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Posts Tagged ‘Mastering Complexity’

If you think about it …

I use that phrase often when I’m coaching sales professionals.  Has “thinking” is becoming a lost art?  I mean in the 21st century, if a prospect or an existing client needs to interact with a sales professional it’s only because Google’s answer wasn’t sufficient, don’t you think?

If we’re meeting with a client or a prospect, something’s up.  Business people are so busy today they don’t take a meeting with a sales rep just to take a meeting.  Instead I think they are thinking about a purchase and would like to get additional thinking from the sales rep to either address unconsidered needs or mitigate the risk of overlooking something in their own thinking.

Let’s think about how you buy something.  Have you recently made a purchase decision online?  Or if you were at a store, did you know what you were looking for?  When was the last time you actually interacted with a sales rep?  And when that interaction occurred, why did it occur?

Today, I think business buyers prefer Do-It-Yourself buying and only choose to work with a sales rep if they can’t “DIY”.  The modern sales rep brings good thinking to the transaction – that’s what the buyer is buying, yes?  “Will it work?”  “Will it work for me?”  “Is this what other companies like mine use?”  “What gotchas haven’t I thought about?”  These are examples of what’s likely on the buyer’s mind when they take a meeting with a sales rep.

But are today’s sales reps ready?  Are we good thinkers?  Thankfully, we can continuously train our thinking skills.  Here’s a quick test from Edward de Bono in his book Lateral Thinking ©:

In a tennis tournament there are one hundred and eleven entrants.  It is a singles knockout tournament and you as secretary have to arrange the matches.  What is the minimum number of matches that would have to be arranged with this number of entrants?

Ok – Go!  How many tennis matches would you have to arrange?  What is the formula you would use to answer this question?  What is your thought process?

Well, de Bono offers us a little thought leadership about thinking “laterally”.  In fact, he describes our thinking options this way:

Vertical thinking is used to dig the same hole deeper.  Lateral thinking is used to dig a hole in a different place.

If we think about it, calculating the number of tennis matches can be done simply and quickly – if we think about the problem differently:

… to work it out one must shift attention from the winners of each match to the losers (in whom no one is usually very interested).  Since there can only be one winner there must be one hundred and ten losers.  Each loser can only lose once so there must be one hundred and ten matches.

Is that how you approached answering the question?  Or was your approach similar to mine?  I started drawing out brackets and then counting matches by bracket – before I gave up that is and just read his answer.

Edward de Bono seems to be a good thinker. And if I was buying something that required a sales rep interaction (vs. a DIY approach), if he was one of the sales reps I met with, I would very likely value his thinking.

In today’s marketplace, I think buyers think all products are alike.  It’s the sales rep that is the best thinker that makes the difference.  What do you think?

GAP

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Strategic direction…

Last year, my company made a strategic change to our go-to-market approach and corresponding sales, implementation and support processes.  We made significant changes to almost all of our software programs too.

This is not a foreign phenomenon – companies implement strategic directional changes all the time, true?  And you know it’s strategic when they create a logo, a slogan, and have T-shirts made up.

As with any “strategic direction” there was a corresponding amount of “push-back” from the field.  This is also not a foreign phenomenon – pushback from the field is always a normal reaction to changes in strategic direction, especially from sales people – true again?

It always amazes me how change-adverse sales people are even though our profession is all about selling change.  But I digress.

I was one of the messengers tasked with going out to face sales teams and sell the advantages of said strategic direction.  Carrying the message from leadership to the field – fun!  I was not a member of the Corporate Staff, thankfully.  Just someone on one of the internal teams assigned to this project:

Corporate Staff:

Known in some quarters as Sea Gulls for reasons relating to their propensity to fly round the country leaving their mark wherever they have alighted. 

Norman R. Augustine

As I mentioned, there has been a degree of pushback from our constituents.  Pushback often gravitates towards the shadows of strategic initiatives; the areas not fully baked; vague issues yet to be worked out.  And vagueness in the technology field presents problems:

Golub’s Laws of Computerdom

Fuzzy project objectives are used to avoid the embarrassment of estimating the corresponding costs.

A carelessly planned project takes three times longer to complete than expected; if carefully planned, it will take only twice as long.

Project teams detest weekly progress reporting because it so vividly manifests their lack of progress.

We’ve all been there – leadership decides on a strategic direction and a project team is assembled to covey the tactical meaning and daily impacts to the field.  In 2017, I was one of those project team someones.  Hooray!

In 2018 we are continuing our strategic direction.  Our team has done a pretty good job with pretty good support in the deployment of these strategic changes.  But it seems that in every meeting, someone from the field stumps us with a question about the process and the changes that puts in that uncomfortable, “I have no clue what they were thinking” position.

When we are put on the defensive we can’t always defend or even explain our Corporate Staff beyond Woltman’s view:

Woltman’s Law

Never program and drink beer at the same time.

I think it will be OK though.  Strategic changes are often complicated; take a while to work out the vagaries; hard to convince everyone.  And given the complexity of this roll-out I feel we have faced the field as well as possible.

That is until we’re facing said field and someone raises an issue we weren’t prepared for.  Then, if we’re not careful; even with our pretty good efforts; we run the risk of making things worse:

Anderson’s Law

Any system or problem, however complicated, if looked at in exactly the right way, will become even more complicated.

So, if your company is making a substantial change and you’re involved with articulating the message behind the new, strategic direction to the field, don’t panic.  Just hide the keg in the programming department and plan your travel so you don’t follow behind the Corporate Staff.

GAP

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Data, Big Data, & Really Big Data…

I attended an Executive Roundtable sponsored by Webolutions in November.  Webolutions (https://www.webolutions.com/ ) is my preferred “Thought Leader” when it comes to what’s going on in marketing.

John Vachalek and his team (including Mike Hanbery, John Brackney and Cindy McGovern) have addressed several key topics in their 2017 Round Tables: “IoT and the Impacts on Your Organization”; “Developing a More Engaged and Productive Workforce”.  November’s topic – one of my favorites – was “Effectively Using Data to Drive Organizational Success”.

The discussion centered on Key Performance Indicators; leading KPIs; lagging KPIs; sales KPIs; operational KPIs; customer KPIs; KPIs for everyone and anything.  And, how can a round table discussion about KPIs be held without including the systems and technology that store all of that data?  It’s been stated about Google:

Google tracks everything; and everything is a lot. 

Unknown Sage

Mike Hanbery and John Brackney led a stimulating, 1-hour discussion on KPIs, data, and big data.  Webolutions does a great job of getting past systems hype and really focusing on the strategic thinking necessary for today’s technology to be used effectively.

On my left was an industrial engineer.  I believe he and I found agreement:

Machine-generated data is precise; People-generated data is messy.

Across from me was the CEO of a regional eye care center, who stated all the data in the world doesn’t help him convince one of their doctors to consider changing his or her practice habits:

Conventional IT Wisdom:

A good idea is no match for a bad habit. 

Frank Hayes

When Mike noticed I had been quiet he decided to ask for my opinion.  Mike knew what he was asking for – I have attended many of his company’s meetings and taken their “Join the Conversation” invitation literally.  I doubt he was surprised when I offered the position that data has no value.  Then, I expanded and said data is actually worse than that.  That stimulated the conversation!

When challenged, I first clarified that my views are solely based on the sales profession and data, even big data, might be terrific in the engineering and medical professions; marketing too.  But in the sales profession, data typically just drags people down to the bowels of CRM “administrivia”, which according to Wikipedia:

Administrivia: 

Administrative details that must be dealt with in order to do more interesting work.

Too much attention to CRM data and administrative details prevent sales people from doing “more interesting work”, aka selling!  And don’t even get me started on predictive analytics (which I have addressed before http://thequoteguys.com/2015/02/self-obliteration/ )

Yet here we are often citing CRM systems in our examples of all the data that can be harvested for KPI purposes.  But at what cost?

According to Integrity Solutions (aka a “data” source), who cites CEB’s research (aka “big data”):

The number and diversity of buyers involved in a typical B2B purchase has increased to 6.8, according to CEB data.

Integrity Solutions then coupled that data and big data with LinkedIn (aka, “really big data”):

Based on reports from LinkedIn, 20% of the people involved in a purchase change roles every year.  In other words, the person you’re selling to today may not be in that role when you have your next meeting.

Yep, we’re tracking data that will likely prove to be entirely useless.

I favor Vince Gatti’s view about using CRM for personal coaching of our “future-self”.

In the sales profession, I’ll vote for “next step action” over KPIs every time; how about you?

GAP

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Sounds complicated…

Ever have that feeling on the buy-side of a sales presentation?  The more the sales rep said, the harder he tried, the worse things got?  How much of our business marketplace do you think is occupied by “average people”?

I consider myself an average person – which begs the question, “What on earth is an average person”?  I guess “it all depends”.  According to Wikipedia:

…as chronicled in his bestseller The Average American: The Extraordinary Search for the Nation’s Most Ordinary Citizen, Kevin O’Keefe successfully completed a nationwide search for the person who was the most statistically average in the United States during a multi-year span starting in 2000. Newsweek proclaimed of the book, “The journey toward run-of-the-mill has never been so remarkable.”

Looks like Kevin O’Keefe remarkably over-complicated his search for an average person.

OK, hard to define perhaps but if you believe as I do that masses of opportunities are staffed by average people tasked with making buying decisions, then how effective are we at conveying our sales message to these average persons?

In the technology sales profession, we easily digress into a language of acronyms, technical terminology, and over-complication, true?  The end result often confuses the prospective buyer – and a confused prospect doesn’t buy.  They probably say to themselves, “This seems complicated; sounds expensive; I better wait.”  And Poof!  There goes our deal.

This language of confusion isn’t limited to the technology profession.  I recently listened to a discussion about making coffee and the various methods, machines and machinations that can go into it:

Rudnicki’s Nobel Principle:

Only someone who understands something absolutely can explain it so no one else can understand it at all.

Unknown Sage

To add to the mess, many sales people pile on “the demo”; delivered by the “Technical Sales Consultant”; and that’s when our prospect switches to Coke.

Truth be told; I do coach my clients to leverage visual-based selling techniques to convey technically complex topics conceptually.  I like to follow Stephen R. Covey’s view so the prospective buyer has context in case we have to delve down into more complicated details.

The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. 

Stephen R. Covey

Most of the time I prefer to create my own visuals vs. relying on my marketing and/or product specialists because they typically add methods, marketing automation machines, and machinations  (aka features, statistics, and 3rd party research) that in an effort to clarify – actually confuse.

I will on many occasions reuse visuals created by someone else, so long as I can easily understand them.  You see, if I as an average person can get it, the odds are high my prospective client can too.  However, my buyers remain wary:

GAP‘s Dictionary of Computereeze:

Salesman – A user-friendly conveyor of highly technical, data processing concepts in an easy-to-understand, though sometimes slightly inaccurate fashion.

Trying to keep things simple (and accurate) has served me well; I believe the skill of getting to the essence of a prospective buyer’s situation, in layman’s terms, is a key to successful sales transactions.  Here is an example of one of my favorite pie charts that reflects this principle of simplicity:
pieSo I ask…  Take a look at the PowerPoint slides; handouts; pie charts; and websites you leverage to sell your products and services.  Was your content written by marketing specialists, technical writers, and product experts?  Does it clearly convey your main point?

Or, does it cause your prospect to think, “Sounds complicated – I’m switching to Coke”?

GAP

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Philosophy vs. Fact – Part 2…

You might remember that I started down the philosophical path last year (see http://thequoteguys.com/2016/06/philosophy-or-fact/ ).  I didn’t get very far.  That’s OK; in the business world, sharing philosophical ideals can be a career mine field:

Seek those who find your road agreeable, your personality and mind stimulating, your philosophy acceptable, and your experience helpful.  Let those who do not, seek their own kind. 

Jean-Henri Fabre

If your boss and boss’ boss are not of your kind – watch out for the BOOM!

Recently, as my business team was putting our 2017 plans in place I found myself at the precipice of entering a philosophical discussion.  I was tempted to start my pontification but those in the meeting were not of my kind.  I decided to avoid the BOOM!  Now I turn to you instead; lucky you LoL!

In the sales profession, the more sales meetings I attend; the more sales people I coach; the more sales MeetUps I join; the more sales blogs I read; the more sales videos I watch; the more sales books I digest – most seers, soothsayers, philosophers, and pontificators I witness (this seer, soothsayer, philosopher and pontificator included) are presenting their philosophy as if it were fact:

It seems to me that no soothsayer should be able to look at another soothsayer without laughing. 

Cicero

To further their/my persuasional pursuits they/I offer a variety of “independent research” as proof behind their/my philosophy, which in actuality is simply other seers’ and soothsayers’ philosophies posing as fact.  Have you ever noticed the volume of sales research accredited to the Harvard Business Review ©? Remind me again – how much sales experience is associated with Harvard?

IMHO, much of this “research” isn’t based on the Scientific Method (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_method ), rather it is a compilation of interviews where the interviewees are – you guessed it – simply sharing their philosophies.

I’ve often wondered:  if these research firms ever went back to the same people with the same questions at a later date, would they come to the same conclusions?  Or would the interviewees’ philosophies have changed?

Whether the glass is half empty or half full depends on whether you’re drinking or pouring. 

Anthony Boxer

Now don’t get me wrong; I’m a believer in deep thinking.  The sales profession has been one of the oldest and most confounding endeavors on the planet.  What works for one person; doesn’t for another.  What worked on one prospect; blows up in our face on another.  Many have claimed to have figured it out – and they are all still working for a living.  One would philosophize that if something as instrumental to our way of life as sales was “figured out” – the one who did the figuring would have retired to a private island in the South Pacific, yes?

In today’s world of “Big Data” one can find supporting data (posing as “research”, in support of soothsaying) to back up just about any sales philosophy:

With today’s Internet, everything can be recorded.  And everything is a lot. 

Unknown Sage

At the end of the discourse, my philosophy is that each sales professional should have a sales approach that works for him or her.  If it works – it’s the right approach; and, I might add the right philosophy.  If it doesn’t work – then logically it’s the wrong approach:

Manley’s Maxim

Logic is a systematic method of coming to the wrong conclusion with confidence.

Or so says this soothsayer – submitting my philosophy for your consideration – as fact, naturally.

GAP

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Playing our position…

Now that the 2016 NBA Championship is over (congratulations Cleveland!), I believe cross-over lessons learned are available between the game of basketball and the professions of sales and marketing.

As usual, I draw my opinions from personal experience.  At 6’3”, I played the low post position in basketball (aka the “5”) through my sophomore year of high school.  By junior year, I was too small, too slow, and not athletic enough to remain in the “5”; so I moved to the small forward position (aka the “3”).

As I looked forward to playing collegiate ball, it was painfully obvious that at the NCAA Division I level, my only chance would be to play the off-guard role (aka the “2”).  Even then, getting playing time among the superior Division I athletes would be iffy.  Thankfully, the NCAA has other divisions.

I started every year of college ball, albeit Division III.  But even then, I played different positions.  My sophomore year I played the “5”; junior year the “2”; and senior year the “3”.

Of course, as we watched LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers we saw him seemingly seamlessly move from role to role throughout each game.  Sometimes the point guard (the “1”); other times the power forward (the “4”); and so on.  Such movement from position to position works in today’s NBA game.  I suggest it doesn’t in the sales and marketing world.

You see, every time my marketing colleagues try to play outside their position and dabble with the tools, tactics, and techniques preferred by sales professionals they seem to muck things up for the both of us.

Based on my StrengthsFinder 2.0© profile, my strongest strength is Context – I understand the present by researching the past (aka history).  And when it comes to history, there are many examples of what happens when marketing professionals try to play the sales professionals’ position.

Take telephone prospecting (aka cold calling); a tough position to play even for the most seasoned sales professional.  Our marketing colleagues thought they could help which begot “telemarketing”.  Yuck!

Look at what happened to the art of business letter-writing.  Yep, marketing stepped in and voila… we have mass mail (aka junk mail).  Email correspondence begat email blasts (aka spam); LinkedIn for personalized, professional networking begat social media marketing (aka Internet din); and so on.

Don’t get me wrong, I respect and value most of the things marketing professionals contribute to the cause.  What sales professional doesn’t look forward to receiving a Marketing Originated Inquiry?  Anything warmed even slightly is better than a cold list.  But a Marketing Originated Inquiry isn’t a “lead” – that’s the sales professionals’ position.

Maintaining websites; search engine optimization; white papers; positioning statements; market research; branding; marketing communication pieces; the list is long for the value marketing provides.  Just not “leads”.

According to the renowned, marketing automation company, Marketo:

There are many definitions of a lead, and there are even more definitions of a “good lead”… in our own revenue cycle, a lead is “a qualified prospect that is starting to exhibit buying behavior”. But the sales and marketing team don’t always agree on what constitutes “buying behavior”…

Seemingly every time a marketing professional is attracted by the shiny objects sales professionals use in the pursuit of leads (let alone good leads) the marketer thinks applying the “more button” makes these tools, tactics, and techniques better.  When in reality, their “help” makes things worse.

It would be better if we all simply played our positions, true?

GAP

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Philosophy or fact?

When I Googled for the definition of “philosophy” I found:

The study of the theoretical basis of a particular branch of knowledge or experience.

The theoretical basis of knowledge, hmmm.  Sounds… well… philosophical.  But I digress:

Digress: Leave the main subject temporarily in speech or writing.

I’ve been attending a new MeetUp for B2B sales reps and the last session, facilitated by Chad Burmeister, author of Sales Hack © and Director of Sales Development at Ring Central, was stellar (http://www.meetup.com/denversales/events/230718803/ ).  Chad facilitated an examination of cold-calling; starting with the rhetorical question, “Is cold-calling dead?”

Rhetorical: (of a question) asked in order to produce an effect or to make a statement rather than to elicit information.

And continuing on with Chad’s leading practices for cold-calling tools, tactics and techniques.  His presentation and discussion was stellar.

Of course, during the MeetUp many attending sales professionals offered differing opinions about their preferred cold-calling tools, tactics and techniques.  And as anyone even slightly involved in the business development field (e.g. sales, marketing, branding, etc.) would know – much is being said and more is being written on the topics of cold-calling, social media selling, and the like.

Chad’s presentation offered facts and statistics supporting his beliefs.  When others chimed in they too offered facts in support of their beliefs.  I’ve noticed when I am exposed to other authors, presenters and pontificators and their cold-calling beliefs each offers a persuasive set of facts as evidence proving the truth behind their pontification:

Fact:  A thing that is indisputably the case.

But if everyone has their own set of supporting facts, even if their beliefs around the singular topic of cold-calling are different, what is the truth?

Truth:  The quality or state of being true.

Wait – what?  Truth is the state of being true?  What the hell does that mean?  Ah…but I digress…

All-in-all, my pursuit of the “truth” seems to keep me in a constant state of self-reflection:  How do my beliefs (and corresponding facts) compare to the beliefs (and facts) of others?

I believe I am a die-hard, self-reflective sort.  As a life-long-learner, I find myself constantly asking “Why?” when presented with beliefs and facts that have serious impact on my professional success.

I am told in the book, The Absurdity of Human Life © by Tom Nagle – he writes of the collision between what in life we take seriously while simultaneously doubting the “why” behind these serious things.  I am also told (having never taken the pursuit of philosophical investigation seriously) that the 16th century French philosopher Rene Descartes (considered a “modern skeptic” of his time) suggested we should subject everything to doubt and see what is left.

As a self-confessed skeptic, my continuous search for answer to “why”?” seems to fall into Descartes’ philosophy of subjecting everything to doubt.  After doubting some of the beliefs that were debated during this MeetUp, what was left for me was an epiphany!

Epiphany: a moment when you suddenly feel that you understand something that is very important to you.

When it comes to cold-calling, social media selling, and any other form of sales-prospecting there is no “truth” regardless of what facts someone offers in support of their beliefs.  There are simply our beliefs and the corresponding results – nothing else matters.

In the sales profession if our beliefs are generating successful results, we should continue; if they aren’t, we should change.  “Change to what?” you might ask.  Well, simply change to beliefs that work.   Ut oh – does that sound too philosophical?

GAP

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Simply complicated…

Doing business in today’s modern, wired, fast-paced, multiple time zone world can be complicated, true?  It seems the more “Dos” we do on our “To Do List”, the more “Dos” show up.  In mathematical terms:

Greater Effort = Longer To Do List

Ever get caught up in this break-neck pace of activity at work?  Or even after work?  Ever find yourself booking back-to-back meetings for the day?  Extending throughout the week?  Ever find yourself in a situation where the first meeting starts late; then runs over; pushing the pebble of catchup that results in an avalanche of missed deadlines?  Does Deadline-Dan work at your company?

Deadline-Dan’s Demo Demonstration

The higher the “higher-ups” are who’ve come to see your demo, the lower your chances are of giving a successful one.

Is preparation the answer to complication?  Repetition?  Experience?  Education?  Ahhh, education – lots of buzz about education.

Ever notice the preponderance of peddlers peddling online universities offering an MBA in 20 quick weeks?  Do you find it strange that these learning pieces tend to be promoted by members of my generation appealing to (aka “preying on”) members of the younger generation – bright, albeit less worldly, more impatient folks who believe they can actually earn a Masters Degree in 20 weeks?

Ever notice those cyber, higher educational oriented Masters programs (aka “magic pills”) tend to be run by people appealing to (aka “preying on”) the younger generation – resulting in the increase of student loan debt if not true knowledge?

How did we get to this point of whirring; multi-tasking; stressed-out; magic pill seeking; catchup?  And regardless of how we got here, “What do we do about it?”

I read and hear a lot these days about multi-tasking; causing limited attention spans; blamed on childhood “A.D.D.”; and associated with the plethora of millennials invading our workforce. To be fair, we can add in memory loss (and technological cluelessness) associated with those of my generation – the Baby Boomers!

Is this simply the result of today’s complexities?  Our favorite, Unknown Sage offers a simple observation:

Principles of success

  • Everyone has a scheme for getting rich that will not work.
  • When in doubt, mumble. When in trouble, delegate.
  • Whatever you have done is never a complete failure. It can always serve as a bad example.
  • When the going gets tough, everyone leaves.
  • In case of doubt, make it sound convincing.
  • It’s a simple task to make things complex, but a complex task to make them simple.

Perhaps the simple answer is that today’s business is in fact complex.  It’s true that I find the endeavors of sales & marketing to be both fascinating as well as intellectually challenging.  And being in the sales enablement profession, I often wonder how to enable sales professionals on mastering these complexities.  Back to our Unknown Sage:

Anderson’s Law

Any system or problem, however complicated, if looked at in exactly the right way, will become even more complicated.

There is no lack of enablement resources being peddled in the marketplace these days.  Just-in-time learning management systems; mobile phone training apps; bite-size pieces of “coaching consumables”; knowledge centers.  I wonder – do these simplify the problem, or make it, “become even more complicated?”

Indeed, there are lots of folks on the “sell-side” of this conundrum wanting those on the “buy side” to believe they have mastered the art of simplification by automating the learning of complexity in a series of simple, just in time, complexity-defeating consumables delivered via machine learning (and occasionally cyber universities).

Sounds simple.

GAP

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