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November 19, 2010

Trust Me

I was very skeptical about it at first, when my wife proposed this solution. We adopted a German Shepherd and although he was just a puppy, we knew he would eventually grow into his bear-sized paws. This breed and the size that Bodhi (short for Bodhisattva) would eventually reach would be intimidating. For purposes of liability we would need to keep him safely within the confines of our yard. Our previous pets had enjoyed more freedom, which was my preference. My wife proposed an electronic fence, but I doubted that it would work. No mild shock was going to contain him if a pack of deer were to saunter past (a frequent probability for us). He would simply be incapable of not chasing after them.

Yet, it did work. A couple of zaps and he very much began to respect our expectations of confinement. The three deer that visited last night passed our yard unmolested and unconcerned about the wolf-like canine (they seemed to have learned about the invisible fence as well). Bodhi was relegated to only barking his displeasure regarding the close encounter with our wild neighbors.

Ironically, he no longer wears his collar. He does not require the electronic stimulus to remain within his scope of freedom. Bodhi’s demonstrated restraint, when faced with such a tempting attraction outside the fence, has firmly earned my trust. And my wife will be quick to point out that once again she was right.

This creative approach to fencing demands the presence of trust. You have to believe it is going to work because there is no visible means of containment. With that thought in my head, I started to ponder what invisible fences were containing me within their perimeters and how many proverbial collars I had around my neck. But, that got too frightening and I quickly distracted myself with work to avoid any more unpleasant thoughts.

At that point I remembered that I had just been through a somewhat related conversation about trust with one of my clients. This sales manager questioned my advice regarding her need to include the tracking of sales activities as a component of their sales process and within their CRM system. Her position was that it was unnecessary – she trusted her sales people to do the right things and did not need to look over their shoulders. The last thing she wants is for her sales force to feel threatened with the whole big brother dynamic. While I understand this completely, I disagree with the conclusion.

Was Wild

When we ask sales professionals to capture customer information we do this because we are interested in performance enhancement. We just need to take trust out of the equation. The act of tracking sales activities conducted with customers has a purpose that transcends the concept of trust. At the highest level we track activities to gain more intelligence. If we correlate activity against deal progression we can identify what activities drive opportunity closure with greater situational relevance. In other words, we help sales folks do the right thing with the right customer at the right time. No matter how smart your sales reps are, they are not smarter than the collective understanding we gain from the capture and analysis of customer data.

A second benefit is the value of collaboration that we enable by capturing customer activity in a central and searchable location. This is a fundamental requirement that creates the ability for each team member to know what is going on in the account - facilitating communication and reducing surprises - preventing things from falling through the proverbial cracks. We don’t choose to utilize activity tracking to support collaboration because we don’t trust our sales people to collaborate. Rather, we do this because it is a fundamental element of sales best practices and it enables collaboration. Centrally stored customer data drives better insight and reduces risk. Trust is irrelevant.

At the other end of the spectrum, we do need to drive the capture of sales activities with new teams or under-performing teams to better understand how to improve. This is a coaching matter. When you bring on a new sales professional you want to maximize your ability to guide them and assure they are assimilating into the role rapidly and correctly. If you have an underperforming rep one of the best ways to assure solid improvement coaching is to have a solid understanding of what is going on. Capturing sales activity is the central data required. Yet, this is performed to aid improvement, not out of a lack of trust. Again, trust is not the issue – we need data.

If I did not have an electronic fence at the perimeter of my property, I don’t think I could trust my shepherd to stay put every time his hoofed friends come visiting. He is, after all, a dog and it is about trust. We should not view the process of asking for customer data capture as a restraint. It is not meant to act as a boundary – it is meant to act as a springboard of knowledge.

So, don’t think you’re treating your sales team like contained pets if you ask them to keep a good record of their sales calls. You trust them, but you also need them to put in the correct effort to maximize your customer intelligence.

Now, back to that concept of those proverbial collars around our necks….

November 12, 2010

When You're Ready

I am shortly to become an empty-nester, and I am just fine about it. That is very different from the feeling I got from watching Steve Martin’s movie, Father of the Bride, which came out at about the time of my entrance into fatherhood. Somehow the movie transported me to a point where my new born daughter was finished with being a kid and transitioning to a new stage as a wife. I was seriously not ready for that. And while I may not be completely ready to throw a wedding, I am totally ready with the idea of the empty nest.

Somehow kids growing up make that work. When my daughter was a tweener, I ruminated over the whole dating situation. However, when it came time for her first date a couple of years later, it was totally cool and she chose her boyfriends well(mostly). The same thing happens with driving. I got so tired of driving my son to so many school functions and activities with friends, that handing over the keys after earning his license was a relief. But, I did worry in advance about that day back when he was 13. When it eventually comes time to take the big steps, the big steps seems easy.

Shipping the first one off to college worked out the same way. An 18 year old is genetically programmed to disrupt the nest. That way the parents know it’s time to send off a new member into society. The genetic programming made it easy to let go, if for no reason other than to have the disruptions go away. And now it’s time for the second one to go off and the idea of all the freedom is quite a nice light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. Parenting does not come with a user guide, but it helps that nature builds in some things that assist with the transitions.

On the other hand there have been many attempts at writing user guides for business managers. But, I have never found a good one for sales managers. And I don’t think nature has done a good job assisting things either – in fact just the opposite seems to happen. Promoting great sales people into sales manager positions seems to have a poor track record. This is a problem because there are some key sales transitions that need to go well and the sales manager as coach must play a very critical role.

One of those tough transitions is the introduction of new sales force automation to a sales team that has had no or low amounts of sales technology previously. What is typically most difficult about this transition is not just the use of technology but the need to follow a more prescriptive sales process, which usually accompanies the use of world class SFA technology. This is particularly difficult when those same coaches are not in complete agreement with those process changes.

So, it may not be the most popular analogy, but sales managers (as sales coaches) are a bit like parents and do need to help with handling organizational transitions. And I think that sales manager training makes sense in this case. If you are managing a sales function or sales operations group, you need to take this transition to new technology and new sales processes pretty seriously. And, before you worry about deploying to your sales team, you need to get your sales coaches comfortable with the transition first.

Just like the transitions I described above with my kids, where I was being prepared ahead of time, we need to do that with sales managers. We need to get them ready for their people to take on more disciplined tasks and more sophisticated technology. My experience is that it is best to have the sales managers embrace the changes first. Take on the process changes and assimilate those, then layer the technology as a second wave of change.

When my daughter turned 18 she really started to flex her independence muscles. That helped to prepare me for her departure to a university 1400 miles away. We need to prepare our sales managers for transitions a bit differently, but the key is to have them experience the necessary changes first, just like I did as a parent. And I think the key to success is to train them in the sales processes that will be changing. Have them learn the changes and then be accountable for implementing those changes. When the technology comes, it will be viewed as an aid rather than as an evil.

Here is an example – account planning. Many of the organizations I work with do not have sophisticated account planning structures or tools, but it is one of the key elements of both successful SFA and effective sales methodologies. Most companies want to introduce the tool (the technology) as a way of introducing the new method. But the problem is that doing both together is like a one two punch. It is better to introduce the process of account planning first. Teach managers the new process and expect them to implement it with their sales districts. Give them paper versions of the planning template to introduce the new approach. When the tool comes it will be perceived as an improvement – everyone will be ready, especially the managers.

Ultimately, the answer is to help your sales managers to get through the transition first. Put the time and energy there, and the payoff will happen as you deploy to the whole field force. Just like a parent, they won’t be fighting the change; they will be pushing for it to happen.

How many months is it until schools open next fall?

Once Upon A Bowl

November 05, 2010

Boot Camp and Cheerleaders

At some point or another you have heard someone make the claim that sports are a metaphor for war. It is a frequently made observation that cities, states, universities, and high schools that compete with each other on the playing field are really at battle with each other just like in ancient times when cities waged actual war on each other. Today, inside the modern day sports arena, what is at stake is economical dominance rather than a matter of life or death.

American football is the most obvious of the metaphors and was very nicely characterized in a fantastic comedy piece performed by the late, great George Carlin. His humor focused on the brutal nature of the grid iron. However, the sheer physicality of the sport does not require us to stretch far to see the nature of battle in our favorite American Sunday afternoon pastime. But, you can make the case for most sports – there is an element of battle, waging the best warrior from each city to overtake the others in their path. Heck, even chess, such a cerebral sport, is based on characters of war, pitting one kingdom against the other until conquest is complete.

Then there are the sports that practice elements of war. Wrestling, track & field, archery, the skiing biathlon, boxing and all the martial arts, all pit individuals against each other in typical situations required within actual combat or battle. So, I probably don’t need to keep making the case. We continuously fight each other with a ball now. It is more pleasant than the real thing.

I like the fact that we have turned much of our natural human aggression into sport. Having toured many medieval castles that were ruined during wars hundreds of years ago, I think it is better to be resoundingly beaten on the court or pitch, with present day warriors licking their proverbial wounds on the plane ride home, rather than having artillery hurled through the walls of our town offices. We still have things at stake, but it seems more sustainable with a tennis ball over a cannon ball.

Bowl Battle

What if we were to operate this way within our non-sports enterprises? Every once in a while I hear a reference to a company waging war on another, but it is not all that common. But, if we were to adopt the sports version of the metaphor, there are some interesting possibilities. Our customer-facing functions do well serving their customers, but what if they also split some of their focus on battling competitors?

First and foremost what is required to operate within this metaphor is the focus on winning. Winning is binary. You either get a W or an L in the win/loss column. The focus on the W is an amazing motivator. But for most businesses the focus is on a number instead of an opponent. Beating last year’s revenue by 4% does not seem as real to me as beating another company located in another city, and who wears a different logo on their helmets and uniforms. More focus on an opponent, and especially more focus on beating that opponent, would go a long way toward the mobilization of corporate energy.

Another element of the sports-as-war metaphor that I think would benefit other businesses is the concept of practicing. If you are a sports team you practice in between games. If you are a military unit you train and conduct military exercises. If you are a business you hire people with a degree and maybe experience and then turn them loose on the real world. If more companies conducted more team practice, performance would go up, just like in the world of sports. Nobody makes it to the Olympics though on-the-job training.

And then there are the plays kept secretly in the playbook. Why don’t we have playbooks within the business world? There are some. Following your deals within the stages of a sales methodology begins to look like the plays your coach might call when it is second down and five to go. But, I think we could do more of that – define scenarios that call for synchronized actions outlined for the different players within the team. This, by the way, will have a big implication for your CRM system.

One of the best aspects of well organized sports, especially at the collegiate and professional, level is the way it can galvanize an entire community behind the team. The soccer World Cup and the Super Bowl are significant examples of this. Just think what it would be like if your company had an entire city behind it while it waged battle with the opponent from another corporation located in another city. I think it would be great to see a crowd of people waiting for me at the airport when I come back from a successful business trip. Is this too far fetched? If we did more in our companies to be a part of the communities where we reside, sharing our challenges and successes, we might eventually see the community rallying behind the business enterprise – it is possible.

And then there is the idea of cheerleaders. Wouldn’t that be something? Or maybe it is more like a MASH unit following me around as I wage battle (perhaps that is what the executive lounge at the airport is accomplishing already). The comparisons can keep going, but I’ll stop while I am ahead. Ultimately, the point is that maybe we could get more mileage if we didn’t manage our companies just from a spread sheet, but also from the metaphorical perspective the sports world benefits from when it wages its wars.

So, go find an opponent and declare war; suit up for a battle and return victorious with the booty. Just don’t kill any of your customers along the way.