SPIF Tip #53: Finding Gold in Your Teams

Most of us are reeling from the current and projected impact of COVID-19. Where will the dominoes stop falling across our customers, channel partners, and salespeople? Much less in your personal life? The uncertainty of the future and being hampered by isolation is maddening.

There is a silver lining, however. This can be an opportunity to step back and consider what is most important to you.


“If I must deliver ideal and sustainable results, and I must,
what are all the factors I must focus on …?”

Robert Miller
Former Executive Director
The Shingo Institute

What Factors You Should Focus On?

In sales, most things are not in our control. We learn to navigate through what the customer thinks, what our salespeople do, or what the support department thinks they should be doing. You have always attended a tradeshow, so you budget for it again. A customer is dragging their feet, so you offer a discount for ordering early. You go around the service department and call your friend in scheduling to get a special ship date. You copy and paste words from an old monthly report, because no one reads them anyway.

You know the behaviors are not ideal. They’re just what has to be done. Or are they?

We have control over what we think about. Our commute is shorter.  We’re spending less time traveling and waiting in lines.  Fewer people stopping by our desk ‘to ask a quick question’.

Define the Problem You Are Trying to Solve

In sales, we tend to use some words without paying close attention to what those terms refer to in reality. Take the word, “problem.”

The president of a medical equipment manufacturing firm once said to me, “The problem with our sales team is, they need time and territory management training.”

See what he did there?

Unwittingly, he named a solution, not a problem. This was no trivial issue, it was a habit. It contributed to the loss of his job about a year later, along with great disruption to the organization.

A Senior Sales VP of a $360 million sales team told me, “My salespeople spend too much time on the wrong accounts.”

Everything was clear to him until I asked, “Can you help me understand how much is ‘Too much time?’ and, what is a ‘Wrong account?’”

After struggling for a while, he said. “I guess what I mean is, my salespeople don’t have a common standard for prioritizing their accounts.”

Now, THAT was an improvement.

The Key

The key to defining the problems you’re trying to solve is to avoid using the word, “problem.” What you are looking for is evidence or data (numbers) you do not like. (I use the term Undesirable Result, or UDR in my book, Sales Process Excellence. (Some people prefer Undesirable Effect.)

When we try to improve, we all have a huge tendency to focus on our theories for the causes, or pet solutions we are interested in. We should be lasering in on the evidence instead.

This can seem a bit awkward at first.

  • You will find yourself starting a sentence then restarting.
  • You will hesitate to interrupt someone who is explaining “We need sales training” to say, “I see that. Now, what is the evidence you do not like?”
  • You will catch yourself asking “What should we do here?” before you have asked, “What is the evidence we do not like?”

It is worth it.  First, you’ll be listening more. Your team will become more engaged. Discussions will no longer be a competition to have the answer “Lauren” wants to hear or to be the loudest, most forceful presenter.  Or, dreading making changes “so my emails look like Ben’s” again.

Your team will be able to name what part of “the elephant” they see, in a collaborative and respectful way.  It is just more fun when you are making progress. Plus, you will be building a sturdy foundation for addressing your company’s chronic challenges.

You will uncover surprises.  Stronger contributions from team members.  New ideas. Root causes for nagging problems.

And that is gold.

Michael Webb

Michael Webb founded Sales Performance Consultants to create a data-driven alternative to the slogans and shallow impact offered by typical sales training, sales consulting, and CRM companies. Michael helped organize and delivered the keynote speeches for the first conferences ever held on applying Six Sigma to marketing and sales. Connect with me on LinkedIn.

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