Every human being has an X chromosome, and in sales people that X will stand for one of two characteristics. In some it denotes those spend their time and energy making excuses as to why they are not succeeding. In others it is all about how they execute and drive their own success and by extension the success of their customers. But in truly exceptional sellers, the mythical 20 in the 80/20 rule, the X goes deeper, it drive them to experiment and as a result, continuously extend their skills and successes.
Sounds simple, yet difficult for many sales people, and sales organisations. And this is definitely an instance where you have to go past the “messaging”, and explore the action.
While it is easy to look at the front line and find fault, but the ground work, expectations, culture and accountability is the date main of the executive, both sales leadership and other leaders accountable for the success of the company. Often the lack of experimentation is a result of the leader’s inability to distinguish between focus and limits. One can focus on outcomes for buyers without limiting execution, especially when winning deals is about helping buyers achieve objectives, not product differentiation.
Leaders need to lead from the front, not from behind a desk, and this means leading by example. If you as a leader are not will to continuously expand the bounds of you sales and sales approach, how can you expect your people to. Forget all the flowery communications, the old adage of so as I do, not as I say do looms large here. If your activities show as unwilling to grow and expand, then how can you expect your team to?
Change is key to sales success. Front line sales people are trying to get buyers to change, change the way the see things, the way they do things, the things they are willing to do. As I have mentioned in the past, one of the biggest barriers to this is the seller’s own propensity to change. Why would a customer make a change with you when your actions reinforce the fact that you yourself are closed to change. The way you sell informs a buyer reaction and response to you. If you sell the way the hundreds of others who have tried to, and failed to sell to that buyer, why would they change with you when you don’t represent change. But if the example they see from their leaders is resistance to change, how are they supposed to change, and on it goes from there.
One way is to establish and ,maintain a dynamic, continuously evolving process. This will not only allow leaders to demonstrate change, but drive it through every level of the organization. Central to this is a deal review process, we use one called the 360 Degree Deal Review. This allows organizations to identify and capture movements in the market, and respond accordingly. Front line can expand according to findings, sales and marketing leadership can support that change by introducing initiatives that support the front line, and at same time make the organization as a whole responsive to the market and clients.
New tools can also be introduced, or at a minimum, existing tools can find new life and utility for the front line reps and ROI for the organization. For example, clients who were challenged in getting adoption of CRM, found this approach as a good carrot. Front line sellers see a direct link to their success and commissions. Front line managers become more efficient coaches, driving benefits both up-stream and downstream. The executive finally get the visibility on aspects of the business and trends they need to have to meet their objectives.
Another area where leaders can experiment and expand in in their hiring approach. Looking for reps who are capable, yet different than their current crew. Hiring lookalikes, or people we like just perpetuates things and again confirms the lack of change, if not stagnation. In one example I was involved with, a VP had a habit of hiring only those with “industry experience”, meaning they knew the product, but sold no differently than his current team. After some convincing and arm twisting, he went out hired someone from a very different industry, different style, and a track record of exceeding quota. The goal was to be disruptive and shake things up from within, creating a nervous energy that one can never get from threats or heavy handed approaches. Result was that many of the habits rubbed off on others, managers actively encouraged others to follow suit, we built coaching plans to help willing reps change and grow. There were those who did not like the experiment, and are now working elsewhere, they were replace by others with varied backgrounds and styles, and the culture and success has continued to expand.