by Donal Daly
When he was just 16, Jackson Browne wrote and recorded a song called These Days. One of the lines is,“Don’t confront me with my failures, I have not forgotten them.”
I thought of this line when I heard the following conversation between a sales manager and a rep.
MANAGER: You lost the deal!
SALES REP: Yes, I know.
MANAGER: You’re behind quota!
SALES REP: Yes, I know.
MANAGER: I can’t believe you lost the deal!
SALES REP: Suspending belief doesn’t help.
Manager: You’re a failure!
SALES REP: I quit.
Unfortunately, this conversation (or something similar) happens too frequently. Aside from the personalities involved, and the obvious absence of any semblance of mutual respect, this kind of conversation happens for one main reason. The only data the sales manager has is historical. He lives every day trying to predict the future based solely on lagging indicators, so the only conversation he can have with the sales person is a conversation too late. If the deal was lost, the sales manager can only confront the salesperson with his failures –- and, as we see from the conversation above, that doesn't do much good.
But what if the sales manager had access to leading indicators and not just lagging indicators? What if he could look inside the salesperson’s pipeline and understand the true pipeline velocity, not just the number, or size, or the deals? What if he had intelligent insight into the health of each deal? Would it help if he could gain foresight from automated analysis of past trends, usual sales cycles, typical deal-blockers, and areas of risk? Of course it would.
But wait -- wouldn’t it be better if reps could do that for themselves? Imagine if the tools existed whereby the salesperson could self-manage, in a world where a system provided true benefit for him or her, and transcended the "I’ve go to enter this data for management" paradigm. Then you would see uncommon productivity. The end of weekly sales calls as we know them. No more “Can you tell me what you did this week on the ACME opportunity?”; no more confronting the salesperson with his or her failures; but instead a conversation that’s productive. A conversation that goes “I can see we’re running in to a possible problem with that deal -- here’s how I think I might be able to help, based on what I’ve seen work in other deals.” That’s when a sales manager can become a sales leader.
While there is no technological prosthetic for broken a relationship between a sales manager and his or her team, the latter scenario I described is absolutely possible today, and is being deployed in many of the world’s leading sales organizations, using Sales 2.0 technology. Tools exist to intelligently analyze deals, evaluate pipeline velocity, examine sales process progress, and automatically predict deal close probability and sales cycle, and all without onerous data entry or unreasonable additional work.
Now, I’m totally biased on this topic (The TAS Group provides Sales 2.0 tools), but there’s very little that’s more demotivating than being confronted with your failures, particularly when no assistance or advice is offered. Sales velocity is fueled by confidence, and anything that undermines that confidence is destructive. The tools, methodologies, and systems are available today to increase that velocity, and unless you consider how to apply them in your business, you will lag behind.
Incidentally, Jackson Browne, along with James Taylor, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Bob Dylan, Tom Waits and The Eagles, was managed by David Geffen, who founded Asylum Records. Geffen subsequently joined Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg to form Dreamworks SKG (remember Shrek?).
Geffen never signed a contract with any of his acts, and, according to him, none of them ever left him. He said his role was to be a buffer between his artists and the maelstrom of the music industry, and to help the musicians in every way he could, so that the artist could perform. Sounds like a good model for a sales leader to me.
Donal Daly is CEO of The TAS Group.