I got into it with a ‘sales expert’ yesterday. He told me that “sales is a warrior’s job and the warrior works alone.” I thought, don’t bet your moccasins on that.

It’s true that the best salespeople seem to be ‘hunters’ and not ‘gatherers’. But it’s also true that the most valuable hunters are the ones who hunt for the good of their tribe—not just for themselves. In sales, these hunters remain true to their mission. The needs of their tribe take precedence over their personal interests.

[Cut to scene in forest clearing, as the famed hunter returns to village with his kill.]

Hunter: “Chief, I bring back this white crow. What a great challenge it was to stalk and kill it. What perfect aim of my arrow. My skills as a hunter are unsurpassed!

Chief: “There are fifty mouths to feed, and you call this dinner?”

Hunter: “Ingrate!”

There’s more to being a great salesperson than closing deals. Let’s suppose that sales dollar volume is being met, but most of the ‘wins’ are on low-margin existing product, or product that is in short supply, when the company really needs to move the new high-margin product line, or to reduce excess inventory. Where does that leave you? And what if you have a sales ‘superstar’ who surpasses quota by telling customers just what they want to hear, without a care that the Support, Tech, and/or Production teams will have to miss deadlines and burn up time and cash trying to meet unrealistic expectations.

The complete picture of what if means to ‘team well’ in sales goes well beyond short-term relationships and results. To be a high-quality team player, a salesperson must remain in alignment with, and committed to delivering on:

  • Customer needs and concerns
  • Product ‘fit’, functionality, and roadmap
  • Support team availability and capabilities
  • The company’s short-term management and financial objectives
  • The company’s long-term marketing and strategic objectives

One of my colleagues knows a salesman who works for a very large company that markets enterprise software systems to manufacturers. This person has no crocodile cowboy boots and sports no Rolex watch. He’s actually a little scruffy—just a regular guy who will occasionally put on a sport coat. And yet, year after year, he is the company’s top salesman by a margin of two or three times over the runner-up. Why? Because—as anyone who has worked with this fellow will tell you—he knows the market, he knows the product, AND he is a phenomenal team player.

There is some irony in the fact that Sales Management always looks for people with the right experience and the right personality, when they really should be looking for people with the right experience, who also team well. There’s a big difference between the two.

Long ago, personality testing showed conclusively that most people in the sales profession have high levels of extraversion and aggressiveness. As a result, these traits are considered to be a sort of ‘pass-fail’ measure in hiring for sales. But if you look at most sales organizations, you find high levels of failure to achieve objectives, and high turnover. So while extraversion and aggressiveness have a lot to do with getting involved in sales jobs, they don’t seem to have all that much to do with selling successfully.

Could it be that the ability to ‘team well’ with others is the missing piece of the puzzle? Well, that’s one of the questions I had in mind over 25 years ago, when a colleague and I began our search for a way to measure what happens when people team together. And now that ‘teaming characteristics’ (and other closely related qualities of human interaction) can actually be measured and reported, it is possible to demonstrate just how much selling value a quality team player can deliver.

So, Mr. Sales Expert, it’s time for you to eat crow.

This post originally appeared in InnovationDAILY, September 26, 2010.

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5 Wrong Things Experts Told Me

September 12, 2010

This blog originally appeared in Innovation DAILY.

One of the dangers of being a good listener is that, well — you listen. Combine this with a tendency to believe that other people generally know what they are talking about, and you’ve got the setup for entrepreneurial enervation.

Herein, five of the most off-target ‘truths’ that business experts inflicted on my entrepreneurial soul:

1. If you are working too many hours, you’re doing something wrong.

MYTH! The 4-hour workweek? Who’s kidding whom? Maybe this is relevant if your goal is near-total retirement or some other ‘lifestyle option’. Or perhaps you have created a totally self-service online business, have outsourced the satisfaction of your personal needs, and your ambition is a life of leisure. But if you are a bootstrapping a company, or you want to change the world with your innovation, be prepared to sweat. And besides, if you know how to build a quality team and you have a worthy goal, why would you want to NOT work?

2. You should be able to define what you do in 10 words or less, and your great grandmother should understand it.

MYTH! OK, I overstated the criteria just for effect. It’s true that eventually you’ll need a very succinct and accessible value proposition, so you can get people to invest in it, and get the buzz going. But if you know where you want to go and you are only beginning to find your way, focusing on a ‘high concept’ pitch can be counterproductive. This happened in my own company!  We had been advised to sell TGI Role-Based Assessment as an ‘innovative Talent Management Solution’ and went nowhere.  Finally we reassessed the situation and realized that “RBA predicts whether a person is a top team-player…..before you hire them” and can “Make the workplace a better place to work.”

Going from point A to point B took us nine months and innumerable refinements. Start with a vision paper of about three or four thousand words. You can trim down later, but at least you’ll know the outer limits of your possibilities and can make better choices about how to achieve them. And forget the opinions of grandmothers, great and otherwise. There’s a saying that “People can only understand new things in terms of something they already understand.” My mother never got what I do. I shiver at the mere hint of what her mother would have thought.

3. Entrepreneurs are not made, they are born….with at least one Y chromosome.

MYTH! I am living, breathing proof. But I have been told this is impossible–and not years ago, when I started my first company. This was in 2010!  And you wonder why there are so few women entrepreneurs? Enough for THAT expert. But he is not alone. If we women are forever having to prove ourselves (an even more pronounced requirement when said woman is of the petite variety) then this is the one wrong thing I am actually concerned may become the truth. Man-up and listen: it’s what’s inside. Give me people with great teaming characteristics and I don’t care if they wear ties or mascara, or both.

4. You need to pay someone to sell for you because Founders can’t sell.

MYTH! This is the one you get from out-of-work sales people, and from morons. Sometimes you get the related myth that you can’t sell until you take the sales training being offered. Think about this. Who knows your product better than you? And who has more passion for it? (Hint: if you actually had an answer for that second question, you aren’t an entrepreneur.) You need these things: the ability to TALK…and LISTEN…and ASK THE RIGHT QUESTIONS. Enough said. Read ‘SPIN Selling’ or anything else by Neil Rackham. You’re smart enough to figure out how to apply it to what you do.

5. Starting a business isn’t easy.

MYTH! Starting a business is very easy. Keeping it going is hard. What does it take to keep it going?

First, you need to recognize that the trip from single person start-up to functioning business team is a HUGE transition. You will have to stop doing a lot of things you’ve been doing just because they had to get done, and you will need to entrust them to other people. Then you will need to get out of their way. You will need to set standards for respect and communication on the team, and you will also have to live up to them! You will have to be a better, smarter person–probably better than you have ever been, and you will need to surround yourself with people who can do likewise. (Make sure those people are Coherent, with the right Role-fit to their job responsibilities, and have great teaming characteristics, of course.)

Finally, remember that further growth means those interrelationships will have to grow too. Some people who love the challenge of going zero to sixty in record time, but they have no interest in driving a bus….or even a race car.

I looked at a senior executive’s resume today – something I never do, but he is such a nice guy and his Role-Based Assessment was so good, I figured I’d do it, just for research.  He’s a consultant now, but he’s been in senior management the latter part of his career.  With the economy improving, he’s on the prowl and some lucky company is going to get him.  After he fixes his resume…

So I’m going to offer my advice here, in hopes that if you are looking for a new C level job (or any job for that matter) that it will help you too.

First, put your address on it so it doesn’t look like you are living in your car. I know you have a lot of experience and you want to cram in into two pages because somewhere there is a ‘two page rule’, but really, this is not the place to skimp.

Then think about a better title or tag line.  No one will read everything you wrote because resumes are inherently boring, especially compared to some of the funnier jokes your friends sent you today or you read on your intern’s monitor.

Put your industry right up there in the title.  I know you want to appear flexible but executive recruiters care about industry.  A lot.  That’s how they make money, specializing in an industry.  So get it on there.

Also use the title you expect or want.  Like Lord High Executioner or Ruler of the Queen’s Navee.

So your title will be something like Chief Financial Officer, Aerospace Industry, or Senior Organizational Development Leader, 18 years in Banking.  Don’t use a number if you think it isn’t a good one.  (I don’t know what a good number is.  This is something you need to be comfortable with.)

Rework your opening summary paragraph so it doesn’t sound like Dogbert wrote it.  (I like Dogbert but you have to make this very concrete because it isn’t being read by people like us.) Short sentences.  Really.  People don’t read…  Okay, make that most people.  And they are screening your resume.  Make.  Them.  Happy.

Then make the bullet points pop.  Make each one count and make them very different.  No Dogbert.  No hackneyed words.  If you don’t know what words not to use, read Dilbert.

Be more specific on Core Competencies, if you have a section with them.  Make it reflect you and no one else.  If we were talking sales we would be talking differentiation.

Now you’re ready to prune your list of past employment.  Be brutal.  Only keep what will keep the reader reading.  That’s a summary statement, what you did, how it made the company happy.  That’s it.  And leave off your first jobs if they don’t contribute anything.  Same with non-degree training and such.

Now you have room to GIVE ME MARGINS!!!  People who actually might want to talk to you want a place to make notes.  Or doodle.  Whatever, it will look better.

And remember, especially if you are a senior executive, that the hiring manager reading your resume is likely to have ‘significant experience’.  That’s HR-speak for ‘old enough to need reading glasses’.  So pump up that font.  Please.

And good luck!

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