Monthly Archives: March 2019

How to conquer stress (Part 1)

This morning, I was talking with a client about the impact of stress on decision-making.

It’s a VERY important topic that affects:

  • How strategy gets defined
  • How strategy gets executed
  • How otherwise solid leaders get derailed
  • How otherwise solid followers get sidelined

At its core, it is a topic that EVERY organization should address.

Unfortunately, most of the stress-related “solutions” that are taught/discussed are more self-help advisements than real-world solutions.

Yes, we all need to take a break and go for a walk outdoors. But, no, not in the middle of a true crisis. Especially when customers are involved.

And yet, when I talk with people from all walks of life, stress is the most common struggle that I find. They are stressed and not handling it as well as they intuitively know that they should.

And that means that people – from all walks of life – are more than likely making decisions that they should not be making. Or more precisely, choosing to do things that won’t truly produce the best outcome.

Let me back up.

Do you understand how stress affects the brain?

When something causes us stress, we have two paths. One path takes us to the front of the brain (the cerebral cortex) where we logically try to address it. This is when we call the stress “good” because it produces all kinds of positive reactions inside of our bodies that both excite and fulfill us (aka the “rush” of the thrill). The other path takes us to the middle of our brain (the amygdala) where we emotionally freak out and try to escape the stress – via fight, flight, or freeze.

Pause. The fight/flight/freeze idea is very 1900’s. More recent research describes a more complex response that can be summed up as survival mode. In other words, when modern humans get stressed, our survival mode kicks in. Yes, fight/flight/freeze fits in here, but so do blaming others, going passive, becoming manipulative, and shaming yourself. Our survival mode is less about escaping wild animals and more about preserving our position in social circles.

So, what happens to our decision-making when we are trying to protect our position in society more than addressing the stress? What happens when protecting our ego takes priority over solving the problem?

Does it sound like some leaders you know?

Does it sound like some co-workers you know?

Does it sound like some family members you know?

Does it even possibly sound like you?

Mirror moment: Are you someone who gets stressed? And if you do get stressed, do you take the focus off of the situation and make it about your survival? Because I know that I do.

When we go into survival mode, we actually stop accessing the cerebral cortex, where our most logical and effective problem-solving takes place and retreat into a hormonally-charged, emotional space that can lead us into not only poor decisions, but unethical ones as well. All in the name of survival.

Which begs the question: What other choice do we have? What is the alternative to survival mode?

Answer: Go into serving mode.

Literally, serve your way through the stress. Make it about “us” and not “me.” Make choices that consider how other people will be affected. Be willing to “take a hit” if it will lift the rest of the team.

Yes, this is sacrificial.

Yes, this is humbling.

And yes, this is the healthiest response. For many reasons, including:

  • It inspires other people to do the same, creating true community
  • It pulls others in, generating the kind of support that only true community can deliver
  • It frees your soul, producing the kind of peace that doesn’t make sense – but works any way
  • It allows you to get back to the front of your brain, spawning new solutions that turn the risk into an opportunity

I have much more to share on this topic in the coming weeks, but let me leave you with this simple reflection to ponder:

When you get stressed, do you go into survival mode or serving mode?

I mua. Onward and upward.

By Tim Ohai

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Why can’t we build better sales managers? (Part 3)

I know this may sound crazy, but here are the musings I cannot get out of my head…

  • Is it possible that we have outgrown the traditional role of a sales manager in all but the bottom half of accounts – where deals are the most transactional?
  • Is it possible that a large number of the people who are sales managers today are in that role because of the salary and prestige of being a “manager” – not because they are actually happy in that over-worked, under-resourced role?
  • Is it possible that if we offered to change the role of sales management to (a) a local team leader overseeing more than just Sales in support of top customers or (b) a super seller, leading and coaching a team of peers, that most sales managers would jump at the chance to be in one of those roles?

For the last two weeks, I have slowly been building a case for changing the idea of sales management.

This week, let me lay out what that looks like.

First, here are my main reasons:

  • There is literally not enough time in the week to do everything that a sales manager needs to do (see more here)
  • Customer inputs consistently say that they need a “different” kind of help from sellers – and these areas are often not a priority for today’s sales manager (see more here)

This leads us to a handful of options.

For starters, we can say this is an efficiency problem and hire more managers. If you are like me, the financial mathematics behind that idea immediately causes it to go off the rails. Most sales teams are already optimized in their manager-to-rep ratio. And if they are not, there is likely not enough money to bring that option to life.

On the other hand, we can say this is an effectiveness problem and hire different managers. But the chances exist that no matter who we hire, we will turn them into the same version of sales managers that we have now. Because how we developed and empowered our current crop of leaders will be the same approach for the next. Remember that old definition of insanity (doing the same things and expecting different results)?

I see a critical third option. We have to do different things. In other words, I think it’s a hybrid of both efficiency and effectiveness. We have to evolve the definition of the role of the sales manager. Or more precisely, evolve the definition of sales management.

Consider this: If we design from the customer interaction backwards, we will get a MASSIVELY different model for how to structure the business. Amazon has famously done this, creating an operating model that people are still trying to decode.

Imagine if we were to design Amazon from the top down.

Do you really think Amazon’s logistics and sales functions would be structured the way that they are now? How about the IT function? I seriously doubt that the company would look anything like it does today. Nor would it be anywhere near as successful.

Let’s take the same approach with sales management. And start with a question.

Do customers need sales people who can be part of their entire problem-solving journey? This is a huge question. Most companies are set up to only manage the “buying process” – and even that is a poor definition of what they do. In reality, most sales teams are set up to manage the “sales opportunity process” (even calling it THE sales process, as if that is the only process in sales that matters).

But if we listen to what customers say – and evaluate the strongest, most profitable customer relationships we have – we can quickly see that our engagement with the customer is established long before the RFP. In fact, we will see that we helped write (or at least influence) the RFP. Because we work with that customer very differently. Because our sales people are involved in the entire problem-solving journey.

So, why don’t we make that the core responsibility of sales management? Why don’t we design the role around maximizing the sales team’s success in that entire problem-solving journey?

It would mean that we take a business-within-a-business approach. We treat each sales interaction as our anchor point, and structure the team around supporting those interactions. Make sure that the customer has access to a team of folks – from the sales rep to the logistics person – all on one team. Yes, I am suggesting that named accounts have named teams of support (which includes assigned Marketing, Customer Support, and Operations – plus Sales). And it’s not reserved for just the very top of the account list. We tier this approach until the profitability gets lost in the model. In other words, a local team may support the top local accounts, then share some resources virtually to handle the mid-tier accounts, then hand everything else over to a web site or call center somewhere.

But the sales manager becomes the local CEO of a small business, overseeing everything that drives the biggest revenue. All of the small stuff goes away to someplace and someone else. Corporate centers of excellence have dotted line responsibility for the local functions, but they support the local teams at the end of the day. And sales teams would have their own local coach, a super seller that is responsible to drive sales TEAM success.

This would eliminate siloes and maximize empowerment. This would give the customers that matter the most immediate access to the support they want to pay for – support that they are already paying for. This would enable local leaders to recruit the best talent and place them in roles that are designed for local support, not national.

Wait – pause. What value does a sales manager provide in this scenario? Great question.

I propose that the traditional definition of sales management is (a) limited to sales opportunity management and is thus incomplete in the scope we are talking about and (b) the result of tops-down, Industrial Age thinking and is thus not aligned with maximizing the customer interaction. As a result, revenue generation is capped at best. Conclusion: the traditional role of the sales manager is no longer needed.

What I am talking about is not an old idea. A raw version of it has been done before – and quite successfully (unless non-sales people take over and the drive to generate revenue gets lost). Now, imagine how technology can enable a modified approach today. And imagine what machine learning and AI will enable us to do tomorrow.

I guess what I am really saying is that maybe it’s time to learn from the past.

Maybe the customer has come full circle and needs this kind of selling experience.

And maybe I am completely off my rocker.

What do you think?

I mua. Onward and upward.

By Tim Ohai