When Leadership Teams Need a Good Referee

For the past 7 years I’ve spent an increasing amount of my time in the role of “facilitator” at a variety of leadership meetings that my clients have asked me to help “referee.”  When I initially got these requests I found it puzzling – why would a CEO or President want a third-party, like me, to play a role in a key strategy or planning meeting? 

What I’ve learned since is telling – my core competency is often their big challenge.  On one hand, these executives know their businesses, are often brilliant strategists, and know how to out-flank their competition.  On the other hand, when it comes to conducting an effective meeting with their leadership team, they often feel like a fish out of water.  You’ve likely been a part of some internal leadership meetings in your past that have been frustrating, at best.  Do any of these sound familiar?

  • The meeting took twice as long as the time that was allocated and it still felt as though little was accomplished?
  • There was a robust discussion but there were no tangible outcomes – no action items, no accountability, no follow up plans?
  • The discussion became emotional and off-the-subject because personalities and distractions got in the way of the core topics and objectives?
  • Or, the meeting itself was so unstructured and aimless that you felt like it was a complete waste of your time?

In case you think you’re the only victim in this phenomenon, your CEO/President is often equally frustrated by these experiences.  The feedback I hear from this group includes:

  • “I spend all of my time being a task-master and slave to the agenda instead of having valuable time to talk about what really matters in our business.”
  • “I feel like my team doesn’t really open up about what’s on their mind.”
  • “It’s frustrating that I don’t get to contribute to the discussion because when I do impose my opinions it tends to stifle the discussion.”
  • “Too often I have to play the bad guy in these meetings – challenging our assumptions, asking the hard questions, etc.”

I think you get the idea. When the CEO/leader has to lead the meeting they have to play a different role than they often prefer and they can’t contribute to the extent they’d like. All of this combines to create frustration on all sides – and why this part of my business is growing faster than any other.  

I know what you worry about with this strategy – “I need to control the meeting outcome and I fear losing that control.”  It’s a reasonable concern.  Let me take a swing at explaining why it may make sense for you to engage an outside facilitator for your next leadership meeting and still maintain the control you’re concerned about losing:

  • Preparation can make all the difference – I usually have an opportunity to interview the key stakeholders in advance of the meeting – to understand their view of the key issues and priorities. On a side note – the candid feedback the team members will tell me that they often won’t even tell the CEO/Leader directly is often surprising.
  • Take the pressure off of yourself – you are the leader and are infinitely more effective if you are part of the discussion, not trying to lead and control the discussion.  Let someone with facilitation-related skills, who does this as a core competency, play this role
  • You are more likely to accomplish the meeting/workshop objectives within the targeted goal – on time, on budget, and outcome-focused when a third party is tasked to ensure these objectives are met. 
  • And finally, because someone like me doesn’t have to manage your team on an on-going, everyday basis, it’s actually very comfortable for us to ask challenging questions and to bring an outside perspective to the discussion.  Said another way, let me be the bad guy occasionally. 

It’s seems like such a simple idea and it really isn’t that complicated.  If your team is struggling with having effective leadership meetings with tangible plans and priorities to be successful, consider the value of having a third-party facilitator help with your next key leadership strategy meeting – you and your team will benefit when it’s done well.

I look forward to your comments and feedback!

Posted in Sales | Leave a comment

Deal Coaching is a Lost Art – Is Technology Helping or Hurting?

When I sat down to start writing the eBook we just published and launched (details on how to get your free version below) I was pondering why deal coaching has been lost as a competency in many sales organizations today.  It was a core competency in many of the largest, best known organizations when I started my career at IBM and I’ll bet you can name countless other companies that excelled in this arena. 

One observation that struck me is that 20+ years ago these organizations didn’t have much “enabling technology.”  Heck, in those days we were lucky to have an admin with a typewriter and if we were really lucky we had a low-tech voice mail system for messages.  We submitted forecasts via fax machines but we never even considered the notion of a CRM system. 

Without an abundance of technology we had no confusion about how to spend our time or about our core job responsibility – to close new business and grow existing accounts.    We didn’t have to struggle with how to balance our time between too many priorities.  Our job and our life seemed pretty simple in contrast to today’s world. 

Fast forward to today’s environment – is it possible that our abundance of enabling technologies has actually diluted sales people’s and sales manager’s time devoted to winning?  Is the “tyranny of the urgent” that seems to describe their average day, one of the factors that has made deal coaching a lost art?

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not an advocate of turning the clocks back 30 years when we didn’t have any CRM and related tools.  No, my warning is don’t let these tools be the excuse for not doing what we all know is the core function that sales people (and their managers) are hired to do: strategize to close deals.  My evidence in leading Sales Management Academy workshops is that managers are really struggling to find the time to do just that.  Used properly, these great tools should allow you to identify the right deals to focus on closing.

How about you?  Are you a victim of this phenomenon?  Do you need to make proactive adjustments to your calendar priorities (or the use of your tools) to spend more time on activities that matter?

If you want details on this whole topic, which is the focus of my new eBook, Deal Coaching is a Lost Art, you’ll find a link below to the replay of the webinar we hosted this week and you’ll also find the details on how to download your free copy of the eBook. 

I look forward to your feedback and good luck and good coaching!

Download our free PDF eBook Deal Coaching is a Lost Art –  http://www.complexsale.com/ebook-lost-art

Watch our most recent webinar on deal coaching with TCS’s Peter Bourke & David Stargel – http://www.complexsale.com/july-webinar-assets

Posted in Business Development, Deal Coaching, Sales, Sales Coaching, Sales Strategy | Leave a comment

Deal Coaching is a Lost Art (Part 3 in a series)

What really holds us back

Please note: Peter’s new eBook, Coaching is a Lost Art is now available via PDF http://www.complexsale.com/ebook-lost-art.html and can also be found via Kindle and other reader platforms

It seems so simple – deal coaching doesn’t take a lot of time (when done well) and has an obvious return on time invested.  Why isn’t it a core competency of the average sales organization?  There are several reasons (which doesn’t mean they’re excusable):

Sales reps and managers are too busy.  When I ask sales managers why they don’t coach opportunities more consistently they often talk about the “tyranny of the urgent” in their average day or week.  It may represent the comfort of ‘busyness’: “At least I feel valuable and needed if I am always busy, even if my time is not allocated to the most important activities that can help us close more business.”  Translated: They may be too busy to win!

They have a “forecast-flogging” mentality (i.e. the forecast discussion goes something like this, “When’s the deal going to close? For how much? What help do you need?”).  These are not strategy questions, they’re questions that allow the sales manager to provide a semi-educated guess about the validity of their forecast submission this month.

Perhaps worse yet, when these managers actually conduct a strategy session they do so with little or no structure.  They may also employ what I call “ambush” coaching – asking a surprise set of questions each time I coach opportunities with the sales teams.

Often the sales reps in an organization have a built in resistance to deal coaching either because they perceive minimal value or, worse yet, it actually hurts their productivity because it takes valuable time away from their clients and they perceive little value in the exercise when it’s not done well.

They don’t have the tools to coach effectively.  Said another way, they lack the straightforward ability to efficiently review the status of a deal, i.e., whether they’re winning or losing, whose vote they need to win, and their strategy to close the deal.  If deal coaching isn’t simple and repeatable, it typically doesn’t happen.

Sales managers don’t proactively build this coaching discipline into their schedule.  Instead, they “hope” they can find time in their calendar “gaps” to conduct deal strategy sessions and the time is rarely found.

Or, perhaps your sales managers have never been taught how to coach deals effectively.  You promoted them from a career as a successful sales rep and assume that since they were a great “player” they are likely to be a great “coach.”   It doesn’t happen that way in sports, why do we think it will work any better in sales?

I’ve also found that even when deal coaching is done regularly, it doesn’t mean that the coaching will be effective and there are a variety of reasons:

Group forecast conferences – what a joy!  We’ve all been there: a 90 minute forecast call that involves 10 sales people which means that each of the sales reps presents for approximately 9 minutes to update the manager on 10 deals in their pipeline.  How much value do these bring to your team?  More importantly, how useful was it to the other 9 reps who had to listen for 81 minutes with no relevance to their territory or deals?!

Coaching deals at the wrong time.  As you might guess, most coaching I witness is done towards the end of the deal pursuit, mostly because it is the time when the deal is forecasted at a high probability and the business is counting on the revenue.  It begs the question: when is the best time to coach deals?  You guessed it: early – when you have time to adjust or to help discern whether the deal is worth pursuing in the first place (qualifying). 

Deal strategy sessions that have no structure, with no consistency about the coaching questions that are used in each session and, perhaps most painfully, a session where we wander aimlessly into issues and topics that aren’t even applicable to the deal we’re working.  We’ve all experienced this in our selling careers!

Premature prescription – the sales manager hears a few updates on the background of the deal and 3 minutes into the session the manager jumps to the uniformed answers – mostly unencumbered by the facts!  Sound familiar?  It happens every day in most sales organizations!

Stealing the deal – this is the “superman” sales managers who hears about trouble in an opportunity that is critical to make this month’s forecast and instead of coaching and equipping the sales person to win the deal they jump in with both feet and take over the pursuit because that’s what they feel best equipped and most comfortable doing.  This strategy can work in the short term but it doesn’t help their people or their results in the long term!

Or, perhaps worst of all, sales managers in a deal coaching session are more focused on fixing the blame instead of fixing the problem or addressing the challenge.  Being overly judgmental is not the answer and trying to find and place the guilt is usually counter-productive.

I’ll be interested in your experience and observations as well!

Posted in Business Development, Deal Coaching, Sales, Sales Coaching, Sales Strategy, UnSelling | Leave a comment

Root Causes of Losing Deals You Can’t Afford to Lose (2nd in a series)

Losing is not a one dimensional challenge. The problem is almost never just a coaching problem. You can’t just focus on developing tools and tactics to defeat your most formidable competitor and then “hope” your win rate rises dramatically.  You also can’t just rely on conducting a sales training class and expect results to rise and be sustained. Instead, let’s look at the most common causes of losing new business to see why coaching can be instrumental in the context of these challenges:

  • Sales and Sales Management Talent – You could have the best products and a great sales methodology but if you don’t have the right people in your organization you will lose more often than you’d prefer.  Which kind of talent is most important? I’d suggest sales management without hesitation.  The reason is that great sales managers will hire great sales people, will develop B players into A’s and will move C players out of the business as quickly as practical.  Great sales managers will also ensure that we are coaching the key opportunities and developing the strategies and tactics to win these critical deals.  Do you have the right sales management talent in your organization?
  • Sales and marketing strategy – there are several components in this category that can contribute to sales excellence (or mediocrity):
    • Segmentation – do you have clarity on the ideal target markets and clients that represent the best fit for your solution?  If not, you could have a great weapon, but aimed at the wrong target can result in shooting something near and dear to you (like your foot).
    • Solutions – do you have the right solution that the market needs and do your solutions have a competitive price/value equation?  If not, the greatest sales, management, and coaching in your industry will not overcome this liability.
    • Sales and marketing tools – do you have the collateral, case studies, tools, and roadmap that you provide your sales teams to make them as efficient and effective as possible?  If not, your sales reps will “wing it” to see what works individually and you won’t leverage the best practices that your best people employ to make themselves successful.
  • Arguably the biggest root cause of losing too often: you lack effective disciplines and tools for deal strategy and coaching.  When coaching is done well – a lot of the problems outlined above are mitigated because:
    • You’ll get out of deals you don’t belong chasing – particularly early in the buying and selling process
    • You’ll see, first-hand, the strengths and weaknesses of the sales people and managers on your team that you don’t see otherwise witness
    • You’ll get a lot smarter about how to understand and defeat your key competitors and leverage and apply the knowledge you gain in this process to the myriad of other deals in which you compete against these same predictable, formidable competitors.
    • And most importantly, you’ll end up winning more than your fair share of new business!

What about your team – are you winning more than your fair share of new business?  I always look forward to your feedback!

Posted in Business Development, Consultative selling, Deal Coaching, Sales, Sales Coaching, Sales Strategy | Leave a comment