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: 3 Ways to Make Time for the Little Tasks You Never Make Time For

How do you handle your low-value work? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Dorie Clark.

3 Ways to Make Time for the Little Tasks You Never Make Time For

We’d all like to spend our time at work on high-value activities: setting strategy, fostering innovation, mentoring promising employees, and more. But every professional faces a relentless deluge of niggling tasks — the overflowing inbox, the introductions you promised to make, the stack of paperwork you have to file, or the articles you really ought to read.

This low-value work is particularly vexing in light of the Pareto Principle, the adage — now gospel in Silicon Valley and many business circles — that 20% of your activities are responsible for 80% of the value you create. If you can jettison what’s least important, the thinking goes, you can double down on what’s driving your most important contributions.

Indeed, sometimes you can let go of these activities. But you have to recognize, and reconcile yourself to the fact, that there is a price. Tim Ferriss, author of the bestseller The 4-Hour Workweek, advocates this approach. After one extended trip abroad during which he avoided email, he wrote that he had missed a large number of critical messages, including a fulfillment center crisis that caused him to lose more than 20% of monthly orders for his business, media interview opportunities that had expired, and more than a dozen partnership offers. Rather than mourning these lost chances, however, he embraced them. “Oftentimes,” he wrote, “in order to do the big things, you have to let the small bad things happen. This is a skill we want to cultivate.”

Perhaps. Though if you work for someone else, rather than being self-employed, the tolerance level for these missed opportunities is a lot lower. If you can’t afford to ignore email or other low-value tasks entirely, and your options for delegating to others are limited, here are three techniques you can use to minimize the pain and get things done.

One possibility is to batch your less important tasks and accomplish them in one fell swoop, creating a sense of momentum. You can do this solo — I used to park myself at a local café and vow not to come home until I’d completed my to-do list for the day — or, in some cases, communally. New York filmmaker Jeremy Redleaf recently launched “Cave Day,” an event in which professionals pay a small fee to spend a Sunday at a coworking facility, plowing through tasks such as cleaning your inbox and writing thank you cards.

Another technique, for those who prefer an incremental approach, is the “small drip strategy.” This involves identifying small blocks of time in your schedule (typically 15–30 minutes per day) and matching them with low-value tasks that need to be accomplished. Yesterday I had to look up how much I had paid my virtual assistant last year in order to get the information to my accountant, so he could issue her tax forms in a timely fashion. That’s no one’s definition of “strategic” or “high value.” It’s a boring, but mandatory, task that would be easy to put off. But when I reviewed my calendar the night before and saw I had a 15-minute window between two calls, I slotted it in and accomplished it. You can look for these scheduling holes serendipitously, or deliberately schedule in a half-hour of grunt work every day, perhaps at the end of the workday, when most professionals’ energy is waning and your ability to do creative thinking has tapered off.

Finally, you could procrastinate strategically. This differs from simply ignoring all incoming email, Tim Ferriss–style. What you do is weigh the value of the opportunity and set your own timeline for handling it. If the timeline happens to work for the other person, it’s a happy coincidence; if it doesn’t, you’ve already reconciled yourself to the possibility of missing out. I’ll often take this approach when it comes to requests from miscellaneous bloggers. I respond quickly to inquiries from official journalists, but if someone is writing a post for their personal blog, I’d like to help them out, but don’t want to sacrifice an important task (such as finishing book edits) to do so. I always write back eventually, but it may take me a number of days, or even weeks. If they can still use my quote, fantastic; if they can’t, it’s only a minor loss.

 

No matter how productive we become, we’re never going to permanently rid ourselves of low-value work. By following these strategies, we can at least handle it more efficiently and leave more white space in our days for the projects that are truly meaningful.

A TRIPOLITAN TRAGICOMEDY

This is a funny story about chopping down a flag pole from the book Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates: The Forgotten War That Changed American History by Brian Kilmeade, Don Yaeger.

A TRIPOLITAN TRAGICOMEDYThomas Jefferson.jpg

Three days later, the bashaw (Yusuf Qaramanli) made good on his threat. On May 14, 1801, he dispatched his men to the American consulate; the party of soldiers arrived at one o’clock that Thursday afternoon.

(James Leander) Cathcart was ready to make one last offer to keep the peace, to avoid what had begun to seem inevitable. He approached the seraskier, the leader of the squad and the bashaw’s minister of war, and asked that the promise of a tribute of $lO,OOO be conveyed to the bashaw. A messenger departed for the castle, but returned minutes later. The bashaw had rejected the offer.

(James Leander) Cathcart knew any further attempts at diplomacy would be futile, and stopping the bashaw’s men by force was impossible. Helpless, he stood watching on that bright, hot Thursday as the Tripolitans began hacking at the flagpole.

The bashaw’s men shouted encouragement to one another as they swung their axes but to their dismay, felling the pole was harder than it looked. Chips flew, but the flagpole refused to fall. As if to mock the men, the flag fluttered with each stroke of the ax, its staff staunchly in place. A gesture meant to humble the Americans was rapidly becoming a humiliation for the Tripolitans.

The bashaw had ordered that, if the men had trouble dropping the pole, they should pull on the halyard, the line anchored at the top of the pole used to hoist the flag. He thought they might be able to break the pole in half by doing so. To the dismay of the men, that strategy failed, too, and once again, the resilient flagpole refused. to fall. The men who had arrived to dishonor the flag were proving singularly inept.

More than an hour passed before the Tripolitans finally caused the pole to splinter just enough to lean against the consulate house. The American diplomats looked on, darkly amused by the whole episode. (James Leander) Cathcart wryly recorded the events in a dispatch to Secretary of State James Madison.

“At a quarter past two they effected the grand atchievement and our Flagstaff was chop’d down six feet from the ground & left reclining on the Terrace …. Thus ends the first act of this Tragedy.”

 

HBR: Lifelong Learning Is Good for Your Health, Your Wallet, and Your Social Life

As we age, though, learning isn’t simply about earning degrees or attending storied institutions. Books, online courses, MOOCs, professional development programs, podcasts, and other resources have never been more abundant or accessible, making it easier than ever to make a habit of lifelong learning. Every day, each of us is offered the opportunity to pursue intellectual development in ways that are tailored to our learning style. So why don’t more of us seize that opportunity?  Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by John Coleman.

Lifelong Learning Is Good for Your Health, Your Wallet, and Your Social Life

In 2015 Doreetha Daniels received her associate degree in social sciences from College of the Canyons, in Santa Clarita, California. But Daniels wasn’t a typical student: She was 99 years old. In the COC press release about her graduation, Daniels indicated that she wanted to get her degree simply to better herself; her six years of school during that pursuit were a testament to her will, determination, and commitment to learning.

Few of us will pursue college degrees as nonagenarians, or even as mid-career professionals (though recent statistics indicate that increasing numbers of people are pursuing college degrees at advanced ages). Some people never really liked school in the first place, sitting still at a desk for hours on end or suffering through what seemed to be impractical courses. And almost all of us have limits on our time and finances — due to kids, social organizations, work, and more — that make additional formal education impractical or impossible.

As we age, though, learning isn’t simply about earning degrees or attending storied institutions. Books, online courses, MOOCs, professional development programs, podcasts, and other resources have never been more abundant or accessible, making it easier than ever to make a habit of lifelong learning. Every day, each of us is offered the opportunity to pursue intellectual development in ways that are tailored to our learning style.

So why don’t more of us seize that opportunity? We know it’s worth the time, and yet we find it so hard to make the time. The next time you’re tempted to put learning on the back burner, remember a few points:

Educational investments are an economic imperative. The links between formal education and lifetime earnings are well-studied and substantial. In 2015 Christopher Tamborini, ChangHwan Kim, and Arthur Sakamoto found that, controlling for other factors, men and women can expect to earn $655,000 and $445,000 more, respectively, during their careers with a bachelor’s degree than with a high school degree, and graduate degrees yield further gains. Outside of universities, ongoing learning and skill development is essential to surviving economic and technological disruption. The Economist recently detailed the ways in which our rapidly shifting professional landscape — the disruptive power of automation, the increasing number of jobs requiring expertise in coding — necessitates that workers focus continually on mastering new technologies and skills. In 2014 a CBRE report estimated that 50% of jobs would be redundant by 2025 due to technological innovation. Even if that figure proves to be exaggerated, it’s intuitively true that the economic landscape of 2017 is evolving more rapidly than in the past. Trends including AI, robotics, and offshoring mean constant shifts in the nature of work. And navigating this ever-changing landscape requires continual learning and personal growth.

Learning is positive for health. As I’ve noted previously, reading, even for short periods of time, can dramatically reduce your stress levels. A recent report in Neurology noted that while cognitive activity can’t change the biology of Alzheimer’s, learning activities can help delay symptoms, preserving people’s quality of life. Other research indicates that learning to play a new instrument can offset cognitive decline, and learning difficult new skills in older age is associated with improved memory.

What’s more, while the causation is inconclusive, there’s a well-studied relationship between longevity and education. A 2006 paper by David Cutler and Adriana Lleras-Muney found that “the better educated have healthier behaviors along virtually every margin, although some of these behaviors may also reflect differential access to care.” Their research suggests that a year of formal education can add more than half a year to a person’s life span. Perhaps Doreetha Daniels, at 99, knows something many of us have missed.

Being open and curious has profound personal and professional benefits. While few studies validate this observation, I’ve noticed in my own interactions that those who dedicate themselves to learning and who exhibit curiosity are almost always happier and more socially and professionally engaging than those who don’t. I have a friend, Duncan, for example, who is almost universally admired by people he interacts with. There are many reasons for this admiration, but chief among them are his plainly exhibited intellectual curiosity and his ability to touch, if only briefly, on almost any topic of interest to others and to speak deeply on those he knows best. Think of the best conversationalist you know. Do they ask good questions? Are they well-informed? Now picture the colleague you most respect for their professional acumen. Do they seem literate, open-minded, and intellectually vibrant? Perhaps your experiences will differ, but if you’re like me, I suspect those you admire most, both personally and professionally, are those who seem most dedicated to learning and growth.

Our capacity for learning is a cornerstone of human flourishing and motivation. We are uniquely endowed with the capacity for learning, creation, and intellectual advancement. Have you ever sat in a quiet place and finished a great novel in one sitting? Do you remember the fulfillment you felt when you last settled into a difficult task — whether a math problem or a foreign language course — and found yourself making breakthrough progress? Have you ever worked with a team of friends or colleagues to master difficult material or create something new? These experiences can be electrifying. And even if education had no impact on health, prosperity, or social standing, it would be entirely worthwhile as an expression of what makes every person so special and unique.

The reasons to continue learning are many, and the weight of the evidence would indicate that lifelong learning isn’t simply an economic imperative but a social, emotional, and physical one as well. We live in an age of abundant opportunity for learning and development. Capturing that opportunity — maintaining our curiosity and intellectual humility — can be one of life’s most rewarding pursuits.

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.

Why Winner-Take-AII Is Winning

Is the building supply industry going to turn into a winner-take-all market? Do you have a strategy if technology disrupts the distribution of goods and service? The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee

Why Winner-Take-AII Is WinningSecond Machine Age.jpg

Why are winner-take-all markets more common now? Shifts in the technology for production and distribution, particularly these three changes:

  1. the digitization of more and more information, goods, and services,
  2. the vast improvements in telecommunications and, to a lesser extent, transportation, and
  3. the increased importance of networks and standards.

Albert Einstein once said that black holes are where God divided by zero, and that created some strange physics. While the marginal costs of digital goods do not quite approach zero, they are close enough to create some pretty strange economics. As discussed in chapter 3, digital goods have much lower marginal costs of production than physical goods. Bits are cheaper than atoms, not to mention human labor.

Digitization creates winner-take-all markets because, as noted above, with digital goods capacity constraints become increasingly irrelevant. A single producer with a website can, in principle, fill the demand from millions or even billions of customers. Jenna Marbles’s homemade YouTube video “How to trick people into thinking you’re good looking,” to take one wildly successful example, garnered 5.3 million views the week she posted it in July 2010.13 She’s now earned millions of dollars from over one billion viewings of her videos around the world. Every digital app developer, no matter how humble its offices or how small its staff, almost automatically becomes a micro-multinational, reaching global audiences with a speed that would have been inconceivable in the first machine age.

In contrast, the economics of personal services (nursing) or physical work (gardening) are very different, since each provider, no matter how skilled or hard-working, can only fulfill a tiny fraction of the overall market demand. When an activity transitions from the second category to the first the way tax preparation did, the economics shift toward winner-take-all outcomes. What’s more, lowering prices, the traditional refuge for second-tier products, is of little benefit for anyone whose quality is not already at or near the world’s best. Digital goods have enormous economies of scale, giving the market leader a huge cost advantage and room to beat the price of any competitor while still making a good profit.” Once their fixed costs are covered, each marginal unit produced costs very little to deliver.

HBR: How to Speak Up If You See Bias at Work

Does unchecked biased and/or offensive behavior make you uncomfortable at work? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Amber Lee Williams.

How to Speak Up If You See Bias at Work

Many people can recall a time when they were exposed to workplace behavior that made them or others uncomfortable. Can you think of a time someone in a meeting joked about another group of people, evoking laughter from everyone else in the room? Or have you worked on a team in which the men seemed to get better projects even though female colleagues were equally or better suited for the work?

And the big question: Did you speak up?

There is no question that objecting to such situations is difficult. The person who decides to raise the issue could damage their relationship with the person making the comments or assigning the work, which could adversely impact the objector’s career opportunities. This is especially true when the comments or behavior aren’t technically illegal. It takes courage to be the one, perhaps the only one, who calls out the behavior as unhelpful to a productive work environment.

So why take the risk? Why not simply ignore the behavior — especially if you’re not the target of it? First, failure to acknowledge and address bias or offensive behavior validates the conduct and may create an impression that the behavior is acceptable, and even to be expected, in the workplace. Moreover, normalizing offensive conduct in this subtle manner tends to have a chilling effect on other potential dissenters, and communicates to those who are offended, regardless of whether they are targets of the behavior, that their perspectives and voices are not valued. Remember that just because people laugh at an offensive joke doesn’t mean they agree with it — or weren’t offended themselves. They might be laughing to cover their discomfort or fit in with the group. In such an environment, employees who are would-be dissenters but are fearful of speaking up may find it difficult to fully engage with their coworkers and leaders and may become less productive.

The bottom line is that patterns of unchecked biased and offensive behavior in the workplace have the potential to erode full employee participation and take a toll on organizational effectiveness.

Given the risks and challenges, how can you draw attention to the bias or offensiveness without putting the other person on the defensive? What are some approaches most likely to limit unintended adverse consequences? There is no one answer or approach that will work for everyone in every situation. Nonetheless, you do have the power to manage how, when, and to whom to raise concerns in ways that will encourage positive change in your environment.

Choose your audience carefully. Sometimes the person you perceive as the offender is not the audience to whom you should address your concerns. If the person making an off-color or offensive joke is a peer or subordinate, it can be effective to directly — but respectfully and privately — address the issue with them. However, in the instance of a person who appears to be assigning work in a discriminatory manner, if the person is a superior or has more power than you do, it may be more prudent to identify a trusted ally in your organization — someone who can provide support, help to identify the right person to speak with about the issue, or maybe even raise the issue on your behalf.

Keep a cool head. Whether you are discussing the issue directly with the person whose conduct is offensive or sharing the situation with an ally, it is important to remain calm. It is not unusual for a person who has observed or been targeted by biased or offensive behavior to feel emotional about the situation. However, sometimes an emotional response to a difficult situation inadvertently shifts the focus of a discussion from problematic behavior to other person’s response to that behavior, which then impedes their ability to address and correct the conduct. It is worth stepping back, working through your emotions, and taking the time to plan what you want to communicate to ensure that the content of your message is not undermined by its delivery.

Create the opportunity for dialogue. You do not have to be provocative or accusatory to raise a concern about discriminatory and offensive conduct. At its core, biased and offensive language and conduct are disrespectful. If the goal is to create a different dynamic, it is counterproductive to attack, demean, and disrespect a person who says or does something offensive. A better approach is to model the behavior you want to see.

For instance, instead of calling someone sexist for giving the plum assignments to the men on the team, you might mention a qualified female colleague who would be an asset to the team. If the supervisor questions the colleague’s qualifications or readiness, point out how participating on the team could further develop her skills, and offer to mentor her.

For the colleague who makes off-color jokes, if you decide to address them directly, you might privately share with the person that their comments make you uncomfortable and suggest the person discontinue the language. If the person asks why you’re uncomfortable, you can share that you do not think it’s appropriate to make jokes at the expense of other groups and that the behavior is offensive and distracting.

Be willing to listen to the other person’s side (e.g., they were only making a joke, you’re being too sensitive, words don’t hurt anyone) — even if you do not agree. Listening to others’ perspectives is essential for creating an environment where all voices are heard and respected.

It takes courage to address biased and offensive language and conduct in the workplace. Relationships and career opportunities potentially hang in the balance. But isn’t it worth it to consider taking the risk in order to achieve full employee engagement and organizational effectiveness?