Christian Maurer | Respecting the Value Salespeople Create
I feel a special kinship with Christian Maurer. We both have had experience in sales and sales training early in our careers. And we both saw how things were amiss in how many of our peers were approaching both.
These days Christian is spreading the good word as a university instructor in Europe. He is working to inoculate the next generation of businesspeople and sales leaders against the bad practices promoted – usually unknowingly – by management and sales consultants.
We talk about…
- Overlooked consequences of price discounting
- Are sales contests effective motivators
- Thinking outside in
- And more
Mentioned in This Episode:
· Ted Talk on Motivation https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rrkrvAUbU9Y
Michael Webb: Some people talk about selling to senior-level decision-makers, making calls, and selling based on value. Other people talk about process tools and measurement of data, systems thinking, analyzing causes and effect. But not very many people talk about how these things can be brought together to motivate people and create wealth for everyone. Today, I’m delighted to have a kindred spirit who I’ve known for several years, Christian Maurer, a consultant in France. Christian, welcome here. Really, really excited about our conversation today.
Christian Maurer: Thank you for having me.
Michael Webb: Well, so this is going to be really, really fun. Now a couple of preparation notes here. Christian and I are talking on a recorded line, and we have the best audio quality we can get, but something is amiss in it and so I’ve asked Christian… and Christian has a slight accent, although he’s an excellent English speaker, to my ear anyway, some of the stuff that seems to have been a little hard to understand, so we’re going to kind of overcompensate. I’ve asked him to speak especially slowly, and I may even interrupt him, re-enunciate or confirm that I understand what he’s saying. And we’re not doing that because … we’re just doing it because we think there’s an issue in the audio quality. So, I apologize for that in advance, but this I promise you is going to be worth paying attention to.
Michael Webb: As we begin here, Christian, could you tell us 30 seconds of your background, and what kinds of things did you do, and what are you doing now?
Christian Maurer: Thank you. Well, I started out as an electrical engineer. I have a degree from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, and then I went into engineering in the sense of product manager and project manager. Then, I got into selling very complex systems, and from there my career took me then more into the corporate world where I was the director of strategic planning for a whole corporation. That’s when I came to France. And then after a while, I had enough of the corporate life, and I was headhunted by a little boutique consultancy specialize-
Michael Webb: Who is this again? I’m sorry. Who you were headhunted by?
Christian Maurer: By a little boutique consultancy.
Michael Webb: Okay.
Christian Maurer: And this boutique consultancy was specialized on sales trainings and sales consulting. So, I started a second career as a sales trainer and sales consultant, and this little private firm then was gobbled up by a large CRM company which was gobbled up by a very large software company, and at the end the software company thought that we were a very interesting, special team, but we would strive more if we will be taken private. So, we got a private investor.
Michael Webb: Okay. Hang on one second. I’m hearing … I hope it’s okay if I do this, but I’m suspecting it was target account selling, was purchased by Ceba, was purchased by Oracle. is that right?
Christian Maurer: You got it.
Michael Webb: Okay. Go ahead. Go ahead.
Christian Maurer: You got it. Spot on right. And then-
Michael Webb: Because I worked with IMPAX Corporation. I was, I was a competitor. When I was a sales trainer with IMPAX Corporation, I was a competitor to target account sell. One of the guys who founded target account selling started out his sales training career at IMPAX working for Dave Matlow. So anyways, small world. So, go ahead-
Christian Maurer: Small world. So then, you also know how the story then ended that we became the task group for the private investors. Today, this company still exist. It’s called [inaudible 00:04:08]. But after about a year or two, I found out that probably there was only one person who should think in this company and that was the CEO. So, I start become working on my own. But I continued into Royal Golf sales consultancy and sales training. Then a little later, I was approached by two universities in Germany if I would take some courses in the postgraduate level. So, I teach now graduate courses for master classes.
Michael Webb: Okay. Very good. Very good. So, now we get to the fun part. In our conversations over several years, I’ve learned about Christian that he made some of the same observations I did as a salesperson, sales manager, sales trainer. And what we observed in being in those environments was that there was something amiss, something funny, odd, not right about the way that we were being managed, about the decisions that our sales department heads, sales vice president, sales and marketing executives, and CEOs were making in regard to resources, and people, and how to run things. And there was something wrong. Christian saw some similar things.
Michael Webb: So, let’s start there. Christian, what are some of the things that you saw during your time in sales that led you to start saying what’s going on here? Why isn’t this right?
Christian Maurer: Yeah. You certainly know the old saying to have more feet on the street will make more sales.
Michael Webb: To have more feet, yeah, on the street will make more sales. Oh, yes.
Christian Maurer: Yeah. Right. Okay. The only trouble with that is that there is the law of diminished return on effort. So, if you have a territory which is saturated, if you put a second salesman in there, the only thing you do is that you have two salesmen who can no longer make their quota because there’s not enough potential.
Michael Webb: Right. So, you saw that happen I guess?
Christian Maurer: Oh, yeah. That was always what was told, and then afterwards people wanted to … Another one which is very funny is the must-win deal.
Michael Webb: Cool.
Christian Maurer: Today with CRM systems. If there’s a big fish in system that goes up to the VP of sales, maybe even higher, and guess what? It’s declared a must-win deal. Now, things are not sold. Things are bought. Now, if you want to force to buy before it’s ready, the only way that maybe has a chance to is you lower your price, right?
Michael Webb: Right.
Christian Maurer: So, if you lower your price, guess what happens to the quota of your sales force?
Michael Webb: It goes up. So, you discount your way out of making your quota. Not only that, you rob the company of profitability.
Christian Maurer: Yeah. Or taking another way, sales managers going in at the last moment as the rebate uncle, he’s counting deals, right?
Michael Webb: Right.
Christian Maurer: And in sales management trainings, I sometimes made a little thing and said, okay, you have four deals and you discount by 20%. Now, if you still want to make quota, you need to have a fifth deal, don’t you? And you get people staring at you like I’m from moon.
Michael Webb: Oh, yes. Oh, brings back so many memories. Then, there’s the sales contest. I remember I was selling business forms. What a humble product, but a complicated one. All kinds of details. And I was just working. I was right out of college a couple of years, working 60 hours a week trying to succeed, learn how to sell, and I did okay sometimes, but sometimes I didn’t do okay. Of course, then I was in trouble.
Michael Webb: So, they did a sales contest and this was all around the country. There’s a couple a hundred salespeople. I was one of this business forms company, and I actually after six months, wow, I did really great. They gave me a barbecue grill, I got a new gold watch. I mean, there was a whole bunch of things I won as we went through these milestones. And I got through that and I looked at it and said, “Now, wait a second, last year I was working just as hard and I won some and I lost them, but I didn’t get a barbecue grill or this expensive watch. This year they had the sales contest. My numbers are basically similar, but I got a thousand or $1500 worth of gifts. What gives? I didn’t change my behavior. Just got something out of it.” The whole sales contest made no sense to me whatsoever, but the VPs and the branch managers were all saying, “What a great thing that was.”
Christian Maurer: You know the expression SPIF, S-P-I-F?
Michael Webb: SPIF. Yeah, SPIF. Yeah. My newsletters called SPIF.
Christian Maurer: Yeah. Right? It’s special incentive for the field. It’s like sales contest exactly the same thing because there are many sales manager who have not really understood yet that you cannot manage a salesforce with so-called motivation, motivational factor, with t-shirt contests, and I got God knows what, and having the ranking. I’ve heard actually somebody building a notification for your smartphones that people could ring the bell when they won the deal.
Michael Webb: They could ring a bell on the smartphone when they got a deal?
Christian Maurer: Yeah.
Michael Webb: As if they’re sitting in the same room.
Christian Maurer: So, everybody who was in the group got that ringing of the bell. That was sold very well.
Michael Webb: It’s so, so nutty. And this is discussed at length in some circles of the operational excellence industry. Edwards Demming, for example, is famous for pointing out that external motivation has severe limitations to it. When you try to motivate people by giving them bonuses, or giving them quotas, or telling them something, making conditions around their work that they don’t have control over, that backfires. And yet in sales, it is built around this idea of commissions, and salespeople are money motivated, they’re coin-operated, and so, wow. I think that there’s some elements of truth there to a certain extent, but the vast majority of this, and from what I have seen is the failures, the errors in thought. Errors and assumptions that external motivations can work. Do you agree with that?
Christian Maurer: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. I have a similar story from Daniel Pink.
Michael Webb: Daniel Pink.
Christian Maurer: Pink, yeah.
Michael Webb: Oh, he’s the author of that … What was the name of his book?
Christian Maurer: “To Sell is Human” was his last book.
Michael Webb: “To Sell is Human.” Okay.
Christian Maurer: Yep. The last one he wrote, and he actually did a TED Talk about his whole experience with motivation. He’s a researcher and free author on external motivation. In that TED Talk, you have to Google that, the things he tells about there is absolutely mind-boggling, and his quintessence is to say, well, what science knows, practice ignores. It’s scientifically known.
Michael Webb: Okay. Excellent. Excellent. So, Daniel Pink. There’s a TED Talk about motivation where he shows that these ideas, these concepts about external motivation are scientifically wrong. Did I get that right?
Christian Maurer: Yeah.
Michael Webb: Okay. We’ll find that and include it in the notes of our show here for the audience. And yet, that is something that’s still it’s taught in business schools, it’s just taken as the lay of the land. That’s just how things work in sales and marketing, and you can’t challenge that sort of thing very easily.
Christian Maurer: Well, there is still some light through the tunnel, just for the anecdote. Because when Daniel Pink wrote his first book about I think it’s called “Drive”-
Michael Webb: “Drive”, D-R-I-V-E. Okay.
Christian Maurer: That book I think was published in 2009, something like this. Then, the whole incentive compensation industry got really troubled about this. Based on their worry about the future. So, there is a group around Andy Zoltner, ZS Consulting that’s what they called, and they were also advocates of Incentive Compensation. They have written a big book about that.
Christian Maurer: Now about two years ago, a new book came out where they really rethink the whole thing, and they start to accept that probably incentive compensation, external motivation, extrinsic motivation is not the way to go. They start to put into practice and promote that hybrid systems and ideas which about five, six years ago didn’t exist yet. But it took them about eight years to recover from that shock from Drive until they really re-thought their copy and got into a different direction.
Michael Webb: Well, and the thing that’s so amazing about this is that that’s just one area, incentive compensation. Right? You have whole other areas of management that people just take it for granted. A senior executive who I dearly love and had worked with for a long time, was a client of mine, was very much a believer in the idea of stretch goals. Just put out a big, hairy, audacious goal and go for it. Right? And he believed that that was a constructive thing that could be used regularly in organizations in order to drive improvement. And wow, man, I’ve been there, and it drives burnout, that’s for sure. It drives frustration and fear.
Christian Maurer: Yeah. And what does Demming say? Fear causes errors.
Michael Webb: Fear causes errors. Indeed. Absolutely. Absolutely does. Now, you look at the history of businesses, and originally the old adage, Ricardo I think? One of the early economists, production creates demand, right? If you can produce something that people want, then they’ll buy for you. You can generate revenue that way. To the original … After the industrial revolution, the application of scientific mindset to commerce, they started, you know, Adam Smith’s famous story of the pin factory. Well, they figured out how to make pins way, way more of higher volume and lower cost than ever before, he was making money. And so, the whole focus of management was how do we make this production enterprise? How do we make it produce more, and gradually … So, scientific principles, you can see it happening, right? You can count the inventory and the raw material, and you can measure the quality. So, the scientific principles were readily applicable in sales. When you were making a ton of the stuff, you can saturate your local market but you knew that there was demand in other places, you got to get it sold over there. Right?
Michael Webb: So, now comes the distribution problem. So, as an example, I love to tell the story in the United States, as the interstate highway system was built and developed, they would put billboards out on the highway. All the billboards would have to do is state that something was available. A Brill Cream or a product they were selling, and it would start selling [inaudible 00:17:11]. They’re making people aware of it. Companies would … If they were going to have … they can make it in Massachusetts, but if they were going to be selling it all around the country they would need to have little stockpiles of inventory in all those major cities to service the demand. That’s a gigantic capital investment.
Michael Webb: So, rather than do that, they signed up distributors, and the distributors would invest their money to hold it locally and fulfill the demand. Thereby, putting up a wall between the CEO of the manufacturing company and the end-users in the market. Because he didn’t get to see them anymore, didn’t care as long as the distributors were buying. So, these enterprises would grow with this mindset, and then they start realizing after awhile the market saturated. They don’t realize that. They just realize sales aren’t growing anymore. So, what do they do? Sign another distribution channel, and another distribution channel, and another distribution channel. They have all this conflict going on, and people pulling their hair out, and nobody’s taking any kind of scientific approach to the sales and marketing.
Christian Maurer: It actually is a very fundamental question – what’s the purpose of an enterprise? Right? And I actually love Peter Drucker’s definition which says the purpose of an enterprise is to have customers.
Michael Webb: Peter Drucker’s statement, yeah, the purpose of an enterprise is to have customers. Trade. Oh, I love that. I remember hearing that before, but that is … Yeah, think about that.
Christian Maurer: Yeah. You see? And from that moment on, if you take that as your mantra, then you are actually in the idea that if you want to do an enterprise that’s customer-oriented, you have to think outside in and not like historically inside out. But you start from the production and you want to get this production somewhere else. So, you thought what could the customer need and then you build something so that customer can meet. Think everything from the customer’s perspective.
Michael Webb: And I never thought about it before. When did he write that? That was back in the ’60s or ’70s? When did he write that?
Christian Maurer: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, I don’t know. Probably even in his first book on management. It’s probably in the ’50s. I just know his citations founded in one of the citation catalogs, but I don’t know exactly in which book he wrote it, but it’s probably in ’50s, ’60s.
Michael Webb: Well, as I understand it he was, if I’m not mistaken, he was in the same faculty as Edwards Demming and the systems thinking guy, Russell Akoff. They knew each other. They talked every day for many years as I understand it.
Christian Maurer: That I do not know. The only thing I know is that Peter Drucker actually is an Austrian, born Austrian, then he was then migrated to the United States. He was a journalist and he refused three calls to be a professor at Harvard. He preferred to be a consultant to all the big CEOs.
Michael Webb: Fascinating. And today, I’ll just make this observation … First of all, your involvement with the universities that are in Europe, excellent. Those universities sorely need someone like yourself who has a commitment to reason, evidence, and data, and scientific thinking, and also understands commerce, and people, and how businesses work. I’m sorry to say, my exposure to universities here in the US was just anything but respect for that. There was no respect for that stuff. There was some respect for the scientific approach in the sciences and in the math department. I ended up majoring in math because of that, but when it came to the humanities and then it came to the business courses, it was just I had a terrible … It was awful. Awful experience]. So, I stayed away, stayed as far away from universities as I can.
Michael Webb: And I’ve run across people, and this maybe is a topic for another time, I’ve run across people who are management consultants who when you scratch the surface of their thinking, they’re not rational, or logical, or systemic in their thinking at all, and yet they are actively promoting lean and sales or … The six sigmas, not so much, but there’s just a lot of mess out there in the findings of science, and bringing it to sales and marketing management.
Michael Webb: So, bring this back to what we started out with, we saw this as people in the field, in the grip of a corporation, in the grip of having to be productive and bring in revenue, and having these, I don’t know, tribal knowledge, these policies that would come out that, okay, at first it sounds right, but when you put it in practice, it’s obvious it’s not working. It’s doing the opposite of what they want to accomplish and why is that happening? So, it makes sales people’s lives much more difficult. Wouldn’t you agree?
Christian Maurer: Oh, yeah. Definitely. Definitely. And you know in the end what it leads to is that salespeople show a behavior which actually makes you to hate salespeople. Every sales class that I do starts with, “Please raise your hand if you like salespeople.” I’m usually the only one raising the hand. And then I ask those students, “And you want to study sales now? Gives me a break. I don’t understand you.” Then from that, we discuss how these behaviors from their own perspective happening. And I tell them, “If you want to be successful in complex B to B sales, you have to not even touch those behaviors. You have to take another approach so that you are not touched by the certification, but be aware you always will have to fight against this very big fear or disgust even against salespeople.”
Michael Webb: Yes. Well, I tell you what, this has been a great conversation. We’ve only picked the scab a little bit as they say here in the US. There’s a pain out there among salespeople, but among executives, too, who are responsible for making their companies grow, and it’s way more difficult than it ought to be. And why is that the case? I’m convinced from what I know about you that many of the things you teach in your courses would be beneficial and valuable. So, if you’re willing and interested in that, why don’t we set up a follow-up visit, and we can talk about some of these basic things that you present in your courses, and share more examples of the experiences you have in the corporations that helped you to learn what these principles are. Would that be all right?
Christian Maurer: That would be fine with me.
Michael Webb: All right. Super. Well, we will look forward to that. And Christian, I want to thank you very much. If someone wants to get a hold of you, learn more about what you’ve done or about your courses, how can they get ahold of you?
Christian Maurer: Well, I think the easiest is if you just go to the LinkedIn and Google me. LinkedIn, there you have all the things. I also have a blog which is called The Ultimate Sales Executive Resource.
Michael Webb: The Ultimate Sales Executive Resource.
Christian Maurer: … Executive Resource.
Michael Webb: Okay. Well, I’ll put those two links also in the show notes here, and thank you very much. This has been great. I know that there’s a bunch of people out there. We’ve gotten their attention here because they’re in the grip of this kind of frustration. We’ll pick this up and we’ll talk about what some of those learnings and principles are the next time we talk. So Christian, thank you very much.
Christian Maurer: Thank you.