All Posts by Tim Ohai

Are you really a “customer first” kind of person?

I have been doing a lot of networking lately. You can probably picture some of the exchanges I am experiencing. A friendly introduction, some mild chit chat/attempts at humor, then working toward an explanation of what each of us does.

And I am amazed at how often I hear nothing about the customers involved.

In other words, I always hear things like, “I work for a B2B technology company selling X.”


Doesn’t that strike you as odd?

It’s crazy to me. Especially when I consider how the customer is rarely mentioned. And considering how much we hear about customer first, customer focus, etc., I wonder if people are genuinely committed to their customers.

Consider this easy alternative: “I help other businesses figure out how to scale their growth with technology.” (Or whatever describes your customers.)

Can you see the advantages of this approach?

First, it obviously puts the customer(s) being served in the center of your mindset. You really do think “customer first” when you inject them into the front part of your dialogue. And you probably already know the benefits of this kind of thinking. But have you and your team embedded it into everything that is done and said? More importantly, would your customers agree?

Second, it opens the door to new business. Talking about how you help your customers allows the other person to potentially say that they have the same challenge/desired outcome. At the very least, they may know someone else who you should be talking with. And that door to new business appears on its own.

Third, it allows you to collect information from people who might not be a customer but certainly represent your target audience. I cannot tell you how many times I have talked with people on airplanes and gotten incredible insights about their company’s leadership, strategies, and so forth. It’s like a mini-focus group where the transparency is paramount. You really do get to hear all about the junk that your target market is dealing with – even if they don’t want to admit it.

But if you are going to get really serious about injecting customer focus, you know you have to get beyond introductory conversations and give a very intentional look into how your organization anchors its efforts to customer outcomes.

  • Has your company defined the specific customer outcomes that everyone can impact? Do you talk about those impacts – or just how much money each customer is worth? Everyone’s goals should be anchored to customer outcomes in some way.
  • How do your team mates describe what they do? Are they truly customer first? Everyone’s role should be anchored to how they support the customer experience.
  • Has your company defined the processes that affect customer interactions? Do they show respect for the outcomes you promised to deliver to your customers – or do they get in the way of delivering those outcomes? Every process should at least be analyzed for customer impact. Yes, that includes HR, Finance, and other “non-customer facing” groups because they have the greatest potential of competing with the customer.

You may not have the authority to change each of these areas, but you do have influence. Start with where you can personally make an impact and create customer focus that’s just “different” from everyone else. Then change your team. Then your group. Then who knows? You may even change your company.

I mua. Onward and upward.

By Tim Ohai

PS – If you or someone you know needs to get better performance from the sales team, let’s set up a conversation to talk about it. Get on my calendar here.

Lifeless sales people – whose fault is it really?

“There’s a lot of lifeless sales people out there.” ~ Larry Levine, author of Selling from the Heart

Before we go any further, would you mind going back to that opening quote and just pausing for a moment?

That statement is such a profound truth.

Consider the following:

  1. Only 30% of firms have 75% or more of their salespeople hit their quotas (CSO Insights). Sales leaders are struggling to get their sales teams into sustainable high performance.
  2. 34% of sales teams leave every year (The Bridge Group). Sales teams are churning through their people.
  3. 77% of executive buyers claim salespeople don’t understand their issues and where they can help (Forrester). Buyers increasingly ignore the attempts of sales people to make any kind of contact – let alone attempts to engage in meaningful conversations.

Mirror moment: Do any of the above statistics hit a nerve for you? Are you seeing struggling sales performance, high levels of sales team churn, and/or increased buyer resistance?

I see all of this – and more – on a regular basis and I have to ask myself why?

Why are sales people struggling to perform?

Why are sales people leaving their companies?

Why do buyers increasingly resist sales people?

I keep coming back to the conversation I recently had with Larry Levine. In his words, they are all empty suits. Too many sales people lack the presence, competence, and – most importantly – passion for helping their customers.

You know the stereotype. All talk, no listen. Pitch, pitch, pitch. Me, me, me.

It’s both mind-numbing and irritating.

But is it really the fault of the sales person?

My gut instinct says no.

My gut instinct says that sales people have become what we have told them to be.

Be “busy.”

Be a CRM guru.

Be a demo machine.

Be challenging/assertive/pushy.

Say this.

Do this. Not that.

Don’t think. Obey.

And it’s destroying our revenue engines. It’s destroying our sales targets and customer credibility. And it’s destroying our sales people.

If you are leading a team of sales professionals, please consider that the potential gaps in your sales team performance are self-inflicted. Maybe it is not your fault. Maybe it is your company’s fault. Regardless, it’s your responsibility to provide the kind of proactive leadership that sets the tone and establishes the definition of success.

Be explicit about what matters most. And what does not.

Be present with your people as they press toward success.

Listen to their customer interactions.

Coach them on what you see/hear.

Teach them what you know/do to be successful.

Run downfield to knock obstacles out of their way.

Empower them to have presence, competence, and passion.

And be the example of what presence, competence, and passion looks like.

If you are an individual contributor, looking for leadership to make everything better, you only have two acceptable options:

  • Option A – You can become the leader that you want. Proactively create your own energy so that you inject presence, competence, and passion into everything you do as a sales professional.
  • Option B – You can leave your company and find a leader who will teach you how to accomplish Option A. Because eventually, you will have to own your presence, competence, and passion all by yourself. That’s what true professionals always do.

I mua. Onward and upward.

By Tim Ohai

PS – If you or someone you know needs to get better performance from the sales team, let’s set up a conversation to talk about it. Get on my calendar here.

The most critical part of your business is…

Last week, the city of San Francisco was overwhelmed with Dreamforce. Not in a bad way, mind you. But any time that well over 100,000 people show up for something, it has a tendency to create its own gravitational field.

I went for just one day, and had a great time at a conference within the conference – Ops Stars. It had a full line-up of sales operations leaders and practitioners (which reflect a big part of my customer base). The big theme there was ABM (account-based marketing/engagement), but there were plenty of other things to talk about and explore.

All around me, everybody was trying to figure out technology stacks, process improvements, and revenue-generating business rules. Even the Dreamforce agenda was locked into ethics, artificial intelligence, and equality.

And it hit me – the centerpiece of everything we were really talking about is the most critical part of business.


I don’t care what your business is, it relies on people.

But that’s the funny thing. Everything looks great on paper, until people get involved…

People are the hardest part of business. And the best part of business.

But do we really pause and invest in understanding them better?

I just finished building a sales playbook for a small start-up business. The business has inspired leadership and a great value proposition. They have high quality mentors and solid operations. But they were struggling to turn their revenue engine on.

Now, it would be easy to simply white-label something that I had already made for someone else and just give them a new playbook. But that’s not how any of us should approach our clients, right?

Instead, we had to work together to get into the minds and hearts of the people involved. We started with their targeted customers, to truly understand how those customers made decisions. Then we paused to understand how their team approached sales conversations with those customers, to truly understand what they did well, what they didn’t, and why.

Only then could we build the content, tools, and behaviors that would harness all of that psychology.

It was very much like finding a current in the ocean and harnessing it. It’s not as easy as you think, but when you are successful, it generates its own sustainable energy.

Sadly, that is not how I see many businesses making decisions. Instead, they define a targeted result (like acquire X new customers or reduce employee churn by Y) and start seeking solutions that other folks have used to deliver those same results. Without considering context. Without considering motivation. Without considering competing priorities/activities/leadership.

Without considering the “people” part of the equation.

It’s the equivalent of buying a beautiful boat and not giving it an experienced crew.

So what exactly am I saying?

I’m saying that if your business involves people – real human beings – you HAVE to understand them before you can affect anything in a significant way. You HAVE to bring them to the forefront of your thinking before you start making decisions.

  • If you are going to affect customers, do you truly understand where they are today and where they are going? When was the last time you sat down and talked with them?
  • If you are going to affect employees, do you truly understand how clearly they are aligned to what you need them to do and how motivated they are to do it? When was the last time you sat down and talked with them?
  • And if you are going to affect your leadership, do you truly understand their passions and dreams and what is getting in the way of achieving that? When was the last time you sat down and talked with them?

In other words, pause long enough to get the kind of clarity that only people can define. Ask them questions. Study what makes them tick. Learn how human behavior affects the way that we work together. Or don’t work together.

It will accelerate your thinking and drive decisions toward harnessing your people to achieve great things.

I mua. Onward and upward.

By Tim Ohai

PS – That small start-up business that I helped has already gotten a tremendous lift in sales results. If you or someone you know needs to get better performance from the sales team, let’s set up a conversation to talk about it. Get on my calendar here.

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