Sales Teams Who Rely On The Manager Getting It Right, All The Time

The tyranny that many sales directors face is one they struggle to articulate until you point it out, and then they have a lightbulb moment and say “absolutely!”. They go further and say if I could solve this problem I would transform the potential of this team.

What is this debilitating disease that can sap the energy of even the best sales leaders? Simply put, it’s a team that is only interested in what their manager is interested in. They might be the most responsive, competitive team but their issues are your issues, their agenda is your agenda.


A common manifestation of this problem would go as follows. A concern starts to form in the back of your mind about a part of the business that currently looks OK. You do nothing for a while, mulling it over but it won’t go away so do decide to do some proper analysis. This reveals a potentially serious issue unless addressed quickly. You bring it to the attention of your team, but respond with real concern and get on with solving it ASAP.

A first look this looks a good resolution except on reflection you realise that without your prescience this problem would probably spiralled in to a major crisis causing real damage to the business. That takes you to an even bigger worry. What other problems are over the horizon waiting to blind the company as you move forward? And that’s just problems, what about the nascent opportunities?

A sales leader in this position ends up doing the thinking for their team and the team ends up being dependent on their leader.

Think of how it could be. You are managing the business and one of your team brings something to you. They have had a worry for some time, done some thinking about, done the analysis, worked out the best solution and actioned a recovery plan. They are telling you on an FYI basis only. This is a team that thinks pro-actively for its self. In this environment the responsibility for change and development is shared rather than being a top down process.


How do you create this kind of team dynamic? Firstly by getting everybody to recognise there is a problem. Some people get into a position where they believe that senior (to them) people do the thinking for change, it’s their job to simply carry it out. So if there are no changes or issues coming down the pipe, there’s nothing additional to worry about. Part of anybody’s job is about being pro-active in their role, don’t let them off the hook by doing this critical part of their job for them.

Seven Steps To Building Peer Group Pressure

Peer Group Pressure is the glue that binds high performing team together, creating a self sustaining level achievement within a supportive framework.


The Benefits

  • Management can spend less time checking and policing, more time developing building and coaching people
  • A greater sense of belonging is achieved, the inclusiveness informing coherent and aligned behaviours
  • The team supports people when needed
  • New recruits are more effectively and quickly  inducted and their morals stays higher for longer

What Is Required To Engender Peer Group Pressure?

  • Common purpose, including Vision, Values & Goals
  • Interdependency, people need to need each other
  • Mutual respect
  • Clear performance metrics linked to success failure criteria
  • An effective consequences framework for dealing with over and under performance (see previous point)
  • As much focus on behaviours as results. How people behave must be as important as what they achieve.
  • A vigorous  feedback model, with open communication


We still find it surprising how often organisations hope that peer group pressure or esprit de corps is assumed to occur, with little active input into making it happen. We have yet to find any manager who has it is as one of their objectives – a glaring indictment of the organisation’s misunderstanding  of what value adding activities their managers should be engaged in.

The Four Most Difficult Sales Types to Manage

Managing salespeople is never easy. The top performers who also do things in the approved fashion and the chronic under performers are relatively straightforward to sort out. It’s the awkward squad who are trickier. Below we offer a snapshot of four of the most common types.

  1. The Prima Donna. Very successful, comfortable in their position, disruptive, believes themselves to be unfireable. Often the sales manager has decided on a ‘means justifying ends’ approach and turns a blind eye to the maverick behaviour.
  2. The Bowler. Long established, enjoys the lifestyle, solid performer never will set the world (or targets) alight. Good enough for yesterday, not looking strong for tomorrow.
  3. The Clever Cynic. Invests their energies in explaining, rather than changing the world. Fiercely argumentative with a good brain. Pulls others down, is pigeonholed as being negative (but often right) by peers.
  4. The Wonderful Struggler. Hugely liked, puts in enormous effort but always comes up (slightly) short. Very supportive of management, keen to learn but doesn’t seem to have the equipment to effectively sell.


What all these have in common is the ability to put into their managers heads the notion that the problem of dealing with them is greater than the problem of ignoring them. Often put as, ‘an empty seat is worse than them in the seat’. What we have found interesting is how commonly they are found, though fortunately not often all in the same team at the same time.

Whether that analysis of ‘leave well alone’ is the right one becomes a judgement call, one which after consideration the manager often errs towards the status quo.  What we have found to be entirely consistent is that these characters left unchallenged lower the spirit of the sales team, pull it towards the average, and generally create an environment of excuses.

What’s the solution? Whilst individuals have to be treated as individuals not caricatures, there are some first principles that will help any sales manager avoid these types gaining any kind of foothold of normality.  Here’s seven tips:


  1. Use values to create a behavioural framework that is as important to live by as any results.
  2. Use a performance management framework to focus feedback linked to job requirements and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Recognise effort but make it clear on its own its not enough.
  3. Set a clear vision for the sales team in terms of what the future demands are likely to be; set expectations of change, expose people to new learning requirements, train-in new skills
  4. Coach to the standards (behavioural and performance) required.
  5. Develop career plans for everybody, get a real dialogue going. Look for; perhaps create more, development opportunities for people.
  6. Demonstrate that where and when appropriate, and  supported by best practice process, you will do whatever is necessary to create/maintain this exemplar sales team.
  7. Show some leadership, stop ducking the tough stuff. Start impressing the people in your sales team who are not in the awkward squad and (to date) haven’t seen you do anything that validates that they are already performing/behaving in the right way.

Ten Signs Your Business Is At The Top Of Its Business Life Cycle Curve

Self-aware organisations recognise that anticipating the peak of their curve is a critical business issue, one which they need to have strategies in place to deal with before the apex is reached.

Here’s some clues for you:


  1. The amount of cash the business is throwing off reaches unfeasibly high levels.
  2. There are no obvious things to invest the cash in. The options are debatable; it comes down to judgement and belief.
  3. Visionaries sell out of the market all together and move into a different space.
  4. The margins you are making allow new entry competitors to enter the market with a different value proposition and take business from you by not setting such a high margin target. They accuse you of being ‘greedy and exploitative’.
  5. Increasingly the market-place is made up of ‘me too’ competitors, and consolidation starts to occur.
  6. The directors start selling shares or/and the owner(s) starts attending mysterious ‘off-site’ meetings.
  7. The conditions of entry into your market-place change. New regulations, technologies, demographics etc. kick-in.
  8. Customers start asking you for things you considered they would never want a year previously (so you did nothing about)
  9. The regulators step in and say, this can’t go on.
  10. You see your boss on TV being door-stepped by journalists on his/her way to meet with lawyers, before ‘voluntarily’ going on to a police station.

Understanding The Motivations of Procurement Departments

Any high value sales team will know all about procurement departments. They intercede themselves between the line management decision makers and the selling organisation.

Their mandate is very clear – to cut the cost of their organisations’ purchasing expenditure. To do this they have to create a market for the product or service they have been told to buy (because without a market they can’t drive cost out of the deal).  Because they cannot be experts in everything they buy, they also need to deconstruct any proposal into understandable and comparable elements, which enables them to do an ‘apples with apples comparison’.

So the lesson for selling organisations is clear, the more ‘commodity like’ your offering is, the more simple to understand and the more similar to other suppliers the more likely you will suffer at the hands of the procurement people.  The opposite are also true.


If you are selling something, if not genuinely unique, at least distinctive; something that is an integrated solution, rather than a set of separate components and something that requires real understanding rather than a superficial knowledge you are in a better position. Why? Because then the procurement people have to reply on their colleagues who require what you have to direct them as to what the most suitable option is.

And this is where you apply the killer blow. Because you have effectively cultivated your customer, aligned your offer better with their requirements than anybody else, and become the solution that is the preferred option, procurement will be told this is the one we want.

The last thing the procurement people will want to do is reveal that to you, they will still negotiate hard, try to ‘chip’ your offer, but aware of your strong position you have much more leverage to underpin your position.


Procurement aren’t going away, but they can be better understood and managed more effectively.

The Four Stages Of Negotiating

  1. Preparation
  • Gather all the relevant facts from as many sources as possible to have the widest view of the situation.
  • Having done so you will be able to assess your bargaining power and that of the other party and as a result, the scope for either party to apply leverage.
  • You need to be clear of what you want to achieve.
  • Your opening bid should be higher than your desirable requirements. Thus the difference between your opening bid and your minimum requirements will be your bargaining ground.
  • What are you prepared to concede? How will these concessions be viewed by the other party?


Be aware of the following pitfalls before going into a negotiating situation:

  • Mirror image – each party regards the other’s position as being exactly the opposite to their own. This leaves little room for compromise.
  • Different interpretations of the same facts – check out with the other party exactly what they mean.
  • Double standards – judging the other party’s acts by a different standard from your own standards.
  • Assumption that there is a fixed ‘pie’ – this prevents both parties from thinking laterally.
  • Thinking that solving their problem is ‘their’ problem – the fact that you are in a negotiating situation means that it is also your problem.
  • Do not pre-judge the issue before going into a negotiating situation.

2a.  Establishing The Climate


The climate is set very early in the negotiating situation.  It is important to have a positive influence on it.  Always begin as you mean to go on.  If you aim to create a win/win climate, emphasise points of agreement from the start.

  • Room layout – a round table helps create a collaborative mood.
  • Positive body language – being neat and well dressed demonstrate a business-like approach; smiling and nodding suggests agreement.
  • Talk about neutral topics – the type of journey that the visitor has had, the room setting, the weather!

2b.    Exploration

Having established the climate, exploration is the next area of the negotiating process.

You can form a shared view of where the meeting is going and how the two parties are going to get there together.

Focus On The 4 P’s

PURPOSE                    The reason for having met should be re-stated.

PLAN                          Agenda – what topics are to be discussed and who should discuss them.

PACE                           Length of time both parties are prepared to give to the meeting.

PERSONALITIES        The people in each party, who they are and what they can do to help the  negotiating process.


3a.    Bidding

Having decided during the preparation stage on your opening bid, it is necessary to state it confidently and then listen to the other party’s opening bid, checking that you have understood what they have said.

Conflict may arise at this stage.  If the climate so far has been a co-operative one, you will be able to explore together the reasons behind any disagreement.  State your willingness to continue to negotiate, indicating that your opening bid is not your last word.


3b.    Bargaining

Having stated their opening bids, both parties negotiate to gain the best advantage for their side.  In doing so, each party uses its own resources to meet the other party’s needs and certain tactics can be applied.

  • Try to avoid being the first to make a concession. You can do this by asking ‘why’ which may expose a weakness in their demands.
  • Check out the other party’s willingness to move – “if we could…. would you…?”
  • State what your conditions are first, then make any concessions. Ensure that the other party hears and understands your conditions.
  • Keep an open mind – be willing to re-negotiate an issue which has already been settled if this enables you to achieve your overall aim.
  • Recess – each party moves out of the negotiating forum to reconsider progress to date and to discuss how to handle the next stage.
  • Setting deadlines – the time schedule should be agreed at the start of the negotiation and a reminder can be a helpful way to achieve an end.
  • Lateral thinking – it is very important to look outside the confines of the problem in looking for a solution.
  • Sub groups – these are useful when a negotiation gets bogged down – a sub group can brainstorm a specific area and report back to the main room.


4.      Clinching The Deal

Once the negotiation is complete, summarise what has been agreed on every point and check that consensus really does exist.  Ensure that all details agreed are confirmed in writing.  Remember to inform those who need to know the outcome and to thank those who have contributed to the success you have achieved.

It may not have been possible to achieve all the objectives in a single meeting – a further meeting or series of meetings should be organised, in which all stages of the negotiating process need to be addressed again.


We Are All Selling Services And Solutions Now

As many market-places commoditise selling organisations attempt to move up their value chain to escape the deathly grip of diminishing competitive advantage.

Two common (and often interconnected) approaches to this problem are; adding services to an organisation’s offer and selling solutions.


The Move To Services

This has several advantages:

  1. Stand alone services tend to deliver higher margins.
  2. They help to sophisticate the offer, wrapping services around products can help ‘harden off’ prices.
  3. They create another route to market, opening up new revenue opportunities.
  4. They can extend and deepen the customer relationship beyond simple product usage to a more collaborative approach.
  5. They offer an effective platform for cross selling other services.

 However, there are challenges in developing a services offering:

  1. Distinctive service development requires real thought leadership, which requires an insightful, possibly visionary, perspective.
  2. Service delivery is about end-to-end process excellence, not about functions and power based hierarchies.
  3. Services need to be performance managed just like products, including; objectives, success/failure criteria, measurements and best practice development.
  4. Paid for services that are now ‘special’ degrade to become the inclusive norm. New services need to feed in at the top of the service hierarchy.


Solutions, Solutions, Solutions

Everybody seems to be selling them , nowadays it doesn’t seem enough to sell a product or service, it has to be part of a solution. This doesn’t necessarily mean that more solutions are being bought. Many customers simply look past these superficial ‘solutions’ to what the product/service will do for them and make their own mind.

What is a real solution? Something that is an aggregated set of components (that cannot be disaggregated), tailored to a particular requirement that is a sold for a total (non-divisible) price. Because the offer is built and sold in this way is achieves a double benefit. For the customer it is unique to them, for the seller the components are be infinitely reconfigurable creating a scalable offer that can be sold uniquely many times over. When organisations really sell solutions they are creating real competitive advantage.


Defining Coaching

Coaching is used to support individuals in achieving results beyond what they believe is currently possible.  It is about ‘people’ with the focus on the coachee.  It is driven by their goals.

In sport, we are constantly breaking new records.  Someone wanting to run a certain distance in a particular time will often have a coach.  Initially, the coach may be there simply to establish if their goal is both realistic and also a personal stretch.  The goal will vary greatly whether the coach is coaching an Olympic runner or a disabled person wishing to run their first race.  The coach provides both emotional and practical support.  For example, in the minutes coming up to the run, the coach may help the runner focus their mind to generate a positive attitude, as well as warm up and remember a few specific tips for the race.


Coaching is now frequently used in business where the basic principles of sports coaching are applied to business situations.  These principles include:

  • Focusing on the individuals development rather than weaknesses
  • Helping them design both realistic and yet stretching goals
  • Encouraging and supporting them in experimenting in new areas of knowledge, skill or attitude
  • Building on an individual’s strengths and resources.

Given that companies have people, not only as their major resource and differentiation, but also as drivers of change – the individual is a powerful place to start. Coaching brings appropriate learning, change and development to the work place.


Coaching is used to:

  • Help people work out their goals
  • Own and commit to their goals
  • Improve performance
  • Develop in new areas
  • Build self confidence and self esteem
  • Develop more effective behaviours
  • Identify and reduce perceived barriers to success
  • Maximise potential

Coaching is not effective:

  • As a punishment for poor performance
  • As an isolated event
  • As a replacement for training
  • As a replacement for counselling
  • When confused with mentoring


“No one is so good they can’t get better”Nick Faldo, London Times 1993 prior to winning the Masters for the second time


Is Your Organisation Fit Or Sexy?

It can be neither but it can’t be both!

Fit Organisations

These are operationally effective.  They have a very definable, explainable business model that is scaleable and sustainable.  They obsess about optimising their model, looking for greater efficiencies and ways in using it to exploit further opportunities.

Fit organisations stay very focused.  They have ‘traded off’ their strategic options, choosing to do a few things brilliantly, rather than lots of things averagely.  They innovate more in their processes than through their products and services, it’s the way they do business rather than what they sell.

Fit organisations include Dell, Amazon, Zara.


Sexy Organisations

Those that have created aspirational brands that say something positive about the users association with them.  They have a very clear understanding of their brand essence and never do anything to compromise its market perception.

Sexy organisations focus on adding innovation to their offering.  They have ‘traded off’ their strategic options, choosing only to produce things that reinforce their brand – innovative, original, and distinctive.  How they do business is (relatively) less important to them that what they sell.

Sexy organisations include Apple, Tesla, Virgin Atlantic, BMW.


What characterises both types is the decisions they have made about their respective positioning.  They are clear about their distinctive competences and how to put them to effective use.  Many businesses try to do both, which effectively means the offer becomes confused so their customers become unsettled.  One of the things that characterises all the example organisations is the large number of loyal customers they have.

Go on, knock yourself out and make some strategic decisions!

If you would like a more structured and considered sort of help in how these ‘trade offs’ can be made we’d love to talk to you.