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:


  • 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.

Why Selling is Going Inside – Isn’t that Obvious?

I have been discussing this phenomenon for more than three years, so what is taking place now is not a surprise.

So, having posed the question, let me provide some answers – why is selling really going inside?

The most obvious reason is pure economics: After the recent financial meltdown, companies have been forced to examine the true cost of sales – something they do not usually have time to focus on when business is buoyant – and what they will have discovered may have startled them, because sales costs have been spiralling out of control for a number of years: Fuel costs, labor costs, the cost of raw materials, for example, have all soared, and put simply, because of intense competition, the price of our products and solutions have remained largely unchanged.

The net effect of all of this has put thousands, if not millions of companies – globally, not just in North America or Europe – out of business.

You see, it is very easy to calculate gross margin/gross profit – which is what most compensation plans are still based on, amazingly – you simply deduct your buy-in cost from your sell-on price. However, your actual net profit is vastly different. Let me give you an example:

Let’s take a typical sale in a consultative/collaborative environment: After some pretty rigorous qualification at the front-end, we decide that we have uncovered an opportunity that is worth pursuing. We arrange an initial exploratory meeting, face-face, because face-face selling is still a dominant feature of selling at that level. If the meeting goes well, and the full traditional sales/buying cycle is followed, there may be another five, six, seven meetings, not just involving the lead salesperson, but his/her line manager; some technical resource on very “big-ticket” deals, even some finance input – team selling.

You do not need a degree in higher math to calculate the total cost of all this effort: I read somewhere the other day that it now costs $1500 to put one salesperson in front of one customer for one meeting. I actually think that this number is very conservative. But you get my point?

Whilst this level of investment may be justified for extremely high-value business, and may be possible to control, we are talking about less than 0.5% of all business transacted, and this means that for everything else, we should be considering our options.

The reality is that the traditional customer call once seemed indispensable to the selling process – the time and expense involved were just a basic cost of doing business. But today, the business community has to regard the sales call as an expenditure for which there are substitutes. For many companies, telemarketing, video conferencing and direct email, have made the sales call a choice, not an inevitability – which takes us back to understanding why so many companies are moving their salesforces inside. I repeat, it is pure economics.

Advances in technology mean that we can now effectively conduct face-face meetings online – and you know what, we can manage five, six, seven meetings in one day, rather than the one or two we are managing at the moment.

I do not believe that we will ever see the day when face-face selling disappears completely – certainly it is not going to happen in my lifetime. But equally, we cannot cling on to out-dated and unprofitable practices.

Change is the one constant that we can rely on in life, and that is certainly true for those of us who are populating the sales-space right now – but isn’t it exciting?

The Importance of Building a Shared Mental Model

One of the most important responsibilities of a sales leader is to translate the organization’s vision, mission and values into a meaningful context that sales teams can relate to and feel excited by. If this is achieved then the leader will have created a sales team with a shared mental model. This transforms an ordinary sales team into a high performing one.

For clarity, here is a brief description of the following terms:

An organization’s vision is a guiding image of success formed in terms of a huge goal. It is a description in words that conjures up a picture of that organization’s destination. A compelling vision will stretch expectations, aspirations, and performance. Without that powerful, attractive, valuable vision, why bother?

mission statement communicates the essence of an organization to its stakeholders and customers, and failure to clearly state and communicate an organization’s mission can have harmful consequences around its purpose. As Lewis Caroll, through the words of the Cheshire cat in Alice in Wonderland says, “If you don’t know where you’re going, it doesn’t matter which way you go.”

Guiding principles are the consequence of a mission statement that are intended to inform or shape all subsequent decision-making, which also provides normative criteria allowing policy-makers to accept, reject or modify policy interventions and activities. They are a guiding set of ideas that are articulated, understood and supported by the organisation’s workforce.

Values are beliefs which the organization’s workforce hold in common and endeavor to put into practice. The values guide their performance and the decisions that are taken. Ideally, an individual’s personal values will align with the spoken and unspoken values of the organization. By developing a written statement of the values of the organization, individuals have a chance to contribute to the articulation of these values, as well as to evaluate how well their personal values and motivation match those of the organization.

The Human Capital Development Model, created by Krauthammer International, is a logical process that can take top management concepts, and translate them into a context that has real meaning for staff at all levels.

The key to bringing this model to life is to answer the following questions:
– Do my team understand the organization’s vision and how their role moves the organization closer to achieving it?
– How can my sales team translate the organization’s mission into one that is relevant to them?
– How does the organization’s guiding principles impact on the day-to-day responsibilities of sales people?
– Which of the organization’s values does my sales team relate to?
– How can we interpret these values so they become compelling for each sales person?

An effective sales team understands the big picture and the context of their team’s work to the greatest degree possible. That includes understanding the relevance of their job and how it impacts the effectiveness of others and the overall team effort.

Too often, sales people are asked to work on an activity without being told how their role contributes to organization’s vision, much less how their efforts are impacting the ability of others to do their work. Understanding the organization’s vision promotes collaboration, increases commitment and improves quality.

An effective team works collaboratively and with a keen awareness of interdependency.

Collaboration and a solid sense of interdependency in a team will defuse blaming behaviour and stimulate opportunities for learning and improvement. Without this sense of interdependency in responsibility and reward, blaming behaviours can occur which will quickly erode team effectiveness and morale.

The Ever-Increasing Costs of the “Fear of Calling” Syndrome

Recent studies have confirmed the obvious, that is to say that “fear of calling” in sales can contribute to a significant proportion of lost sales revenues. One study that I read recently found that as many as 40 % of established salespeople experienced periods of fear of calling severe enough to threaten their future in sales.

Stemming the ever-increasing costs of the fear of calling syndrome cannot be addressed by training alone. It requires an experienced coach or mentor to work with each salesperson’s particular set of beliefs, so that they feel truly empowered to break through their self-created mental barriers. One particular statistic, in the following survey, should give any salesperson suffering from fear of calling renewed confidence.

How Customers Regard Salespeople Survey

Salespeople who do not bother to make appointments – 45%

Salespeople who know nothing about the customer’s business – 60%

Salespeople who don’t know enough about their own products and services – 60%

Salespeople who call too often – 9%

Salespeople who don’t call often enough – 49%

Salespeople who do not have the authority to negotiate prices – 45%

Salespeople who do not ask for the order at the appropriate time – 40%

Salespeople who are not properly or sufficiently organized – 55%

Most desirable quality customers want to see in salespeople?  Competence!

We must remember that a salesperson’s state of mind is instantly transferred to their prospect or customer, which means that the challenge for organizations is to constantly create a highly resourceful state in their salespeople. This is extremely important, because when salespeople lack belief in themselves, their product or their service, they unconsciously transmit their attitude to in a variety of subtle and sometimes overt ways.

Most sales managers grasp the concept of activity management, skills development and knowledge development and a few intuitively also understand the vital importance of the right mind-set. Yet, far too many feel powerless to help their salespeople turn their negative beliefs into positive ones. Those who do tackle such negative beliefs and are able to change their salespeople’s self-limiting beliefs into empowering ones have found an unbeatable path to success.