HBR: What Most Companies Miss About Customer Lifetime Value

Are you measuring your customers’ lifetime value? Are you investing in and enabling customer capabilities? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Michael Schrage.

What Most Companies Miss About Customer Lifetime Value

For managers and marketers alike, the power to calculate what customers might be worth is alluring. That’s what makes customer lifetime value (CLV) so popular in so many industries. CLV brings both quantitative rigor and long-term perspective to customer acquisition and relationships.

“Rather than thinking about how you can acquire a lot of customers and how cheaply you can do so,” one marketing guide observes, “CLV helps you think about how to optimize your acquisition spending for maximum value rather than minimum cost.” By imposing economic discipline, ruthlessly prioritizing segmentation, retention, and monetization, the metric assures future customer profitability is top of mind.

For all its impressive strengths, however, CLV suffers from a crippling flaw that blurs its declared focus. The problem is far more insidious than those articulated in venture capitalist Bill Gurley’s thoughtful CLV vivisection. In fact, it subverts how customers truly become more valuable over time.

When my book Who Do You Want Your Customer To Become? was published, five years ago, its insight was that making customers better makes better customers. While delighting customers and meeting their needs remain important, they’re not enough for a lifetime. Innovation must be seen as an investment in the human capital and capabilities of customers.

Consequently, serious customer lifetime value metrics should measure how effectively innovation investment increases customer health and wealth. Successful innovations make customers more valuable. That’s as true for Amazon, Alibaba, and Apple as for Facebook, Google, and Netflix. No one would dare argue that these innovators don’t understand, appreciate, or practice a CLV sensibility.

Pushing organizations to rethink how they add value to their customers stimulates enormously productive discussion. A fast, cheap, and easy exercise for clarifying the innovation investment approach emerged when I operationalized my book’s principles. The simple but provocative tool generates actionable insights. Having facilitated scores of workshops around it worldwide, I know it gets results.

Ask people to complete this sentence: ”Our customers become much more valuable when…”

The immediate answers tend to be predictable and obvious. For example, customers become much more valuable when “they buy more of our stuff” or “they pay more” or “they reliably come back to us” or “they’re loyal to our brand.”

There are no prizes for recognizing that these initial responses reflect the variables that go into computing traditional CLVs. While everyone agrees these things are important, participants in the exercise quickly recognize how limited, and limiting, those instant answers are.

It doesn’t take long before the answers start to incorporate an investment ethos that sees customers more as value-creating partners than as value-extraction targets. For example:

Our customers become much more valuable when…

  • they give us good ideas
  • they evangelize for us on social media
  • they reduce our costs
  • they collaborate with us
  • they try our new products
  • they introduce us to their customers
  • they share their data with us

Almost without exception, these follow-on answers are disconnected from how the firm calculates customer lifetime value. But, almost without exception, these responses push people to revisit and rethink how customer value should be measured. At one company the immediate response was to look for correlations between CLV and net promoter score. At another, the conversation led to discovering a core group of top-quintile CLV clients, who served as essential references for closing deals with firms identified as top-decile CLV clients. Those reference firms instantly won renewed attention and special treatment.

The more diverse and detailed the answers, the more innovative and insightful the customer investment. The most-productive conversations came from cross-functional, collaborative interaction — not just from marketing, R&D, or business unit leaderships.

For example, for a global industrial equipment provider, customers became more valuable when they performed more self-service diagnostics and shared that information with the firm. That led directly to the firm’s technical services teams offering cloud-connecting APIs and SDKs that let customers customize remote diagnostic gateways for their equipment. Customers embracing self-diagnostics inherently boosted their CLV. Not incidentally, information access swiftly redefined how the company qualified prospects and computed lifetime customer value.

By investing in and enabling new customer capabilities, firms create new ways for customers to increase their lifetime value. Making customers better truly does make for better customers.

But in keeping with the segmentation spirit of CLV, the question can easily be edited and modified to produce targeted insights. For example, at one workshop we used two versions of the sentence: “Our best customers become much more valuable when…” and “Our typical customers become much more valuable when…”

The innovation investment insights for one’s best customers proved qualitatively and quantitatively different from those for one’s typical customers. Forcing people to rigorously define the distinctions between typical and best frequently leads to even greater creativity around customer value.

My favorite CLV vignette emerged from a session at a global financial services giant in London. As the responses grew longer, richer, and more detailed, one of the participants called attention to an interesting fact. Some of the answers, he observed, began with “we,” as in, “Our customers become much more valuable when we do something.” The others, however, began with “they,” as in, “Our customers become much more valuable when they do something.”

“What is the difference between the potential customer lifetime value when we do something versus when they do it?” he asked. After a few moments of silence, the conversation went to a whole other level of engagement, around how the firm wanted to engage with and invest in its customers.

The best investment you can make in measuring customer lifetime value is to make sure you’re investing in your customers’ lifetime value.

HBR: Sales Reps, Stop Asking Leading Questions

What is your approach to selling? Do you use a consultative sales approach? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Scott Edinger.

Sales Reps, Stop Asking Leading Questions

Most executives recognize a need for their sales team to act as consultants and sell “solutions.” But many CEOs would be shocked at how poorly their sales teams execute on the strategy of consultative selling. I recently had a conversation about this with the director of purchasing at one of my client companies who told me: “I can always tell when a rep has been through sales training, because instead of launching in to a pitch, they launch into a list of questions.” Too often, sales teams trying to “do” consultative selling don’t move beyond the rudimentary application of solution-sales principles: “Get the team to ask questions, and then match our capabilities to what the client has said.” So the sales force sits down and makes a list of questions designed to extract information from their prospective clients, in a kind of interrogation. I’ve sat through many sales calls like this, and trust me it isn’t pretty.

To maximize the power of consultative selling, we have to move beyond a simplistic view of solution selling. It’s not about grilling the buyer but rather engaging in a give-and-take as the seller and buyer explore the client’s priorities, examine what is in the business’s best interests, and evaluate the seller’s solutions. Asking questions is part of this engagement process, but there’s a right way to do it. Here are some important pitfalls to avoid:

Avoid checklist-style questioning. A few years ago I was working with a financial services firm that hadn’t seen much success in adopting a solution sales approach. When I watched a few meetings it was easy to see why. The sellers I traveled with did a decent job of asking questions and getting answers, but it felt more to me (and to the prospects, based on their responses and disposition) like they were going through a checklist. As a result, their sales calls felt mechanical and staid. While they gleaned some good information about clients’ needs, allowing them to dovetail the products they were selling into the conversation, there was little buy-in from the prospects they were talking to. There was no sense of shared understanding or that the client had confidence that the seller would be able to help them grow their business. I’ve observed this scenario with both beginner and experienced sellers, as well as senior partners in Big Four consulting firms: when they focus solely on asking questions, they rarely get the information they really need.

Avoid asking leading questions. Nothing falls flatter in a sales call than a question that is clearly self-interested, or makes the seller the master of the obvious. I joke about this in speeches using the example: “If I could show you something interesting, would you be interested?” The kind of questions sales professionals are taught to ask typically focus on drawing attention to client problems, pain points, and sources of dissatisfaction, so the client will then view the seller’s offerings as a solution. It can be useful to explore the buyer’s challenges, but when a seller asks a ridiculous question with an obvious answer such as, “What’s the implication of data center failure?” it can backfire. It’s counterproductive to ask patently manipulative questions because buyers immediately put up their defenses and will be skeptical of the seller’s intentions – and intelligence. Instead, ask questions that demonstrate genuine curiosity, empathy, and a desire to understand. Try to go deeper than uncovering a list of problems to be solved: ask what the buyer hopes to achieve with your product or service, and why this is a priority now.

Avoid negative conversational behaviors. When sellers are myopically focused on persuading a prospect or winning a piece of business, it creates a negative vibe in the relationship. In fact, when we look at what happens in the brain during this kind of one-sided selling interaction, we find that buyers may experience that negativity at a chemical level. In her article, “The Neurochemistry of Positive Conversations,” Judith Glaser highlights specific behaviors that contribute to negative chemical, or “cortisol-producing,” and positive chemical “oxytocin-producing” reactions in others. Among the behaviors that create significant negative impacts are being focused on convincing others and behaving like others don’t understand. Precisely the stereotypical behaviors that give sellers a bad name: being too aggressive, not listening, and going on and on about their offerings. Conversely, the behaviors that create a positive chemical impact include being concerned about others, stimulating discussions with genuine curiosity, and painting a picture of mutual success. Masters of the consultative sales approach apply these conversational techniques to their discussions with prospects and clients to create a collaborative dynamic with positive outcomes.

 

The consultative sales approach may seem simple, but it isn’t easy to execute well. Sales people cannot just go to training for a few days and gain mastery of this skill set, any more than an accountant going to a week-long course can emerge with the skills of a CFO. Consultative selling is a fundamental business strategy centered on creating value through insight and perspective that paves the way toward long-term relationships and genuine solutions for your customers. When sellers do it right, that strategy comes to life.

 

HBR: Organizing a Sales Force by Product or Customer, and other Dilemmas

Sales can be full of double-edged swords. How do you leverage the edge you want and blunt the ones you don’t? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Andris A. Zoltners, Sally E. Lorimer, PK Sinha.

Organizing a Sales Force by Product or Customer, and other Dilemmas

HP announced in March that it was combining its printer and personal computer businesses. According to CEO Meg Whitman, “The result will be a faster, more streamlined, performance-driven HP that is customer focused.” But that remains to be seen.

The merging of the two businesses is a reversal for HP. In 2005, HP split off the printer business from the personal computer business, dissolved the Customer Solutions Group (CSG) which was a sales and marketing organization that cut across product categories, and pushed selling responsibilities down to the product business units. The goal was to give each business unit greater control of its sales process, and in former CEO Mark Hurd’s words, to “perform better — for our customers and partners.”

The choice — to build a sales organization around customers or products — has vexed every company with a diverse product portfolio. It’s not uncommon for a firm such as HP to vacillate between the two structures. And switching structures is not always a recipe for success.

Let’s rewind the clock to 2005 at HP, before the CSG was eliminated. Most likely, those responsible for the success of specific products (say printers) were often at odds with the CSG. The words in the air may have been something like “Printers bring in the profits, and our products are not getting enough attention” or “The CSG people want customer control, but we have the product expertise.” And from the CSG sales team, we can imagine the feelings, “We are trying to do the best for HP and for customers. The printing people are not being team players.”

Especially when performance lags, people in any sales structure see and feel the disadvantages and stresses that their structure creates. But they often see only the benefits of the structure that they are not operating in. The alternative looks enticing. Unreasonably so.

HP’s dilemma illustrates one of many two-edged swords of sales management. These swords are reasonable choices that sales leaders make that have a sharp beneficial edge, but the very nature of the benefit is tied to another sharp edge that has drawbacks. Unless the undesirable edge is dulled, the choice cannot work.

Consider a choice like the one HP made recently to organize its sales force by customer rather than by product.

  • The beneficial edge: Salespeople can understand the customer’s total business, can cross-sell and provide solutions (not just products), and can act as business partners rather than vendors for their customers.
  • The undesirable edge: Salespeople will have less product expertise and focus. And it will be difficult for the company to control how much effort each product gets.
  • Dulling the undesirable edge: The company could create product specialists to assist customer managers (although this would add costs and coordination needs, and would work only if salespeople and the culture were team-oriented). It could also use performance management and incentives to manage effort allocation.

    Sales is full of such double-edged swords. For example:

  • If you hire mostly experienced people, they will become productive rapidly. But they will come with their own ways to do things and may have trouble fitting into the new environment.
  • If you drive a structured sales process through the organization, things will be more transparent and organized, and coordination across people will be easier. But out of the box thinking will be diminished, and managers might use the defined structure to micro-manage their people.
  • If you give salespeople customer ownership and pay them mostly through commissions, you will attract independent, aggressive salespeople and encourage a performance-oriented culture. But this will discourage teamwork and create a brittle relationship based mostly on money.

The effective sales leader recognizes the two edges of each of these (and other) choices. He or she works to sharpen and leverage the good edge, while dulling the impact of the other edge. The overly optimistic leader who sees the benefits of only one choice will lead his or her sales force into peril!

We have offered a few examples of double-edged swords of sales management. There are many, many more. Do add to our list, and tell us how you leverage the edge you want, and blunt the one you don’t.

 

HBR: Ineffective Sales Leaders Can Cause Lasting Damage

Is your vison or strategy going in the right direction? Are you retaining the right talent? Are you serving your customers? Or managing your sales team badly? Is your culture wrong for your vision and strategy? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Andris A. Zoltners, Sally E. Lorimer, PK Sinha.

Ineffective Sales Leaders Can Cause Lasting Damage

Success in a sales force requires having strong talent up and down the organization. A weak salesperson will weaken a sales territory, a bad sales manager will damage their team and dampen results in their region, and a poor sales leader will eventually ruin the entire sales force. For even the most seasoned among us, it can be difficult to recognize the signs of a poor sales leader and the possible damage the person can do — especially when they appear to do some good early on.

Consider two examples.

An education technology startup hired a sales leader who came from a large, well-respected firm. He had extensive market knowledge and a stellar track record. Although good at scaling and operating a sales organization, the leader was unable to succeed in a rapidly changing environment that needed experimentation and nimbleness. The mismatch between the startup’s need and the leader’s capabilities set progress back at least a year.

A medical device company hired a vice president of sales with an intimidating management style. He ruled by fear. Achieving goals was everything. He tolerated (and even encouraged) ethically questionable sales practices. Results looked excellent at first, but the sales culture became so unpleasant that good performers began leaving in a trickle, and then in a flood. The average tenure of salespeople dwindled to just seven months. The damage to the company continued for years after the VP was replaced.

The reasons that sales leaders fail fall into four categories:

  • Direction. Poor understanding of the business, leading to errors in vision and strategy
  • Talent. Inability to pick and keep the right people for the team
  • Execution. Poor processes serve customers and manage people badly
  • Culture. Inappropriate values damage the very core of the organization

When such failures are coupled with a leader’s egotism or lack of self-awareness, it’s unlikely that the leader can lean on others to overcome his own deficiencies.

Yet ineffective leaders can do some good in sales organizations. They can bring about needed change quickly. Leaders who lack sensitivity have an easier time eliminating poor performers. Leaders who are intimidating can use their muscle to implement difficult changes that past leaders avoided — for example, an organizational restructure that disrupts an existing power hierarchy.

But unless a poor leader can overcome or compensate for his deficiencies, eventually the bad will overpower any temporary good. A tyrant, for example, may fix some things in the short term but create other problems at the same time. For every gain, there are likely to be multiple missteps with the sales force’s vision, team, execution, and culture. A key and very visible marker of ongoing or impending trouble is when talented people on the leader’s team become frustrated and depart the company.

It can take years to repair the damage done by an ineffective sales leader.

First, it takes time to replace the leader and reconstruct the sales team. When a health care company hired the wrong leader for a sales region, it took more than three years to rebuild the team and recover from the initial error of putting the wrong person in charge.

Second, it takes time to reverse the questionable decisions that ineffective sales leaders make, especially decisions that affect sales force structure or compensation. Weak leaders at a technology company made a decision to restructure the sales organization using a model from their own past that did not match the current situation. Again, it took more than three years to undo the damage.

Third, it takes time to rebuild the culture a poor leader creates. Poor leadership at a medical device company had allowed an unhealthy “victim” culture to pervade the sales force. Salespeople had no confidence in their leaders, and managers were willing to accept salespeople’s constant excuses for poor performance.

Bringing about change required replacing the company’s president, followed by more than two years of sustained focus on transforming the sales force using the following process:

  1. Create a fresh vision, reflecting a culture in which salespeople trusted their leaders and in which all salespeople were held accountable for results.
  2. Communicate the vision using every opportunity, including sales meetings, videoconferences, and the company’s intranet.
  3. Rebuild the team starting with a new vice president of sales who had integrity and judgment, and was willing to replace anyone on the sales team who could not adapt to the new culture.
  4. Realign sales support systems and rewards by overhauling the systems for recognizing and rewarding performance and creating accountability.

These four steps are a good starting point for any company seeking to recover from poor sales leadership.

Bad sales leaders can sometimes bring about change in a broken environment and make temporary gains. But they will wreck a sales force unless they are replaced quickly.

Open: Win Customer Loyalty By Supporting Your Community

Do you want to increase customer loyalty, bring in new business, devastate your competition and make you feel better about yourself? Below is a blog from the OPEN Forum Articles by Shel Israel.

Win Customer Loyalty By Supporting Your Community

A few weeks ago I wrote about United Linen, a professional laundry service. Looking back, I think there are some valuable lessons small businesses should learn from they way United embraces and supports their community.

United shows a commitment to its physical community in various ways. For example, they began posting hometown team sports scores through their social media channels, and more recently, they started promoting the local symphony orchestra. During winter, United gets road conditions from their truck drivers and reports back to residents.

In short, United uses social media to report on and champion their local community. They’ve chosen a wise and valuable strategy—one that you might consider taking with your business.

Small business has clearly embraced social media. We see all sorts of cases of how little guys in corner stores or home offices have defied geographic boundaries by going global. But most small business is not going to go global. They depend upon people who live within a few miles of their store or office.

The question becomes: what should you talk about? Because let’s face it, there’s only so much you can say about your dry cleaning service or your homemade pie.

However, your customers and you probably share many topics of interest. Every town, city or neighborhood has all sorts of local events, issues, problems or reasons to celebrate. Your neighbors and customers talk about them over the counter in your shop, in coffee shops, dog parks or over backyard fences.

These issues are what make your community special—they are the community passion points. A century ago, most communities created town commons, where people gathered to discuss, debate and occasionally brawl over local issues.

People like to do business with people who share their interests. They would rather have an easy conversation then get bombarded with marketing offers and a few very large companies have figured this all out.

Dell Computer, for example, has 8000 employees who use social media as part of their jobs. They are discouraged from using the conversational tools to be overly promotional, and instead are encouraged to mix in mentions of their hobbies and personal interests.

“We discourage shilling,” Richard Binhammer, a senior member to the Dell social media team, told me.

Binhammer’s approach make sense. A smart sales person almost never starts a customer conversation with, “Hey, are you going to buy something? They are more likely to discuss weather and ease in to any possible transactions.”

In social media, you will almost always do better by conversing than by aggressive selling, and you will probably sell more goods and services if your team talks with people about what interests them rather than what you want to sell.

Want to read more on community building? Check these out:

There are local passion spots wherever you do business. And the ability of your hometown to have a public, accessible venue for discussion has been in atrophy in recent years.

Local newspapers and broadcast stations have been on the wane. Those that have survived have very often cut staff and local coverage. The result has been that many communities suffer a local information void waiting to be filled.

Thanks to social media, local merchant or professional can fill this void in local community information and promotion at low cost and with a little investment of time. The result may have more lasting value to your business position than any e-coupon. The result may also increase the number of people who use e-coupons when you post them as well.

You have the opportunity to provide your community with an online commons—a venue where local news is shared and issues can be discussed or debated.

Here are four ways to do it:

  1. Be the local media company

Online journalist Tom Foremski has been talking a lot about every company becoming a media company. But his examples are usually about huge enterprises such as Dell Computer, Cisco, Ford Motors, etc.

Why can’t a small business do this for its hometown? Your customers are already telling you what they care about—why not report on what their local passion points are? Your loyalty to your community will spawn their loyalty to you.

  1. Use video and pictures

Your community is filled with wonderful and provocative visuals and sounds. Take pictures at local events. Post them (note: if kids are involved get permission).

  1.  Listen and report

Use basic tools such as Google Blog Alerts to monitor topics that interest your community. Use Twitter and Facebook to be the first to report on them. If it is a complex subject, blog on it—or ask someone in your community to do a guest blog on your site.

  1.  Be a polster

When issues arise in your community, poll your audience. Ask for a yes or no response, but also host a venue for people who want to leave longer comments. I constantly ask questions on Twitter and Facebook, but I also set up a space for blog comments, where people can post long comments and perhaps debate each other’s ideas.

By becoming a community booster, you build loyalty and establish thought leadership. This can be devastating to a competitor.

I call the strategy ‘Lethal Generosity.’ Here’s how it works:

Start a campaign for safe streets, sending the local team to a post-season tournament or whatever is a passion point you share with your neighbors.

Next, invite your competitors to join the campaign to match—or exceed—any financial contributions you make. Do it online or in public.

What can your competitor do? There’s only two options:

  • Ignore you. But then it appears they don’t care about safe streets or the local team.
  • Match or exceed your donation. In either case, they are following your lead. You will get some of the credit for your competitor’s generosity.

And, in either case, you win.

Try it. I bet it will increase customer loyalty, bring in new business, devastate your competition and make you feel better about yourself.

 

HBR: The Value in Wowing Your Customers

Are you using the Net Promoter system? I would like to hear about your “WOW!” moment. Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Fred Reichheld.

The Value in Wowing Your Customers

A friend of mine in Dallas loves the local Chick-fil-A restaurant. The reason? An employee named Jose once asked my friend’s three-year-old to help with the mopping — and proceeded to give the boy a ride around the restaurant on the mop. For my friend, this was a “wow!” experience, the kind of out-of-the-ordinary event that you want to tell people about — and that inspires you to recommend the business that provided it.

One of my favorite examples of this happened at Rackspace, the managed hosting and cloud computing company. An employee on the phone with a customer during a marathon troubleshooting session heard the customer tell someone in the background that they were getting hungry. As she tells it, “So I put them on hold, and I ordered them a pizza. About 30 minutes later we were still on the phone, and there was a knock on their door. I told them to go answer it because it was pizza! They were so excited.”

I’d have been pretty excited, too, if I were that hungry customer. Another “wow!” moment.

Maybe you noticed something about these wows: They don’t cost much. I call them “frugal wows.” A company that brings a smile to the face of its customers in this manner builds a huge reservoir of goodwill and positive word of mouth at very little expense.

Why would an employee make that kind of a gesture? No doubt the individuals involved are good-hearted folks. Doing well by others makes them happy. But there are plenty of equally good-hearted people in other companies who would never think to offer something extra to a customer. It just wouldn’t occur to them to go beyond their usual duties.

What distinguishes Chick-fil-A and Rackspace is that both companies have created what might be called a “Golden Rule” culture. Employees treat customers as they would like to be treated if they were in the customers’ shoes. Rackspace calls it “Fanatical Support” and views it as a cornerstone of the company’s competitive advantage. As I mentioned in an earlier post, Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy says, “We strive to deliver something for which there is unlimited demand — being treated with honor and respect.”

Both companies regularly survey customers using the Net Promoter system. They disseminate the scores and responses throughout the organization. They follow up with unhappy customers, and they make a point of acting on the feedback they receive. In other words, they take their commitment seriously.

So it’s hardly surprising that employees of these companies would come up with imaginative ways to wow the people they serve. It isn’t only their own good-heartedness or their personal commitment to the Golden Rule — they know that’s what their employer values as well. And they know that their actions will ripple outward through the recommendations their customers provide.

Barbara Talbott, the retired head of marketing for the Four Seasons, tells the story of acts of intelligent kindness: a pot of tea delivered gratis to the room of a guest with a bad cold, a vaporizer for a mother with a croupy child, and so on.

Her point is that if you hire good employees, they will seek out opportunities to be kind. They know that when the line at the front desk is five deep, then they must be intelligent and move the line expeditiously, but if there is no crowd, then that is the time to add a little flare and conversation.

All this sheds light on the ongoing conversation about employee happiness. Most people are happiest when they get a chance to do something that others truly value — when they can act according to their best instincts. More and more companies are making sure that they support those instincts with the right team structures, leaders, tools, and training. And they put in place systems that give employees immediate feedback about how they have enriched a customer’s life — or why they fell short and how to fix it.

For an employee, that support is likely to mean a chance to make a real difference in the life of a customer. How fitting that the employee’s company gains from this as well.

 

HBR: Driving Sales Success This Quarter, This Year, and Beyond

Is your sales force drifting into mediocrity? What are you using to drive success in the short, medium, and long term? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Andris A. Zoltners, Sally E. Lorimer, PK Sinha.

Driving Sales Success This Quarter, This Year, and Beyond


Most sales forces focus a good deal of their attention on the short term — on bringing in today’s sales or making this quarter’s numbers. It’s understandable: The sales team wants to be successful. Quarterly goal attainment is a visible measure of success, and often a determinant of incentive pay. Analysts and investors track company performance against quarterly goals, so company executives push the sales team to deliver on the company’s promise to the investment community. Sales leaders divide the national sales goal among sales managers, who allocate their portion of the goal to their salespeople.

In short, everyone feels the pressure to deliver quarterly results.

But sales forces that are managed only to meet short-term needs can drift into mediocrity. In extreme cases, the sales culture can become toxic, as salespeople make minor ethical compromises to reach short-term goals, and those behaviors evolve and spread. Over time, sales forces that focus excessively on the short term may not survive.

Achieving a balance between today and tomorrow requires implementing a mix of sales-force decisions and programs to drive success in the short, medium, and long term. And it requires anticipating the future consequences of decisions so that actions that boost immediate results don’t hurt performance down the road.

The best sales leaders focus their attention on multiple timeframes as they make decisions and implement programs to impact performance. For example:

They develop and retain the best sales talent this quarter by recognizing and appreciating successes; this year by training and coaching to develop competencies; in future years by hiring the best talent and creating opportunities to build rewarding careers, while dealing effectively with poor performers.

They motivate salespeople this quarter with sales incentives and feedback on goal attainment; this year with a top-notch sales compensation plan and recognition program; in future years by creating and sustaining a winning sales culture.

They encourage productive use of sales time this quarter by communicating company priorities; this year by reducing role pollution (e.g., sales time spent on duties belonging to customer service); in future years by designing the best sales force structure and providing enablers (data, systems, and tools) for supporting ongoing sales force and customer needs.

The best sales leaders understand the downside of excessive short-term focus. They recognize that actions to boost immediate results can sometimes hurt performance later, and they anticipate and plan for any future consequences of their actions. For example:

They structure the sales team around markets, not people. To keep a good employee, it can be tempting to create a job to match the needs of that individual. An example of this is redesigning a sales region for a manager who has moved to a new and less convenient location. Although it may keep the manager happy in the short term, eventually they are likely to become frustrated by trying to lead a region that doesn’t make good business sense. Worse, the gerrymandered region is likely to outlast the tenure of the manager it was designed for. Sales jobs are best designed from a customer and company perspective first — then the best personnel can be wisely matched with jobs that are consistent with long-term business needs.

They avoid rushing to fill a position. A vacant sales position, say, for a key account role, can create a temporary setback and lost sales opportunity. But a mediocre “warm body” hire to fill the position places sales in jeopardy for a much longer period. The best sales leaders anticipate the long-term consequences of their hiring decisions. It can take a year or more to recover from hiring the wrong person for a sales position. Even worse, it can take three years or more to recover from hiring or promoting the wrong person to a manager position. Sales leaders often regret hiring without sufficient forethought, and then regret taking too long to let the poor performer go.

They anticipate the future consequences of sales compensation decisions. A startup online advertising company in the early days of e-commerce paid its sales force entirely on commission. This worked well at first, attracting motivated people to the sales force and encouraging them to work hard to generate trial in a new and uncertain market. Sales took off and selling got easier. Soon salespeople were earning six-figure incomes without having to work particularly hard. As competitors entered the market and sales growth slowed, compensation costs grew too high for the sales output. Salespeople earned big commissions on easy repeat sales and rarely pursued new business. Sales leaders had not anticipated this situation when they first set up the sales compensation plan. Yet they were afraid to change the plan for fear salespeople would jump ship. The best sales leaders plan ahead when they set up a compensation structure. They make adjustments every year to keep compensation costs aligned with market realities and to avoid a situation where salespeople feel entitled to ever-escalating pay (even if the market spirals downward).

Leaders can drive immediate outcomes in a sales force by emphasizing short-term results alone. But ensuring sustained success requires a continual focus on a broad portfolio of decisions and programs, while anticipating the consequences of today’s actions on tomorrow’s results.