The Role of Sales? Create Value One Conversation At A Time

Today is the Chicago Cubs home opener at Wrigley field. Now, I have to confess that I am not much of a baseball fan but I do love my neighborhood Cubbies and look forward to a summer afternoon watching the team inside ‘the friendly confines’.  So what does all this have to do with sales and customer relationships?

Years ago, I watched Sammy Sosa when he was playing for the Cubs.  Sorry to say it was a big disappointment.  Whenever I was in the ball park, he struck out. Where were all the storied home runs that were making all the headlines?  And so I learned one of the lessons of baseball: if you are swinging for the fences, either you will hit it big, or you strike out.

Those of us who work with customers should remember this as a cautionary tale.

The role of the sales force is to CREATE value for customers, not just communicate potential value of the product or service being sold.

At the low-end of the spectrum, “product selling’, the sales force should be working to take cost out of the buying process for customers.  At the top end of the spectrum, as a “trusted adviser’, the sales team is creating exceptional value through a consultative solution selling approach.

Now back to baseball.  Richard Roeper, looking ahead to the 2010 baseball season, wrote recently in the Chicago Sun-Times, “there’s an increased emphasis on defense, speed, fundamentals and smart baseball, as opposed to just relying on behemoths to hit three-run homers…”

You can add a lot of value in baseball by being able to go out week after week and hit base hits, and executing on the fundamentals.

In sales, you can add a lot of value by listening to your customers and prospects, by doing the little things that add value, build relationships and doing it repeatedly day after day.

In either case, you may not get a lot of glory, or a lot of headlines but at the end of day, you will add more value by executing on the fundamentals day after day. It is a long season after all.  Will you be able to execute after the All-Star break as well as you did before?

Customer relationships are built one conversation at a time.  Loyalty is built when trust is rewarded by good service consistently executed. Sales do not have to come from big audacious efforts to hit a home run, but come more often from consistently hitting base hits.

Play Ball!

Accountability – To Improve? Or Humiliate?

I read the blog this morning by Rosabeth Moss Kanter at the Harvard Business School.  She was discussing accountability and the many challenges that organizations have with accountability and providing feedback. One line in particular caught my attention:

“In contrast, high-performing organizations use information to help people improve, by giving people abundant, timely, and helpful data about their performance on a regular basis, individually and as a group.”

How often does this perspective get lost when working with sales organizations.  Is it any wonder that the sales teams grows to hate a CRM system that has been implemented to capture met. Metrics that are used to find blame. And there is no engagement with the team, no understanding of how to use the metrics to support the sales team to do a better job.

I couldn’t agree with Rosabeth Moss Kanter’s comments more.  Metrics are fabulous and essential to improving performance but managers need to be trained on how to use them, how to coach their teams with the metrics. How to help engage the team and use the metrics to gain insight to improve and not to simply blame.

Read her full article:  Four Tips for Building Accountability

Sales Leadership Lessons From Geese

Last week one of my friends sent me a link to a video on YouTube called “Leadership Lessons from Geese”. It is a somewhat sappy video that extracts lessons in leadership and teamwork from the behavior of geese.

The first observation in the video is the role of aerodynamics to enable the geese to fly farther using less effort.  When the geese fly in the familiar “V” formation, they are able to fly 71% further. The lift generated by the goose in front is passed back to the geese that follow. The lesson to be learned: we will go further through teamwork than if we “fly solo”.

Okay, for a lot of sales people this is probably a good reminder, but reducing it to just teamwork is over simplifying. It is the force of the aerodynamics in conjunction with the teamwork that gives the group 71% lift. So the challenge for a sales leader is to figure out what is at her disposal that will increase by orders of magnitude the ‘lift’ and ‘distance’ her team flies? To get the multiplier effect, sales leaders need to work with their teams to build out the sales process and sales playbooks. The goal is to find efficient and effective ways to share best practices across the sales team, thereby ‘lifting’ the performance of the entire team.

One-on-one coaching and mentoring doesn’t give you 71% lift. There are only so many hours in the day. If the only way to share information, ideas and what it takes to close a deal is by a sales manager riding along, the capacity to raise the team is limited. There is no scalability in this model. To go back to our geese analogy, instead of the team in a “V”, you have a series of paired geese. And with only two geese instead of a whole flock there isn’t much aerodynamic advantage being created.
On the other hand by defining, documenting and standardizing your sales process, you start to create a system that can lift the whole team. Take a portion of the time you spend coaching under-performers to talk to your stars.  What are they doing differently?  Capture it and share it with the whole team.  Now we start to get lift across the whole team not just with one individual.

This is perhaps oversimplified as well. The task of standardizing a sales process and sharing it effectively is not to be underestimated. Where do you start?  You start by having the vision of what you are trying to achieve. Then you take one step at time.