Tag Archives: Cultures

Sales Managers! Sorry to be the one to tell you, but you’re not perfect.

21 Nov

Do you consider yourself to be an excellent sales manager?  I imagine you do, it’s difficult to imagine that any manager would continue to perform any task in a way that wasn’t working well.

But if you’re ever lucky enough to experience a formal upward feedback process fasten your seatbelt because you’re going to get some shocking results.

In my first sales manager roll I was ready to become that perfect manager.  I tried my hardest to be fair, treat everyone similarly, give clear direction and begin to build a high performance culture.  When I got my first feedback I got a lot of compliments, great scores compared to my peers…but I also read some shocking comments and saw that I had a lot of room for improvement! 

Let me share some of the shock.  “Greg plays favorites”, “he doesn’t make it clear what is expected of me” and “he doesn’t give me the freedom to do my job.”

How is this possible?  Me?  But my overall scores were some of the best in a very large company!  How could I still get these kinds of comments?  Since my upward feedback came from direct reports and from another level down I began to investigate.  But first a little secret.  If you want to know more about what you are doing that will drive people’s impression of your leadership you’re going to have to share some of the information about your feedback.  In other words, you’re going to have to admit that you’re not perfect, but you care enough to want to change.  Once I decided that I was willing to do whatever it took to become a better leader the rest became a little easier.

So I began to call a few of my direct reports.  I shared with them where I was doing well but also shared my lowest scores.  And even though those lowest scores were not a disaster they were still my lowest scores and they needed improvement.  I shared a few of the comments made and asked them what I was doing that was damaging my credibility as a leader.  Once you’ve opened that door get ready for some very interesting information.  I remember asking one of my direct reports, (still a close friend today) what I was doing that would cause people to believe I played favorites.  Bob told me that when he held meetings that people would comment “Greg called me about that subject last week and he said…”  Well after several weeks of hearing this one sales rep nearly broke down and blurted out “Greg never calls me about anything”.  That was really interesting!  I thought it was a very good trait to always be reaching out and getting information about what was going on in the field, but was totally unaware that the way I did it was making some people feel left out.  You can say they’re too sensitive, but what I learned was that my intentions are irrelevant!  People will form opinions about your actions, not your intentions.  Bob gave me another example; he told me that some people commented that I always sat by the same people at meetings or team meals and this may be leading people to believe I had favorites.  From my perspective I was flying around the country nearly every week, sometimes visiting four cities…that’s four meetings, four half days of joint calls and four team dinners.  I was sometimes exhausted and probably did look for a seat near people I knew.  But if you put yourself in a sales reps shoes and think that Greg has come to town four or five times and always sits by the same people you’re probably feeling very left out.  Both of these were pretty easy to fix.  I continued to make calls to reps to get their input, but I kept a roster by the phone and put checks by people I called so that I wasn’t calling the same people all the time.  And I continued to fly around the country attending meetings, making joint sales calls and going to team dinners.  I just made one little change, I looked for a seat next to someone I didn’t know very well.  You know what?  Very small changes, very big changes in my leadership credibility.

So what’s the learning?  For me it was that I do not own my leadership credibility.  My credibility as a leader is owned by the members of my team and they will give me credibility when I earn it, not just because I want it.

So I think that you probably are a good manager…at least in your mind anyway.  Are you brave enough to find out if you’re as good as you think you are?  If you have the courage to open yourself up, then you have the potential to move from a good manager to a great leader.

What Is A Quality Sales Organization?

21 May

When networking with other sales reps early in my career I began to see correlations between the various sales organizations and the type of sales people they attracted & retained.  It was very interesting to hear people describe their sales cultures, compensation plans, management’s leadership style and the employer’s focus on client satisfaction.  Over time I was promoted several levels, each new role required a relocation to another part of the country.  Through networking I continued to accumulate a diverse collection of perspectives from sales managers from a variety of industries.

My career journey led me to NYC leading a National Account group.  This was more of a business development role leading a team of 8 people and managing the relationships with a dozen accounts that generated $1.3 Billion in annual sales.  This was the capper to my experience as business development forces you to consider client satisfaction, a strong interaction with operations, client profitability and new sales.  I won’t bore you with the details but we did create a very interesting client service agreement.  Each quarter we contracted four goals with our clients.   Two goals came from the client and usually included one customer service goal and one goal that would help our contact attain their major job objectives.  We also then had one goal that the Account Director was able to set that would help them achieve greater account profitability and one sales goal (like an introduction to a sister division) that would be validated only after the two client goals were met.  This was a great tool that minimize attrition and creating a very positive climate for cross selling & account expansion.  After two years this portfolio grew to $3 Billion annually and we did not lose any clients.

My final career destination was to build a new sales organization within an existing Fortune 500 company.  I poured everything I learned into the culture of that sales organization and it paid off royally.  In four short years we moved from non-existant to an organization acquiring over 5,000 new clients annually, producing an incremental $180MM in sales with each new annual batch of clients.  The NPV of these clients was nearly double that of any other client portfolio.

So here is what I learned about sales cultures and what makes a “Quality Sales Culture”. 

There are three parties (constituencies) that are affected by the culture you build.

  1. Clients – Your focus on making reasonable commitments and then driving over-delivery will payoff in a huge way.  The Net Present Value of your client base is driven by retention rates and gross profitability.  You can easily model the value of high customer satisfaction by raising your client retention rate by 5% and improving gross margins by 1%.  This is the value of ensuring that your culture demands a high customer satisfaction rate.  I dumbed down these numbers.  You can acheive much better benchmarks if drive customer satisfaction into your sales culture.  It will not only make them believers but their closing ratio’s will be dramatically better.
  2. Shareholders – This is the easiest constituency to satisfy or dissatisfy.  If your Business Development Efforts focus on customer service delivery within a cross selling framework, and your sales efforts are highly disciplined around skill, will, execution and leaderhip it is nearly impossible to disappoint investors in your company.  I do believe that investors have now learned that mid term results trump short term returns.
  3. Employees – Why bother?  Because clients and shareholders will never get the best possible outcomes if your employees are distracted.  Sales people and account managers should get all the direction & support they need to create healthy, profitable client relationships.  People who are distracted by poor leadership, non-existent training or poor customer service attitudes will never be able to deliver to their potential.

So what’s the conclusion?  Senior Leaders must balance their focus.  I know that in this economy the shareholder will get more attention than employees but in the end that’s a bad tasting medicine that we know is good for us.  But you still need to balance your focus reasonably.  Focus 80% on shareholders, 10% on clients and 10% on employees is a losing tactic.  When the economy begins to improve you will have a lot of issues to fix and you may miss out in that growth.

Assuming you have some employee goodwill on your asset sheet, in today’s economy I would recommend a focus of 45% on shareholders, 35% clients and 20% employees.  I think you can get through the next 18 months providing you keep the communication level high so employees know they’re valued but investments in them are on the back burner for the short term.

In the longer term my focus would be 40% shareholder, 30% clients and 30% employees.

If you are interested in more discussion on this topic please leave a comment with the specifics of your interest.