Leader, My Leader, Do You Inspire “Willing Action?”

Leadership has been defined as “the ability to inspire willing action”

Emphasis is placed on the “willing.” But to understand leadership, we need to delve a little deeper than that.

One thing which experience has proven over and over again down through the ages is that when any group of people are thrown together for any length of time or for any project, a leader will emerge from the group – one to whom they will listen and give their confidence and support.

Their position on the organization chart or their title alone cannot make a person a genuine leader. They must have certain traits and skills, or they will surely fail. In business it has been shown again and again that these skills can be learned and the traits can be developed in any individual who is willing to exert an effort based on strong desire and a true hunger for success.

Generally, a leader or teacher does not actually “develop” another person. They encourage and inspire that person to develop themselves from within. Thus, leadership is, in a large sense, self-initiated.

Once we understand and identify the methods and characteristics of admired leaders, we can take steps to develop these skills and traits ourselves. We can analyze ourselves — honestly, ruthlessly, objectively – and identify which skills we need to acquire or improve (and those which we need to play down).

However, it is my view that the “perfect leader” has yet to be born. We all have room for self-improvement. If we can agree upon what it takes to be a good leader – what are the traits of leadership, what are the skills – we will at least have made a good start. We should analyze every genuine leader we know and try to learn which qualities influenced us to consider them a good leader.

And that is what I have done: My first experience of leading was thrust upon me at the tender age of eight years old, when I captained my soccer team – since then I have always been the captain – it is as well, because I am not a very good follower however hard I have tried.

Does your leader inspire you into willing action … or un-inspire you into unwilling action?

Final question: Are great leaders born or made? It seems that everyone has a view on that – every man, his dog, and most of his dog’s best friends: I’ll share my views shortly…. watch this space.

The Power of Responsibility

Together, involvement and empowerment create an environment in which sales people can have responsibility for their own actions. Responsibility cannot be given – it can only be taken; therefore a Sales Leader can only give sales people the opportunity to take responsibility for their work demands.

High performing sales teams require clear objectives so they know exactly what they must do and why, good communication and trust so that having created such a situation, a Sales Leader will let sales people get on with things. These elements build higher motivation because sales teams enjoy having the authority to make decisions and get the job done.

A sales person’s willingness to participate collaboratively as a team member does not guarantee that the team will create their desired outcome. If sales people are thrown into a collaborative situation and simply told to work as a team, they will lack the structure to make this happen. After all, why should a sales person care about their sales team?

Promoting understanding of why sales people need to be a team is vital. The team needs to understand its shared goals and what each team member brings to the team that is relevant and crucial to its overall successes. Therefore, to optimize the talent capability within a sales team it’s important to identify what each sales person’s unique ability is, and how their unique ability can be shared for the betterment of the team.

Maximizing a sales team around one common goal that creates value for the customer, the organization, and the individual sales person is the only way to focus the activities of a sales team.

Activity Based Planning Leads to More Consistent Results – Fact!

Although the debate has been raging since someone first sold something to someone else, it is my personal belief that selling is both an art and a science.

To put it another way, a salesperson’s skills determine their level of artistry at selling and their strategic planning provides a scientific platform for their sales activities.

One of the characteristics that make a salesperson successful is careful use of their selling time: Time is something that doesn’t stop, yet how it’s used affects performance that can leverage the impact of sales activities.

To influence sales results you need to work on your sales activities. For example, all the sales activities you have undertaken in the past have produced your current results. So then logically, the sales activities you perform today will create your future results. Therefore, there is always a time delay between activities and results. Focusing on activities in a well-planned way naturally increases results.

The Sales Platform concept is a sophisticated process for analysing, planning, directing and monitoring the activities of sales people.

The Sales Platform features three main elements:

  1. Buying Platform – This comprises of existing customers who are purchasing from you on a one-off basis or a regular basis. This segment of the platform requires two strategic sales approaches:
    • Sales actions that reduce the risk of losing customers (a proportion of customers are lost over time due to a variety of reasons)
    • Sales actions that can generate incremental business from existing customers (it’s easier to get new business from existing customers compared to prospects)
  2. The Working Platform – This comprises of prospects that have been visited, yet aren’t currently buying. This segment of the platform is extremely time intensive, yet is a crucial part of the development of an ideal customer base. The sales approach in this segment is to accelerate prospects through the pipeline until they become a customer.
  3. The Market Platform – This comprises of leads that have not yet been qualified as prospects that have the potential to become customers. This segment of the platform is the vital preparation phase to replace lost customers and grow existing business in the longer term. The sales approach in this segment is to select the right type of opportunities that have the potential to become prospects. Banks of qualified prospects can be built up if appropriate – ready for a concerted attack on a targeted part of the market place.

In an ideal situation and based on the market conditions there should be a good balance between all three platforms.

Excess Buying Platform activity will constrain the growth of the business into those areas that are identified as the opportunities of the future. It is also a symptom that the organization has got itself into a rut or a ‘comfort zone’ that the communication of policy is poor, that management is not controlling the work, or that people lack the confidence to tackle new areas (or a combination of all of them).

Too much emphasis on the Market and Working Platforms is inefficient and will increase the cost of sales unnecessarily. Without a strong base of long-term customers, this will dramatically reduce the potential for growth, and could well lower the reputation of the organization.

In my experience, the quality of the planning phase significantly affects the quality of the final result …

Is Inspiration an Overrated Leadership Quality?

In a survey of more than one and a half thousand managers, people were asked what they would most like to see in their leaders. The most popular answer, mentioned by 55% of people, was ‘inspiration.’ Yet when asked if they would describe their current leader as ‘inspiring’ only 11% said yes.

The two attributes that people actually mentioned most often when describing their leaders were ‘knowledgeable’ and ‘ambitious.’ As well as this thirst for inspiring leadership, there’s also evidence to support the idea that companies with inspiring leaders perform better.

The Sunday Times publishes an annual survey of the ‘Best Companies to Work For’ which is compiled from the opinions of the companies’ own employees. One interesting fact is that those ‘Best Companies’ that are publicly quoted consistently outperform the FTSE All-Share Index. Five-year compound returns show a 5.7% negative return for FTSE All-Share companies against a 13.6% gain for the “Best Companies.” Over three years, the returns were -11.3% and 6.7% respectively while, in the last twelve months, they were 23.1% and 44%.

The ‘Best Companies to Work For’ have also performed impressively on staff turnover, sickness rates, absenteeism, and the ability to recruit good quality people.

The stereotype of the inspirational leader as someone extrovert and charismatic is the exception rather than the rule. Looking at best practice across business, though some inspirational leaders certainly do fit this mould, a large number do not. Many are quiet, almost introverted.

My personal view is that the best leaders promote a culture where their people value themselves, each other, the company and the customers. Everyone understands how their work makes a difference. This helps to build a commitment to higher standards where everybody is always looking to do things better.

It’s “Time to Get Close To Your Pipeline” Season – And Stay Close!

We are already well into the final “selling phase” of 2014 and, at this time of the year, I always urge a total focus on “closable opportunities” for a really big finish.

It takes courage, and a real sense of realism to focus in on what is probable – not just possible. This is not a time to be optimistic. We need realistic.

You can’t manage what you can’t measure, and if you can’t measure your pipeline, then you can’t improve your productivity. There are a number of Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) that can be measured, monitored and managed to ensure achievement of sales targets:

KPI     

  • Pipeline Opportunities – These should be measured in value and the number of opportunities in the pipeline.
  • Opportunities by Milestone – Once these milestones and their different probabilities of closing have been calculated, these figures ensure greater accuracy of forecasting.
  • Average Deal Size – This ensures better focus on larger deals and ideally will increase steadily each year.
  • Sales Cycle Time – Shortening this can have a huge impact because of the cumulative ‘saved time’ available for prospecting.
  • Profitability – Margins can be tracked to ensure that there is sufficient contribution to enable ongoing account handling.
  • Conversion Ratio – The number of opportunities won and the % of pipeline potential converted.

Finally, do remember that there are no prizes for having a pregnant pipeline – the prizes are reserved for closed business.

The reality is that, for a number of reasons, 30% of the opportunities currently residing in your pipeline will not happen – do you know which ones they are?

If you weed them out early, you will give yourself so much more time to work on those that will happen.

It takes just as long to work an un-winnable opportunity through the pipeline as it does a winnable one!

Last big push please!

Do We Really Need Marketing?

I have a very long commercial memory, and I remember with considerable clarity that in days long ago, the “marketing function” was a sideshow, almost an after-thought, or an add-on to the real engine room within most companies – the sales force.

Typically, the inhabitants of the marketing department – yes, that was way before they became divisions, or even functions – were either failed salesmen or women, who had lost the appetite for full on daily competitive skirmishes, or they were returning mothers looking for some part-time income.

Their days typically began at 8.55 am on the dot, and ended at 5.01pm. They closed down typewriters/word processors (yes, I am really talking about that long ago) at 1.00 pm, to unpack their lunches, and then religiously packed all the Tupperware and flasks away again at 1.59 pm.

They did not so much enter rooms, but rather shuffle in nervously – almost apologetically – as if in fear of being asked if they could possibly justify their existence.

They may have thought that they were responsible for promoting – and occasionally defending – the company’s image, but in reality, they were at the beckoning of anyone in the boardroom/C-Suite. Come to think about it, they were also at the beckoning of anyone in sales too.

My goodness, how times have changed. Marketing heads now stride across the sales floor; they look the sales team in the eyes; they have become an important and integral part of the “offense unit” …. In fact, marketing teams who know what they are doing are as valuable as high-achieving sales professionals.

Why? The advancement in very high quality and efficient sales/marketing alignment tools, have propelled the marketing function into a formidable front-line function, producing a constant stream of high quality leads and opportunities. In many organizations, they have replaced cold calling and established themselves as the “new business creation stars”

So why still the stand-off? Why still no legal wedding with sales? Why an uneasy truce – a kind of “marriage of convenience?” I think I have the answers, but I’ll save them for another post.

They Are Still Marching – But Not to Our Drum!

Yes, it is true, customers and prospects are still marching, but they are no longer marching to our drum – by “our” I mean us sellers. They have wrestled the drum away from us and they are now organizing their own marches. They decide if, and when, we are invited to join them – except at the very top end of selling, where it is a very different scenario altogether. The elite top 20% actually help plan the march, whilst the other 80% are lucky if they manage to squeeze into a place along the route.

How often have you read that prospects and customers are coming into the traditional buying cycle, as much as 70% up the curve? It has almost become a “cliché”, hasn’t it? But did you ever read that it was 20% or 40% or 60%? Neither did I. It is almost as if everything changed overnight – like some sales tsunami – but actually, it didn’t, it couldn’t have. We should rather think “gradual coastal erosion” if we want to stay with a meteorological or even a geological metaphor.

I find all of this quite curious: Why didn’t anyone notice until it reached 70%? Were we caught napping, taken completely by surprise? Or more likely, were we so focused on ourselves, our products/solutions, company, industry sectors, that we failed to take notice of what our customers were up to?

Myopia: Lack of discernment or long-range perspective in thinking or planning – and that is being kind!

What I am wondering now, is will anyone alert us when we move from 70% to 75% and then 80% and then…. Or will we all wake up one sunny morning and be informed that we are no longer needed at all, and that buyers everywhere have decided that we are totally surplus to requirements, we have become obsolete?

The answer to that question is, the more anyone remains wedded to a transactional selling style – either because their market expects that, or they are unwilling or unable to change – and the more “commoditized” their solutions and services become, they could be on their way to extinction.

The Comfort and Safety of “Me Only Territory”

The very best consultative sales professionals operate exclusively in “me only territory” and that demands an explanation, so let’s begin by examining the traditional sales environment.

For the sake of this exercise, let’s use a baseball park (not that I know too much about baseball) So traditional salesmen and women are operating left field; they are usually totally focused on a single sales event, and they sell products.

If asked to describe the value they bring, they would simply offer you product options, and they are always willing to compete on price to get the order. They typically sell to “users” which requires them to be consistently reactive, and of course, their achievement levels are as unpredictable as British weather. Finally, if asked to describe commercial politics, they would stare blankly at you – that isn’t their fault, it is simply that they have never been exposed to it – and the same goes for ROI.

These people are all operating exclusively in “me-too territory”

When we move into center field, we find ourselves in “me-first territory:” These salespeople bring much more to the table and have a much wider commercial bandwidth. They are pre-occupied with business process; they focus both on the customer and their competitors; they don’t simply sell products, but rather “application solutions” they are acutely aware of the need to make a profit, and usually they deal with recommenders – so they have taken a giant stride up the food chain.

These salespeople understand that reliability is more important to customers than speed of response (reactivity) and they are also politically agile. Naturally they can sell using ROI arguments, and finally, their achievement levels are consistent.

You might be forgiven for thinking that must be as good as it gets – after all, the two scenarios that we have described account for around 95% of the global sales population. But actually, no, it gets even better!

Now we are entering “only-me territory” – the hallowed turf of the sales world. We are very much right-field, and the population is made up of the biggest hitters, whose primary pre-occupation is long-term outcomes, and their focus is entirely on the customer’s commercial objectives and how they can assist the customer in achieving them: The value they bring is strategic direction, and they only see long-term ROI. Their dealings are exclusively with key decision makers, and they penetrate formal DMU’s as easily as a knife slicing through butter.

These salespeople are always on the front foot, deliberately pro-active. They identify the business they want, and they go after it. They are not just politically agile, they are politically astute, and they use politics to win whenever they need or have to; they always secure high ROI, and they consistently exceed quotas. They have complete account control.

And you, where do you spend most of your selling time?

In the precarious left field, where you are totally at the mercy of your prospects and customers, hoping that they will call you?

Maybe you are center field, which does indeed feel much more secure when compared to your colleagues to the left of you, even though you frequently cast envious glances to those colleagues on your right.

Or maybe, just maybe, you really are a top 5% achiever? If you are, congratulations, I know precisely what it took for you to get there.

Lead Generation and the Use of “Pareto Thinking”

Use of “Pareto Thinking” is highly relevant and important when applied to sales people. For example, 20% of a sales person’s activities will create 80% of sales achieved, which has enormous consequences on how to optimize and manage lead generation activities.

Generating leads is of course, an important sales activity that plants the seeds of growth for sustainable business development. A lead is purely a name that you could refer to as a SUSPECT because their potential to buy is unknown.

Before you can qualify leads to determine whether they have the money, authority and desire to buy your products/services you need to generate them!

When deciding upon which lead generation methods work best for you and your organization, it helps to have clarity on the type of customers that you’d like to attract. This means creating an “Ideal Customer Profile” that can begin to provide direction to your lead generation activities.

The following questions will stimulate your thinking when it comes to developing an Ideal Customer Profile:

– What size of organization would you prefer to deal with?

– Typically, how many people will they employ?

– What market sector(s) do these organizations operate within?

– Who specifically will be buying your products/services and what are their titles?

– Where geographically would you like these organizations to be located?

– What does your organization offer that is unique?

– What types of organizations will be attracted by this uniqueness?

– What do your best customers possess that you would like to replicate in others?

– Which of your existing customers were the easiest and quickest to convert?

– What similarities do these customers possess?

– Are there any specific criteria that prospective organizations should have in place, so that your products/services can be optimized?

Having a well-defined profile of your “ideal customer” can prove to be invaluable when determining which methods to use for lead generation, and improves the effectiveness of marketing initiatives.

You may also discover that the process for asking for referrals becomes easier and generates a better response, because you are providing the person with a tighter specification of what you are looking for – this concentrates their thinking towards the direction you have defined.