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Every day, we are pummeled with experts talking about how to make sales people more efficient.  The most fashionable ideas seem to be around extreme specialization/mechanization of selling.

These pundits often cite applying manufacturing principles to designing our sales engagement strategies.  Some cite the grandfather of lean/agile manufacturing principles, the Toyota Production System (TPS).

At the same time we are pummeled with increasingly specialized tools to help free up time to sell.  Sales and marketing stacks are growing, I’ve seen one Fortune 50 company “bragging” about their sales stack of 19 tools.

All these things are supposed to make us better, more productive, more effective, more efficient.

Yet year after year, the data shows the exact opposite is happening.  The percent of sales people making goal is less than 50%, the percent of organizations making plan is declining.  Virtually every data point we see, the results we are getting from sales and marketing is not getting better.

We see customers becoming increasingly disengaged.  Our ability to reach them, engage them and help them achieve their goals is becoming increasingly difficult.  Customers provide feedback:

  • Sales people don’t understand me and my business.
  • Sales people don’t talk about the things most important to me.
  • Sales people don’t understand their products and solutions and how they will help me.
  • Sales people just want to pitch their products, leaving it up to me to figure out how to make them work for us.
  • Sales people waste my time.

We see endless data about customers preferring to engage sales people later and later in the buying process, and, if at all possible, avoiding them, buying in online markets.

At the same time, we see data telling us that customers are struggling.  As much as 60% of their buying decisions end in no decision made.  Others are struggling, because they haven’t recognized a need to change or realize there may be a need to buy.

So we have an interesting paradox.  The need/demand from customers is increasing.  The performance of sales organizations in decreasing.

It seems the chasm between what customers need and what our sales and marketing initiatives do is widening, where one would think it would be narrowing.

Today, the pundits and sales/marketing automation vendors tend to try to solve the problem by increasing volume/velocity.  But the results from those initiatives aren’t producing what we need.  Instead of analyzing why these initiatives fail, it is just far easier to pump up the volume and velocity.

Where in the past, 100 out of 1000, may have opened our emails, today only 10 are.  So the immediate response is to send out 10,000 emails.  And when that’s insufficient, we just crank up the volume/frequency.  The incremental cost of our web/email based communications is virtually zero.  Rather than diagnosing why customers aren’t responding and how to fix it, we just do more of what’s not working.

Back to the TPS pundits.  The problem is, none of them understand TPS and its basic principles.  They think it’s about mechanization, specialization and efficiency.

Recently, I’ve been following a number of interesting and very earnest conversations about increasing the specialization, breaking up the sales process into smaller more specialized roles.  Moving from SDR, AE, Account Managers to more specialized versions of each role and people supporting those people.  For example, to minimize the time our people spend on research, why don’t we put people/resources to do the research in place?

In all those conversations, there is one thing missing–the customer.  All the conversations focus on our own internal processes, our own internal productivity, how we become more efficient.

The customer and their experience with us is never mentioned.  They become widgets we move through the process, the victims of our internal attempts to be more efficient and productive.

And all of this is driven under the mantra of making revenue more predictable.

I hope by now you are appreciating the terrible irony of this.

If we are trying to make the revenue more predictable in all these approaches to improving sales and marketing, how come our results in terms of people making goal, companies making plan, are declining?

We mouth the words, “customer experience,” yet we design our organizations and processes without mentioning the word customer.  Our focus in on what makes us more efficient (note we aren’t talking about effectiveness) and not on what causes the customer to want to engage us.

Pundits of this approach always use the concepts of TPS to rationalize what they do–but they miss the fundamental underlying principle of TPS–It is all about the customer!  We always start our design process with the customer and the value we must create to serve the customer, designing our processes backwards from that.  (By the way, if you want to understand how we can and can’t apply TPS to sales and marketing, ask me for my free eBook on the topic.)

Many of our initiatives are designed to free up time for our sales people.  But what are we freeing up their time to do?  Presumably it’s to get more deeply engaged with customers, but increasingly they are spending less and less time with customers.  And they aren’t able to engage customers the way they want to be engaged.

This is simply madness!

Somehow we have to stop the insanity and bad thinking that is dominating too much of what we do in sales and marketing.

We have to go back to fundamentals and basic principles.  We have to have great clarity about who our customers are, how we create differentiated value, how we create great customer buying experiences.

Once we have those fundamentals in place, lean and agile methods can be applied in very powerful ways.  Automation and tools can be applied in very powerful ways.  We can apply principles of design thinking in very powerful ways.

But it always, always, always starts with the customer!

Unfortunately, we seem to have lost the customer in our approaches.  Unfortunately, we seem to be ignoring the data that tells us this.

There are a few organizations and leaders who have gotten this.  Their organizations constantly outperform others.  Their organizations are both effective and efficient, but most importantly intimate with their customers.

Hit the pause button on all your efforts.  Go back to fundamentals and start rethinking what you do.

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Over the past several weeks, I’ve been writing articles related to designing our organizations for performance.  Whether it’s talent management,rethinking the bell curve, metrics and shifting the numbers in our favor, or rethinking the pareto principle–we can and are obligated to design our organizations for performance.

It’s a simple concept, but too often, it seems we design for mediocrity.  Perhaps not consciously–I don’t think anyone purposefully designs for mediocrity, but we achieve it through lack of attention, acceptance, poor strategy, bad execution, lack of discipline, and making excuses.

We tend to forget, we are in control of our own personal performance, that of our teams, and that of our organization.  We can design everything we do for performance and not accept mediocrity as part of our culture.

We see organizations that are designed for performance every day.  This past weekend, we witnessed (at least in the US) the Superbowl with two great teams (the Eagles and Patriots).  As you look at the journeys of each of the organizations, we see each was built for performance, they did not accept mediocrity in any of the roles on the team, coaching and management staffs.  In the coming weeks, the world will watch the Winter Olympics, elite athletes from around the world.  Teams that are designed for top performance.

We love the story of “Moneyball,” a baseball team designed for performance.  We love stories and speakers from “Special Forces,” talking about teams designed for performance.  In business we see organizations that are consistent top performers.  As we study them, we see what they do is conscious and purposeful.  They design for performance and do not accept mediocrity or poor performance.

I get frustrated reading the data about sales management tenure dropping to 19 months.  Sales people meeting/exceeding quota at less than 50%.  Recently I saw a “market study” that define outstanding performance as “60% of people, or more, achieving quota.”

We get the results we design for and lead to!  Unfortunately, too many seem to have fatalistic or closed mindsets, and are unconsciously designing for mediocrity.

Designing for performance is not that difficult–and it is a whole lot more fun–than designing for mediocrity.

It starts with each of us, caring about our own personal performance, constantly learning, constantly improving.

It moves on to our people, caring about them and their performance, willingness and ability to take responsibility for it, willingness and drive to learn/improve.

We consciously build an organizational culture focused on performance, learning, improvement, and collaboration.

We focus on talent management, not settling for what we get, but focused on understanding the behaviors/attitudes/skills/competencies/experiences critical to achieve the levels of performance we want.  Then we recruit to those profiles relentlessly, refusing to compromise, just to fill a vacant position.

We constantly develop our people, through training and coaching.  We leverage everything we can-systems, processes, tools, programs.

We protect our people, enabling them to perform.  We constantly look to simplifying processes and workflows.  We remove obstacles and barriers that inhibit their ability to perform.  We recognize great performance and constantly strive to develop and improve the performance of every one.

We are constantly involved with our people–not micromanaging, but working with them, learning, helping them develop and improve.

We celebrate our wins, recognizing it takes a team to win.  We learn from our failures, trying to understand them, take corrective action and improve.  We don’t seek to assign blame, but take responsibility to improve.

We are pragmatists and realists.  We don’t look for silver bullets, magical cures, or succumb to wishful thinking or excuses.  We recognize we are in control of our performance, we are responsible and accountable for the results we produce.  We know success comes from doing the work, and not taking short cuts.  We don’t settle, we don’t compromise our standards–ever.  We leverage everything we can, but realize it’s us that creates the success, not the tools or technology.

Ironically, it high performance and mediocrity take the same amount of time.

Using the football analogy, a game is four 15 minute quarters.  Great teams and mediocre teams have to play 60 minutes.  A baseball game is 9 innings, good teams and bad teams have to play 9 innings,  Soccer has two 45 minute haves.  Cricket is……  well it’s cricket

We will all work the same 40-50-60 hours a week.  Mediocre teams will spend the same amount of time at work as high performing teams.  Perhaps the only difference is time seems to fly with high performing teams and time drags in low performing teams.

We get the performance we design for and accept.

Why would anyone ever want to design for mediocrity?

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All of us know, often talk about the Pareto Principle.  It’s the 80/20 “rule.” an observation we apply to lots of different things.  For example, 20% of our sales people produce 80% of the results.  Much of the “data” suggests this is conservative, that far few sales people produce a larger percentage of the results.

Often, though, I think we misunderstand this.  We tend to treat the Pareto Principle as a law of nature of physics, thinking it is what it is.  We feel happy, when we beat it by a little, maybe 30% of our people producing 80% of the results.

But we need to approach this differently (whether it’s 80/20 or some other proportion).  We need to carefully examine that 20%.  What is it about them, what are they doing that enable them to deliver the results?

  • Is it something about their skills, competencies, experiences, behaviors, attitudes?
  • Is it something about how they sell or who they sell to?
  • Is it something about how they engage, how they create value, how they differentiate themselves?

Rather than accepting 80/20 as a foregone conclusion, we need to look understand what these top performers are doing and who they are.

Once we understand this, then we have to reproduce it in the remaining 80%.

  • Are we recruiting people that have the same skills, competencies, experiences, behaviors, and attitudes as the “20?”
  • Are we the 80 selling to the same types of customers in ways similar to the 20?
  • Are they engaging, creating value, differentiating themselves in ways similar to the 20?

The more we can replicate what the top performers are doing, the more we can get the rest of our team to perform at the level of the top performers, the more we will drive success and growth.

See the magic is, not shifting the denominator of the 80/20 rule, it’s shifting the numerator!  Do the math.  If 20% of our people are producing 80% of our revenue, and we can get the remaining 80% to be as successful as the 20%, we actually can drive a 400% revenue increase!

That’s the real magic of not accepting your version of the pareto principle.

(If you need help with that math, reach out, I’ll give you the secret decoder ring.  It’s not magic, and too often we miss this real opportunity).

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In sales and marketing, we at least claim to be very numbers oriented.  We have metrics around everything:

Click-throughs

Bounces

Open rates

Time spent on a page

MQL, SQL, SAL

Daily/weekly dials

Daily/weekly conversations/meetings

Demos

Pipeline Coverage

Win Rates

Average Deal/Transaction Value

Sales Cycle Time

Lifetime Customer Value

Renewal Rates

….. I could go on.

There seem to be no end to the metrics we can impose on what we do.  There’s a great discussion about whether we are measuring the right things–but that’s the topic of another blog post.

Metrics and the goals we establish are critical.  They give us a scorecard–the things we think are important to achieving our goals.  They enable us to track progress, to understand where we may be going off track so we can take corrective action.

Sometimes metrics make us think we are “in control,”   and sometimes we let the metrics control us.  Metrics may seem to make things more Predictable, but often that may be a false positive, not a meaningful indicator of how we are performing.

For example, if we know the number of phone conversations that convert to sales, a conclusion we might draw is that to double sales, we simply double the number of phone conversations.

And if we know the number of emails outreaches it takes to create a phone conversation, to double sales, we can calculate the number of email outreaches.

It’s all a matter of math.  We know the formula, so all we do is do the math to figure out how to achieve our goals.

The problem is, it doesn’t seem to be working.  50% of sales people aren’t making their goals.  Our marketing programs aren’t producing the results we expect.

Even when things do seem to be working, scaling isn’t necessarily linear, scaling isn’t necessarily achievable (in the time frame we need to scale), and scaling may not be the most effective thing to do if we want to grow.

A simple example:  If I want to double our sales, and I have a reasonable CPOD, I simply double the number of sales people.  Math works.   But here’s where the challenges come in.  For example if I want to move from 100 to 200 sales people, what does it take to find the right 100, how long, what resources do I have to invest in to find them?  What do I have to put in place to onboard them, what resources do I put in place to support them on an ongoing basis, what investment do I have to make in additional marketing to support them…….

All of a sudden we find the model we thought was so simple, isn’t achievable.  Complexity ramps up, costs ramp, performance may ramp, but not at the rate the formula suggested.

While the math is simple, the execution isn’t that simple.  Now all of a sudden, because the execution changes, the formulas change.  Previously, math was our friend, but now it doesn’t work because the formulas have changed–and we don’t know them.

And that’s the issue, we have by blindly applying the formulas and doing the math.  When the formula changes, we no longer produce the results we need.

Here’s where it gets interesting.  A lot of time, we control the formula.  We can change the formula–shifting the numbers in our favor.  Rather than just accepting the formulas, we can actually engineer them to produce better results.

For example, what would we have to change to get better response/open rates?  What would we have to change to improve average transaction value? What would we have to do to improve win rates?

Our customers, unwittingly, are changing the formulas, as well.  Their business needs and priorities are changing, so the things they used to want and need are no longer important.  They have different sources to learn new things.  Their behaviors shift.  So the formulas we used to predict their behaviors  no longer work, or if they do, they aren’t producing the volumes we need.

Of course, we needn’t worry, we have the promise of AI to fix this.  We don’t have to think, we don’t have to do the math anymore, AI does it for us.

But that’s the problem, AI works because we train it to work, we train it to recognize the things we think are important to produce the answers we want.  But if we train it wrong, it produces the wrong results–at a stunning rate.

Even if we train it correctly, it is identifying things that enable us to engage our customers differently, more effectively, we still have to execute.  Yet we don’t seem to have developed the formula for effective execution.

We seem to have ignored what it takes to develop the formulas, to continue to test them, to refine and improve them.  We seem to have abandoned observing, critical thinking, experimentation, changing, adaptation.

Math is powerful.  Math works, always, but are we making it work as we intend it to work.

Perhaps, I should move this discussion to include a treatise on imaginary  or irrational numbers……  But I suspect we know enough about this already.  (Pardon the math humor, the geeks in the audience are rolling on the floor, laughing.)

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As a disclaimer, I’m a “sales guy,” and may misunderstand marketing.  But I often see discussions about marketing needs to be measured on revenue.  I think revenue might be a component of a marketing metric, but I wonder as we aren’t focusing too narrowly on a metric. losing sight of the bigger picture.  (Much of what I talk about in this post can equally be applied to sales focusing purely on revenue.)

Every function in the organization is accountable for developing and executing strategies and plans that are consistent with the overall corporation’s strategies, plans, and priorities.  Clearly, revenue and earnings are top priorities for organizations, but they  aren’t the only priorities.

If our primary in sales and marketing, our primary metric of success were revenue, then we would only invest in those big revenue generating opportunities.  We would remain focused on those markets, products, customers that generated the biggest revenue.  We would under invest in developing new markets or in supporting new products–which may become the future platforms for growth.

The business world is littered with carcasses of companies that invested on the “big revenue” generators and under invested in those areas that would have enabled them to grow/survive.  Logos like Kodak, DEC, Wang, Blackberry, and dozens of others are testament to this.  These organizations actually saw the shifts in business and markets.  Kodak, as an example, had some of the leading patents in digital photography, but focused it’s investments in film, riding that to their “grave.”  IBM risked extinction several times (first with mainframes), but shifted it’s investments to developing market opportunities in services, augmented intelligence, and other areas.

While those examples are dramatic examples of misplaced or bad corporate strategies and priorities, we see the same thing in marketing, sales, and other investments.

If we are driven purely by short term revenue, we will always be investing in our current big product, big markets, big customers.  Yet our future, or even our growth opportunity may exist in other areas–new industries, new products, new customers.

Marketing and sales are accountable for executing the corporate strategy in the face of customers.  As a result, they must be measured by their contribution/execution of that corporate strategy.  They have to balance investments and focus across all areas (not necessarily equally)  They assure they have metrics and goals in place that reflect that balanced performance and the support of the corporate priorities and strategies.

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The digital/social landscape looks increasingly bleak.  Channel after channel is becoming a vast wasteland of garbage.  As Gerhard Gschwandtner suggests, the channels are increasingly being filled with Digital Graffiti.

Looking at the landscape broadly:

I get 100’s of emails a day, these are the “legitimate” emails.  I get added to every list, I’m OK with periodic emails, summaries, from many of the organizations, it’s an easy way to keep up, but somehow, they think there is new news and I should be interested in hearing from them every day, even though 90% of it is meaningless, and if they were leveraging their marketing automation tools appropriately, they would know me well enough to only send that which might be relevant.  But they are desperate to touch me, and it’s so much easier sending everything.

The phone, I still consider it part of the social landscape.  80% of the inbound calls I get are from companies leveraging power dialers, local presence.  I used to pick them up, wait patiently until the person calling me was ready to connect.  But not a single one has something that is interesting or relevant to me.  I wonder when those people having things I’m interested in will find me and call me.  I’m looking forward to those conversations.

Facebook–well I don’t use it as a channel, the few times a week, that I’m actually on Facebook, mostly to send someone Birthday greetings, I notice all the messages, I just ignore them.

Twitter used to be very good.  It was a quick, easy way to find new things, great content, share great content.  I’ve pretty much abandoned twitter.  When I go into it, I scroll, and scroll, and scroll, and scroll, and……..  I can’t find anything interesting.  Lot’s of quotes from Einstein, Gandhi, Steve Jobs, Mark Twain, lots of self promotion, not a whole lot of interesting content….. and I scroll, and scroll, and scroll.

People follow me, I look at their profiles, I look at their activity.  Most of them I’m clueless about why they are interested in me, but I suspect 90% of them are bots.  Every once in a while I try to purge them.

LinkedIn used to be great!  I participated actively in groups, but then LinkedIn seemed to diminish their importance, and too much was self promotional.  Then there was Pulse–but the cool kids don’t seem to hang out there anymore and except for Hank Barnes’ #FridayFails, there’s not a whole lot there.

My news feed used to be interesting.  Great content, really interesting discussions, I learned a lot.  But it’s going the way of twitter.  I look at my newsfeed, I scroll and scroll, and scroll, and scroll.  I prune my newsfeed by unfollowing as many self promoters as I can.  I unfollow people that don’t allow comments, they are using LinkedIn as a broadcast channel.  I unfollow those who are trying to convert LinkedIn to Facebook–wondering, why don’t they just use Facebook.

I scroll and scroll, and scroll.  It’s like a series of digital billboards or the soap operas conducted as monologues.  You know the formula for those:

  A single line with a provocative statement

–line feed–

Followed by another line to demonstrate your vulnerability

–line feed–

Followed by a bunch of lines describing the journey

–line feed–

Followed by another few lines with lessons learned.

–line feed–

Then the set up for the secret to success–but you are directed to the first two comments, I suppose to fool people into thinking it’s earth shattering, and there is some sort of discussion.

They all follow the same formula.  They try to appear profound, as though in their journey, they have discovered the secret to cold calls, indigestion, hemorrhoids, social media success, and world hunger.  They are rampantly narcissistic.

Perhaps if they were in iambic pentameter or followed the structure of haiku’s, I would find them more interesting.

And I scroll and scroll, and scroll….

I sometimes wonder if if reached the very last one, would it say “Burma Shave…..”  (You have to be a certain age to get that–look it up in Wikipedia)

I wonder where I’ll go to learn new things, to engage thoughtful people in interesting discussions.  Inevitably there will be new channels I can leverage, new discussion groups that will be good–at least until they, too become digital wastelands.

We wonder why it is more difficult to engage people, why people are overwhelmed/exhausted, why people are cynical.  It’s easy to understand, just go to any popular social media channel, they’ve become digital wastelands.

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Pipeline coverage is something every sales manager talks about, but few really understand it, that is, most of the time I see it mis-applied, so that it is meaningless, or even dangerously misleading.

Pipeline coverage refers to the number of qualified opportunities one must have in their qualified pipelines to make their number.  Calculating pipeline coverage is easy, we can all do it in our sleep.  We simply divide the number and value of the deals we need to make our number, by our win rate.  The two numbers that result are the total number of deals and the value of the deals we must maintain in our qualified pipeline.

If we have a “3X” pipeline coverage model, implicitly we are saying we have a 33% win rate.  Stated differently, for every 3 qualified deals we have in our pipeline, we expect to win 1.

All simple, all sales management 101.

Now here’s where things start going tragically wrong:

  1.  We apply that number to everyone in the organization.  A high performing sales person may have a win rate of 50%, needing only “2X” coverage.  Not only do we piss that sales person off by requiring them to have more, but we threaten their performance by diverting them from the deals they would focus on to finding more deals just to make the general coverage model.  So we actually may lower their performance and win rates by forcing them into a global coverage model.
  2. Likewise, a poor performer may have a win rate of 20%.  This would require a coverage model of 5X.  But since we’ve set the coverage at 3X, we are establishing a goal that will cause them to fall short of their numbers.  “But I did what you told me to do boss……”
    1. We have to establish healthy pipeline metrics for each person on the team, coaching them on how to improve.
  3. Pipeline coverage is meaningless without pipeline integrity.  If your pipeline is filled with garbage, you will achieve your coverage model, but here’s the death spiral.  Your win rates go down, because you have bad quality deals, so now your 3X coverage is unsatisfactory.  You need to change something to make your number.  Unfortunately, too many managers are either oblivious to what this means or too lazy to dive into the issues.
    1. I actually met with a VP of Sales who said, “We need to move our coverage to 6-7 times (7 times implies a win rate of 14%).  Clearly, he knew how to do the pipeline math, but he wasn’t taking the time to understand what was driving the numbers.  He wasn’t looking at, “Do we have real qualified opportunities in our pipeline, or do we have crap?”  “Why is our win rate declining, what do we need to do about it?”  The purpose of this is not a math exercise.  The purpose is to understand the dynamics of your pipeline, then start engineering things to tilt the numbers in your favor (more on this later). First, they need to inspect the pipeline maintaining rigorous quality.  Are these real deals?  Are they qualified?  Why is our win rate declining, what do we need to do to improve it (or it may be our average transaction size or our sales cycle).
    2. The pipeline coverage metric is probably the most easily gamed metric in sales.  Sales people can always meet their coverage number, simply by lowering the quality of the deals they stuff into the pipeline.  It’s not their fault–they are doing what management is telling them to do.  It’s management’s responsibility to make sure sales people understand what a quality deal looks like and to make sure the pipelines are filled with quality deals.
  4. Pipeline coverage is meaningless without velocity.  Let’s say we have a high quality pipeline, it’s hitting our coverage goal, but a large number of deals are stalled.  We won’t hit our number.  Pipeline coverage, velocity (based on average sales cycle) go han in hand.  We have to have both, in balance, or pipeline coverage is useless.
  5. Our pipeline number ripple through to our healthy prospecting numbers.  For example, if 1 in 10 prospects results in a qualified opportunity, we now have guidance about the prospecting we need to do to maintain healthy pipelines.
    1. If we have bad logic or bad numbers for our pipelines, it will drive the wrong assessment of what we need to do in prospecting.
  6. We need to constantly reassess these metrics to tilt them in our favor.  We aren’t “prisoners” of the math (as the VP of Sales cited above was), we engineer these numbers, tilting them in our favor.  Have we defined the ICP and are we focusing on this?  How do we improve deal quality?  What can we do to improve win rates, average transaction value, sales cycle?

Too many managers and sales people don’t understand their pipeline metrics, consequently, are challenged in meeting goals regardless of what measure has been established.

Too many managers and sales people focus on the math–the calculation, without understanding we control or at least influence the formulas.  Math always works, a 33% win rate will always create the need for 3X coverage.  But things change, if we start looking at, “What if our win rate is 50%, how do we make that happen?”  Ironically, if we answer that question, we work on far fewer deals, we have to prospect far fewer.  Alternatively, we can leverage this to drive higher revenue growth.

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I read a fascinating post from Chris Orlob, filled with interesting data on sales performance.

The headline is, over the past 7 years, average VP of Sales tenure has shrunk from 26 months (Chris calls that healthy, I think it is unhealthy) to 19 months, which we both agree is tragic.

He couples it to another downward trend, % of reps attaining quota is now roughly 50%.

There’s other research that shows slightly different data, but every survey I see has over all sales performance declining.

We are on this death spiral of continuing bad performance, with no end in sight.  The bottom line is this results in billions of wasted spending and 10’s of billions of lost opportunity.

It’s easy to see how we get to a place like this.  The scenario goes something like this:

1.  Hire a new VP of Sales, presumably because the prior VP of Sales wasn’t getting the results.

2.  It takes 60-90 days for the new VP to figure out what’s broken and what actions should be taken.

3.  Now we talk about the change management timing.  Say it’s simple, I need to put in new systems, or maybe training, or maybe some program.  It takes time to make these decisions and get things in place.  Let’s say, very optimistically, it’s 3 months.  So the VP is 5-6 months into the job.

4.  It takes time for the sales people to learn the new skills, new systems, new programs, so there is an “onboarding” or change management time period for the sales person to be fully productive on these new things.  Let’s say that’s another 3 months.  So the VP is 8-9 months into the job.

5.  Unless you have a very short prospecting/sales cycle, we now have to go through several sales cycles to see consistent and sustainable improvement.  Let’s say the cycle is 3 months.  At the first cycle, we see some improvement, probably need to make some changes and adjustments.  The VP is 11-12 months into the job.

6.  The second cycle is 3 months, again, some improvement but not enough, also some tuning to get the results we want.  The VP is 14-15 months into the job.

Remember, all this is very optimistic timing and assumes everything is working like clockwork.

7.  Executive management is getting impatient, “We expected to see results, we, we aren’t seeing it fast enough, what’s been happening the past year!”  Behind the scenes, executive management is looking for the replacement, just in case.

8.  VP of Sales gets worried, naturally, ups the tempo, may rethink a little bit and redirect.  Some time delay, we go through another sales cycle, we’re now in the 18 or so month time frame.

9  VP of Sales has run out of runway, a new VP is brought, we go back to 1, we do not collect $200 and we go through the same death spiral again.

First, this amount of change never happens this fast!  Perhaps there is some chance in a very small organization, but then you have the challenge of finding people that have the experience base to do this.  The larger the organization, the longer and more difficult it takes.

Second, everyone in the organization is hunkering down.  They see managers come and go, they know this one will pass, so they aren’t all in.  Which creates a bigger challenge for the VP of Sales.

If the VP of Sales realizes people aren’t all in, they look for people who are.  Now we are into the recruiting, hiring, onboading, getting to know the territory—-whoops, time’s up.

So is it any surprise that sales performance figures are declining?  Is it any surprise the VP longevity is declining?  And I suspect voluntary attrition is increasing, which further aggravates the problem.

We are on a performance death spiral that wastes talent, resources, money, opportunity.

To change this, change has to start at the top!

Executive management and management at all levels need to stop this!

First,  we need to recognize and commit to talent trumps everything.  Hiring the best person available is wrong, taking the time to know what your Ideal person is and searching for that person is critical.  Too often, we have commoditized talent and it is something that cannot be commoditized.  If we have the wrong people, if we are unable to retain the right people, we will never succeed.  Again, this is not just for top management, but this applies to everyone in the organization.

Second, we have to be realistic about time.  The larger, more complex the organization, the more time it will take.  We have to understand the leading indicators of success, to recognize we are on the right track, to find errors and correct them early.  But we have to commit to the people we bring on board, being realistic about time to success.

Third, we have to have a culture of accountability.  We have to have a culture committed to performance and not to excuses.

Fourth, we must execute, execute, execute.

Fifth, we must constantly learn and improve.  None of this is trivial or easy.  If it were, we wouldn’t be where we are.  We will make mistakes along the way

Sixth, we must execute, execute, execute.

There is no magic.  There is no “easy” button.  There is no technology that will solve our problems.  This is tough work and if you sign up for the job–whether CEO, VP of Sales, Sales Manager, Sales Person, you have to commit to the work.

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Account Based Marketing/Selling is all the rage today.  if you haven’t jumped on that bandwagon, you clearly aren’t one of the cool kids.

But having played in this space for more than a few years, a lot of what I see is deja-vu all over again, echoing concepts from the 80’s, 90’s, even before (look at some of the original books on account based selling and when they were published.

There are some differences in ABM/ABS–ironically, very few people talk about them, except some of those grizzled veterans who have lived this through their careers.

It seems marketers in ABM have discovered something really unique.  It’s called personalization and relevance.  Apparently with ABM, we target our marketing programs to the right people within an account, talking about issues we know to be relevant to the account.

Hmmm, isn’t that what good marketing is supposed to do anyway?  Aren’t we trying to target everyone we inflict our marketing efforts on?  Aren’t we trying to be relevant to each of them?  Technology, has given us huge capabilities to do this, but it seems (if my inbox is any indicator), that we don’t leverage the capabilities we are paying for, instead choosing to inundate the world with the same messages that may have relevance to a fraction of the audience.

Granted, ABM enables us to narrow the focus more, but we can target our messages by industry group, by persona within industry group, by organizational demographics within those industry groups, by functions within those organizations.  We can increase our relevance by any number of dimensions for 100% of our marketing, improving the results we get from 100% of the marketing.

Yes, with ABM, we can be even more targeted, “We know that XYZ is a strategic initiative in your organization, and top management has established this goal……”  (Ironically, I never see ABM programs that say something to this effect, even though they could.  Perhaps, I’m not looking in the right places.)

Account Based Selling is similar, we dedicate people to accounts, so we can increase our knowledge and relevance to the accounts.  But again, there is no excuse for any sales person, not to have studied the account, not to have researched the individuals before the first contact or meeting.  Technology and tools have given us this capability for virtually any organization, but too often we aren’t leveraging this.

Somehow we tend to think of an account as something different than anything else we do.  In reality, an account is just a different form of territory.  Some territories may be organized by geography (for instance a city or set of postal/zip codes), an industry segment (for example insurance, commercial banking, etc), a named list of companies, or a single company.

The job of the sales person is to maximize their share of territory-however that territory might be defined.  They have to analyze the territory, build new relationships, expand their reach, leverage referrals and other relationships in the territory.

When I first started selling, I had one named account, with principal operations at 1 New York Plaza and Chase Plaza in downtown Manhattan.  A friend had the states of North and South Dakota.  Our jobs were exactly the same, we were supposed to turn over every stone in our territories, finding every opportunity we could.  Our quotas were different, based on territory potential–mine was about 15 times hers, but our fundamental jobs were exactly the same.

We both sought to expand our relationships with current customers–up/cross selling.  We both prospected to get new business within our “territories.”  She went city to city, I went floor by floor/department by department.  It’s the exact same job, she just put more miles on her car than I did.

Lest you think I’m bashing ABM/ABS, I’m not, I’m fully supportive of ABM/ABS principles–except those are just the principles of outstanding marketing and selling, regardless of whether they are account focused, industry focused, geo focused.  The wonderful thing is technology and tools have eliminated any excuse we might have to being knowledgeable, focused, and relevant with any and all customers.

There are some differences in an Account Based focus, ironically, I see very little discussion about these.  Most of the account based stuff is purely focused on “how do we sell more to this account?”

The account based focus enables us to profoundly change the relationship with the account.  To move from vendor, potentially to strategic partner.  It can profoundly change the value we create with these partners, moving truly into co-creation, often in ways that extend beyond the relationship with the account itself.

Too often, we create and inflict account status on accounts, simply because they are important to us, when we are just another vendor to them.  But if we can find ways of becoming strategically more important, we start looking at much stronger collaborative structures between organizations.  We seek and gain much stronger executive sponsorship both from our company and with the account.  We form much more collaborative projects, with governance structures to help each of us to achieve our goals.  We have joint planning, aligned priorities, we both are making investments in things that allow us to achieve our collective and individual objectives.

These accounts can become fertile grounds for developing new approaches and new products, we can launch into other markets.  These accounts can give us access to their supply chains, extending our reach and our ability to grow.

However, this extended view of the account seems to be missing from most of the discussion.  Most of what I see is simply limited to “how do we sell more,” rather than how do we profoundly change the value we co-create, creating much bigger opportunities for each party in the account.

Where’s that leave us?  A big Yes to all the things we are talking about on ABM/ABS–but these should be the foundational principles for everything we do in sales and marketing!

The real opportunity for Account Based initiatives is not merely selling them more stuff, but it is profoundly changing the value creation model to drive step function changes in the relationship, and the value we each get from this relationship  (yes it means huge increases in revenue we get from these accounts, not just the next sale from these accounts.)

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How would you feel if you walked into a dentist’s office, and everyone in the office had terrible/rotting teeth?

Would you hire a contractor whose tools are rusted or broken?  Or a landscaper whose yard was filled with weeds and dead plants?

Would you eat at a restaurant that is filthy and has rat traps in the corners?

How we present ourselves is important to building credibility, confidence, and trust with our customers.  Yet I’m amazed at the number of sales people (note, I didn’t use the term “professional”) that present themselves poorly.

I’m not speaking of how one dresses, though that does have an impact.  But it’s really about everything we do in engaging a customer.

We demonstrate our professionalism to our customers when we:

  • Are knowledgeable about them, their industry, markets, and the issues they are facing.
  • Understand and care about their ability to achieve their goals.
  • Are knowledgeable about how our products and solutions can help them solve their problems.
  • Help them learn new things or think about their businesses differently.
  • Help them navigate their problem solving and buying journey.
  • Are on time and prepared.
  • Take the time to listen and probe to understand.
  • Use their time well, creating value in every interaction.
  • Meet our commitments–not just the big one’s, all of them.  It’s the details that make the real difference.
  • Don’t make excuses for errors, but focus on fixing them and preventing recurrence.
  • Constantly seek to build and reinforce the trust our customers have in us.
  • …… and there’s more.

We demonstrate our professionalism within our own companies when we:

  • Help our peers and colleagues when they need help.  Understand and care about their abilities to achieve their goals.
  • Leverage the tools, processes, systems, programs that have been put in place, because they help us get better, they help us improve our effectiveness.
  • Constantly learn, develop new skills.
  • Constantly look to improve.
  • Keep our managers and people in the organization “in the loop,” making sure they understand what we have going on and leveraging them for help and support.
  • Are on time and prepared.
  • Take the time to listen, probe and understand.
  • Use the resources in our companies well, use our colleagues’ time well, creating value in every interaction.
  • Meet our commitments–not just the big one’s, all of them.  It’s the details that make the real difference.
  • Don’t make excuses for errors, but focus on fixing them and preventing recurrence.
  • ….. and there’s more.

(You may be starting to sense a pattern.)

As managers, we demonstrate our professionalism when we:

  • Recognize the only way we achieve our goals is through our people and are committed to the success of each one.
  • Understand and care about their abilities to achieve their goals.
  • Coach them, helping them learn and constantly improve.
  • Develop them to help them grow into higher levels of responsibility.
  • Recognize and promote them within the organization.
  • Protect them from the nonsense that organizations inflict on us.
  • Make sure our people understand our expectations of their performance and constantly work with them to help them achieve those goals.
  • Leverage the tools, processes, systems, programs that have been put in place, because they help us get better, they help us improve our effectiveness and the effectiveness of our teams.
  • Constantly learn and develop new skills.
  • Constantly looking to improve our own capabilities and performance.
  • Keep our managers and people in the organization “in the loop,” making sure they understand what we have going on and leveraging them for help and support.
  • Are on time and prepared.
  • Take the time to listen, probe and understand.
  • Use the resources in our companies well, use our colleagues’ time well, creating value in every interaction.
  • Meet our commitments–not just the big one’s, all of them.  It’s the details that make the real difference.
  • Don’t make excuses for errors, but focus on fixing them and preventing recurrence.
  • Set an example in our behavior and actions, for every one, every day.
  • Trust our people and be trustworthy.
  • ….. and there’s more.

As executives, we demonstrate our professionalism when we:

  • Recognize the only way we achieve our goals is through our people and are committed to the success of each one.
  • Demonstrate the concept of servant leadership in all our actions.
  • Understand and care about their abilities to achieve their goals.
  • Coach them, helping them learn and constantly improve.
  • Develop them to help them grow into higher levels of responsibility.
  • Recognize and promote them within the organization.
  • Protect them from the nonsense that organizations inflict on us.
  • Make sure our people understand our expectations of their performance and constantly work with them to help them achieve those goals.
  • Leverage the tools, processes, systems, programs that have been put in place, because they help us get better, they help us improve our effectiveness and the effectiveness of our teams.
  • Constantly learn and develop new skills.
  • Constantly looking to improve our own capabilities and performance.
  • Keep our managers and people in the organization “in the loop,” making sure they understand what we have going on and leveraging them for help and support.
  • Recognize the interrelationships between functions in the organization and the complexity it drives.  Constantly seek to simplify.
  • Recognize the overwhelm and distractions our organizations (and we) create, constantly seek to simplify.
  • Are on time and prepared.
  • Take the time to listen, probe and understand.
  • Use the resources in our companies well, use our colleagues’ time well, creating value in every interaction.
  • Meet our commitments–not just the big one’s, all of them.  It’s the details that make the real difference.
  • Don’t make excuses for errors, but focus on fixing them and preventing recurrence.
  • Set an example in our behaviors and actions, for every one, every day.
  • Trust our people and be trustworthy.
  • ….. and there’s more.

I’m certain you noticed, the higher in the organization, the greater our responsibility to demonstrate our professionalism.

What are you doing to demonstrate your professionalism, every day?

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