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Dec 2 20

“We Will Never Revert Back….”

by David Brock

The pandemic and associated economic disruption has forced all of us to reinvent how we work. Whether it’s within our own organizations, with customers, partners, or suppliers, everything has come up for grabs. We have had to rethink everything we do.

What’s really intriguing is the pandemic has provided a forcing function, driving us to make changes or rethink ours strategies and approaches–but they are things we should have done years ago, independent of the pandemic.

Somehow, success, “just good enough growth,” getting by, or cluelessness have stood in the way of changes that should have been made years ago.

But I find myself in conversations with buyers and sellers that are remarkable. They all have a common theme, “The pandemic has forced us to rethink things. It’s caused us to change our strategies–change how we buy, change how we engage solution providers, work with our supply chain, work internally.” I hear similar things from sales leaders, “The pandemic has forced us to change how we work internally, with our partners, and with our customers….”

But what comes next is really important. The conversations continue, “These are changes we should have made years ago. They make us better, more effective, more impactful……. We will never revert, we will move forward with these changes, even when things ‘get back to normal.'”

For example, we see many organizations adapting WFH as their standard mode of working. As a result they are reducing/redeploying their facilities investments. I’m seeing sales enablement organizations adapting new methods in training and development that are actually much more impactful than how they have worked in the past.

And we are seeing similar changes in how customers buy. They are adopting these changes, not because of limitations to F2F meetings with sales people, but because they have found more effective means of engaging with potential suppliers and solving their problems.

Sadly, many organizations see the pandemic as an interruption, waiting for things to get “back to normal.” Maybe they will reduce some F2F (internally, with customers, with suppliers), but they will revert to the practices and approaches they used before. They will not have leveraged the opportunity to reinvent and reimagine work and their businesses.

So, while it seems a little perverse, the silver lining behind the pandemic is that it has forced all of us to rethink and reimagine our businesses. For those who are taking advantage of it, it will change them for the better forever.

The next challenge is, how to we create an ongoing culture of rethinking and reimagining everything we do? How do we integrate this into the fabric of our businesses, not waiting for the next crisis that forces us to change.

Afterword: As a sidenote to sales leaders, I’ve noticed an interesting phenomena. We tend to talk about all the changes/adaptations we have made to more effectively sell and engage customers. But we forget the fact that customers are going through the same process. Customers are changing, in profound and rapid ways, how they buy. We need to pay attention to them and respond to what they are doing.

Dec 1 20

What’s The Difference Between Sales Enablement And School?

by David Brock

I just had an outstanding discussion with a very bright sales enablement team. They had been developing and delivering some of the best programs I’ve ever seen. Some of the sales people were eating up the programs–but they were the consistent top performers. The team was trying to figure out, “How do we have a bigger impact on the rest of the organization?”

We realized, the organization had gone through so many changes, the sales enablement programs had become disconnected with “jobs” of the sales people.

One of the managers on the call told this story, “I went to the university and got all sorts of training that was very powerful (he was getting a degree in computer science), the problem was, I had a lot of knowledge, but it didn’t help me much in doing my job. I had to learn how to apply these skills, training, and knowledge to the specific job I had. Even, more, I learned that job was different in each company I went to, so I had to relearn and adapt to each new situation”

We recognized that while they had developed really outstanding programs, these programs weren’t helping the sales people in doing their jobs–largely because their jobs had changed profoundly.

I think many sales enablement programs may face the same challenge. While they may provide outstanding skills, increase people’s knowledge in markets, products, sales approaches; it’s critical the people going through these programs understand how to apply what they are doing directly to their jobs.

For example, how we position our solutions will vary based on industry/markets. It will vary based on the roles/personas we are calling on. It will vary based on where the customer is in their buying process.

Effective prospecting will vary. What maximizes the success of a Global Account Manager in hunting in her account will be different from that which is most effective for territory managers.

How a SDR applies the selling process in their role will be slightly different from the work of a product specialist, and different from an account manager.

Our sales enablement programs aren’t just about providing knowledge and skills development, but how these should be applied in different contexts.

Having said that, not all the responsibility lies with sales enablement. Managers play a key role in helping the sales people apply these skills within their territories and within specific sales situations. Sales managers address that “last mile,” in helping sales people leverage these skills, tools, processes in specific sales situations.

Tools, systems, processes, training are not enough. To be effective as sales enablement teams and managers, we need to show how they are applied to the specific roles/jobs of each person in our organization.

Nov 30 20

Even Super-Heroes Take Some Time Off

by David Brock

I’m a great fan of the Marvel Comics Super-Heroes. Particularly, Iron Man, Spider-Man, Black Panther, Jessica Jones, and the collection of heroes in the Avengers.

They are, virtually, invincible, which is what makes the super-heroes. But they aren’t always on. They knew they had to take breaks, recovering from whatever their last world saving battle was, strategizing and thinking about the next. I admire their ability to think with the end in mind, not just reacting or responding to the next provocation, but having an end objective. They harness their energy for achieving their overall goal. They conserved their energy, picking and choosing their battles. When you looked at it, they are only in Super-Hero mode for a small part of their time.

Too often, I see people and managers behaving as if they are Super-Heroes, but since they aren’t they lack the wisdom, experience, and effectiveness of these Super-Heroes.

Often, everything becomes a world changing crisis, they are constantly going at 200 mph, moving from one battle to the other. I’m an extreme type A and extremely action oriented, but I get exhausted watching these sales and business super heroes.

And I watch as they exhaust themselves–both physically and mentally. And their effectiveness and impact diminishes. It’s almost like they have encountered their Kryptonite (Yeah, for purists I know Superman was a DC Comics Super Hero, but bear with me.). They don’t get close enough to kill them, but it diminishes their effectiveness.

Super-Heroes in our business lives are often inspirational. As a peer, they give us ideas that we might try for ourselves–perhaps not quite as effectively, but we can up our game.

Super-Heroes as leaders and managers can be inspirational. They create a vision, accompanied by a commitment and energy level that seems unbeatable.

At the same time, it’s hard to work with a Super-Hero. They, sometimes, have expectations that everyone perform as they do. They often end up “alone,” leaving their peers or people behind–when they need their support and collaboration. In the real world, just as in the comic world, Super-Heroes need the support of all the people around them.

They always seem to be going 200 mph and it’s hard to keep up with them. Or they are moving from task to task, idea to idea, constantly and we get lost or confused.

And these Super-Hero sales people and leaders see this, they re-double their efforts, often inadvertently, the create greater distance and more problems. Exactly the opposite of their intent.

Our real world sales people and leaders who try to behave like our comic book heroes can learn a lot from them.

Our comic book heroes:

  1. Always play the long game, focusing on their long term goals.
  2. They pick and choose their battles.
  3. They build support with their non-super-hero colleagues, knowing that even with their super powers, they can’t survive without this broader support.
  4. They take time to think, reflect, analyze. They recognize that even super-heroes make mistakes. They learn from their experience, applying these lessons to the future.
  5. They recognize their super-hero personas are exhausting for common people, so they adopt common people personas to connect more effectively with them (Tony Stark was still a little “extreme.”)
  6. And they took time to rest, they weren’t always on.

And in the words of Tony Stark/Iron Man, “What am I even tripping for? Everything is going to work out perfectly, the way it’s supposed to.”


Nov 29 20

Templates, Scripts, Context, and Variability

by David Brock

I read a fascinating discussion led by Jeff Molander on the Copy Culture.

Much of the discussion revolved around how we look at best practice, finding things to copy or emulate to improve the ability for others to achieve higher levels of performance.

We develop scripts and templates, that help us leverage those practices and experiences that have worked, minimizing those that don’t work.

We can gain great performance advantage by systematizing that which has been very effective, and consistently executing those best practices in a disciplined manner. The templates, scripts, methodologies, processes are all tools we leverage to do this. Much of what now passes for conversational intelligence, also helps us do this.

In the discussion, there were some great views suggesting the importance of context. What works well in one set of situations doesn’t work well in others. This can be a simple as the words we use. I remember a disastrous call I made some years ago. I was talking with the executives of an automotive company around design optimization around aerodynamics. The terms I used came from my work with aerospace companies, but the terms used for the exact same concepts were completely different in automotive design. As a result, I wasn’t “communicating.”

I had failed to adopt my concepts to a context meaningful to that audience (I did recover, once I recognized the problem).

So context is critical to the successful implementation of these templates, methods, and scripts. We must adapt these to each context we encounter.

In reality, we don’t just face contexts defined by industry–for example aerospace and automotive. Nor do we face contexts of function, for example, sales, engineering, manufacturing, marketing, finance, or HR. Nor do we face contexts of position, for example, executive, department head, manager, individual contributor.

Increasingly, we face “contexts of one.” That is each situation and the people involved in the situation are facing issues that are relatively unique to them. What one company faces and a successful solution will probably be different than what others in the same industry face. Their contexts are unique to their organization at a point in time.

Now, a key question arises. Does this mean our templates, scripts, processes, methodologies are useless? If we are, ultimately, dealing with “contexts of one,” what use are they?

The templates, scripts, processes, and methodologies are very powerful in helping us understand and address the situational/contextual differences. They give us a starting point–rather than starting from scratch and reinventing the wheel for every situation, they enable us to get 85% there. We just have to figure out the remaining 15%.

They give us the framework to recognize the contextual differences and adapt what we are doing to the specific context for this customer and this situation.

These enable us not only to be more efficient and effective, but they provide a meaningful/relevant starting point to engaging the customer. For example, customers want us to have some understanding of business, of problems, they face, and of how they might approach solving problems.

But they view that as the starting point, they need us to progress from that starting point to helping them understand and address their specific situation more effectively and efficiently.

Too often, however, our use of templates, scripts, processes, and methodologies, when implemented, don’t recognize this. Rather than looking at them as a starting point to be adapted to the context of one, we implement them as the endpoint. We are rigid in our implementation and execution. We apply them blindly and thought-lessly.

We see this all the time in scripts. People struggle when the responses are “off script,” we design the scripts without accounting for variability. Our templates fail us because we can’t figure out what to do with a square peg when our templates focus on round holes.

The fault lies in how we implement and teach people to leverage these tools. We teach them to apply them rigidly to every situation. Instead, we should teach people that these provide the starting point. They provide rough guidance about how to assess issues, problems and situations.

To be successful in applying them, we have to develop the critical thinking and problem solving skills of our people. We have to help them learn how to adapt the checklists, scripts, processes and methodologies to the specific situation.

The “copy mentality,” is very powerful. All these tools we develop, based on what has caused us to be successful in the past, enables us to solve problems more quickly, and far more effectively. But we have to learn how we adapt them to the situation we face.

Afterword: Actually, these are issues manufacturing and engineering have faced for decades. As mass manufacturing arose, the issue of reducing variability became key to manufacturing effectiveness. People like W. Edwards Deming, Kiichiro Toyoda, and Taiichi Ohno grappled with these issue decades ago. Concepts in just in time manufacturing, lean principles and their agile adaptations have been advancing the thinking around this for decades.

While much of their focus is on understanding and reducing variability, in selling and marketing, we have to recognize there are limits to how we can reduce variability. Rather, we must figure out how to apply these principles, with creativity, critical thinking, and sound collaborative problem solving—helping our customers solve their problems and achieve their goals.

We in sales and marketing can learn much from them. Several years ago, I wrote an eBook, What Sales Can Learn From Lean Manufacturing. That might be a starting point to help you figure things out. Just email me for a free copy.

Another terrific resource is Mass Customization, written by Joe Pine in 1992.