Category Archives for "Sales as a system"

Some of the best advice you could ever get (Part 1)

Last week, I had the pleasure to give a keynote presentation to the current graduating cohort of the Founder Institute of Sacramento. I spoke on the best advice that I could give them as budding entrepreneurs.

Coincidentally, this advice is some of the best that I know (and use) for any leadership role.

I’d like to share some of it with you.

For starters, do you know what the number one cause of failed business is? The list of suspects can get quite long with suggestions like:

  • Low sales
  • Competition
  • Lack of experience
  • Unexpected growth
  • And so forth…

But I was taught many years ago that the number one reason that businesses fail is poor decision-making.

There is no perfect strategy. In the immortal words of boxer Mike Tyson, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

No strategy, no leader, no innovation, and no culture can overcome poor decision-making. One could certainly argue that strategies, leaders, innovation, and culture are intricately connected with decision-making in an almost chicken-and-egg infinite loop, but let’s just pause and focus on the decision-making part for a moment.

Whether you are creating strategy or executing one, decision-making will be essential. What you decide to do when real-life happens creates the succeed-or-fail future of everything else.

I commonly see three areas that consistently drive poor – and great – decision-making. This week, let’s talk about the first one.


If I want to destroy decision-making, if I want to inject chaos, I will remove clarity. I will hide the truth and obscure the reality. Because in the absence of information, people make up their own.

We are funny organisms, us humans. We struggle mightily with the unknown. We would rather create complex narratives that are full of half-truths and outright fallacies than sit and wait for clarity.

The 24-hour news cycle monetizes this. And politicians exploit it. And business leaders are enslaved by it.

But it is amazing how clarity will suddenly settle things down – or even ramp things up. Clarity will shove every half-truth and fallacy to the side.

In business, especially if I want to drive great decision-making, I will drive clarity first.

When people are involved, I will most often focus on two areas: goal clarity and role clarity.

Goal clarity involves making sure that everyone has a solid understanding of what success looks like. This is HUGELY important, because if my definition of success and your definition of success are not the same, every decision we make will create some form of unhealthy division.

When goal clarity is weak, people are:

  • pursuing the wrong goals,
  • pursuing competing goals,
  • or simply not pursuing goals at all.

Every decision and every action will take us further apart. Even if we get along really well.

Eventually, we will be so far apart that even if we want to work together, we will have to use all of our resources just to get back on track – often leaving us fatigued and under-resourced for the next steps.

These are the companies that wound up doing too little, too late. When they finally recognized that they were falling apart, and worked to get back on track, they couldn’t halt their demise. When you peel back their stories, a lack of goal clarity is a constant component.

But then you also find the second component: role clarity. Or rather, a lack of it.

Role clarity means that everyone knows their role AND their teammates’ roles. They know how to stay in their own swim lane and how to tell if someone is (or isn’t) in theirs.

When role clarity is weak, people are:

  • doing the wrong job,
  • redoing someone else’s job,
  • or undoing someone else’s job.

Because even when you have goal clarity, you have to have healthy teaming to drive great decision-making. Otherwise, processes won’t work, structures will fail, and the interpersonal junk will explode all over the place.

Can you see how clarity will drive decision-making?

Mirror moment #1: How healthy is decision-making in your business? Are people able to respond to real-time obstacles in a way that protects the vision and accomplishes the long-term? Is the topic of decision-making a sore spot– or cause for celebration (with a high level of organizational visibility)?

Mirror moment #2: How much clarity is in your business? Are goals clear and aligned across the whole team? And are roles unhealthy and haphazard– or healthy and strong (with a high level of personal accountability)?

Your answers matter – for your sanity and your team’s.

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

Why can’t we build better sales managers? (Part 2)

Last week, I opened with the idea that we have sales management wrong.

Fundamentally, this is because we aren’t thinking/working from the customer interaction backward.

So, let’s talk about that customer for a moment.

According to research published by Demandbase (2018), B2B buyers said that the top five most important variables in making a buying decision are:

  • Deployment time/ease of use (77%)
  • Features/functionality (72%)
  • Solved a pain point (71%)
  • Reviews (65%)
  • Sales team demonstrated knowledge of our company and insights into our problems (64%)

Additionally, they also said that the top 5 winning differentiators of successful sellers are:

  • Demonstrated a stronger knowledge of our company and its needs
  • The timeliness of a vendor’s response to inquiries
  • Demonstrated a stronger knowledge of the solution area and the business landscape
  • Provided informational content that was easy to consume
  • Provided higher-quality content
  • (Note: 76% of all buyers wanted content to be tailored to their company)

Compare that with CSO Insight’s (2018) list of what buyers want from their sellers:

  • Understand me. Know my business.
  • Demonstrate excellent communication skills.
  • Focus on post-sale.
  • Give me insights and perspective.

Some pretty clear patterns emerge.

First, buyers are very focused on getting the kind of clarity that sellers don’t always have. When you add in the data point from Accenture (2018) that buyers are over halfway (57%) through their buying process before they even engage a seller, the narrative is pretty clear that sellers are either (a) not equipped and/or (b) not skilled enough to provide any value when customers often need the most clarity – defining what the heck is actually wrong/blocking their progress.

Second, buyers want to be the center of attention. In other words: no off-the-shelf content, off-the-shelf support, etc. You and I both know that they don’t care about your other customers. They don’t have the bandwidth for that kind of hypothesizing. They want EVERYTHING tailored to their reality – and their speed of life.

Third, buyers want their sellers to engage and support their business before AND after the sales process. In one of the more fascinating bits of the CSO Insights research, 90% of all buyers would be willing to engage sellers earlier if the business challenge was:

  • New for the buyer (34.1%)
  • Perceived as risky for the organization (21.1%)
  • Perceived as risky for the buyer themselves (19.1%)
  • Complex (e.g. impacted several departments) (16.2%)

I think this particular insight is incredibly important because none of those scenarios are limited to just “buying something.” They are all deep, intense, resource-dependent opportunities for a seller (and her team) to engage early and stay engaged long after the buying decision. But far too often, sellers are not successfully empowered for this kind of relationship.

So, what does this all mean to our discussion on the idea of sales management? I don’t know about you, but when I ask people to define the three most important priorities that sales managers must deliver, they are not:

  • Make sure your sellers provide clarity earlier in the buying process
  • Make sure your sellers tailor everything for their buyers
  • Make sure your sellers are empowered to engage and support buyers before and after the sales process

You can argue that Marketing and other functions are supposed to step up here, but if you have ever been a sales manager, you know exactly how hard it is to get consistent support from the other functions in these areas.

Then, when you add how much time it takes to actually do all of this – while also doing all of the other things that Sales Managers have to do (see last week’s blog for more) – and we are right back to my idea that we have sales management wrong. They simply don’t have enough time, if they are doing these three things at all.

What’s the bottom line here? I believe with all of my heart that a sales manager who can successfully do all three of our customer-centric priorities will make sure that the sales team hits its numbers. We just have to figure out how to make that happen (which I will explore next week.)

In the meantime, please share your ideas on (a) whether you see the problem that same way that I do and (b) what you would do about it.

I mua. Onward and upward.

By Tim Ohai

P.S. Here are the links to the research that I referenced – Demandbase and CSO Insights.

P.P.S. If you liked this post, please share it. People can subscribe to this blog here. Thanks!

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