I have to confess my lack of patience with an attitude I see permeating much of our world today. Recently, I find myself having more conversations with colleagues similarly impatient. We are disappointed, we struggle to understand what we see going on–particularly in much of business and selling.
We wonder, “Do we have unrealistic expectations? Have things changed that substantially since we started (some, thought not all of us have been around the block more than a few times)? What’s happening, why?
Ultimately, we get to the question, “Is that just the way things are…….”
And we choose not to settle. We are choosing to believe this is unacceptable, that we can and must change. That we can and must move forward. That we can and must learn, grow, improve.
Yesterday, a close friend called me to share a discussion he had. My friend leads one of the highest performing sales organizations I’ve experienced. They drive billions in revenue every year, are growing faster others in their industry. He asked,
“Dave, I need to ask you something to see whether I’m missing something. Recently, I was in a conversation with my counterparts in other organizations. They run very large sales organizations. We were talking about programs we could collaborate on that could drive huge growth.
But I was shocked at their reactions. They wanted to grow, but they were hesitant to change. ‘We’ll struggle to get our people to step up to these initiatives. It’s not realistic to think they can do these things. And to tell you the truth, we’re doing fine the way we are. We’re hitting our targets, the hassle of changing just isn’t worth it……’
Dave, I’ve never seen this before, are you seeing it, what am I missing?”
Sadly, I see it too often. I see too many organizations and individuals, at all levels, settling.
There are different reasons/excuses. Some of it is assigning blame, “Our products just aren’t that competitive, we’re getting as much as we can from our people, the current generation just doesn’t want to work that hard, it’s the economy/market conditions…..”
Some attribute it to a new business reality, “That’s just the way things are, business has changed…” “Customers don’t want to see sellers any more…. (Though the data doesn’t quite support that conclusion)” “People are different….”
And “success,” blinds too many. “Why should we change, we are hitting our goals?” “We’ve been growing year after year, we don’t want to disrupt things….” “We’re doing good enough….”
We somehow have come to accept that win rates are 15-20%, that fewer than 45% of our people will make/exceed their goals, that average tenure, at all levels is 11 months, that customers “don’t need sellers….”
Some of these views are understandable. Some of these may not be unreasonable.
But, at least, personally and to some like my friend, this mindset is discomfitting.
Early in my career, I developed mindsets around continuous improvement, that we could always get better, we could do more, we could achieve stretch goals and pursue “BHAGs.”
Mentors and coaches instilled a spirit that “Quota/target is something you pass on the way to achieving your goals.”
We were constantly challenged with the concept of, “It’s your God-given right to 100% share of customer and 100% share of market…” While we knew that was impossible, we constantly challenged ourselves to do more.
We took losses hard–not blaming our customers, competitors, our products–but as something that we must learn from, improve and grow. We took time to look at each loss, maybe just for 30 minutes, sometimes we did more comprehensive reviews. But we looked at what we might change, how we could get better.
But, increasingly, I am finding that mindset absent. Many experienced leaders seem to be satisfied with “the way things are.” Too many sellers seem satisfied with putting in the hours, doing their jobs.
Some might say that “hypercompetitiveness” is wrong. Personally, I never thought of it as hypercompetitiveness, I was just excited by the challenge. I was driven to figure things out. Looking at very tough problems–whether they were things within our own organizations or challenges our customers faced, the pure excitement of solving tough problems drove me, my customers, and colleagues.
And we had great fun and joy in doing these things! It became such a rush!
Have we lost that drive?
Are things that different? Is “just good enough,” just good enough?
Is it burn out? Is it disengagement? Is it the revolving door that we see at all levels? Is what we do in our jobs just for funding what we really want to do in our lives?
Is it “Imitative behaviors,” “Everyone is doing these things….”
Is it our comfort with the “rising tide” phenomena?
I’m not sure what’s causing it, but it seems to permeate too many organizations and individuals.
And maybe it’s me, maybe the world has changed and I simply don’t get it.
But I struggle with the concept of “settling.”
There is so much we can do, so much we can achieve. There is so much value we can create with our colleagues, within our organizations, with our customers, with our communities.
I just refuse to settle…..
I hope I’m not alone…
Ian Dainty says
This is a great article about what is going on, not just in sales, but in the world. For some background on me, I joined IBM in 1974, and before I got a territory, me and my peers spend 9 months in a classroom learning about business, IBM, and 80% was about selling, with multiple role plays a week. Then we spent another 9 months in a branch before we got a territory, with an intense 2 week sales school, in the middle of those months, where we got marked on 10 role plays. And if you failed, you no longer worked for IBM. We sure knew how to sell by the end of it.
And this was why IBM dominated the tech industry back then, not because they had the best Technology, because they didn’t, they had good technology, but because their sales people really knew how to sell. They were this way right up until the early 90’s, when most IBM sales people became lazy, because they had dominated the tech world, and that training had stopped.
Nobody gets trained like that anymore, and it appears most sales people don’t get much training at all. So, this lack of training is hurting all sales people. Nobody can afford to do what IBM did back then, but we still need to train and give ongoing coaching to our sales people. Ongoing coaching seems to have gone by the wayside too.
Plus a recent survey by the Fraser Institute (a Canadian think tank) found that over 50% of people under 35 prefer socialism as the best form of government. Many, if not most young people, want everything given to them, without having to work for it. And our government is giving it to them.
And most, if not all, of the training that does go on, just promotes that laziness. And the training does not give sales people a way to distinguish themselves from every other sales person.
As an example, I have not seen any training that starts by asking a prospect what their goals are. This is what we were trained to ask at IBM – Why? Because you don’t have issues if you don’t have goals. And I have not seen any training, other than mine, that asks prospects personal questions, like – What happens to you personally if you don’t reach your company’s goals? They all start by asking a prospect what his/her issues are. They are all parrots, and they all sound alike, and their prospects are fed up listening to the same drivel. There is no differentiation among these sales people, no matter what company they come from, and what, if any, training they get. And that is a big reason that sales people have trouble getting face-to-face appointments with prospects.
I’ve seen some aspects of your training, and some of it is good, but a lot of it is the same as the rest of sales training. Distinguish yourselves by helping sales people sell to the personal side of selling. Remember, people buy for personal/emotional reasons, and justify the buy with logical reasons. And this is especially true for large company purchases too.
David Brock says
Ian, like you, I was a beneficiary of IBM’s great training programs. While training is important, I think it goes beyond training to the purpose and culture of the organization. It’s a mindset around continued learning/improvement, collaboration, and growth. It’s an embedded principle of a commitment to excellence in everything the organization does that is the foundation of this. Everything the organization does reinforces these principles, including training, but extending to the types of people that are recruited, how it presents itself to it’s customers/markets/industries, how it creates values with those, how it coaches and develops it’s people.
As I reflect on my experience with IBM, it was a commitment to those principles that drove everyone’s behaviors and performance.
I am confused by the comment in your last paragraph, you may be confusing our training programs with some other organizations. But we have always focused people on understanding the personal and business wins.
Brian MacIver says
Interesting point of view.
I was Head-to-Head with IBM from 1970.
There was a training ethos at IBM stretching back decades before 1970’s.
Watson Learned from Paterson at NCR, and Burroughs learned from BOTH.
I had several In-depth Burroughs Training Courses and Spent MONTHS at Training centres in London, Ruislip, and Southend. Later in Paoli, Pennsylvania, Milton Keynes. The object of all the training was Competence.
Competence on Products, Services, Systems, and PEOPLE. I remember doing a people Skills Course on Effective Behaviours in 1976, based on the work of two Young Behavioural Psychologists, Peter Honey and Neil Rackham.
Over the years we had the training opportunity with Tony Buzan, Edward de Bono, Rosabeth Moss Kanter
(Dancing with elephants) seminars at Oxford University Retail Excellence, London Business school on Finance with John Kay, Driving Excellence with Tom Peters.
Meetings in the C suite were easy, we had a common language.
We could relate and advise.
In the 1990’s I took an MBA,
and I wonder why MBA not asked for as table stakes in recruiting Account Managers.
Today many Salespeople have had no training. Some have had a little.
Very few are trained to adequacy,
and when MEASURED most are found wanting on both Skill and Knowledge.
I sometimes use a simple Algorithm
Sales Effectiveness is a function of ACTIVITY, SKILL and KNOWEDGE.
Let’s take an ‘enthusiastic Learner’ lots of Activity,
but lacking Skills and Knowledge=Little Result.
A year later they are NO longer enthusiastic.
Yet, the mantra of equally untrained Sales Managers is
Make MORE Calls
Write More Proposals
Do More Demos
CLOSE MORE SALES.
The only ACTIVITY that fixes Skills and Knowledge is Training with Coaching.
David Brock says
Brian, a few things strike me about your profound insights.
My first reaction is that it is past midnight your time!!!!! What are you doing replying to blog posts so late? Dare I say, “You need to get a life!” 😉
The more serious reaction is the comprehensiveness of the way organizations developed skills in the past. Not just IBM, but Burroughs, the others, and other companies in complex B2B sales. It wasn’t just training, but it was coaching, mentoring, exposure to different POVs, exposure in non selling ways to the customers and learning about them.
Very few organizations, of any size, do that type of training. They focus on products and selling skills (read, pitching our solutions, handling objections, closing). They don’t talk about business and how to engage our customers in business conversations.
I don’t buy that this kind of training is “too expensive.” If you look at the opportunity costs in not being able to have these conversations, they are massive. If you look at the actual costs/time, with today’s learning tools/approaches, it is very affordable. We just don’t do it–and that’s a leadership issue. And we don’t do the coaching–and that’s a leadership issue.
I always learn so much from your insights, though I worry about you staying up so late, gifting us with them. I do hope you don’t have a really early tee time this morning. Thanks so much.
Michael Hotchkiss says
David, you are not alone in this feeling. The “new normal” has become adequacy and is accepted as such. I believe there are many factors. One, most noticeable, is the consumer/customer/buyer needing to assume more of a role in taking care of services traditionally provided by the alleged caregiver. They have gotten used to it and the sellers (caregivers) don’t bother to see if there are underlying things that may be bothering their customers. Companies don’t even put phone numbers on their websites and refer customers to a list of options on their website (none of which synch with the problem occurring). Restaurants started using plastic utensils because of the covid risk and have since resolved into a permanent change. Air travel service has been in a steady state of decline since 9/11/2001. It got really bad during covid yet no airline is reverting back to “the customer is always right” way of thinking (as are most businesses). Yeah, this makes me sad. I will be the dinosaur and continue to try and improve my way of doing things in the current climate. It gets hard when efforts like that go unnoticed.
David Brock says
Michael, thanks for your support and comment. Sadly, “adequacy” has overtaken “excellence” in so many aspects of our lives. It is good, however, when we see some individuals and organizations committed to excellence. Perhaps I am idealistic or naive, but I am convinced with people like you and others, we will have an impact and start changing these behaviors.
Greg Woodley says
I was not lucky enough to be trained by IBM.
I worked in a small division of a large company. We imported products used in manufacturing.
I didn’t get a LOT of training BUT I was the junior salesperson and I had a good sales manager and boy I learned a lot from my manager and the older reps.
I was also lucky enough to take over the territory from a sales legend and I became intrigued by how all his old customers thought of him and I resolved to find out more about him and how he operated. I asked a lot about him, dug up some of his old training manuals and one night, at a reunion, I finally got to meet him and pick his brain.
The other thing we were taught in that company was to operate as though we were our own business, treat the company funds as though they were our own, and understand costs and net margins.
I never stopped reading books about selling. I loved the work. I loved helping my customers achieve. I wanted to be the best salesperson I could be. It seems such a waste to me that people “settle” to be mediocre. My sales manager had a saying, “Sales is the hardest job in the world if you try to work it easy, but the easiest job in the world if you work hard at it.”
I wonder how much of this “settling” is to do with downsizing and the pace of the modern world ? Fewer people doing more work and wearing multiple hats. Sales managers are glued to their computers instead of coaching their people and MBWA. Are salespeople being spread too thin by working with more prospects? Voicemail makes it hard for salespeople to connect with anybody making it hard for them to maintain their enthusiasm. I’m guessing the best salespeople find a way around this, they always have. Let’s hope their numbers are growing because “nothing happens until a sale is made”
David Brock says
What a wonderful story Greg! You don’t have to have programs like the giants might provide. Just genuine curiosity, a drive to learn, perform, and effectively engage customers. Your example is great.
As to your comments about settling, I think many of the things you outline are at play. But basically you are saying, people are consumed with working hard, not smart!
Thanks again for the great comment!