One Third Of CEO’s Are Worthless In Sales

Those aren’t my words but rather the findings from a Selling Power survey.  From the article:

A recent Selling Power online survey found that 29 percent of sales leaders judged their CEO useless when it comes to creating a sale.

Almost one third and I think I have worked for all of them!  The savvy sales CEO is a rare bird indeed.  Of course there is more to the article than just this survey.  The author focuses on the customer experience as seen through your salesperson representing your company in the market.  This representation is critical in making a successful sales hire – you have to envision the salesperson selling for your company.  Will they represent your company well?  Do they convey the right image, manners, professionalism?  These are not trifle matters when dealing with sales.

The same can be said for you CEOs.  The company’s culture flows from the CEO downward into the entire team.  CEOs who undervalue sales often struggle with teams that follow suit.  I’ve seen these companies first-hand…they have an engineering culture, a finance culture, a manufacturing culture…everything except a sales culture (which I would argue is the most important of them all).

I leave you with a prime example from the article:

A CEO whose company credo states, "We believe in candor and open communications" complained about how hard it is to communicate with salespeople. He said, "I can’t rely on their forecasts, I can’t rely on their data in our CRM system, and I can’t make strategic decisions based on their input." What happens when the CEO responds to salespeople with doubt or skepticism? The CEO’s doubt impacts the salesperson’s experience with the company, which inevitably echoes back to the customer.

Does Job Jumping Matter Anymore?

I would answer no.  I have the opportunity to look at many resumes on any given day and there is a definite sea-change in the job jumping area.  Millennials are far less loyal to their employers than any generation before them.  In fact, I would say “job” jumping isn’t accurate, they are actually “skill” jumping.  These employees are often looking for personal skill development and once they sense they have tapped out their growth curve in their current role, they leave.

I spend a fair amount of time explaining this skill jumping behavior to old-school hiring managers.  Companies must have a plan for ongoing development of their Millennial workforce otherwise they will look for skill development at a different company.

This somewhat new trend is well documented in this Harvard Business Review article.  From the article:

Sullivan says that employers have become more accepting of brief periods of employment. As many as 32% of employers expect job-jumping. “It’s become part of life,” says Sullivan. In fact, people are most likely to leave their jobs after their first, second, or third work anniversaries. Millennials are especially prone to short stays at jobs. Sullivan’s research shows that 70% quit their jobs within two years. So the advice to stick it out at a job for the sake of your resume is just no longer valid.

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Did you catch that…2 years!  I suspect that fact is due to companies being slow to provide development paths for these new employees.  The days of pension-earning careers with one company are long gone.

The Millennials are skewing the tenure number lower, but other generations are catching on also:

The average length of time a worker stays in a job these days is 4.6 years.

Have a plan to grow your direct reports’ individual skill sets.  Put milestones out there for them to achieve.  Have a plan and share it with them.  If you need help, we can help.

Forming, Storming And Norming Teams

That is how teambuilding occurs according to the Tuckman model and I agree.  Assessing entire sales teams provides me an inside view at teams and how they function and this model plays out consistently.

This article covers many interesting topics with a focus on creativity killers.  Creativity is difficult to measure or assess, but there are things a sales leader can do to help foster creativity.  From the article (emphasis mine):

It’s easy to look at models like that and think that cohesion and friendliness should be the ultimate goal. But surprisingly, when it comes to creativity, the best teams fight a little (or even a lot). Structured, task-oriented conflict can be a signal that new ideas are being submitted to the group and tested. If you team always agrees, that might suggest that people are self-censoring their ideas, or worse, not generating any new ideas at all. Research suggests that teams that forgo traditional brainstorming rules and debate over ideas as they’re presented end up with more and better ideas. As a leader, it may seem like your job is to break up and fights, but don’t be afraid to act as a referee instead — allowing the fight over ideas to unfold, but making sure it stays fair and doesn’t get personal.

Exactly.  The best sales teams I assess have a little bit of fight to them.  They are not cookie-cutter clones that generate some sycophantic affirmation to every new idea offered up in a team meeting.  No, instead they tend to have a rollicking good go regarding new ideas.  They test them, challenge them, argue about them.

The important component to this “storming” team is a sales leader who actively referees the discussion.  These leaders are open, thoughtful and decisive in handling brainstorming sessions.  I have had the luxury of sitting through these meetings at customer conference rooms and I am always amazed to watch a strong leader empower his or her team to challenge the status quo and, at times, attack sacred cows of the organization.

If you are looking to develop your creativity-fostering skills, I would strongly encourage you to read the entire article.

Cultural Qualifying

I ran into an old coworker, whom I consider a good friend, at a coffee shop this Friday morning.  He is the VP of Sales with 75 or so direct reports.  His company is international with a majority of their revenue occurring in Asia.

He was telling me about sales training he held for the entire sales team.  The focus was on negotiating and, more specifically, how to ask the right questions to qualify the opportunity.  The Asian sales reps balked at some of the questions based solely on their approach to qualifying.  Let’s just say they prefer to take a more passive, unquestioning approach which leads to prayer rug forecasts and lower revenue.

Obviously there are some cultural issues when it comes to qualifying.  Anyone who has been to Japan knows that there are certain formalities you have to follow to honor your counterparts.  However, I would argue that the qualifying issue is an individual issue.  At the risk of sounding overly simple, sales is a difficult profession that requires a skill set that is uncommon to the majority of the population.

The training that my friend provided was not provocative, excessive nor “risky.”  It was simply communication made clear by a sound questioning strategy.  This approach is the essence of qualifying.  It spans cultures.  It leads to the important point that if you are attempting to hire stronger salespeople, you must incorporate an assessment to get an x-ray of the salesperson’s abilities.  Do they have the right mix of talent and motivation to ask the difficult questions required for successful selling?

If you are looking for a solution, we can help.

Leadership During Uncertain Times

“Strong opinions, weakly held” is the mantra from this Harvard Business Review article.  Actually, the article provides 3 excellent leadership suggestions:

Get emotional.

Be whimsical.

Express doubt.

Now those 3 items, in terms of leadership, should pique your interest.  In case not, here is an excerpt from each topic:

Get emotional – More than purpose or perks, employees value heartfelt moments of connection that meet their needs as social beings.

Be whimsical – By exposing their idiosyncrasies, passions, and whims, bosses can make themselves more human.

Express doubt – “Employees, more than ever, are individualists. Leaders, in response, are learning to be less the visionary, less the sage, less the objective-setter, and more the shaper, the connector, the questioner.”

Leadership is changing, and maybe every generation states that.  To me, it simply seems that “employees” are becoming more individualistic, more independent which is driving the need for 21st century leadership that straddles the chasm between leading and managing.  This article provides 3 salient suggestions for any modern-day leader.

As they say, read the entire thing.

The Importance Of Accountability

I harp on this topic frequently, but it is a foundational need for all strong sales leaders.  You must hold your people accountable to reach goals, close deals and follow your system (a broad word that entails your requirements for performance).  The key is to simply do it…you don’t have to be “good” at it, but you do have to do it.  Many sales leaders miss this important point.

So I give you this Selling Power article with a comprehensive view of this accountability need for all sales leaders.  The author makes a significant point that often gets overlooked by sales leaders who like to use the stick before the carrot.  First the accountability piece:

3) Hold your team and each member accountable for goals.  You don’t have to threaten your team members to remind them that they’re responsible (to you and to one another) for meeting the goals they set.  Instead, inspire their best effort by reminding them of their importance to the team and company.  Tell them you’ll hold them accountable for succeeding because you have faith in their ability to get the job done.

Well said.  And to go further, you will have to discipline the underperformers.  Do not skip past this requirement.  Now for the part that I have seen some overzealous sales leaders dismiss (emphasis mine):

4) Be supportive.  Meeting sales goals is a team effort, and you’re an important part of that team.  You can’t make the calls for your salespeople, but you can give them every chance to succeed by providing your support and guidance.  Remind your salespeople that you’re on their side, and that you’ll be available to help them in any way you can.  If you’re going to hold your salespeople accountable for meeting their goals, you have to hold yourself accountable for helping them.

Absolutely spot on.  You have to help them in the manner in which they need help to develop and succeed.  Don’t close deals for them.  Don’t read them the riot act and not help them.  Don’t go silent with the underperformers.  You have to be a coach right in the middle of the huddle helping call the plays that will lead to their success.  Anything short of that and you are not holding up your end of the leadership equation.

6 Practices of Innovative Companies

From the Herman Trend Newsletter:

BCG also highlights six practices of the most innovative companies and explores how those practices have played out at innovation leaders across a range of industries:

1) Get the customer involved early.

2) Use data to drive tough decision-making.

3) Think strategically about tradeoffs.

4) Ensure senior leadership commitment.

5) Envision innovation as a holistic system.

6) Optimize intellectual property to create value.

I think that is a spot-on list.  I was drawn to number 3 – think strategically about tradeoffs.  In dealing with smaller, entrepreneurial companies, I see the founders often fail in this area (fail to the point of liquidating).  It is critical to think strategically (i.e. objectively) when setting course or changing direction in an innovative company no matter what size.

Bad Habits Are Good?

I am struggling with this Salary.com article – 12 Bad Habits That Can Actually Help Your Career.  Here is one example:

Procrastinating

Today’s work culture expects us to multitask, run from one project to the next, and constantly be on the go. The urge to procrastinate indicates your brain is overtired, overstressed, and needs to slow down. Indulge and take a time out. You’ll come back refreshed, and better able to focus on the tasks at hand.

What?  Indulge and take a time out?  As a manager, procrastination from my direct reports was…discouraged.  I never recall telling them to indulge and take a time out.  To me it seems like a bridge too far in this article.

Leadership Jargon

Oh does this Sales & Marketing Management article hit me where I live.  The gist of the article is the corporate speak many leaders use in hopes of sounding…smarter?  I really don’t know why they do it.  I have encountered this approach when working with leaders and their teams.  Assessing teams provides insight into how the team interacts and how the leader interacts with the team.  There are many leaders out there who seem preoccupied with the latest buzzwords and corporate speak.

A waste of time in my opinion.  Apparently the author shares this view:

“My leadership philosophy is to optimally leverage the passions of my people such that at the end of the day we maximize employee engagement to get them to think outside the box and synergistically drive value-added activities in a profit-maximizing way that is a win-win for our people, our shareholders and our customers.”

“It sounds great,” says leadership trainer Mike Figliuolo. “It is polysyllabic. It uses words with long definitions. I have only one question: what the hell does it mean?”

Amen.  I have no idea what that means either and I have heard that type of mush in many interviews.  I prefer this anecdote from the end of the article:

The boss went first, emphasizing the importance of teamwork, trust and having fun. Other participants took their turns and suddenly buzzwords were being tossed out like parade candy. One team member was uncomfortable with the emptiness of what was being said, however, so when it was his turn to speak he said simply, “My leadership philosophy is simple. Say what you mean. Do what you say.” He then turned and took his seat.

Of Authenticity

I have encountered this issue of authenticity recently in a handful of situations and it has captured my attention.  Here’s why – Gen Y is all about authenticity.  As a Gen Xer, I would argue that it is high on our list also.  Yet, some Baby Boomers have a different approach to authenticity and it stems from one key approach – they believe they have to have the answer to every question.

Now I’m not talking about aerospace-grade questions, but questions regarding their field of expertise.  Recently I witnessed 3 different situations where different Baby Boomer-aged experts encountered a difficult question.  The question was clearly beyond what they knew yet all of them attempted to answer it as an expert.  Unfortunately for them, the people asking the questions did not seem to believe the Baby Boomer answers.  I didn’t believe them either.

The after effect of the interactions was simple – I no longer trusted their expertise.  The irony of it is in the fact that some of the questions were not even in their area of expertise.  The Baby Boomers did not have to provide an answer as they could have easily deferred the question.  Instead in each situation they attempted to spout some rather odd sounding answer that came across as just that…odd.

One of the most powerful communication tools is to simply state, “I don’t know.”  If that is too direct you can use, “I’m not sure.”  In a strange way, I find it edifying of the person’s expertise – they answer questions that they know and they legitimately answer with an I don’t know if it is outside of their knowledge base.

It is disarming, real and authentic.