Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Selling and Marketing Your Best and Worst Ideas - Meetup Recap

We first talked about the differences between sales and marketing.  Someone stated that marketing is demand generation.  Someone else stated that marketing is pulling and sales is pushing.  I asked why those verbs.  Someone else chimed in with the idea that there are different types of sales that need to be considered such as consultative sales and transaction-based sales.  Our definition of the differences still seemed to be lacking.  Mike Pritchard, always brilliant, offered that "sales is the closure", which to me makes good sense.  I asked if sales are the outputs and marketing are the inputs; everyone seemed to agree.

There are two primary ways to look at sales 1) holistically as a total system of lifetime value, care, etc. and 2) as the process of generating revenue and income (not delivering, etc.).  Both views seem valid in today's age.  Richard Webb showed up and told a story of a recent conversation he had with an executive Chief Sales Officer who looked at the system as the latter (just income generation), not the former (comprehensive system).  The individual had said that "we have people" for the other parts and did not seem overly concerned about the delivery or operations part, just the selling and income generation parts.  This bothered Richard and others and Richard even said, "I am anti-sales".  Clearly this is not the best idea, to be anti-sales in business, since it is so key and critical to the process, but why the rub and why do some of us feel so strongly against sales, and sales people for that matter?

Within sales there are at least two models where either A) the sales person hands over to an account manager or person for delivery and/or customer care and B) where they continue to own the account through and through and to be responsible for retention, customer satisfaction, etc.  We all seemed to agree that the latter model is preferred.  There is a division of labor that may be necessary, however, between the sales person and the delivery team.  To me, it seems quite reasonable to "firewall" the sales team from the delivery team and to separate those two worlds and cultures for the sake of efficiency and effectiveness.

The ideas of "deal shaping" and "deal crafting" were mentioned as difficult skills and I personally thought of our new president, Donald Trump and his "art of the deal".  I think many of us revere and admire sales people and realize it is a hard job.  But maybe that is just a fallacy.  Surely not everyone can do it well or skillfully.

There is another view of the sales person as simply an "order taker".  The idea there is to keep it simple and have the sales and customer intake process be very easy and pre-described such there is a predictable and reliable input to the rest of the organization.  This kind of role, however, may not be very well suited for some individuals who like to hunt and kill big game (customers) and find that practice fun and realize the complexity and uniqueness of each new account or project in some larger  more complicated contexts.

Our buddy James Tuff, who has been in sales for most of his life, shared stories about the value of sales and sales people and how it should be a noble profession.  I agree with James and in general have the utmost respect for good sales people but I could say the same for good dishwashers.

Richard, referring to complexity and disorder, mentioned that "most enterprises are federated small businesses" and I agree with that.  Having worked at Siemens, Microsoft and others, I have seen this first hand.  And it can even be said that some business are federated big businesses, which is totally true.  In general, we need to keep in mind the size of the organization when we are talking about sales.  The used car lot is one thing but if we look at other big businesses trying to land and keep major accounts, that's another thing.  But there are common patterns and practices we can follow.

We talked about the extreme importance of sales.  One person said that sales was currency and Christian said that there was a certain invincibility about sales and sales people because they are the ones that bring in the money that makes everything else possible.

Bruce shared that there are some buzzwords used to describe sales and value such as "trusted advisor", and "loyalty" that he thinks are overloaded and poorly used.  Bruce has had a lifetime in sales and is an expert in the matter.  Bruce continued to explain that he has worked for good sales organizations, Xerox being one, that provide good incentive structures that worked quite well in creating a balance between "selling and leaving" and helping sales people see quality as total and mandatory.  The aspects of compensation that Bruce mentioned were 1) salary 2) commission and 3) being tied to customer satisfaction so the sales person had an incentive to ensure that there account was successful in the long term and could not simply walk away without facing a significant penalty.

David Slight chimed in and expressed the importance of quota in this mix and that very many companies behave on this premise that their earning targets are set and then they back into individual and regional quota to make it happen.  It is a very tops-down model.

We switched subjects a bit and started talking about marketing again, given that we had covered a lot of territory on sales as a standalone topic.  One person (it could have been me) suggested that marketing is all about enabling.  David brought up the idea that Product Management is a business function that seems to be doing a good job of bridging the gap between customers and delivery.  I agree with this 100% but would add that account management (sales?) still needs to be tied to and coupled with it for success.  It cannot be the place of Product Management to own success for individual customers.  There needs to be someone in mix who knows the customer pain and situation and can best integrate all of the companies products into the base organization for success and value.

I raised the point about differences between delivering products and delivering services and how APQC had recently broken these two topics apart.  I had felt like it was a good decision but David disagreed and said that they really are the same things.  I disagree on this point and we will get into their similarities and differences next time around on the meetup and podcast.  David was talking about how Digital Products might really be / are Services and I can agree with that basic point.  It is indeed becoming a very blurred line, especially when  you include virtual reality and other technological views.

Richard took us off on a (good) tangent about corruption and incentives and still was fairly convinced that sales and selling were evil.  Bruce offered the book A Whole New Mind in this context.  Mike Pritchard believed that the percentage of sales people was definitely decreasing but I shared ideas about maybe how all of us are becoming more and more sales people (less overt, yes) on such platforms as Facebook and other places where we are virally marketing ideas.

James continued to argue the point (and I think rightfully so) that he "trusts people over machines, frankly".  I want to have follow-up conversations with James about the % of times he interacts with machines in sales and information gathering processes vs. humans and how much of his $ goes to machines and not people.

Mike Pritchard brought up the idea that sales were maleable and something that could be controlled (a simple process at least) whereas marketing was more mysterious, complicated and complex.  Jonathan, in speaking of sales, believed that you have to work with carrots and not sticks but I disagree and think that there are many contexts in which sticks (negative consequences) are 100% required to get good performance.  Complacency is a real issue.

We got off on a tangent again about how (good) sales is really about personal accountability and ownership.  Alan Andersen came to life and led us in a great discussion about leadership, ownership and their importance.  David chimed in and did not love the silver-bullet-style importance being placed on leadership and offered that the two skills of empathy and self-effectiveness are huge when you look at 16 PF models.  Leadership is both inate and in some ways can be learned.  Some people are more natural at it than others.  And it does indeed boil down to attitude and beliefs.

Alan brought up a good point about leadership which is that you first need to be able to lead yourself.  Then you can lead others and lead leaders.  But self-discipline is step one.  David continued to diminish the value of leadership per se and continued to believe that in more of a holocracy-based society that words such as citizen over leader might be better and more appropriate.  I agree with David and think that leadership as a topic is overplayed yet of course required.  David said, "There is a whole new way of working." and I agree.  Our technology is changing the way things are and will be organized.

As was mentioned above, our view of sales really does depend on the organization's maturity and it is one of the practices that needs to mature along with it, if not indeed lead that maturity effort.  There was agreement that being proactive is better than reactive.

I finally asked a few of the people there if the true skill in sales was facilitation and there was some agreement around that idea.  Confidence was also brought up as a core attribute of good sales.  But then Berry reminded me of competence, which brings us back to the full systems idea and its importance.

The next topic will focus on the delivery of products and services and then beyond that we will talk about customer service holistically.  Once we are done with the customer service topic we will have talked through the full "value added chain" and then delve back into the support processes of HR, IT, Finance, etc. that hold up and bolster the rest of the business functions.

My name is Eric Veal and I want to thank our attendees at the meetup last night.  They were: myself, Christian Harris, Richard Webb, James Tuff, Bruce Follansbee, Mike Pritchard, Berry Zimmerman, Alan Andersen, David Slight and Jonathan Olson.