Everwise: Building a Learning Culture

Do you have a learning culture in your business? The Lumber Buildings Material Foundation (LBMDF) can help with building a learning culture your business. Below is a blog from Everwise by Melissa Fleming: (Reading time is 6 minutes.)

Building a Learning Culture

Last month, Everwise hosted a webinar on “Building a Learning Culture” with Jeff Diana, the former Chief People Officer of Atlassian & Success Factors. A seasoned executive with 20 years of HR experience, Diana serves as a strategic HR consultant and sits on the boards of progressive HR companies including Everwise. He shared his expertise with our community on how to build a learning culture, rooted in the belief that individual growth improves organizational performance. Here are key takeaways:

Focus on career development

One of the most important factors in whether or not an employee recommends a company as a great place to work is career advancement, not compensation. This marks the continuation of a steady shift over the years. It’s true that compensation and career level are correlated, but today’s employees assign a lot of value to how a company helps them develop their careers, not just compensation at each career level. Focusing on career advancement as a company relies on creating a culture of learning, where employees feel they can grow as individuals and in their jobs.

Getting it right is critical to talent retention and attraction, which is increasingly important as many organizations struggle to attract and retain top talent fast enough to keep pace with the markets. “The number one limit on an organization’s success is people’s capability,” says Diana. “In order to get the most out of your people you have to first put in the right cultural foundation.” Diana compares laying the groundwork for a culture of learning to properly equipping your sales team with the tools to crush their numbers. Without a solid foundation that supports people achieving their potential, an organization’s progress will be limited.

Make a case for greater investment

Organizations that are committed to creating a culture of learning have a real competitive advantage. According to Diana, the four primary benefits of putting resources into building a culture of learning are: 1) increased employee engagement, 2) higher retention, 3) streamlined business processes, and 4) higher ROI/organization success. The best way to make the case for increased spending on Learning & Development (L&D) initiatives is to directly link them to specific business outcomes.

“When you look at the business objectives for a three-year period and you tie that to what capabilities the business needs to have, you can see very clear lines that say why we need higher retention,” says Diana.

What we know for certain is that an organization won’t succeed without the right talent. “Supply is lacking,” Diana says. “We have to help people learn on the job within the context of what they are experiencing today to meet the pace and dynamic nature of business.” One way to make the case for increased L&D investment is to identify capability gaps and how L&D programs can help develop the supply chain of skills needed to reach an organization’s desired business outcomes.

Measure your culture to determine development needs

“One way to grab everyone’s attention is to assess culture,” says Diana. “No leader wants to be at the helm of a culture or a team that isn’t deemed healthy and something they can be proud of leading.”

Having employees assess the health of an organization’s culture can help galvanize efforts to create more learning opportunities. Getting employee input also serves the dual purpose of creating a culture that values transparency and its employees’ opinions. Diana suggests starting with a culture quiz that contains 8 to 10 targeted questions. For example, Do you have rituals that regulate and reinforce values? If you have values around learning and growth, do you have rituals that signal that growth? Does your CEO regularly ask for ideas on strategy? Does your company internally publish mistakes and share learnings from mistakes? Is your physical space driving collaboration? Do you have the tools in place to effectively collaborate? Do you have the ability to give feedback? From those questions, strengths and gaps will emerge, making it easier to take action.

Start small and simple

Diana breaks down the process of enabling a learning culture into four steps: process, culture, L&D investment, and measurement. The best way to start is small and low cost. Find a leader who can pilot a program and generate results that could lead to an expansion. Make sure the language within the company – from performance reviews to the handbook to all-hands invitations – reflects a culture of learning. Find internal success stories of high-performing teams of active learners to help you make the case for L&D investment.

While Diana points out that there are many ways an organization can invest in L&D, the most important one is to build learning into the organization’s culture. The four levers that HR professionals can utilize to drive a sustainable culture are values, transparency, rituals and tools. Having a good set of values conveys the message that learning, self-development and risk-taking are part of the company’s mission and an employee’s daily life. A culture that values transparency and access will breed trust and loyalty. Rituals signal learning and the right tools will empower employees to be curious, collaborate and learn and grow on the job.

Putting it all together: Design learning experiences that impact positive behavior change

Learning today is much more about context than content. Simply put, people are more likely to learn if they can easily recall the information and apply it to their day-to-day jobs. So the challenge for HR professionals is to incorporate the social and experiential side of learning into their programs. You’ll see the best results with initiatives that are intimate and collaborative. “Like anything else we’ll participate more in it, we’ll recall it better if the experience itself touches us in a deeper way,” says Diana.

The best learning happens on the job, where the context is clear and the application is immediate. In order to shorten the loop of trying something, gaining insights and putting those different behaviors back in action, Diana says to think about the actual work that is being done. Having the ability to apply that knowledge to what someone does every day is the best way to turn knowledge into capability.

According to Diana, employees want learning experiences to be highly personalized, more social and collaborative, and rooted in real work. Over 70% of managers want their digital experiences to be more adaptive, 60% want the experience to be more social and collaborative and 55% want more experiential learning included.

It’s important for managers to encourage learning on the job to leverage a team’s capabilities and motivate team members. Diana suggests managers encourage learning by providing the content foundations, mentors/coaches, practice in real work situations and performance feedback from teammates. All of these are learning experiences that offer employees opportunities to practice by doing.

With the right combination of people, resources and feedback, all employees can achieve their full potential. To do this Diana advises that you find role models of high-performing teams within the organization and point to internal success stories to make the case for more L&D. Start small and low cost with a pilot program. Make it easy for people to provide feedback. And most importantly, tie the L&D experiences to business outcomes. The investment in building a learning culture is valuable to both employees and management, and will allow you to tap into the potential of your workforce and improve your organization’s performance overall.

View a recording of the webinar here.


McKinsey: What the future science of B2B sales growth looks like

Are you engaging customers the way they want to be engaged? Are you invested in finding and developing world-class talent? “Driving market leadership in B2B sales takes undivided focus from the CEO and his/her top team, and significant investment of time and resources. However, companies that have achieved proficiency across the three dimensions of the science of B2B sales are already outpacing their competitors and driving disproportionate growth, profitability, and shareholder value.” Below is a blog post from McKinsey & Company by Tim Colter, Mingyu Guan, Mitra Mahdavian, Sohail Razzaq, and Jeremy Schneider: (Reading time is 9 minutes.)

What the future science of B2B sales growth looks like

B2B sales are on the verge of a revolution, with a number of trends completely redefining what it will take to be a market leader over the next five years.

Advanced analytics and machine learning have given sales executives access to historically unprecedented amounts of data and computing power, allowing them to predict with a high degree of precision the most valuable sales opportunities. The fastest-growing companies are using advanced analytics to radically improve their sales productivity and drive double-digit sales growth with minimal additions in their sales teams and cost base.

Also, radical changes in buyers’ preferences, with buyers being more content-driven, technically savvy, and comfortable engaging via digital channels, has led to the rise of a new breed of sales leaders who bring technical expertise and a strategic mind-set. This is also transforming what sales organizations look like, with a sharp reduction in field sales and marketing, and rapid growth in inside sales and analytics teams.

Finally, a significant shift toward subscription-based business models has redefined how customer relationships are managed. No longer is a sale a one-time “won and done” deal. In a world of recurring revenues, sales need to be won every month, quarter, and year. As a result, successful customer-relationship managers are becoming increasingly more valuable, and sophisticated sales teams are aligning themselves closely to the long-term success of their customers.

Emergence of a new science of B2B sales

As a result of these disruptive changes, B2B sales has evolved from an art to a science. By that we mean that sales is data-driven, enabled by digital tools, underpinned by advanced analytics, and focused on really understanding the “what, why, and when” of the customer. Companies that have embraced what we call the “science of B2B sales” have already started to pull ahead of their peers in terms of revenue growth (registering 2.3 times industry average revenue growth), profitability (3 to 5 percent additional return on sales) and shareholder value (8 percent higher total return to shareholders than the industry average).

A key feature distinguishing market leaders from the rest of the pack is that the CEOs of the market leaders actively lead the sales transformation, rather than leaving it to the head of sales. These CEOs realize that redefining their go-to-market engine is a cross-functional sport that requires their direct engagement and flawless execution from sales, marketing, HR, IT, and finance. Market leaders have realized that winning in B2B sales in the next five to ten years will require them to fundamentally transform their go-to-market engine around three defining principles:

  1. Engaging customers the way they want to be engaged

Days when sales executives debated between investing in a great sales force or great digital assets are a figment of the past. Driving growth in the future will require bringing the best of both worlds. Our research indicates that market leaders view digital investments as the glue that holds together a powerful multichannel sales strategy. We surveyed more than 1,000 large organizations across industries and four continents to better understand their preferences in buying goods and services from B2B sellers. Our research showed that the ideal channel to reach B2B customers depends heavily on whether they are making a first-time or repeat purchase (Exhibit 1). Some 76 percent of B2B buyers found it helpful to speak to a salesperson when researching a new product or service. That figure fell to 52 percent for repeat purchases of products with new or different specifications, and only 15 percent indicated a desire to speak with a salesperson when repurchasing exactly the same product or service.

Exhibit 1

Exhibit 1.png

Engaging customers in the future will require a multichannel sales strategy powered by smart digital investments, which caters to the different needs of first-time and repeat customers.

When targeting first-time customers who are looking for direct interaction with sales teams, the fastest-growing companies are using digital tools to help their sales teams address customer needs at each stage of their purchase journey. For instance, they are using interactive product demos powered through tablets or browsers to help salespeople engage customers in the research stage of their journey. A significant proportion are using relatively simple customer-relationship-management software to track customers’ past questions, thus allowing their salespeople to anticipate future inquiries and offer lightning-fast responses when customers compare their products with competitors’. A few cutting-edge companies have also invested in customer analytics that empower sales reps with price recommendations based on analysis of deals other sales reps have closed with the same customer in the recent past.

When catering to repeat customers who are comfortable being online, the fastest-growing companies are using digital tools and inside sales to keep them loyal, speed up the sale process, and encourage them to spend more. For instance, they are creating online comparison engines that allow customers to seamlessly compare products and services with competitors’ offerings. They then supplement that with inside sales teams to answer customer questions via email, live chat, and video conferencing. In addition, they are using next-product-to-buy algorithms that send customers relevant recommendations of complementary products based on their purchase history to grow customer share of wallet.

  1. Using advanced analytics and machine learning to make better decisions faster

In the next five years, we believe that the fastest-growing companies will be using advanced analytics and machine learning to address fundamental strategic issues, such as what sales opportunities to pursue, what resources to allocate to which accounts, and what behaviors to prioritize to drive sales productivity. Already the days when lead generation relied entirely on local field knowledge are fading fast. Market leaders of the future are using advanced analytics to build a granular account, product, and geographic profile of each of their customers. These profiles are then augmented with relevant external data such as news reports, public financial information, and social media to generate a truly 360-degree view of each customer.

Lead-scoring algorithms can then use these detailed customer profiles to predict which customers to target, when to contact them, and what factors truly drive lead conversion rates. A few of the most cutting-edge companies are also experimenting with AI-enabled agents that use predictive analytics and natural-language processing to automate early lead-generation activities such as handling basic customer questions and automating initial presales questions. While these predictive lead-scoring algorithms are still relatively nascent, some companies deploying them are already experiencing 15 to 20 percent improvement in their lead-conversion rates.

In the past, sales leaders used to rely on gut instinct to identify behaviors that drive sales productivity and make account coverage decisions. Advanced analytics is revolutionizing our understanding of how to match the right people to the right deals. The most data-savvy sales organizations are combining sales, customer, and HR data to understand the intrinsic attributes (e.g., professional background, education, personality traits, cognitive ability) and behaviors (e.g., frequency/duration of customer interaction, time devoted to sales planning, listening skills, persistence, risk taking) that are statistically correlated with distinctive sales performance. Armed with this knowledge, they can identify the best sales people and allocate them to their most strategically valuable accounts.

  1. Continually investing in finding and developing world-class talent

Buyers are becoming increasingly sophisticated and technically savvy, which has led to the rise of a new breed of sales leaders who bring a strategic mind-set and rock-solid technical skills. These leaders are “growing up” across multiple roles in their organization and come with a truly cross-functional and cross-geographic skill set. They view themselves as coaches whose primary job is to turn rookies into rainmakers.

“Getting the right individual in the right role” was a common theme that came up in our interviews with more than 400 sales executives. Despite the stated importance of hiring the right talent, not all organizations believe they are equipped with the right talent for the future (Exhibit 2). While all companies struggle with getting world-class talent, fast-growth companies fare better than slow-growth companies: 51 percent of the former believe they have the right sales talent for the future compared with only 30 percent of slow growth companies.

Exhibit 2

Exhibit 2.png

Hiring the right talent is only part of the puzzle. The fastest-growing companies also invest significant time and resources in nurturing and growing their talent. In our survey, 48 percent of fast-growth companies indicated that they invest significant time and resources in sales training versus only 22 percent of slow-growth companies (Exhibit 3). Behavioral economics and social psychology have revealed powerful insights into how to nurture high-performing individuals who thrive on independence and entrepreneurship. A defining insight has been that adult learners only remember 10 percent of what they heard and 32 percent of what they saw three months after the learning program concludes. In contrast, they remember 65 percent of what they learn by doing. This insight is driving a transformative change in the nature of sales trainings. They are evolving from classroom and digital modules to “on-the-job” experiential, immersive programs in which sales reps are paired with experienced coaches and learn from doing.

Exhibit 3

Exhibit 3.png

How to embrace the science of B2B sales

Companies who embrace the science of B2B sales generally begin with a three-part journey:

First, they make an honest assessment of the status quo. This starts with a look at the customer. Customer preferences for buying should shape the investments the sales organization makes, yet many sales leaders fly blind. In our experience, most companies tend to underinvest in the sales capabilities that actually matter most to their customers.

Second, they plan for the long term. Sales winners are moving past quarterly planning and adopting instead a long- term view. Of the fast growers we have studied, more than 50 percent take a minimum 12-month view in their sales plans, and 10 percent look more than three years out. This long-term view means that sales leaders can invest in the right capabilities based on a specific (though flexible) roadmap.

Third, they move fast and get quick wins. Speed matters now more than ever. Winning sales organizations are using test-and-learn strategies to become more nimble. Some set up a sales war-room model to launch new digital campaigns and messages. Others adopt an agile test-fail-learn-adapt operating model to rapidly ideate and refine sales tactics. Through these quick-win approaches, sales orgs are seeing dramatic results, some with up to 300 percent growth in digital sales within the first 30 days of action. In the next few years, we expect to see more of the winners enjoying these results.

Driving market leadership in B2B sales takes undivided focus from the CEO and his/her top team, and significant investment of time and resources. However, companies that have achieved proficiency across the three dimensions of the science of B2B sales are already outpacing their competitors and driving disproportionate growth, profitability, and shareholder value.

Everwise: Seven Tactics to Boost Learning in the Workplace

Does your company provide a learning work environment? Is your company helping you improve your customer service and/or productivity skills? Another resource is Lumber Buildings Material Foundation (LBMDF) for educations seminars and online learningLMS.  Below is a blog from Everwise by Nicole Beckerman:

Seven Tactics to Boost Learning in the Workplace

Successful organizations emphasize ongoing professional development and gaining new knowledge. A learning culture benefits companies by enriching the employee experience, boosting productivity and innovation, and curbing turnover. It is an essential priority to remain competitive in today’s rapidly-changing landscape. Employees must be prepared to learn and adapt to rapidly changing conditions and new technologies. Employers would do well to provide an environment for doing so internally.

While modeling curiosity and prioritizing a passion for knowledge starts at the top, growing an organization-wide learning culture requires on-the-ground efforts. Though employees are busier than ever, there are simple, cost-effective ways to integrate learning into their work experience. Here are seven tactics to get you started:

  1. Learning lunches: Change things up at lunch time by giving employees a chance to increase their knowledge. Mid-day is an ideal moment to shift gears from active work to take in an educational presentation. As this is typically a break time and people will be eating, it’s a good time to present knowledge directly rather than with interactive formats. If employees need extra enticement to attend, offering free food or dessert is always a crowd-pleaser.
  2. Staff presentations: Having employees share their expertise is a great way to capitalize on in-house knowledge and make people feel valued. Setting up presentations where your employees educate each other in person or via online tools is a powerful way to foster connection and learning. This is also a chance to expose people to new experiences outside of their department. Even simply having staff share with each other what it is that they do and what they are working on helps build interpersonal relationships and a clearer picture of the organization for everyone.
  3. Speakers: Industry experts are a valuable source of the latest trends, and inviting them to work with your employees brings a useful outside perspective. If they are physically visiting an office, get the most out of their presence with an interactive format such as a workshop or a small group activity. Make sure to prepare employees to take full advantage of guest speakers by promoting their arrival, distributing background information in advance about them, and sharing related learning materials to spark questions.
  4. Webinars: As a useful way to spread information among a large group of people, webinars are an essential part of efficient learning. They can be one format option for delivering a presentation from an employee or a guest speaker as discussed above, but to keep it more engaging consider putting together a panel discussion. This way, even if employees are passively watching the webinar or are engaged in another activity (like email) at the same time, they will still take in a variety of perspectives and insightful questions.
  5. Distribute resources and news: Most professionals have a genuine interest in their field and want to stay up to date, so employers can facilitate learning by bringing news and resources directly to them. This might look like an organized list of resources for learning that employees have easy access to, or even a more dynamic method like periodic emails with news, relevant articles, and links to short-form video clips.
  6. Stipends: A direct and straightforward way to promote learning is to simply subsidize it. There a variety of ways to provide funds for education, so organizations should consider how predictable they would like this expenditure to be, and how much direct control they would like over the learning process. Some organizations offer an educational stipend as a simple cash bonus add-on to the employee benefits package and let people use it as they see fit. Others will pay for particular courses from approved providers. Another related option is to pay for employee’s’ membership in professional organizations so they can continue to network and learn via a trusted third party.
  7. Office Library: If you have an open office plan, chances are the environment can get noisy and social, which might be great for morale but not conducive to learning. Consider designating a space or specific room as a quiet area, and supplementing it with learning resources to create an office library. Create an employee book exchange or facilitate monthly book clubs. This separate space can be a strong part of emphasizing learning culture by making it clear in a tangible, visible way.

This list is a place to begin your journey towards a learning culture and spark ideas. However, change efforts should always be tied to an organization’s large-scale development strategy. In implementation, make sure these efforts are also tailored to the unique style and priorities of your staff. Finally, modeling learning culture from the top is essential to reap the full benefits, so leaders must walk the talk.

Culture evolves when an entire organization gets on board, and producing a company of nimble, motivated learners is a worthy goal for everyone.


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.

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.

HBR: A Portrait of the Overperforming Salesperson

Is your Salesperson overperforming? There are six key attributes to influence their success. Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Steve W. Martin.

A Portrait of the Overperforming Salesperson

What are the personal attributes, attitudes, and actions that influence personal sales productivity? I recently conducted an extensive study of more than 1,000 salespeople and sales management leaders to determine the attributes of top sales professionals–those who achieved more than 125% of their assigned quota last year. This is a very select group as only 15% of the study participants met the criterion.

About one-third were field salespeople, one-third were inside salespeople, and the remainder were mid-level sales managers and top-level vice presidents of sales. They’ve been in sales an average of 16 years and have achieved the annual quota that was assigned to them 88% of the time over the course of their careers. This is 22% higher than the average of study participants who achieved less than 75% of their quota last year. Moreover, the study results help us understand the attributes in six key areas that influence their success.

Focus. It’s not surprising to find that top sales professionals are motivated by money. Sixty-six percent agreed with the statement “Money is extremely important to me and how I measure my personal success,” while only 10% disagreed. But they are also motivated by status and recognition. A staggering 84% of top sales professionals indicated that being respected and recognized as one of the best by peers at their company is very important to them.

When asked to select how they describe their personal focus, 42% believe they are a likable person who makes customers feel comfortable, and 32% consider themselves very dependable and good at prioritizing their time. Twenty-six percent believe that their knowledge is their most powerful attribute, and this group had the highest average quota attainment last year at 170%.

Career orientation. Top sales professionals think about work a lot. In fact, they find themselves thinking about their job over half of their free time on weeknights and weekends. In addition, they’re goal and outcome focused. Fifty percent said they were the type of person who keeps a written or mental list of goals they want to accomplish and 36% indicated they’re frequently thinking about what the future will be like in five, ten, or more years. Only 13% described themselves as the type of person who lives life one day at a time.

Their responses to the fundamental reason as to why they went into sales were fairly evenly split. Twenty-seven percent wanted to control their own destiny, and 27% indicated the harder they worked, the more money they could make. Twenty-six percent said sales suited their personality, and for 19%, a career in sales just happened naturally.

Personal attributes. Do childhood experiences influence sales success? The results indicate they do as 72% of top sales professionals remember their childhood fondly as a generally happy time while only 9% disagreed with that statement. When asked which school subject was their favorite, 29% selected history, 23% selected science, 23% selected math, 13% selected physical education, 9% selected language or composition, and only 3% selected art.

When asked how they make important decisions that impact their lives, 40% said their decisions are based on more logic than instinct, 30% use equal parts logic and instinct, and 30% use more instinct than logic. The average annual quota attainment for those who use more logic than instinct and those who use more instinct than logic was exactly the same, while quota attainment for those who use equal parts logic and instinct was 7% higher.

Seventy-two percent of top sales professionals prefer a wide variety of activities as opposed to daily routines. Only 8% prefer a daily routine, while 20% had no preference.

Customer interaction strategy. The top sales professionals ranked five different sales strategies based on their effectiveness. The top-ranked strategies were “Getting customers to emotionally connect with you” followed by “Tailoring your sales pitch to the customer’s needs” and then “Asking questions that show your expertise.” The two lowest ranked strategies were “Showing the value of your solution” and “Driving the topics of conversation.”

When surveyed about which customer interaction statement they agreed with most, 49% indicated that likability was an important differentiator between themselves and their competitors. Conversely, 45% agreed with the statement “Sometimes you have to point out that what customers are doing is wrong and proverbially tell them their baby is ugly.” In other words, sometimes you have to be provocative and confront the customer’s belief system. Only 6% concurred with the statement that challenging the customer’s point of view will make the customer feel too uncomfortable.

What type of relationship do they have with customers after the sale? Thirty-six percent responded they feel personally responsible and dedicate themselves to ensuring the client’s success, while 26% have less-personal but cordial relationships with their clients because they are both very busy. Twenty-two percent keep a general pulse on what’s happening with the customer after the sale. Contrary to what many people think of as a requirement for sales success, only 17% develop very close personal friendships with their clients.

Attitude. The study participants were also asked to complete word associations to allow a better understanding of their workplace attitudes. The written answers were then categorized as having a positive connotation, a negative connotation, or a neutral connotation, which was neither bad nor good. For example, 53% of the associations to the term “sales manager” were positive, and the top three answers were “coach,” “leader,” and “mentor.” Twenty-seven percent of the answers were negative, and the two most frequently mentioned were “pain” and “overhead.” Twenty-eight percent were neutral, and the most frequently cited words were “management” and “forecast.”

Forty-two percent of the answers for “sales process” were positive associations, with the most frequently mentioned term being “important.” Thirty-seven percent were neutral words, and the top answer was “methodology,” while 21% were negative, with the top-mentioned word being “long.”

Self-perception. When they selected from a list of qualities they thought prospective customers admired most about them, the top responses were trustworthiness, professionalism, follow-through, product knowledge, and enthusiasm. However, the definition of trustworthiness seems to be individually determined. For example, 7% agreed with the statement “If the customer’s best interest is served by slightly obscuring the facts that’s OK.” Twenty-one percent agreed with “Subtle manipulation is reasonable, so long as the truth is served.” Thirty-four percent agreed with “You don’t have to point out every blemish of your product” and 36% with “Nothing but the whole truth is acceptable.”

Perhaps the most interesting part of the study is the verbal perception of top sales professionals and how they described themselves when compared with those who achieved less than 75% of their quota. When presented with the same list of twenty choices, the most frequently selected answers for those under 75% of their quota were responsible, likable, confident, empathetic, smart, and humble. The answers for top sales professionals over 125% of their quota were confident, X-factor (a combination of all the traits listed), quick-witted, likable, responsible, and productive. Clearly, this shows that top sales professionals have a different level of self-confidence, personal certainty, and pride.


Recruiting Conspirators

Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future by Peter Thiel is a good book. He offers new ways of thinking about innovation. Peter’s philosophy is that innovation starts by learning to ask questions that lead you to find value in recruiting. Below is an excerpt from the book:

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Recruiting is a core competency for any company. It should never be outsourced. You need people who are not just skilled on paper but who will work together cohesively after they’re hired. The first four or five might be attracted by large equity stakes or high-profile responsibilities. More important than those obvious offerings is your answer to this question: Why should the 20th employee join your company?

Talented people don’t need to work for you; they have plenty of options. You should ask yourself a more pointed version of the question: Why would someone join your company as its 20th engineer when she could go work at Google for more money and more prestige?

Here are some bad answers: “Your stock options will be worth more here than elsewhere.” “You’ll get to work with the smartest people in the world.” “You can help solve the world’s most challenging problems.” What’s wrong with valuable stock, smart people, or pressing problems? Nothing—but every company makes these same claims, so they won’t help you stand out. General and undifferentiated pitches don’t say anything about why a recruit should join your company instead of many others.

The only good answers are specific to your company, so you won’t find them in this book. But there are two general kinds of good answers: answers about your mission and answers about your team. You’ll attract the employees you need if you can explain why your mission is compelling: not why it’s important in general, but why you’re doing something important that no one else is going to get done. That’s the only thing that can make its importance unique. At PayPal, if you were excited by the idea of creating a new digital currency to replace the U.S. dollar, we wanted to talk to you; if not, you weren’t the right fit.

However, even a great mission is not enough. The kind of recruit who would be most engaged as an employee will also wonder: “Are these the kind of people I want to work with?” You should be able to explain why your company is a unique match for him personally. And if you can’t do that, he’s probably not the right match.

Above all, don’t fight the perk war. Anybody who would be more powerfully swayed by free laundry pickup or pet day care would be a bad addition to your team. Just cover the basics like health insurance and then promise what no others can: the opportunity to do irreplaceable work on a unique problem alongside great people. You probably can’t be the Google of 2014 in terms of compensation or perks, but you can be like the Google of 1999 if you already have good answers about your mission and team.