is, “if all you sell is hammers, every problem begins to look like a nail.”

But the problem with this prospecting email is far deeper. Our customers don’t need help on the business challenges they are aware of. If they have identified business challenges, presumably they are doing something about them. They may have them solved–in which case they are probably not business challenges. Alternatively, they are working on solving them and are possibly way down a path to developing and implementing a solution.

That’s the problem with asking our customers to tell us their business problems and challenges. If they can identify them, they already know what they are doing to solve them. If they have a problem that requires them to buy some products or services, they probably have alternatives they are considering. So we create no value in having them talk about something they are already addressing.

Stated differently, it makes absolutely no sense to think our customers have identified problems and business challenges, but are choosing to do nothing about them. It makes no sense to think they are waiting around for some cleverly worded email or prospecting call asking to a vendor about their problems.

It’s the problems, challenges, opportunities our customers are unaware of that are the biggest issues. They may be blind to something they are doing wrong. They may not be aware there is a better way. They may not be aware of what others are doing which might threaten them.

We create greater value, consequently greater opportunity for both the customer and us, when we come to them with insights, observations or ideas. We help them improve, change, grow, when we come to them with ideas to help them think differently, to help them learn, and help incite them to change.

These needn’t be earthshaking changes or observations, we don’t need to solve the business version of world peace, hunger, or even Covid.

They can be relatively simple observations:

  • “I’ve noticed you doing things this way…. Have you ever considered looking at doing it this way….?” The first time I ever did that, I ended up selling a $60M project that had not been budgeted, but became so important they found the money.
  • Alternatively, “We are seeing a lot of other organizations in your markets are starting to do this….. How does that impact you? Have you ever thought of doing this….?”
  • Or, “We are seeing these trends in the markets you address….. Are you seeing them as well? How do they impact you? What if you could do this to address them?”
  • ….and on and on…..

The problem with this approach, the problem with getting customer to think differently, is we have to have a pretty deep understanding of them, their businesses, their competition, their markets. We have to be able to talk to them about these issues, why they might change, how they could change, what’s involved, what the risks might be and how we can help them.

And too often, we don’t know that. We leave the heavy lifting to the customer–to figure out that they need to change, to figure out what that change might entail, to identify potential partners/solutions to help them make that change.

Asking the customer to tell you their business problems is pure laziness, sloppy selling and marketing. And getting the customer to tell you about them wastes their time—they are already in the process of solving them and you are just too late.

What are you doing to help your customer discover something new, learn, grow, rethink what they are doing or where they are going?

May 5 21

Figuring Out Networking

by David Brock

“Networking” is critical for all of us. Both in developing new professional and business relationships, and socially, just getting to know more and different people. We can learn so much new by networking and developing relationships with others.

Networking has always been a bit of a challenge to me, since I’m naturally a bit shy and introverted. Yeah, I know that may surprise a lot of you, but it’s an unnatural act for me to get out and proactively build relationships. Since it’s so important, I continue to push myself and learn more about how to become more comfortable in networking, and building relationships.

In the “old days,” it was primarily F2F. Professionally, we’d meet people at our customers, at events, trade shows and other professional services events. I remember always trying to find a way to eat lunch at the cafeterias of my customers. It was a great way to meet more people and learn. And then meeting after work for a drink. I loved going to conferences and trade shows. Not only could I learn a lot new, but I could dramatically expand my network. But, being shy, it always was a bit of a struggle walking up to someone and introducing myself (Yeah, in case you are wondering, I had the same struggle with dating. Fortunately, some very kind women took pity on me and introduced themselves. But that’s a Facebook post.)

In the past 20 years, we’ve seen the physical networking being complemented, perhaps even displaced, by the networking platforms. Platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Clubhouse, and others extend our ability to network and build relationships with people we might not normally meet.

But, because of my shyness, I’m always trying to learn and develop.

So I was intrigued to recently receive a “pitch” from someone on this very topic. Someone reached out to me on LinkedIn, promoting his new networking book, offering me a free chapter and wanting me to promote the book (Ironically, despite my introversion, I’ve built a high quality network where people may be interested in something I promote–though I’m still learning).

As I looked at his pitch, I thought, “Let me see how he has networked with me and built our relationship. Since he is an expert, surely I can learn something from how he was worked with me.” As an aside, regular readers will know that I always look at how I am being sold to, particularly for those selling products or services purported to make me a better seller. I figure they must practice what they preach/sell, so examining how I am sold to is a great way to test their approaches and whether I should learn more.

So I sought to understand how this expert leveraged networking tools to “network” with me. I discovered the following:

  1. He originally reached out to connect with me on LinkedIn, on August 23, 2015. There was no note, just a connection request. But that’s no different than 90% of the invitations I get. I’m wondering, since he is an expert, this must be a best practice. I always send a personalized note to each person I want to connect with, offering a reason about what interests me about them. I suppose this must be a bad practice since this expert didn’t use it. So perhaps I should reconsider these intro notes and just send a connection request.
  2. When I accepted his invitation, I sent a thank you note. That’s always one of my practices. Often, it stimulates a discussion or exchange a this new connection, at least a thumbs up. I didn’t get a response. At the time, I didn’t think anything of it, but now, in retrospect, perhaps thank you responses are not great networking practices. (See how much I learned over 5 years ago without even knowing it–sometimes it takes time for these lessons to sink in.)
  3. I hadn’t heard anything from this expert in the intervening 5+ years. Never a like, comment, or anything on my posts. Never a message. I’m starting to rethink my networking strategies. I’ve always thought interesting content, comments, discussions, and sharing were important in building relationships. Perhaps I’m wrong.
  4. Yesterday, for the first time since August of 2015, I get a message from this networking expert. It’s quite long, it’s announcing his new book on effective networking for introverts. There’s the bragging about it being a best seller. Then he spends some time bragging about his previous best seller. Then offers me the privilege of getting a free chapter. Everything in the note was about him and getting me to do something for him. He did, in the Postscript, asked how I was doing. Here’s another important lesson I’ve discerned based on how he networks. “Networking is all about us and what we can get others to do for us.” I realized, I’ve been so misguided in my networking. I always viewed networking (physical and virtual) as getting to know people, developing relationships, learning from each other, finding ways to help others, and creating value in the relationship. I hadn’t realized how misguided I was.
  5. I sent a response—it would have been impolite and betrayed the “relationship,” if I hadn’t. I thanked him for the privilege of being able to get a free chapter, but passed. He did send a response thanking me for letting him know. It confused me a little, I guess at some point in networking, we are supposed to make it about 2 way communication.
  6. Finally, this morning, I made a surprising discovery about effective networking. Something I had never realized and have gotten so wrong. This networking expert, and “unfriended me.” We were no longer connected, he had apparently clicked on the “remove connection” link in LinkedIn. This was a stunning discovery for me. I hadn’t realized I had gotten things so wrong. Apparently, when the people you are networking with don’t buy what you are selling, you are supposed to abandon them, discontinue the relationship building. This was a shock. Perhaps this is what I’m getting wrong about building my networks. I’m tempted to write him an InMail (since we are no longer connected, I can’t send him a message), apologizing for all my mistakes in networking, but I’m a little shy.

It’s amazing, I learned so much in studying this networking expert’s networking relationship with me. Things I had all wrong about networking. It’s caused me to think, “What else am I doing wrong?” I’m actually tempted to buy his book–after all he’s the expert–and apparently in my networking experience with him, I’m doing everything wrong. I have learned a lot in our brief relationship, but apparently I have to learn so much more……

For we shy people and introverts, it’s such a struggle to learn how to network effectively. I’m thankful for what I have learned from this expert.

Afterword: For those of you not used to my perverse humor, realize my tongue is planted as deeply in my cheek as possible. I’m also “pretending” to be a little more naive than I really am. It’s stunning to see how “experts” actually execute that in which they claim expertise. I suppose a lesson is, buyer beware.