How to Create an Environment that Rewards Improving
By Michael Webb
Does a new sales process, sales training, or CRM software, improve a company’s sales productivity? Often, it does not.
Because the behaviors of sales or marketing people tend to return to the status quo. Productivity remains stubbornly unchanged.
You might think you are improving something when you set out on the new sales process, training, or CRM. In reality, you are facing an array of invisible policies and difficult to change procedures, not to mention hearts and minds of other people who do not know how or why they should change. Without an explicit method for dealing with those obstacles, it is no wonder productivity so rarely improves.
Sometimes it is easy to identify a change that could solve a sales or marketing problem. However, improvement only happens by engaging the interests, perspectives, attitudes, habits, and cooperation of everyone involved.
Clearly, such behavior can’t be dictated. So, what’s the secret to engaging everyone productively?
First win their hearts. Their minds and bodies will follow.
Each of us wants something. And, we are proud of ourselves when we figure out how to get it. What do you want to accomplish? What could you do that might create improvement? How will you know if you succeeded? Answer these questions and you have the knowledge to communicate about it with others.
An explicit method for improving begins right there. Ideally, every leader in the company, from the president on down is gently – and incessantly – asking their employees questions like these:
What do you want to accomplish? Why?
This helps people define their goals and objectives, and therefore the problems they are trying to solve.
- What could you do that might create improvement?
This helps people explain their understanding (theory) of the cause system and their planned countermeasures. It helps them to clarify their methods.
- How will you know you succeeded?
This helps people think through the results they expect. It helps clarifiy their measures.
Demonstrating this kind of interest shows respect for employees. It motivates them to learn. It helps them to see into the big picture. It imples that being static is not acceptable. It gets them thinking and talking about their objectives, methods, and measures. In such discussions seeking alignment is natural. And when their interests are aligned, groups of people can change.
For example, I talked recently with a very insightful Vice President of Sales and Marketing. He wanted measurable improvement within his team, yet like most B2B sales and marketing organizations they measured very little beyond their revenue dollars. They also struggled with chronic issues over the years such as,
- Assuming “any order is a good order.” Trying to prioritize customer inquiries and requests always seemed to produce painful exceptions and objections.
- Some salespeople felt there was no need to improve (their revenue goals were achieved).
- Forecasts were needed, and of course never accurate.
- The production department always seemed to have priorities that were more important than giving customers what they wanted or needed.
Where should he begin?
At home. He asked each of his directors to explain their process. He asked them what they wanted to accomplish. What change might create an improvement? The conversations began modestly.
- One director felt documenting his process would be a waste of time. He was frustrated with things, however, so he decided to log the avalanche of requests his department received each week. Soon, he started seeing patterns he did not know where there.
- Another director’s people did their work in vastly different ways. He decided it would be better to start by asking his people individually to define the problems they were seeing (using the same starter questions).
Initial progress is slow, yet learning each other’s perceptions is deepening each person’s understanding of their undesirable results (UDRs). They are seeing what they have in common, and some causal relationships. These observations are elements of their “sales production system,” the foundation for their ability to measure.
The conversations initiated by this Sales and Marketing VP are helping his team work more closely together to get what they all want.
Senior leaders need to create an environment that rewards improving. The key to driving improvement is asking a few simple questions. Gently. Respectfully. And incessantly.
What do you think!