With A Recession Coming (Or Not) 10 Things Management Can Do To Keep The Sales Force Focused, Positive & Performing


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    1. It’s critical management stay positive themselves, but at the same time realistic. What salespeople value most in their leaders, at times like these, is a demonstration of credible confidence, not knee-jerk stuff, or business bi-polar disorder, one day there is no problem, the next saying we’re doomed!
    2. High levels of ownership are vital. Salespeople have to continue to own their performance. The minute they hear mangers or directors talking down their figures they feel ‘let off the hook’; “It’s not my performance that’s at issue, but the wider economy’s”.
    3. Try not to change things; targets, incentives, structures etc. Bring stability to internal matters so you can focus the team externally.
    4. If you need to change things because of the market, do it quickly, get the focus back to building the business.
    5. Don’t apply the particular to the general. Just because one customer postpones a project it doesn’t mean your market is in recession.
    6. Obsess about effective forecasting; in turbulent markets understanding order intake issues are critical.
    7. Don’t rip into hygiene factors. Cutting business expenses might make managers feel good, and it might have symbolic significance, but the last thing you want is to damage sales force morale by saving less than 1% of the overhead. Better to cut waste. Involve the team in identifying the top 10 areas of waste and cut them immediately.
    8. Continue to place your spending bets. The business has to continue. How you spend business development money needs to demonstrate good judgement and a steady nerve. Don’t confuse reviewing budgets with needing to stimulate business.
    9. Deal with poor performance. There is nothing worse than carrying people who aren’t productive enough. An empty seat might look more worrying than somebody mediocre sitting in it, but when trying to raise average performance levels, and build resilient success culture, it’s a disaster.
    10. Focus on increasing your own leadership behaviours; being visible, showing enthusiasm, working harder than anybody else, bringing creativity to solving business problems, giving time to people and seeing more customers. Rather than the managerial comfort zones of more spreadsheet analysis, more internal meetings, more tell style email, more running round saying don’t panic, don’t panic!

Peer Group Pressure Is Connected To A Team’s Ability To Give Each Other Feedback

One of the most difficult things for a manager to do is give difficult feedback. This is a common issue with significant amounts of training/coaching provision and HR time given to it. However there is a sub genre of this issue that gets very little attention, in many ways causing even more difficulty when trying to build effective teams, and that is giving difficult feedback to members of your own peer group.
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Many poor teams run on something called false consensus. “If I don’t criticise your methods you won’t criticise mine. Our jobs are difficult enough (especially with the boss we’ve got) without attacking each other”. This thinking is deeply flawed because it creates two things: a deep frustration with the lack of real conversations in team meetings; and, an active hidden agenda, with plenty of corridor conversations and coffee shop ‘just between us’ stuff going on.

High performing teams give peer feedback on the fly, as it happens, and because it’s done in this natural way it isn’t seen as a big deal, but as a valuable source of input.

An effective sports team is a good metaphor. All members know what they are trying to achieve, they all know what each others contribution needs to be and they all have respect for the abilities/specialisms the other members have.

In contrast, we often hear management/sales teams, even Boards, say, ‘we aren’t really a team, we just meet regularly; it’s what we do in our functions that really counts’. Then privately talk about problems in other peoples’ areas that need sorting out.

Being able to talk frankly and constructively about colleagues in a collective environment is something that can have a transformative impact on team functionality because it stimulates peer group pressure, the fuel of team performance.
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For this to happen there are two requirements. Firstly, the team needs a common purpose with transparency around its objectives and personal targets. Secondly there needs to be mutual respect between people. You cannot have a value adding relationship, let alone a functional one, if you feel somebody else just isn’t up to the job or doesn’t share the same business values as you.

Systems Need Effective Learning To Improve Outcomes

Apart from being owned by the same parent company, what do a UK Lexus and a Botswanan Toyota have in common?
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Having been in both cars recently a striking similarity was apparent. A warning label under the CD slot about loading CDs was lifting away, in exactly the same way, in both cars. Nothing else was wrong with these vehicles, both showing the usual Toyota/Lexus rock solid quality, but this was intriguing. A coincidence or something more significant, the right hand end of both labels was peeling away from the fascias.

What does this say about the quality process? Something in the glue formula, or the way the glue or label are applied, or a problem with a reaction between surfaces? Who knows, but what it does show is if there is a failure of process the exponential effect can be significant; in this case crossing brands and continents, replicating many times over.

An effective quality system will deliver a consistent outcome, but when there is a failure of a particular process within that system that failure will be reproduced over and over again.

It’s this failure of process improvement that frustrates customers who can see the same problem reoccur, because there is a failure with a component or process within the system. It’s also the cause of more serious corporate nightmares. If there is a flaw in any production process that flaw will be replicated; at best causing reputational/financial damage, at worst putting peoples’ lives at risk.

To prevent this happening, or to quickly stop it reoccurring, two activities must be built in to the system. Firstly, ongoing Quality Control with very short learning loops, and secondly appropriate user/field testing, again with very short learning loops.
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Learning Loops contain five key stages:

  1. Evaluate: what are we trying to achieve?
  2. Plan: how should we best try to achieve it?
  3. Do: perform to specification
  4. Check: measure the output against the standard
  5. Amend: take corrective action

The shorter time the learning loop, the faster change can be put back into the system. They are called loops because each piece of learning should feed the repeated activity. Holding a Learning Loop meeting before each day’s work would give you five opportunities to improve things in a week. Hold one monthly and you can quickly see how learning slows down.

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Building Sustainable Success

This weekend Manchester United claimed the Premiership title for the tenth time under Sir Alex Ferguson’s twenty one year career as Team Manager. It was a huge success, with a little excitement, waiting until the final day of the campaign to secure the title, but not one that came as a big surprise to anyone who follows English football.
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Manchester United do have pots of cash, but other teams have deeper pockets. They have a formidable youth set up, but others do better in bringing young talent on to Premiership standard.

What Sir Alex has had that so few other managers in English football enjoy is a fair run at the job. The average length of tenure for a Premiership Manager is a little under 1.7 years. Championship Managers fare far worse.

Constant upheaval, including changes of manager can destabilise a team and in football, like many businesses, a manager can be viewed as the only determining factor. Some mangers are considered failures when they have very little in the way of performing employees to work with and no resources to seek others. Some managers suffer from constant interference from above, damaging long range planning and destroying credibility with the team.

These are not just football or even sporting problems, the same thing happens to managers in organisations across the UK, and whilst they may not be publicly fired, they are often quietly sidelined without given an opportunity to succeed or a chance to learn and improve.

Had Manchester United taken the same approach there were plenty of opportunities to sack the Manager for a lack of success – it took him five years to win anything and, with a player budget that managers from Arsène Wenger to Liam Daish could only dream of, the club failed to win anything in four more of his years in charge. Despite this on each occasion he was given the time, space and resources needed to rebuild a better, stronger team.
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Sir Alex Ferguson is not the only reason for Manchester United’s success, the players are outstanding, the cashflow is incredible and the facilities world class, but without a senior management team with a long term vision and the confidence to ride out some short term pain for future glory, he could be one of the hundreds of football managers who never make it past their fourth job.

Where Are Your Bags Going On Holiday?

Heathrow Terminal Five seems to have settled down a little and long haul flights are easing their way in. Passengers however are still nervous and planes are full of extra hand baggage ‘just in case’ bags are lost or make their way to an altogether nicer destination than their owners.
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Much has been made of the installation of a new luggage handling system and whether enough checks were made by BA or BAA as to whether the technology worked. New technology is a risk for any business but the issue is rarely whether the technology works, it’s whether the people can work with the technology.

Careful to ensure that the launch of any new technology project goes well, organisations often test, retest, stress test and emergency test the hardware and software. What they can sometimes skimp on is briefing, training and validating the competencies of the employees who will be working with the new technology.

An assumption of ‘how hard can it be’ is often a recipe for disaster, underestimating the knowledge and skills required to work a new system. Assuming that no other processes will be affected is easy if you take a helicopter view and don’t ensure that someone has checked the people aspects of a new way of working.

Heathrow Terminal Five didn’t crawl to a standstill because the belts didn’t work, it failed to launch because employees couldn’t make their way to their workstations, people didn’t know who to report to or who their colleagues would be, or what to do if there was a problem.
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There are many lessons to be learned, and in some ways the fiasco may help many smaller, less high profile failures, as long as project managers make sure they have designed a robust plan to communicate with employees, engage with them, build their knowledge skills and confidence and ensure their commitment.

Natural Born Leaders

Are leaders born or made? This is a really boring question, like the nature/nurture debate.  Boring, because it’s obviously both, in both cases.  That “making” doesn’t start or end the moment people join your organisation either.  The much more interesting question around Leadership is why isn’t more attention given to it as part of organisations’ people development strategies?
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If leadership means anything it means taking responsibility for changing (improving) something. Whether on a personal or corporate basis we can all change (everybody has that potential), it’s whether they have the motivation to convert the thought into the deed. Interestingly, we tend to judge ourselves by our intentions, others judging us by actions.  Meanwhile we judge others on their actions, without too much concern for their intentions.  People showing leadership attributes tend to have a smaller reality gap, focusing not on what they should do but on what they actually implement.

Structured Training build on this idea of leadership with its 4SLeadership™ framework showing how a person’s behaviour linked to heightened self awareness can make them a more effective leader. This applies regardless of whether that’s someone who is managing a call centre team, running a project, or in charge of a large PLC. The scale might be different, but on a relative basis the challenges are the same and the opportunity for a leadership response significant.

“Nothing Happens Until Somebody Sells Something”

“Nothing happens until somebody sells something”, is one of the great sales managers’ rah rah clichés. But that doesn’t make it invalid.

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Its obviousness contains a critical truth that a business won’t survive for long if it relies on the other version of the saying, “nothing happens until somebody buys something”.

Selling is something under your control, waiting for customers to buy isn’t. It’s that pro-activity which makes selling potentially the most dynamic function in your business, the one that deserves the most attention, resources and development focus. Unfortunately, for many organisations selling is still viewed as an amateur rather than professional calling. How many other functions would get away with a board report that is written as a highly justified wish fulfilment list covered with caveats and provisos?

At Structured Training we believe selling can be professionalised, from forecasting new business through to retaining your best customers. Our expertise and experience shows us that when salespeople work at being consciously competent within a structured process, staying (slightly) ahead of their customers learning whilst demonstrating a high service belief wrapped in a ‘go for it’ approach, they do brilliantly; and all of these components can be analysed and improved on through training and good sales force design.