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.

Ask any entrepreneur what it costs to make a hiring mistake and you’ll likely be met with a groan and a ‘double eye roll’.  Everyone knows the costs:

  • The recruiting fees
  • The job postings
  • The time you spend interviewing
  • Your turnover rate causing increased UC contribution costs
  • The lawyer’s fees for the employment contract, figuring out how to break the contract, and sometimes additional fees–plus the tax on your time and patience–required to defend yourself against wrongful termination!

Think of these these costs as ‘direct damage’:  a real strain on any entrepreneur’s budget, but not an unexpected cost of doing business.  Bad hires happen.  But wait…..have you considered the ‘collateral damage’?

No hiring decision happens in a vacuum.  You need your team to be whole. You have a missing part.  You seek to fill it in a way that capitalizes on the assets of your existing team members – and makes up for their deficits.  That’s why prudent employers engage search specialists, scour resumes, do 360-degree interviews, personality tests, reference checks, and even credit checks (where allowed by law).  But somehow, bad hires still happen, and when they happen to you, you’re naturally disappointed.  Or worse.  Because if you’ve pegged your hopes and plans on the wrong person, it’s the collateral damage that costs so much more than the hiring failure.

We all pride ourselves on being good judges of people, and we are — but only if we have the whole story, not just a collection of data components.  If you have had the misfortune of more than one or two hires that turned out badly, you may even begin to doubt whether you (or your people) are even capable of hiring successfully. When all the signs–including ‘gut feel’ point to “YES”, and still a new hire turns out to be a dud, the first piece of collateral damage may be your self-confidence as an executive decision-maker.

And then there is the impact of the bad hire on the rest of the team.  Here’s the worst part.  The better your team is, the worse the collateral damage will be.  If you have brought the bad hire in over people who are great performers, you’ll see the decline happening right before your eyes.  And worse, it won’t take long before your they are plotting their next career move.  And they aren’t likely to tell you because really – who is going to challenge the boss on a hiring decision?

Finally there is the adverse impact on present – and future – stakeholders.  News travels fast, especially since the investor/entrepreneur ecosystem has the modern day equivalent of jungle drums and really knows how to play.  You know what I mean: Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and all those f-t-f networking events.  Word gets around when someone (or some team) clearly doesn’t have the right stuff.

So in view of all this, wouldn’t it be great to know how someone will perform on your team – before you hire them?  You can, but only if you are measuring for the right things: not just for individual characteristics – but for behavioral ‘Teaming Characteristics’, which are derived from a person’s Coherence and Role. (To our knowledge, TGI’s Role-Based Assessment is the only way to measure these.)

To minimize some of the collateral damage you have experienced in the past, consider this: there nothing wrong with your decision making.  As an entrepreneur, you have a good sense of how to behave on a team because you know you can’t do it yourself.  You respect people who apply their skills, their experience, and their deep commitment to your vision.  Good decision making assumes good behavior.  Since you are a team player, you’ll tend to expect others to be good team players–and unfortunately, some are not. In fact, some are truly toxic to team play.  So keep on trusting yourself, and keep in mind that there is now a ‘new way to know’.

This piece originally appeared in Innovation DAILY March 29, 2010.

Sound familiar?

  • Your startup seemed to have essential Angel funding ‘in the bag,’ but for some reason the money never arrives.
  • A strategic alliance took months to establish, and can nearly double your revenue projection, but suddenly your new partner gets bought by a competitor and the deal is off.
  • The new marketing materials are ready just in time for product launch at a major show, but a storm in the Midwest delays the shipment, leaving you empty-handed.

Bad things do happen to good entrepreneurs—all too frequently.  Some manage to recover and others don’t. Is there a way to distinguish the teams that will step up from the teams that give up?

Survival is the first rule of entrepreneurial life, and when dealing with an unexpected calamity, nothing keeps a team in play more effectively than people working really well together.  This may mean ranting together (not at each other) for a few minutes, perhaps also grieving together, and then—without delay—getting down to the business of refocusing and recovering.  Histrionics, finger-pointing, or withdrawing instead of reaching out are not characteristic of good teamwork. They are characteristic of failure.

Good teams know that no one person can examine all the possibilities; that two heads are better than one; three better than two; one for all and all for one!  Spending time and energy on leadership struggles, instead of pulling together, has run more than one ship aground.   The strongest entrepreneurial teams incorporate and encourage different communication, action, and problem solving styles: one person thinking of the far-off future; another handling tasks of immediate urgency, perhaps a third person plotting a strategic alternative, and all ready to fire up and forge ahead.

Some great teams may seem to ‘just happen’, but they can also be built—if you have the ability to predict how people will actually behave when working with other people to benefit their group, overcome a challenge, or achieve a common goal.  The measurable qualities of teamwork are Role, Coherence (on a scale ranging from Diffuse to Coherent to Rigid), and Teaming Characteristics.

Any team members who are outside the acceptable range of Coherence (Diffuse or Rigid) will sap team synergy, exacerbate internal conflict, and limit productivity.  In the midst of a crisis, that’s bad news. The good news is it’s possible to tip the scales in favor of survival.  My favorite example is the entrepreneurial team that got rid of a rigid marketing person and a diffuse sales person, and saw their KPIs take off on a classic hockey-stick  trajectory!

So what do you do when something bad happens?  When you have a Coherent team of players with diverse Roles and great Teaming Characteristics, you never have to ask.  You just do it.

(This post originally appeared in Innovation DAILY, February 18, 2010.)

No New Year’s resolutions, no preaching, no ‘rules’ – just some ideas to ponder.

1. You can’t lead the team if you’re not on it.

Soccer star Mia Hamm said, “I am a member of a team, and I rely on the team, I defer to it and sacrifice for it, because the team, not the individual, is the ultimate champion.”  True in any sport and especially true on the entrepreneurial playing field. The leader must be as much in the game as the players.

2. Identify and develop undervalued players.

Think Billy Beane’s Oakland A’s (read Moneyball if you missed it.)  ‘Talent’ is not just about skill and experience – it’s about teaming. ‘Scouting’ the resumes, interviews, and LinkedIn pages will give you lots of data about the individual. But in order to predict business success – no matter what the mission of the team – the right metrics are Coherence, Role, and Teaming Characteristics.

3. Know the difference between competition and coopetition – and when to use each.

If there were no Coopetition, there would be no draft, no free agency, and no player trades. And whether you love or hate the outcomes, Coopetition adds variety and produces better on-field Competition.  But when you ‘team’ with your competitors in hopes of mutual benefit, you had better stay on the high road. In this highly networked world, playing dirty tricks or trashing the competition is not just bad for business – it can have lethal impact on future opportunities.

Cheers to 2010 – the year that the winners’ circle starts spinning again!

This post originally appeared on the Human Capital Institute blog and has been cited elsewhere.  Here it is, updated with the most critical thought for CEOs.

1- Shut up and listen:  Every moment you speak is a moment your interviewee is silent.  Unless you are interviewing someone who will be working for you as a mime, you aren’t learning anything while you’re talking.

2- Ask SPIN questions: Help your interviewee learn more about the position and company–while you’re learning more about them–by asking them value-centric questions.  Try using what sales guru Neil Rackham, author of SPIN Selling and many other books on business communication, calls ‘Implication’ and ‘Need-payoff’ questions.  “What if you got this position and could do anything within reason to make it a success?”  “Here’s a recurring problem (describe it); how many kinds of adverse impact on our business can you identify? This gives the candidate an opportunity to ‘dig in’ and actually sell themselves on the job opportunity, while giving you a view into their thinking and problem solving processes.

3 – Stick to a plan: Remember that an interview is a form of assessment.  If every interview follows a different path, they will not result in accurate or reasonable comparisons between candidates. Not only do you need to ask the same questions of each interviewee, you need to interpret their answers in the same way.  Furthermore,  if you don’t isolate the key message points and stay focused on them, it is all the more likely that the candidate’s physical characteristics, gender, race, nationality, style of dress, etc. will creep into the assessment–and before you know it you will be adrift in unconscious biases that can lead to future trouble.

4 – Pick a team player: Consider using an assessment that is designed to measure teaming characteristics.  Hiring has always been focused primarily on the characteristics of the individual candidates. Ironically, how well they will perform on the team doesn’t come to the fore until after the hire–and isn’t recognized as a failing until after the ‘bad hire’ has done plenty of damage.  You can’t really ask people how they ‘team’ and expect a reliable answer, so you need a way to predict how they will behave.

5 – Take the high road: Even when you’re having a tough day, remember that you are making decisions of critical importance to your organization.  You have direct influence on building and maintaining a human infrastructure that will determine the success or failure of the entire organization.  Take a deep breath, ask for a second opinion if you’re unsure, and always keep learning.

And for CEOs:

Remember, you are picking someone who will be teaming with you.  Do you know what your teaming characteristics are?  Don’t fight them: they’ve gotten you this far so don’t mess with success.  Just make sure the person you’re bringing in will be three things: Coherent, a Role complementary to yours, and someone with the kind of teaming characteristics that spell success on your team.  You’re building your human infrastructure so you may as well build from your own specs!

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