When Your Customer Becomes Your Enemy
A company president once hired me to work with his
sixty-person sales team for the second year in a row. Early in the first
meeting he said something that struck me.
“Mike, we are going
to do some things differently this year. We are going to
focus on the salespeople. I don’t want you to get distracted by
concerns with the marketing department. The problem we have is
that our salespeople need to be more effective at
managing their territories.”
I felt as though antennae were involuntarily extending from my head. Why did
this simple statement make me so uncomfortable?
Being a good consultant requires that you be a detective on several levels.
Finding the clues that solve the client’s problem is one of those levels.
Picking up the signals that a client might be standing in their own way is
It was a long time before I realized the signal I missed that day.
Detecting the Problem
Problem-solving efforts begin at the definition of the problem. In sales and
marketing organizations, this is slippery ground. That’s because in their
culture the meanings of words like “problem” and “solution”
are generally interchangeable (especially in American companies). Sales and
marketing people have typically not been trained to think or communicate
carefully about evidence vs. opinion, causes vs. effects, problems vs. solutions.
A salesperson (or Sales VP, or company president) might well say something
like, “Well, the problem is that my CRM system isn’t giving me the
information I want.” Or, as in my case, “The problem we have is that
our salespeople need to be more effective at managing their territories.”
These are not statements of the problem.
They may be statements of what the person thinks, or of groupthink, or of
someone’s individual agenda. However, they do not clearly state the problem.
Problems are always “poor or undesirable results of a job (or process).”
The right way to approach this is to reframe the question properly. To
learn the definition of the problem, you have to ask, “What are the
poor or undesirable results you are getting from your sales organization (or
your sales process)?”
Each time someone gives you anything that is not “the poor or undesirable
result of the sales process (or job),” you must refocus their attention.
If they think the CRM system or salespeople’s territory management skills are
causing something bad, what is the poor result they are experiencing?
Eventually, you need to get to something that fits the description of
“poor or undesirable results you are getting from the sales job.”
Suppose they say, “Well, sales are flat.”
OK, you can deal with that, so the next step is,
“Show me what makes you say
‘sales are flat’ … show me the data.”
Once you get some kind of data, you can begin understanding where it came from,
and how it was generated. In other words, you can be more comfortable that you
are dealing with reality. You can begin identifying what the causes and effects
might be (or the “Xs” and “Ys” in six sigma
You Get Only One Chance
You usually get only one chance to prove you know what you are talking about in
the process improvement business.
Detecting the real problem in the face of an intimidating person pushing their
agenda is just one of the roadblocks.
Miss your chance, and your company will likely keep on making the same mistakes
it has always made. You’re likely to find yourself and your customer on
opposing teams. People will continue being frustrated in their careers and, as
they say, “the beatings will continue until morale improves.”
That’s why Robert and I have been working night and day to finish the new sales
In two days, you’ll get your chance to make a real difference:
The Launch Teleconference of a New B2B Guidebook Series:
“How to Conduct
a Sales Kaizen Event
to Improve Your Sales Process in a
Way Your Customer Will Love”
Dec 18, 2008, 3:00pm Eastern
If you have faced a similar challenge, I would love to hear about it. Send me
an email with your story.
(With thanks to my associate Robert Ferguson for his insights on this subject)
December 16, 2008