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Rising Tides Float All Ships, But What About Falling Tides?

by David Brock on October 31st, 2011

“Rising Tides Float All Ships,”  a bit of an odd title, given the current economic uncertainty.  This term has been used to talk about the false sense of success many individual and  executives may have about their peersonal performance and that of their  organizations.

In great times, or robust growing markets, it’s hard to perform badly.   To some degree, regardless how sharp or well executed strategies are, how good your sales and marketing programs are, organizations may seem successful—even when they may not be performing as well as they could—or even when they are performing pretty poorly.

In bad markets, or poor economic times, what happens?  To some degree, the same thing happens.  We tend to compare our performance against others–our competitors and others.  We may cut back, reducing programs, spending, cutting back on people, matching our competition.  I read financial reports where executives speak of the belt tightening, but then go on to say, “Our entire industry is in a downturn.”  They may go on to make competitive comparisons, making sure to show that performance is comparable to the competition. 

In good times and bad, too often, we tend to hide behind comparisions with others.  In good times, with good results, we tend to think we are performing well if we match our competition.   In bad times, with declining results, we tend to think we are performing as well as could be expected, if we match our competition.

Industry data shows plummeting rates of sales people achieving quota. Earlier this year, CSO Insights reported roughly 52% of sales people were achieving quotas. I just saw an excerpt from an Aberdeen report, now suggesting only 38% of sales people are achieving quota, with only 26% in “laggard” companies.

Yet there seems to be no alarms–the tides are falling, all the ships are falling to lower levels, time to continue belt tightening and “toughing it out.”

But too often, we never look to see, “Are we performing at the very highest levels possible?”  In good times, too many tend to think the performance is a result of superb strategies and execution on the parts of sales and marketing.  We don’t assess performance to look at “should be be achieving more?”  We don’t confront the issue, “How can I make sure our organization is performing at it’s full potential?”

In bad times, we’re so busy surviing and making sure that we are no worse than competition, we don’t address the same issues, “should we be achieving more?”  “Is our organization performing at it’s full potential?”

It’s interesting, in both good and bad times, there are a small number of leading individuals and organizations–sales people and executives that think a little differently.  Executives who aren’t driven as much by competition, but who are driven by their own performance standards and expectations.  People who always are assessing themselves and their organizations, looking to improve, constantly redefining performance and success.

For those people and organizations, quota is less a goal, than something you pass on the way to attaining your goals.  The economy is not an excuse (good or bad), but something that has to be accounted for in developing and executing the best possible strategies.

These organizations defy the conventional wisdom of ‘Rising Tides Float All Ships.”   Somehow they don’t seem to be affected by the tides–or the impact of good/bad economies and markets is lessened for them.  They don’t let success blind them, they are constantly looking to improve performance.  They don’t let the economy be an excuse, but believe there are ways to outperform their own expectations.  They look outside for other views–independent assessments, other ideas.  They are disciplined in their analysis.  They experiment, try new things.  They are not afraid of failure, and learn from their failures.  They readily admit their own limitations, seeking to grow.  They don’t hide their mistakes, but learn from them and move forward.

Which category of sales person or sales leader do you fall into?  Are you rising and falling with the tide, or are you ignoring the tides and setting and achieving your own performance standards?

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  1. Good points David.

    “People don’t resist change, they resist being changed” Senge

    In the late 70s I went to the theatre in Rochester, New York to see Miller’s play “Death of a Salesman”. It had a profound impact on me regarding how easy it is to become complacent. To keep up to speed one has to be continually learning and now accept that those younger than oneself can be very good teachers.
    “My the inch, it’s a synch, by the yard it’s hard”

    • Great comments Gerald! It’s always useful to “revisit” Death of a Salesman. I always learn something and am reminded about things when I re read it.

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