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Dec 12 17

Settling For Non-Performance

by David Brock

How often do we settle for non performance?

Recently, I was speaking with a colleague.  We were talking about a client of his.  The CEO was struggling to grow the company.  As they started discussing the people on the team, the CEO said, “I’ll never be able to attract A players, I have to settle for C players, with a few B’s.”

In another situation, I was speaking with an executive.  Win rates, business performance were tragically low and had been for some time.   I posed the question, “Do you have the right players on board?”  The response was, “We get the best we can find….”  I asked, “How do you know they will perform at the levels you need them to?”  “What coaching and development are you doing to address these performance issues?”

He looked at me quizzically, “We’re a small company, we can never get the best…..”  “I don’t have the time to work with everyone…”

Then there are those managers having people who are failing–not badly enough to merit being fired, but just marginal performers.  I ask, what are you doing with these people?  Too often, the response is, “They aren’t all going to be A players.  They aren’t doing that much harm, I don’t have the time to get them to improve….”

Finally, there’s the data.  I’m not sure the basis for this or even if it’s mythology, but manager after manager repeat it, “20% of our people produce 80% of our revenue.”  Too many managers seem to think of this as predestined, doing nothing about it.  Not surprisingly, other data shows roughly 55% of sales people achieve their annual goals.

Too often, fingers get pointed to the sales people—they are the problem, why don’t they perform?

In reality, this is a problem of management—bad management for those who accept these levels of performance.

It’s the job of managers to maximize the performance of each person on the team.

This starts with understanding what we need to drive top performance within our own organizations.

We staff our organizations with the best of the sales candidates we’ve interviewed, with no disciplined view of what we need to drive top performance.  We never think, about whether these people are the best for the job or just the best that we’ve interviewed.

We rush them through onboarding, then expect them to perform.

We don’t take the time to coach and develop our people–helping them achieve the highest levels of performance.

We ignore performance issues, it’s always unpleasant to talk to non performers, so as long as they aren’t hurting us too badly, we keep them.

We believe it’s better to have someone, anyone, in a role, rather than to have that position open.

The problem in these scenarios is easy to identify.  While the managers think it’s the people, the real problem is with management.

They simply aren’t doing their jobs!

Managers have the responsibility of maximizing the performance of each person on the team.  If there are problem performers, if we have the wrong people, if they aren’t doing the right things, it’s not the fault of the people, the problem rests with management.

When you have systemic performance issues in your organization, instead of saying, “What’s wrong with these people,” look in the mirror, inspect what you and your management team are doing.  Make sure you are clear about your strategies and goals, make sure you have the right people, make sure you are providing them the systems, tools, training to help hem perform, make sure you are coaching them, make sure you are addressing performance issues immediately.

Sales performance issues are management’s responsibility to identify and address.  If your team has performance issues, the solution starts with you.


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Dec 11 17

If People Buy From People, Why Are We Racing In The Opposite Direction?

by David Brock

In complex B2B buying, I believe the old maxim, “People buy from people,” is still highly relevant.  There’s probably a lot of data that supports this, but, anecdotally, let’s reflect:

Complex B2B buying decisions are most often consensus decisions.  Customers are getting other people in their organizations involved in the problem solving and decision making process.  They value or need the engagement of others to make the decision.  They know the active buy-in and engagement of others is critical to the success in the change management efforts.

Surveys show the importance of Trust, the value of Relationships, the importance the customer places on feeling heard and understood.

We constantly get feedback from customers that they buy from people who listen and care.

We constantly read about the importance of EQ.

I could go on, but you get the point.  Just think of yourself, your circle of colleagues and how you work.  Very few of us want or are able to work without engaging others.

So if the people to people connection is so important, such a vital part of what our customers want, what human beings crave, why are we racing in directions to minimize people to people engagement?

For decades, we’ve faced the challenge of connecting and personalizing in our marketing outreach.  Marketers would vary their advertising and messages to fit the audience for wherever those messages would appear.  The message that might appear in WSJ would be different than that which appeared in TV Guide (remember those days?).  Direct mailers looked for technologies to print “Dear Dave” on their mailings rather than “Dear Occupant or Current Resident.”

Fortunately, technology, analytics have moved us to capabilities of rich personalization and addressing “customer segments of 1.”  Despite having these powerful, technology enabled capabilities, we still execute the mass marketing, mass messaging techniques of decades before, inflicting millions of irrelevant, unpersonalized communications on an ever increasing volume of people and organizations.

In spite of their outrage, their use of SPAM filters, their constant unsubscribes, the feedback that says, “I don’t want this crap,” we continue to do the same thing at ever increasing volume and velocity.

We do the same in our “social networks.”  These networks were intended to bring people together, to help grow relationships, to provide rich means of communicating whether through messaging, stories, videos, and so forth.  But instead, we move the “relationship” out of it.  We leverage these platforms to drive likes, visibility, popularity.  We engage in soliloquies not conversations.  Rather than responding to a message with another message, perhaps, “Thanks for the invitation, it’s great to meet, tell me about yourself….” we let LinkedIn choose our response—Thumbs up, Not Now, Not Interested…..  We no longer have to be engaged in the relationship or create conversations, we rely on bots to do it for us.

LinkedIn goes further in helping automate our relationships and conversations.  Rather than looking at individuals, finding people that may be relevant, LinkedIn does all that work for me.  It chooses the people I might be interested in and is glad to send a connection request to hundreds at a time.  99% of the people asking me for a connection have never looked at my profile before making the request (I do acknowledge some have seen my articles or comments and are driven by that).

“Chatbots” are all the rage right now.  We can leverage chatbots so that we don’t have to actually talk to and engage people.  We can let the machine do it for us, all in the name of efficiency and volume.  Yet, being on the receiving side of a chatbot, it’s always very obvious that I’m not communicating with a person, I’m communicating with a machine.  I think, “Thanks for showing that you care.”

It seems much of the drive for these applications of technology that depersonalize our communications and conversations is driven by the desire for volume.  We reach out to more and more, more frequently, because what we are doing now isn’t producing the results we need.  Logically, if we do more, faster, we can scale the results.

Customers become depersonalized widgets on our marketing and sales production lines.  They move from MQLs to SALs to SQLs handled by different specialists called SDRs, BDRs, AEs, Account Managers, Customer Success Specialists.  They become a data point in our activity and tracking metrics, not people with hopes, desires, dreams, goals, or challenges.

I often ask sales people about a recent win, asking, “What did you sell that for?”  Unsurprisingly, the response comes back “$100K in ARR,” or “$1M.”  It’s very seldom, “To help the customer solve this problem or address this opportunity.”

Ironically, there are some that do less, but more personally, with deeper and richer engagement.  Even more ironically, they produce more results more consistently. They recognize that, ultimately, we are human beings, we crave interaction and engagement.  We want to share our views, our dreams, our goals to someone that will listen.  We want to learn the dreams and goals of others.  We don’t want to go it alone, recognizing we need to collaborate and need help to make sense of what’s going on and to move forward.

Interestingly, these people leverage technology, as well.  They leverage technology to learn more about people and organizations.  They leverage technology to help them become more informed about what they are facing, what they care about, what they are trying to achieve.  They leverage technology to improve the quality of their conversations and their ability to engage people in meaningful, relevant ways.

Again, ironically, these people find they accomplish more by doing less.  That is they realize success in sales isn’t really about volume and velocity, but it’s about reaching the right people at the right time and engaging them in high impact conversations.

If people buy from people, if we, ourselves, crave meaningful conversations, relevance, and relationships, why are we racing in the opposite direction.  Why are we displacing the personalized outreach and “connection” with surrogates?

This is not a technology discussion, tough too many will think it is.

It’s a discussion about who we are, how much we care, how we achieve, and how we help our customers achieve.

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Dec 10 17

On Harassment

by David Brock

For the last couple of months, as more and more cases of harassment are publicized (and we are only seeing a small fraction of a percent of the cases), all of us have to step back and think of what we may have done–or not done with the inappropriate exploitation of power and demeaning of human beings.

It’s caused me to pause and reflect, did I ever do anything purposefully or accidentally to cause harm to a woman or anyone else?

The physical attacks and abuse were easy to discount.  They have always been unimaginable and unthinkable.  I wasn’t raised that way and have never been around people who were raised that way.

I thought about the “locker room humor,” I’ve never hung around in locker rooms much so I can’t think of a whole lot.  I was always introverted and a science nerd, so I never joined frats (unless you consider the honor society a frat–it did have a Greek name), so other than what I saw in movies, I don’t know what happened there, or was influenced by them.

Early in my career I had a harassment claim filed against me.  I was stunned and shocked, I couldn’t imagine what I had possibly done.  As it turned out, it was in a meeting.  A woman had thought another woman was being harassed by one of the men in the meeting.  As the senior manager and host of the meeting, the woman who filed the complaint thought I should have taken action.  After the investigation, we found it had been a huge misunderstanding.  What the woman thought she had heard and the treatment she thought she observed didn’t happen.  Everyone was a little embarrassed, apologies made all around.

However, it was an important lesson for me. While we may not be guilty of harassment, we can be guilty of complicity through inaction.

Within the last couple of months, something else happened, which was my fault.  I made a couple of off-color or risqué comments in a meeting.  Everyone laughed except for one woman.  She had a horrified look on her face, I was immediately devastated, recognizing what I had done and how I had offended her.  I caught up with her afterwards and apologized.  She was very gracious in accepting it and we had a fascinating conversation about what I had said.

While it was intended for a laugh, my comment was inappropriate in any audience and a huge mistake on my part.  I thank her for helping me relearn what I already knew.  No off-color humor is appropriate in any audience or conversation.

We (including me) have become increasingly accepting of foul language in meetings and interactions.  Is that appropriate, is it even necessary?

As we read more tragic stories and see things in our own workplaces,  the thing I worry about most is whether I’ve been complicit through inaction.  Whether I’ve observed others harassing or abusing women and not taken action.

There hasn’t been much discussion of this in the press.  I guess the sordid stories of attacks, groping and verbal abuse are titillating and shocking enough.  But I think far too many of us may be guilty of not taking action when we see others being harassed or treated in an abusive manner.

I’ve wracked my brain, wondering, “Have I stood silent or remained passive, when I should have said something or taken action?”

I search back through my career.  Have I been in a meeting where those inappropriate conversations in groups–whether just hanging out, at an event, or something else?  Were there women in those conversations that were threatened or uncomfortable, did I fail them and myself by failing to ask the speaker to stop?

A few years ago, I was aware of a group of women colleagues being harassed quite severely.  We talked about the situation, I asked if I should intervene, they declined, wanting to just move past and away from the situation.  But the individual who provoked the situation was quite an important influencer in my world.  There was a potential to leverage that relationship to build my business.

I’ve chosen to not be involved with, or engage that individual since that incident.  Nothing is more important than being true to my values and beliefs

There have been a couple of incidents like that in the past few years, I haven’t take action, but only at the request of those being harassed.  But I have eliminated the abusers from my life–and my life is the better for it.  No business relationship is ever worth living with the idea that these people have maliciously hurt and damaged colleagues, and have done that purposefully.

While sexual harassment must stay the center of our focus, and cannot be tolerated in any form; we have to also be attentive to all types of abuses of power.  We see too many in real or imagined positions of power demeaning women and others in less powerful positions.

Whether it is shouting, abusive language/treatment, intolerance, insensitivity, narcissism; we see inappropriate behaviors too frequently, primarily from male executives.

We know it’s not only not right, but it doesn’t produce results.

Unfortunately, the focus on this issues will be on the big stories and famous/very powerful people.  But harassment and abuses of power impact far more people than we will ever know.

We have so much to learn, we have so much bad behavior to correct and eliminate.  Each of us is touched by it in some way and none of us can ignore it.

While we may not be guilty of harassment, we cannot be guilty of complicity through inaction.


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Dec 8 17

It’s Not How Well You Sell, It’s How Well You Can Get Your People To Sell!

by David Brock

I’m constantly amazed by the mistaken view too many sales managers have about their role.  A reader called my attention to a discussion on LinkedIn.  A sales manager was bragging about how he could “Sell Circles Around Anyone.”  Clearly, he didn’t understand his job and with that attitude would fail his people, his company, and his ability to reach his goals.

The “Superman/woman Seller” syndrome is all too common in sales managers.  Too often, we make the mistake of moving our very best sellers into sales management roles.  These characters sweep in and are driven to demonstrate their selling superiority to all their people.

In discussing deals with their people, their view of “coaching” is to instruct them precisely on what to do.  Because they believe they are superior sales people, they know better than anyone and they believe their job is to tell people what to do.

Further, they get impatient or their egos drive them, causing them to sweep in, taking the sale away from the sales person, closing the deal themselves.  Naturally, they take full credit for it, further bolstering their self image of being a Super Salesperson.

In reality, these are among the most destructive sales managers.  They demoralize the team.  The A players resent the manager, they want to manage the deals themselves, as they should, so they leave and go elsewhere.  Some of the B players will do the same, others get frustrated and sit back waiting for the sales manager to tell them what to do.  C players love this kind of manager, as long as they can hide out, getting the manager to do their work for them.

And the managers are totally oblivious to the whole thing, because their egos are fed by their personal success, not the team’s success.

Inevitably they fail.  They lose the hearts and minds of their team.  Soon the numbers start going against them.  As individual contributors, while they were great sales people, inevitably, they had to work full time to get their jobs done.  Now they are stepping into a role where they have 8-12 people and they are trying to do the work of those 8-12 people.

It always fails!

The whole point of being a sales manager is not how great a sales person you are.  It’s how great you can make each of your people.  The goal of the sales manager is build a team where each person can outsell everyone else in the organization, but most importantly outsell competitors.

Great sales managers need to be good-great sales people.  They need to know what their people face.  They need to be creative, helping their people figure out better strategies, to think about their deals, their pipelines, their accounts, their territories differently.  They need to help their people learn and grow.

Great sales managers recognize their job is not to make the numbers—but to enable and empower their people to make the numbers.  They know the only way to make the numbers is through their people.  That their people are accountable for closing the deals.  As managers they are accountable for maximizing the performance of each person on the team.

Great sales managers brag that their team can sell circles around anyone!


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