CEB Women IG

Diversity In Sales – Your Obvious Advantage0

By Tibor Shanto –

While we can talk about the style of leadership, I think most agree that one of the primary mandates of a sales leader, is to ensure that they equip their team with the best resources; be that IT resources or human resources. We have seen sales tools grow exponentially over the years, as an example, a recent piece I read suggested that there are over 3,000 apps available on AppExchange. Many at best, offer an incremental gain. With limited budgets, and the fact that much of “what’s in their stack” has proven to be disruptive and negative impact it has the front line and their results. Knowing which resources to bet on can demand Solomon like wisdom.

So it is more than odd, and surprising, that sales as an industry, and a majority of sales leaders continue to miss, overlook or perhaps avoid, acquiring and fully exploiting a resource that is widely available, with a proven track record of not just delivering better results than the go-to alternative, but is usually in a more cost effective fashion.

What am I talking about? Women!

While this has been a focus for some, a topic of discussion for others, progress has been slow, which is a shame given that it is 2017, and that some 40% of existing sales reps will miss quota.

women sales

A survey from CEB (now Gartner), shows that sales ranks second to last in the percentage of women making in leadership rolls. Women made up only 19%, second to Logistics and Supply Chain (17%), and a far cry from Finance with 43%. The reality may be a bit better among the rank and file, but having spent a lot of time working with front line teams, the numbers are not much better. The fact that most leaders come from within the ranks, the number of women in leadership roles is like a factor of lack of women candidates in their ranks versus male candidates.

Some tell me that they are aware, but then rationalize that it takes a lot of effort, a lot of time, and while they would like to accelerate a new reality, they are up against the elements. Some may buy that, but those of us from Canada, know that it really comes down to three little things every corporate leader has, or should have. Vision, resolve, and execution. When our prime minister took office in 2015, he made it a policy to have his cabinet reflect the country, and then took steps to make it happen, no excuses. I guess he executed. I am not a Liberal Party fan, but you have to give credit where credit is due.

Other than the political halo, the outcomes for Trudeau may have been difficult to calculate upfront, the same is not true in sales. As you can see from the infographic below, adding women to your sales team is a no-brainer. A higher percentage of women attain quota than their male counterparts; they earn a lower average total variable pay and base pay is lower, including a lower commission rate; and they have a lower attrition rate, meaning when you train them, they drive a better return. On a daily basis I have sales leaders lament to me their inability to find good sales talent, it baffles me why they don’t look at the obvious.

CEB Women IG

This situation will change slowly, and the reality is that first movers will have not only an immediate advantage, but one that they will have for some time, here is why. As a woman, with skills, which organization would you join, a male dominated one, with “clear ties to the past”, or one where women are represented at all levels of the organization, front line to executive suite. As women gravitate to the latter, they will attract other women, giving them a further advantage of the upside women bring. Not only that, but since all but one other industry have more women in leadership roles, it is likely that they will steer their business to those organizations they can best relate to; I keep hearing people buy from people, and it is usually people like them.

It seems this challenge and opportunity have no barrier other than ones outlook and will to win with a proven winning team.

You can learn more about this by checking out Gaining the Talent Advantage: The Case for Gender Diversity in Sales.

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dad teaching

Be The Play0

By Tibor Shanto –

Being a holiday Monday here in Ontario, thought we’d look at something that can get you to think enough not to distract from the sun and water, yet enough to count. So for that our topic for today is that there two views (often more, but at least two) into every issue. As a seller, be that an individual rep, a specific VP or an entire company, must be full cognizant, understand the other view if they are to succeed. Let’s be clear, I am not suggestion you have to agree, but to sell better and more, you have to be aware, and include in your calculations and actions. Failing to do that will cost you sales and time, neither most sellers can afford to lose much of.

Some time ago I post a piece looking at how people sell like they buy, and buy like they sell, this becomes a problem when the leader of the sales team buys everything on price. This was played again recently when I approached a graphics design company. Spoke with the owner and president, we identified some areas to explore, but he wanted to do it through his VP of sales. While this makes perfect sense, it is already an indicator that there are differing views internally, we’ll see.

dad teachingAs you would expect, the VP did not feel that the team needed any attention at all, and was clearly speaking because the conversation started “upstairs”. After performing the customary “Seasoned Team” ritual, we got down to business. My first question was about markets they were currently in, and those they were targeting; his first question was about price. Five minutes in, two of which were introductions, we are down to price. Not what kind of outcomes I have been able to deliver against, not what are the dials he is trying to turn in his sales approach and team, what we do, how we do it; with a hint to any of that, boom, price. Now I know he was trying to take me down the budget path, not so much to blow me off, but to be able to offer a sacrifice other than training: “look at all the other better ways we could spend that money, the team is good.” If only the numbers supported that fantasy.

More importantly, how do you think his team sells? I would bet on price. How much help is he to his people when they come to him with prospect question other than price? Especially since price is such a here and now issue, and leaders need to be forward looking.

This goes beyond the price question, if a leader cannot clearly project the future state of his/her organization, it is difficult to get your reps to do the same with prospects. Which is why many default to asking “what’s your pain point” or some other equally lame question, like “Don’t you agree it would be great if you deliver 11% more widgets?” “Of course it would, except nothing in this meeting thus far indicates you can do that, so let me ask, how much?” Whereas a question about their desired future state, expressed not in the form of a question, but as an outcome, one other customers have achieved and leveraged.

If you are a sales leader, be that VP, or front-line manager, next time you in the midst of making a purchase, ask yourself how you’re reacting, and what would you sales team see in your behavior, and how they would deal with it. If all they hear from mom/dad is price, what do you think they talk about when they are out there on their own?

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Football substitue 2

Change The Candidate – Not The Rules!2

By Tibor Shanto – 

I am not big on politics, but it’s hard to avoid, seems to be everywhere one looks and steps, believe it or not, I have even witnessed it in corporate boardrooms where apparently, business was supposedly being conducted. But I was recently struck by an interesting parallel between some current political theater, and things unfolding in some sales organizations.

In the circus surrounding the recent confirmation of Neil Gorsuch, Chuck Schumer was making the rounds with a well rehearsed set of talking point regarding the potential for filibuster in an effort to delay Gorsuch’s confirmation. While I could care less about the confirmation, Schumer made an interesting argument in the face of the “Nuclear Option”, I paraphrase: “If you can’t get the requisite 60 votes, don’t change the rules, change the candidate.”

Many sales leaders could learn a bit from this motto. If we expand the concept of rules, to include the broad sales environment, there is a lot of wisdom in the notion of taking another look at what they need to change to achieve their desired outcomes.

Football substitue 2I see too many organizations making too many accommodations to suite the talents, or shortcomings of their sales teams. Don’t get me wrong, it does make sense to do things in a way that allows more people to succeed, but it should be done in context of the overall organizational goals.

Assuming that the goals and objectives of the organization and by extension the sales team are realistic, then we need to strive to bring together those assets and skills required to hit or exceed those goals. This may not always be a safe assumption, we have all seen companies that set such audacious goals, that they went way beyond being big and hairy, to being crushing, discouraging and counterproductive in every way.

But if the goals are doable (not easy), then sales leaders need to look at how they assemble the right assets to achieve those goals, which includes their team. But many organizations seem to make different accommodations for their human assets than other key resources. We have seen organizations change the rules, incentives, quotas or other things, mid stream, just to accommodate an underperforming rep, or asset.

Imagine if new rules were introduced in the middle of the second quarter to balance out the inability of one quarterback to hit a receiver or complete one hand off, never happen. The player would be pulled, and eventually traded. All with the support of the fans and pundits.

Organizations that choose to change elements once the game has started as a means of leveling the playing field for underperformers, in most cases are just delaying the inevitable, the rep either leaving due to frustration, or being fired for underperformance. While I fully believe that everything reasonable should be done to help reps develop the skills and habits to win. Some will take longer to ramp up, some will hit slumps, but there are some, obvious to most, who will never cut it without some form of “corporate subsidies”, i.e. changing quota, territory, or just allowing compromise on required activity or metrics.

Unlike the Gorsuch discussion, where Schumer could do little more than just talk, sales leaders have the ability to change the player rather than the rule. Rather than a temporary fix between now and the inevitable, that will lead to current and ongoing success.

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Young businessman in formal wear and hat with pan in hands

Cooking With Sales2

By Tibor Shanto – 

I am not sure if it truly qualifies as serendipity, but I had a couple of experiences one day recently that confirmed some sales basics that we choose to ignore at times.  After leaving a meeting, I heard an interesting report and discussion on CBC Radio.  They were looking at the cooking and eating habits of Canadians.  A key point was that Canadians spend more time watching cooking shows on TV, be it specialized networks or mainstream, than they do cooking.  Wow.  They went on to explain that more Canadians are eating out at restaurants, and the impact of that on our health (not so good), the economic impacts, good for restaurants, not good for Canadians.  While they were not knocking restaurants, it was more about balance and understanding around how and what we eat.

This was on the heels of a revealing meeting I just left with a VP of Sales and her Director of Business Development.  As the topic turned to sales methodology, the VP was very curious and focused on social selling.  She was up to date on all the current “insights” from all the usual socialites.  When we got around to conversion rates, she could not immediately talk about what the current metrics were, and rightfully deferred to the BD Director, who leading the BDR team.  He did know the numbers, and was honest enough to admit that they were not where they needed to be to drive the company’s objectives.

He then offered an unsolicited observation that brought a bit of tension to the conversation.  “I think they spend too much time on social searching and knowing all there is to know, not enough time reaching out.  They need to make more and better calls.”  Not surprising, and a great opportunity to present some real insights on successful prospecting, especially where BDR’s primary function is to work the phone to drive engagement from leads gathered via social, inbound, and lists procured in so many ways.  By the time I left there was middle ground, and agreement about the balance they need to create to drive results, and everyone focused on the need leverage all available avenues to a conversation, not waste valuable time and energy positioning one vs. the other.  (A uniquely social quality).

Much like the state of Canadian’s culinary habits, things in sales have gotten a bit off centre, and sales leaders, be they pundits or VP’s need to step back and see what best meets their objectives.  I understand that it may be easier to place all your bets on one horse, and then do your best to drive it.  But in sales, as with diet, a balanced approach based on what you, or more importantly your buyer is trying to achieve will usually lead to greater results, even if not always the easiest; but we get paid to make it happen, not to make it easy.  Successful leaders implement processes that encompass all elements required to deliver the best long term outcomes for all parties, be they nutritional, or financial.

The approach one takes needs to be driven by the outcomes they are trying to achieve not personal bias, fears, or by following only those pundits that reinforce those fears.  Whatever method or style of selling you adopt should be based on what works for the buyers, not what sounds good to you only.  The experts you follow should be able to demonstrate how it works, and why it meets your specific objectives, not just because it is in their book.

As one former White House chef said of his book, it is easier and more profitable to talk and write about cooking than cooking.  Don’t get caught doing more socializing than selling.

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Are You Developing Managers Or Leaders?0

By Tibor Shanto – 

We have all witnessed situations where an outstanding sales rep is “rewarded” with a promotion to sales management, leading to two compounding problems. The previously successful contributor flounders in the new role, and you have an underperforming territory where you had a star you moved. There is no doubt that you’re a+ Primo players, should be recognized, even rewarded for their contribution, (which is what I thought the incentive plan was for), but that reward should be one that resonates with them, not with current company leadership.

Successful leaders create an environment where they understand what the rep in questions considers to be a reward or recognition. Many companies default to either monetary rewards or hierarchical promotion. The challenge with the former, is that real A+ Primo players can generally achieve the financial results they want, especially if, as mentioned, you have an effective incentive plan in place. But even then, money is an interesting aphrodisiac, it is a lot like gas, which fills the entire space or volume of its container regardless of the container size, no matter what the volume, it will fill a bigger container. Even a substantial increase will have limited lift, limited change in behavior.

mANAGER - lEADERSThe challenge with promotion is that some don’t want it as much as those higher in the hierarchy believe. Clearly those in senior roles, those who enjoy and are successful at it, find it hard to understand why others don’t get turned on by the same thing. But many don’t, we have all known career sales people, who continuously make more money than their managers or even directors, but and have no desire to take on the role. Promote one of these reps, as many do, and you not only face the issues presented above, but a bunch of collateral damage. Damage on the other members of the team who now lack a leader, this will manifest in either lower revenues or mass departures, sometimes both. Not to mention the countless dollars spent with experts to try “reprogram” the rep, mentor, coach, and all the other programs invested in, with little or no impact.

The answer is determined a lot earlier, at the time of hiring. Organizations should be hiring for the role, not hoping that some will evolve into it, especially when they were hired to do a specific thing. I don’t see a lot of football team bringing on a lot of placeholders with a goal that they will one day make great field goal kickers or quarterbacks. With all the talk about Account Based Management, perhaps we should extend the concept to how we construct a successful sales team, put some focus and energy in to Role Based Hiring and Development. I do apologize to those who sell programs to help people make the “transition” from one role to the next, but more often than not the result is the creation of a managers not leaders. Bureaucrats who excels in explaining and enforcing a process, but are useless at leading their teams in executing and continuous improvements in that execution. Manager is a great title, but it is leadership that will drive results both in the short and long term. Don’t settle just because it is easy, convenient, or always done that way.

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Leader versus manager

2 Traits Separating A Leader From A Title – Sales eXecution 3281

By Tibor Shanto – 

There is no doubt that people should celebrate recognition in the form of promotion. When you become a sales manager, or a VP of Sales it says a lot about you, your accomplishments, and your organisation. What one does with their new role and opportunity is what separates leaders from promoted minions.

In my experience as a participant in the corporate world, and as an observer with a unique seat in the stands, is that there are a number of things that make for good leaders, there two that are must if you are going to lead and have people willingly follow.

The first is leading from the front, rather than behind a desk. This involves two things, one you can fake, the other you can try, but people see it. Many get to the position by survival, which is after all a skill in a competitive environment like sales, but not necessarily a success factor for revenue growth. We have all met that VP of Sales who has risen with the tide, or their cheaper version, the one that just managed to hang on to the dick as the tide was washing over him. These are the people with 20 years tenure, unfortunately, the same year 20 times over, rather than 20 years of evolution, personal growth, and the resulting wisdom. You can’t learn a lot while keeping you head down, while sales is war, you gotta come out of the fox hole to win and grow. But you can always impress the 80%, with war stories from back in the day.

The part you can’t fake is synthesizing and extrapolating from years of real experience. More importantly, the ability to share that with a member of your team, and educate them without “bossing” or telling them how you did it. Context is key, leaders understand that and use the situational context of their reps’ currently reality to educate and help that individual grow, and win the right deals.

A dividend of the latter, is it hones the next generation of great leaders. The risk of the former is the same, except the result is the next generation of inept manager/executives.

The second trait is accountability. Managers focus on keeping their people accountable. Which is a real challenge when they see a manager not a leader. Leaders understand that they are accountable for the success of their people, they strive for mutual accountability, leading with themselves.

I recently encountered a VP of Sales (by title only, habits: manager), faced with a negative situation he blamed everyone in sight. First it was his admin who messed up, then it was the manager, finally the rep. Never in the discussion did he consider his role in the blunder. He literally used his team as a human shield from facing the situation he created and was responsible for. He expected his people to be accountable for his failure. Would you follow this guy in to battle? Not that you could as he was firmly strapped to his desk.

The leaders I respect are not the ones who ask what are you going to do to improve, but the ones who ask: What do I need to do for you to help you succeed?

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A Lead Is A Terrible Thing To Waste – Sales eXecution 3140

By Tibor Shanto – 


Every day around the globe thousands if not hundreds of thousands of leads are created. Some are created by nice marketing folks, others by sales, some at trade shows, probably a few on your site, some are inbound, many are outbound, and frankly some are nowhere bound, but there is nothing but hope and blue skies at the point they are created.

But many of these leads never have the opportunity to grow into viable leads, delivering their full potential, evolving into prospects and finally full blown sales. No, many leads are wasted, ignored, sadly forgotten, and like so many before them, end up being another “might have been”, the latest addition to a pile of unrealized business cards.

Waste is never good, especially when what’s being wasted has real potential. It is especially sad when many sales people are begging or Jonesing for leads. Normally people are careful with a resource in shortage, in this case leads, and the ultimate finished good, sales and customers, sellers should be working leads full out, not wasting them. While leads may be a renewable resource, that’s no reason to waste or be casual with them, if you don’t want to work them, someone else will. Each of these leads has the opportunity to reward you now, and pay dividends well into the future. So why do people in sales allow, and at times deliberately set out to, waste and squander leads. After all, a lead is a terrible thing to waste.

Some have told me that they are not wasting these leads, but allowing them to “fully develop”. Why just last week, during a review with an IT sales rep, he told me that the lead was “not real, they are not looking to buy for another six months.” The sales version of the glass half full routine. Where I saw a good runway to build rapport and understanding, he only saw something wasting his time. “What’s a good lead?” I asked, “Someone ready to buy now, not next year.” I followed up and asked how long his sales cycle normally was, he told me six months. I tried explaining to him, but he insisted that there was no point in engaging with them for another six months.

While you can forgive the stupidity of the above, what is not forgivable, are those know what they have to do but don’t do it. Follow up once, twice and then punting, is wasting. But it takes effort to develop and execute a good pursuit plan. On the other hand so does whinging about the quality of leads you get from marketing, I mean how many times can we hear the same story.

Better use of that energy is to develop a plan for maximizing every lead. The plan should take the emotion and guess work out of maximizing a lead. Outlining the specific steps to take in converting a lead to a prospect will take the emotion and the effort out of it. You will be there early, you will do things to build rapport as time moves forward, and you’ll be the right person at the right time. Not late because you were were waiting for the perfect time, trying to get that right is a waste of time and leads. And you know what they say, “A Lead Is A Terrible Thing To Waste”.

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The Antidote To Micromanagement0

By Tibor Shanto – 

People love to complain about micromanagement, even when at times they are just being actively managed , which is a perfectly good and welcome practice for front line management. While I agree that true micromanagement is neither effective nor desired, at times it is easy to understand why some managers turn to it. I also find that many who feel they are being micromanaged, are in fact just being managed, and can actually prevent the negative aspects of it if they were willing to take on a couple of core requirements for sales success. The biggest way to avoid being micromanaged is to embrace the other side of the coin – Accountability.

That’s right, if sellers were willing to be more accountable for their actions and outcomes, they would find that their managers would (or at least seem to) “micro manage” them less. I know that accountability is one of those “feel good” words in sales and business. Leaders talk about it, they want, even when they themselves are reluctant to be accountable to the team. Sales people love talk accountability, just rolls off the tongue, and talking heads like me, well what’s a good rant without accountability being bounced about. So let’s put a little teeth and definition into it.

One thing that continues to fascinate me even after all my years in sales is how many sales people know their own metrics. Let’s make it simple, let’s look at a few leading indicators, that when focused on, can have tremendously positive impact on sales success, and when ignored, well the opposite. Let’s take three simple examples, number of potential prospects you need to engage one “real” prospect; how many “real” prospects you need in order to generate one quality viable proposal; finally how many viable proposals lead to won deal. There are others I know, but for the sake of this discussion these will do. I am going to start by asking you to write down your own three metrics for the above, if you are a manger or higher, what is the average for your team?

Sales professionals need to “own” these numbers, and those who understand the importance of accountability for success do. One reason some feel they are being micromanaged is because their manager is asking for these numbers, (sorry, I forgot, sales is not a numbers game), metrics. Many managers are asking because they want to develop an improvement plan for the rep in question, i.e. taking accountability for their rep’s success. If they come with the number in hand and present it to the rep, it will be fuel for micromanagement fire, it is much better if the rep knows and owns the number and is an equal partner in the development plan, but without an agreed on starting point and end point it is hard to move forward.

The challenge for sales managers and organizations is commonly called the Accountability Paradox: the harder you try to create accountability, the less accountable people actual become. Many believe their only option is to try harder, which again just sends a different message than intended. While the goal may be coaching to success, the interpretation by some is that they are being micromanaged. This where frequent and consistent coaching comes in.

In many organizations there are regular meetings with reps, but it is often data processing not coaching. What coaching may take place seems skewed to the managers’ requirements, not as a means of helping the rep improve. The easiest way to encourage accountability, is to demonstrate it. As a manager, you should have a coaching plan for your team as a whole, and for each individual on the team. Coaching sessions should be frequent, at least weekly, more often where needed. In case you believe that this may not be a good use of time, some indicate that ten minutes of contextual coaching can lead to reps increasing revenues by up to 17%.

If coaching is not a regular expectation, it becomes an event, usually an event centered on a short coming. As someone once said, “you only get coached when you’re not doing as well as they want”. One way managers can drive accountability is to be accountable for the success of their people, not just the numbers, after all, if their people are successful and improving, the numbers will follow.

Micromanagement sucks for all involved, why not commit to the antidote, and commit to mutual accountability.


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A Discussion with Stu Heinecke (#podcast)0

By Tibor Shanto – 

Some of you may be familiar with Stu Heinecke, a Hall-of-fame-nominated marketer and Wall Street Journal cartoonist, see example above. Last year I had the opportunity to speak with Stu while he was working on his book “How to Get a Meeting with Anyone”. More recently I joined Stu, for extended conversation on not just on how to get a meeting with right prospect, how to position and extend initial engagement. This was part of a podcast series Stu has been producing. Have a listen, and more importantly, let us know your thoughts.

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Experiment and Extend0

By Tibor Shanto – 


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.

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