Lack of Leadership Equals Lack of Results

No one wants to work for a micromanager, just as no one wants to be one. Like most things, when people believe that one thing is bad, they presume the opposite must be good. If micromanaging is bad, then leaving people alone must be good, or so this is what some managers believe and many managers practice.

The opposite of micromanagement is macro-management. Where managing every detail of an employee’s work is terrible, managing the significant outcomes that lead to success is useful and necessary. Too little management, too little leadership, and a lack of direction is something much worse than micromanagement.

Too Little Direction on Outcomes

Where a micromanager would provide too much direction, someone who fears their team thinking of them as a micromanager might avoid guiding the outcomes the individuals on their team need to create. Managers don’t exist to manage paperwork and provide reporting. All managers must be leaders, someone responsible for future results.

In sales, managers and leaders who avoid providing guidance around the number and quality of the opportunities the individuals on their team needs to create each week, or month, or quarter is not providing enough direction for many of the individuals on their team to succeed. Instead, they are merely hoping for the best. You see this when sales leaders allow their salespeople to show up to a pipeline meeting with no new opportunities week after week, without admonishing them for failing to build their pipeline.

Macro-management means providing strong direction on the outcomes your team needs to create. It means ensuring the people on your team know what you expect of them, that they are capable and equipped to produce those results and holding them accountable for doing so.

Too Little Activity

There are two reasons an individual may not produce the outcomes for which they are accountable. First, and most likely, they aren’t doing the work they would need to do to generate the result. Most people who fail in sales don’t fail because they can’t sell; they fail because they don’t sell. Call this a lack of sales activity or “anti-hustle.”

Some sales managers and leaders don’t address the problem of too little activity when it comes to prospecting. Instead, they ignore it, providing too little leadership around a significant outcome in sales. What is worse than having to talk to a rep about the fact that they aren’t doing the work to create new deals is allowing them to fail because you don’t want to have an uncomfortable conversation. The failure to have these conversations with senior salespeople means your best reps are not in the game.

Activity management is micromanagement if a salesperson is producing the deals they need to be successful. That same activity management is macro-management when one is not providing the result they need due to too little activity.

Too Low Effectiveness

When an individual’s failure to create new opportunities is not due to any lack of effort on their part, the root cause is almost always a lack of sales effectiveness in their role. The second thing you need for growth is closing more deals.

Sales effectiveness is also something that many managers ignore. When salespeople believe their “style” should trump a modern a sales approach, one the client finds valuable enough that they prefer to work with the salesperson and their company, their managers allow weak sales practices to cause losses and the poor results that follow. Losing isn’t a style.

There are a lot of ways to get to yes and win a deal, but when a person is not winning, the choices they are making in sales are detrimental to their success. Allowing someone you are responsible for to fail is not leadership. Waiting for a person to figure out something they believe they already know isn’t going to help them improve. That improvement is only going to come from a manager willing to manage the macro outcome that is “won deals.”

There is No Benign Neglect

As a manager or leader, there is no such thing as benign neglect. There is only neglect, something that harms others. It is an abdication of leadership hat one should not micromanage, should not have to provide direction, and should not need to require the activity necessary to produce results.

It is easier to fail your sales team than it is for your sales team to fail you. The imposition of a standard not only serves your goals and results, but it also helps the people that make up your team. Leaders see something in people that they don’t yet see in themselves, and in doing so, improve them both personally and professionally.

Providing leadership means providing high standards, something people will have to strive to achieve. A lack of standards means anything is acceptable.

Lack of Growth and a Lack of Accountability

When you find a lack of growth and sales performance, you also find a lack of accountability. The unwillingness to provide consequences and help when people don’t do what they are responsible for doing allows them to continue to fail. Without accountability, that failure belongs to the person providing too little leadership, not the person who is failing to perform.

Hard Times

Many factors lead to stalled or declining sales. They are known, as are the remedies that would result in increased sales. Only those willing to acknowledge the root causes of poor sales results and changing their actions have any hope of turning things around.

Too Few Opportunities

Like it or not, the first reason your sales are not growing is that you are not creating enough new opportunities to generate incremental growth. Without creating the necessary opportunities to provide additional revenue, not only are you not going to grow, you are more likely to experience declining sales due to lost clients.

Creating new and incremental opportunities is a critical outcome for those who seek growth. When you are not creating new opportunities, there is one thing that is almost universally true: You are not doing enough prospecting.

There are a lot of factors that precede too little prospecting. Some sales leaders incorrectly believe that their senior salespeople should not have to prospect for new business, even though their more experienced salespeople have the most significant ability to create value for their prospects and create new opportunities.

Other organizations struggle to create a culture of accountability, expecting their salespeople will prospect without any direction. These organizations and their leaders don’t impose any standards, allowing poor results, believing that the autonomy that comes with sales doesn’t need to be accompanied by strong direction.

Within the first two minutes of a pipeline meeting, you can tell that a sales organization isn’t going to have easy growth. When the first salesperson shares their update on the same account that they shared the prior week instead of rattling off the new opportunities they created in the past week, you know there is a problem. The cardinal sin here is believing that capturing opportunities is all that is necessary for growth.

Too Few Won Opportunities

You are not going to grow your sales by creating new opportunities only to lose so many that you can’t generate incremental new revenue. The data suggests that companies competing for blind opportunities win some percentage between ten and fifteen percent. Different businesses and industries have varying numbers here, and a reasonable win rate in one may not be acceptable in another. That said, it’s hard to outrun poor effectiveness by creating more opportunities only to lose them.

It can be incredibly challenging to outrun a “too low” win rate by creating additional opportunities, as many who have tried can attest. There is a good deal of confusion around the ideas of “efficiency” and “effectiveness” in sales, in large part because of the technological tools that allow for automation and save time. Improved efficiency means producing an outcome with less energy and effort. Not producing the result means all of your efforts were wasted, making you inefficient.

The reasons you lose deals are many and varied. The best place to start, however, is with your sales approach and how you lead the sales conversation with your prospective client. Traditional methods built on the idea that you have to get your client to acknowledge a gap in the results they need and solve that by recommending your solution are often inadequate to creating a preference to buy from you.

There is too little value created in comparison to other, more modern sales approaches. If your strategy doesn’t allow you to provide your client with a new, higher resolution lens through which to see their current and future states, the approach isn’t something that you can call consultative selling.

You can add to the inadequate approach the inability to control the process, allowing your prospective clients to determine the method. You make losing likely when your contacts are not engaged in the conversations they need to have internally and with you, avoiding making and keeping the commitments that would ensure they make the right decision.

While there has been a lot of conversation about the need to build consensus to win deals, deals are lost every day when salespeople still believe their “champion,” “power sponsor,” or “main contact” is going to be the only person they need to win a deal, even when their solutions will impact the client’s entire enterprise.

When you lack a philosophy of modern selling, and the processes, methodologies, strategies, and language for consultative conversations, the result is lower win rates and a lack of growth.

Leadership and Leading Yourself

The great part about being a leader is that everything is your fault, including too few opportunities and low win rates. Believing that everything is your fault is also the most empowering position available to you; if you are responsible for poor results, then you are also the one who can make the changes to improve your results. For a lot of companies, it starts with opportunity creation.

Increasing the number of opportunities and improving your win rates is as good a recipe as you will need to increase your revenue and start to grow your business.

Those of you who sell should not wait for anyone to tell you that you need to create more opportunities, nor should you wait for anyone else to improve your effectiveness in your chosen profession. No one succeeds or reaches their full potential when someone else has to tell them what to do.



Managing Multiple Stakeholders

If you’re going to bypass mid-level gatekeepers, you have to be strategic, and you also have to use the right tone and pace, so you can be perceived as someone who truly cares about their needs.

It’s inevitable… Every salesperson has been there. In your attempt to prospect at a high level within an organization, you get kicked over to someone in middle management or a couple rungs down the decision making ladder.

It’s necessary to build rapport with these mid-level facilitators, because often times they are influencers who ultimately will sell you and your product or service at a higher level to their boss or leadership team. So, you can’t completely write them off as if they don’t matter, but you also can’t always trust that they will get the job done.

What do you do when you get into a never ending follow up rut with these types of buyers and they consistently tell you, “I still haven’t had a chance to meet with my boss.”?

Should you just keep following up and hoping at some point they finally will meet with the higher ups and get the job done, or should you bypass them and go straight to the decision makers yourself? Either way, you risk losing a sale!

If you follow up too many times, you start annoying them, and they can decide to cut you out entirely, and if you bypass them and go over their head to the ultimate decision maker, you can risk sabotaging the relationship with the ultimate prospect and the mid-level person both at the same time, because it can be perceived as a scumbag move.

If you’re going to bypass them, you have to be strategic, and you also have to use the right tone and pace, so you can be perceived as someone who truly cares about their needs.

Here’s how I have found success:

I typically give the mid-level person 4-5 nice nudges, and if they still haven’t sought approval on my proposal, I straight up ask them, “Sally, do you know when you’re going to meet with your boss… Sorry, I don’t know their name…” and then I pause for 3 seconds. They usually will respond something like “Well, his name is Steve, and I’m going to meet with him later this week.”

BOOM… Now, I have an ultimate name of who is signing the checks and making buying decisions in that company… I make a mental note…

Then I ask another question that gives me honest insight into how likely it is that my proposal is really going to get brought up in a meeting with Steve…

“Okay, so when you meet with Steve, are you going to recommend that your company proceeds with the proposal?”

I like to ask them this straight up, so I know exactly where I stand with the mid-level person. If you can’t get a positive “Yes, absolutely!” commitment from them, you have no chance of closing a deal. Do you really think they’re going to be able to sell you and your product/service to their boss when they don’t really believe in what you’re selling?

If they tell me, “Yes, I am going to recommend we proceed,” I always give them a chance to get the job done. After all, if they believe in what you’re selling, they can be your biggest advocate internally, and you should trust them to do their job!

Next, I will typically call back the day after their scheduled meeting, which ultimately decides what I do next.

Situtation A: The meeting went well, and they agree to buy! Sally stayed true to her word and got approval from Steve. (No further steps needed)

Situation B: After this follow up or a couple more follow ups, they still didn’t meet or you can’t reach the person, and it seems as if they’re now dodging your calls. (Take the situation into your own hands). This is where I take over the scenario. I stop dealing with the mid-level person and then I start prospecting Steve directly.

It usually looks like this: “Hi Steve, This is Brian Donohoe. I’ve been working with Sally on your team, and I think she was supposed to meet with you a few times now about our proposal. Has she mentioned anything to you yet? She was telling me she was seeking your approval, but I still haven’t received final confirmation, and I’m worried something could be falling through the cracks on my side.”

This usually piques Steve’s interest enough for him to have a conversation, even if a short one, and then you get a brief slot to state your case and sell yourself!

Situation C: Sally informs me that they’re going to pass. (Inquire more and then start over with the ultimate decision maker again). – Sally tells you she tried to get approval, but her boss wouldn’t go for it. I don’t argue with Sally or try to re-sell her, because ultimately she isn’t the decision maker anyway.

I do ask questions though, like “Can you please share what happened? I thought you were recommending us!” I always ask in a curious, non-intrusive way, and typically, they will answer me.

This is where you get to the bottom of whether or not they are telling you the truth and/or you discover what their true objection is, and you can better craft your presentation to fit those objections when you finally reach Steve down the road.

Just this week, I got caught with a mid-level buyer who continued to push me off… “I still need to meet with Ryan,” she kept telling me. It got to a point where week after week for about two straight months, she kept telling me she needed to meet with Ryan. I got tired of following up and getting nowhere with her, so I finally called Ryan directly and one call closed him.

My mid-level prospect then had to call me back to execute the paperwork and do Ryan’s logistics for him. She was entirely embarrassed that she sat on my proposal and didn’t take it to Ryan for his approval, especially when Ryan ended up seeing enough value to go with the purchase anyway.

She missed out on an opportunity to bring a valuable service offering to her boss. Since he liked it and bought from me directly, it would’ve made her look good to propose it directly to him.

Yes, this is a risky move, and it can sometimes backfire on you, but if you don’t have ink on paper in the form of a signed and sealed contract, you don’t have a sale in place anyway, so what do you really have to lose?

Sometimes, it’s worth taking the risk and bypassing the mid-level gatekeepers to get a deal closed…

After all, we are in sales, and we get paid to make sales and perform at our best, not play the nice follow up game with people who are never going to internally sell for you to their bosses…

Be risky, swing for the fences, and go for it! Do it with tact and grace, though, because odds are you’ll still end up crossing paths with the mid-level people again, and you want to keep them on your side.

Your Value Proposition

You want your value proposition to compel your dream client to take action? Here are seven questions you need to ask and answer to test the potency and effectiveness of your value proposition.

(1) Is it different? If you want your value proposition to do its job for you, you need it to speak to your differentiation strategy. You need it do drive a wedge between your dream client and your competitors. Can anybody do what you do the way you do it?

(2) Is it compelling? If your value proposition doesn’t speak to your dream client’s business drivers and their strategic goals, then it isn’t compelling. If it isn’t compelling, then it isn’t an effective value proposition. How does it speak to the need for change?

(3) Is it tailored? You start with a very general value proposition as to how your company creates value. But as you engage with the stakeholders within your dream client company, you create a more specific value proposition tailored to their needs. If it isn’t tailored to their individual needs, it isn’t compelling.

(4) Is it measurable? Your value proposition must be measurable. You may not need to get to a complex or complicated return on investment analysis, but you do need to describe how you will measure the new results you help your dream clients produce.

(5) Is it time-bound? Part of what makes a value proposition compelling is that it describes a benefit against time. Without making your value proposition time-bound your dream client doesn’t have to act with any urgency. By tying it to some measure of time you can better describe the cost of inaction.

(6) Is it easy to remember? Your value proposition can’t be so complex and complicated that your contacts can’t remember it. it It needs to be a simple summary of the value you create. Remember, you can support it with as much documentation and as much proof as necessary. The value prop is a summary statement.

(7) Is it defendable? The contacts within your dream client company are going to have to defend the value you create within their company. The more clearly and concisely you can define that value, and the more clearly it is tied to their strategic initiatives and outcomes, the easier it is to defend. Remember, you won’t be there when these conversations take place.

Did your value proposition pass these tests?

Helping Others

A few days ago, on the way home from dinner with my wife, I noticed a dark figure standing on a street corner in the cold, rainy weather. He was holding a cardboard sign, but I couldn’t make it out because it was too dark, and the weather was too bad. I knew what the sign said without having to read it.

I asked my wife to roll down the window and ask the man holding the sign to come over the car, and I asked her to hand me my bag so I could grab my wallet. I was just back from speaking in Las Vegas, and I knew I had a little cash. I handed the man two $20 bills, all the cash I had on me.

The homeless man took the money, said thank you, and head down, turned away from the car. He was ashamed to look at the money in front of us, so he carefully looked as he walked away, maybe hoping we wouldn’t notice. When he realized he had $40, he turned around and started crying.

Bawling his eyes out, the homeless man said, “Thank you. I can go home. I can go home. Thank you!” He ran behind my car and kept right on running. We were all emotional because the man was crying as he literally ran to his “home,” whatever that meant, and $40 isn’t life changing money—for us.

My daughter asked, “What if he uses that money for drugs or alcohol?” I told her that there is nothing that I could do about that, and that I would have given him the money regardless. We don’t help people in need so we can judge them or control their behavior. Any one of us can make life decisions that don’t turn out the way we want them to and find ourselves in need of help.

We help people because they need our help. We give because we are fortunate enough to have the means to do so. The more you are given, the more you have to give.

Whatever your religious beliefs, this season is a good time to remember that you are here for a reason. Your life is the greatest gift you have ever been given, and you are here to do something purposeful and meaningful with that life. For my money, nothing shows your gratitude for that gift as much as making a difference in the lives of others.

Talent v’s Hard Work…

Anonymous asks, “Which is more important to success, talent or hard work?”

When Talent Fails

Countless talented people fail. They are better equipped through some natural gift, some set of experiences, or through training. It is clear to everyone around them that they have greater competencies and greater abilities. Almost all of these talented people recognize that they are more talented than their peers.

The reason these talented people fail has nothing to do with their lack of talent and everything to do with their unwillingness to put that talent to work. Talented people sometimes believe that talent alone is enough to succeed. But being unwilling to do the work, they fail.

When Hard Work Fails

Some people who work very hard fail, but not nearly as often as the talented person who is unwilling. A hard worker tends to produce results through the sheer force of will. They’re willing to just keep at something until they produce some result.

When hard workers fail it is because they believe that working hard alone is enough. Because they don’t work at learning more and improving their effectiveness, they fail. I have seen many a hard-working salesperson fail because, despite their willingness to work, they wouldn’t work on developing their chops.

Talent + Hard Work

The question anonymous asks supposes that talent and hard work are mutually exclusive, that you can be one or the other. But the most successful people are the talented people who work hard putting those talents to good use. They are matched only by the hard worker who is thoughtful enough to learn quickly, make distinctions that produce better results, and hustle to grow their overall competencies.

The only choice to made is whether you are going to work hard if you are gifted with some talent, or whether you are going to develop yourself and learn if you are a hard worker who lacks the natural talent…

Conference Time – Balancing casual and professional

Your attire speaks volumes about you. When you are attending a professional conference, keep in mind that you are working, and this is all about business and professionalism.

As fall approaches, conferences and conventions loom large on our calendars.

While some organizations use the summer months to take advantage of lower rates, most corporations recognize that their employees use this time to vacation with family and friends.

Once the gong sounds on the Tuesday after Labor Day to mark the end of summer, it is back to business as usual.

The conference brochures and meeting notices start arriving, and you wonder what to pack.

Under “What to Wear,” you read, “The official dress for the conference is business casual. Wear what you are comfortable in.”

What in the world does that mean? Those words provide no guidance at all.

Your attire speaks volumes about you.

When you are attending a professional conference, keep in mind that you are working, and this is all about business and professionalism.

This is not the time to throw caution to the winds and show up in your favorite jeans and that t-shirt you bought at the convention three years ago.

It’s fine to take your comfy sweats and old shorts, but save them for the workout room.

Think of the image you want to project, and make sure it reflects professionalism.

While the true definition of business casual is to dress down one notch from business professional, you might relax the rule slightly for your meeting event, but only slightly.

While traveling to the conference, consider that you will be meeting people and making connections—of the business kind.

Make sure that everyone you encounter before, during and after the conference, forms a positive impression of you.

Professional conduct and appearance are the keys to adding the polish that builds profits.

And if you are in need of a speaker at your next conference or convention—one who can address professional conduct–please contact me. I’d be delighted to join you.

Here’s to conduct professional!

Becoming a Trusted Advisor

You don’t want to be a vendor. The word suggests that you offer something for sale, like a vending machine. You also don’t want to be a preferred vendor, even if that means your dream client gives you more of their business than someone else.

It might sound—and feel—better to be described as a supplier, another word that suggests the transactional relationship, one in which you supply something that your clients or prospects need. Adding the word “preferred” to the supplier is no more flattering than adding it to the word vendor.

You are not going to have any of your clients call you their “trusted advisor.” The way that you know you occupy this space is the way your client engages with you. When they describe you to other people, they might use the word “partner,” an indication that you are something more than a vendor or a supplier.

What Makes You a Vendor?

What makes one a vendor is a sales approach centered on selling a product, service, or solution, believing the most outstanding value you can create is to tell your company’s story and pitching the solution. You might call this approach transactional, or you might recognize it as an approach that doesn’t create much value for your clients, with an exception for the client is trying to buy what you sell.

If you are easy to do business with and what you sell works well for your client, you might move up a bit to the preferred vendor. There is no requirement that one sell using an approach that requires value creation for the client, but its absence and the lack of value makes you easy to beat in a contest against better salespeople with a modern approach.

What Makes You a Supplier?

A supplier is a level above the vendor. The difference may be that the supplier sells something more strategic, including something complex enough to be considered a solution. You will find purchasing agents and professional buyers tend to use words like vendor and supplier as a way to ensure that you recognize the nature of the relationship, or more accurately, the lack of a relationship.

Being a preferred supplier generally seems to be a term used when you perform where other people have struggled and failed, often due to the client’s constraints, and your success entitles you to more of their business. Someone can use this term to describe you even when you are something more, only because that’s the word their company uses to talk about the companies who help them with the things they need.

What Makes You a Trusted Advisor?

Even if your client is going to refer to you as their trusted advisor, there are signs that this is the space you occupy. You make it more likely you become something like a trusted advisor or strategic partner through your sales approach. An approach that centered on the relationship and insights that help your client discover something about themselves and their business, something that allows them to move their business forward.

The role of a consultative salesperson requires that the salesperson knows something the client doesn’t know or doesn’t know as well as the salesperson. They have some expertise, business acumen, and situational knowledge that allows them to fill in the gaps in the client’s knowledge and experience.

Older approaches to sales that focused on finding dissatisfaction still have some part of the truth about selling, but the truth is partial. Trying to talk someone into believing they have a problem worth solving isn’t as powerful as an approach that provides your prospective client with the context that helps them recognize the need to do change. It also provides the implications of doing nothing in the face of a world of constant, accelerating, disruptive change.

Signs You Are a Trusted Advisor

When your contacts call you before they make a decision or to get your view about a certain problem they are struggling with, you have evidence that you are something more than a vendor, supplier, or salesperson.

When your contacts call you to ask you for advice on things that are entirely outside of your domain, you have further proof that you are at least consultative, and likely a trusted advisor, proving you have both the intimacy and the proven discernment your client values.

The more your client initiates the contact with you, the more it means your relationship is valuable enough to your client that you receive a phone call, a call that your vendor competitor isn’t going to experience. Relationship selling still matters.

As you have new ideas and new initiatives to pursue with your clients, the fact that you only need to ask for a meeting to share your ideas is solid evidence that your relationship and the results you have helped them produce is enough to get your concept a mostly unfair hearing, one that is biased towards a yes, even if your timing is off. It’s always good to be in front of your clients when it comes to the next initiative.

What you want from your sales approach and your execution is an absolute right to the next opportunity, project, initiative, solution, or transformational change. You want to work on delivering strategic value, something I describe as Level Four Value in Eat Their Lunch: Winning Customers Away from Your Competition, giving you the upper hand in any contest.

The Very Best Intentions

There are times when an operations team can become overwhelmed by the volume or the difficulty of their work. They fall behind, and sometimes, they fail their clients or customers. To address these difficulties and shortcomings, some leader decides to acquire additional help by calling on their sales team to pitch in on the operational work, helping the operations team to catch up. They also ask—or allow—salespeople to do work that belongs to other roles, believing they are helping, when in fact, they are harming the organization. If you want a high-performing sales organization, you cannot take your sales team out of the field. Your intentions, as good as they may be, compromise your sales culture.

They Need Help. But What Kind?

The operations team has fallen behind in their work. They need more hands if they are going to stop falling behind and eventually catch up. The leaders decide to take the sales force out of the field and apply them as resources to ensure that the company doesn’t fail their clients and customers. The rationale that the operations team only requires the sales force’s help for a few weeks, and they believe they can live without the couple weeks of whatever it is salespeople do when they are selling. This is poor thinking and a poor decision, for several reasons.

Taking your sales force away from sales to do operational work means they are not creating new opportunities or working to capture the opportunities they have already created. The two weeks they spent in operations are lost to them forever; they literally cannot get the time back, and you have shortened their sales year. The opportunities they didn’t create may not be lost to them. Still, the timing of the acquisition of the opportunity is lost, as they have moved the sales cycle at least two weeks into the future, if you believe the salespeople will pick up right where they left off (more on this later). While the sales force is working in operations, they are not progressing their existing opportunities, pushing the deal into the future for both their client and their company.

As tempting as it may be to believe that pulling your sales team out of the field isn’t as harmful as failing the customer, you are creating a culture where the need for help continues in the future—and destroys your sales culture in the process.

What Are You Enabling

The fact that your operations team needs help is an indication that something is wrong. That something has nothing to do with the sales force, with the possible exception being the sales force promising clients delivery dates the operations team cannot meet. When an operations team needs help, it is a symptom that suggests that they are under-resourced, have poor processes that prevent their success, have inadequate talent, are being poorly led, or some combination of these things.

If the operations team is lacking the resources they need, backfilling those roles with salespeople doesn’t solve that problem. Instead, it shifts the problem from operations to sales. Operations has been made whole, but the organization has now given up selling as a priority, while leaving operations no better resourced than before, and no better prepared for the future. If the operations team doesn’t have processes in place to allow them to execute for their clients, temporarily providing them salespeople is a response that does nothing to improve their efficiencies. Permitting poor execution due to a lack of people or processes to go unaddressed only causes more trouble in the future.

Following the logic and the rallying cry that everyone needs to work as a team, should we then pull people in operations and accounting and Human Resources and marketing to make cold calls and sales calls when the sales force falls behind on their numbers, reducing the number of people available to run those areas of the business?

Whatever variety of problem that gives rise to the idea that is pulling salespeople out of a sales role to do operational work, those problems belong to the operation team’s leadership, as well as executive leadership. None of this is to say salespeople have no role to play, something we’ll look at in a few paragraphs.

What You Are Teaching Your Sales Force?

When you ask your salespeople to stop selling and to assume operational duties, you destroy their effectiveness and infect them with weak beliefs and future excuses. You also allow the rest of your organization to believe that your salespeople don’t really work and have much free time available for other tasks, a self-fulling prophecy that all but ensures the destruction of a sales culture.

One of the first things that occurs to a salesperson when their operations team fails their clients is that they should stop selling. Failing one client isn’t made better by failing a second client because the operations team is overwhelmed with work. Later, the failures of operations become an excuse for poor sales results. In deals with a longer sales cycle, the opportunities they don’t create now are deals they won’t have ninety days from now. The last thing you want to do if you are building and maintaining a high-performing sales force is create the idea that there are times they should not be selling.

Once a salesperson is asked to do operational work as a way to keep their major client, you have given them a form of tacit approval to do all kinds of tasks that have nothing to do with sales. The client needs something, and they ask the salesperson for help. Because you confused them about their role and the value they create for the client and their company, you find the salesperson following up on orders, pulling reports, retyping invoices, and becoming a glorified customer service representative (and lessening their role in the process).

By moving salespeople into operational roles, you make it more likely they do work that belongs to someone else in the organization, and you increase the likelihood they struggle to reach their goals. It’s challenging enough to build value creators who can create and win clients without confusing them about their role and the value you expect them to create for your clients.

What Should the Sales Force Do Instead?

In The Only Sales Guide You’ll Ever Need, I wrote about Accountability. If you are a salesperson, you own the outcomes you sell your client. You do not, however, own all the transactions necessary to deliver those outcomes. Just like the operations team isn’t responsible for creating and winning opportunities, the sales team isn’t responsible for doing the work of operations. They are, however, accountable to their clients, and they must be good team members to the rest of the business.

The sales force can—and must—work with their client to adjust delivery dates or to come up with some creative way to mitigate the execution problems. They can keep the client updated on the progress of improving things, and staying in close enough communication to prevent losing the client. They can also work with other clients to change delivery dates or go-live dates to give the operations team a little breathing room. If you want a culture of high-performing salespeople, you have to build that culture by helping them become value creators, consultative salespeople, and someone their clients recognize as a trusted advisor. That means they need to be engaged in execution from a strategic perspective, not from a transactional perspective.

The road to Hell is paved with good intentions. As a sales leader, you should help your operations team get the help they need to execute and protect your sales culture from being harmed by dragging salespeople into roles that belong to others.

The Limited Value of Loyalty

The Somewhat Limited Value of Client Lists

In the business-to-consumer world, a client list is made up of the people that business serves. It’s a list of actual people who have made a decision to buy from a business.

The business-to-business world is different. Our client lists are mostly made up of the names of companies we serve. We are proud of the company names on our list, so much so that we create PowerPoint slides and web pages to display their logos for all the world to see.

But the truth of the matter is, we don’t serve these companies. We serve a subset of the people who work for them. A client list of company names is the byproduct of the work we do with the people within that company.

The limited value of client lists is that it identifies an entity that is mostly made up of people who don’t know us, don’t care about us, and have no reason to be loyal to us.

If you want loyalty, you need a different list.

Where Loyalty Is Found

Loyalty is found where it is earned.

Loyalty is found in the list of individuals you serve within your client accounts. When you no longer have the loyalty of the individuals within a company, you no longer have the client—or that client is seriously at risk.

To earn that loyalty, you have to execute for your clients. You have to deliver the outcomes that you sold them when you acquired their business. If you don’t execute, the dissatisfaction that precedes churn sets in and weakens your loyalty.

Loyalty requires that you proactively take care of the individuals you do business with, as well as their teams. You have to bring them new ideas, new initiatives, and new value.

These are the things that prove your loyalty to the people you do business with within the list of client names you refer to as “our clients.” Those people are your real clients, and the list of their names is a better and more useful list than the big company names where they happen to work.

Your loyalty to the people you do business with is what earns you their loyalty.