We live in an age of transparency and enlightenment. Our customers educate themselves through an abundance of digital information and social networks. The power of information no longer resides with the seller.
The same goes for sales & marketing leaders. It’s hardly a secret by now that successful commercial organistions engage in content marketing, social listening/engagement marketing automation, social selling, sales & marketing collaboration, coaching etc.
Spend a day doing desktop research and you’ve got enough “best practice” advice on what you should be doing, to keep you sales & marketing development budget spent for the next few years.
If you are a Sales & Marketing leader today, identifying what your organisation SHOULD be doing isn’t your biggest challenge.
The challenge of the commercial leader is to make commercial best practice, organisational common practice.
4 reasons commercial best practice isn’t common practice
1. Your gap between current reality and defined best practice too wide: Legendary NBA coach Phil Jackson writes in his book “11 rings”, about the 5 different performance stages of a culture (or team). When you want to make a team great, you don’t always go for the ultimate level (best practice), but strive to develop to the level just above the one you are at right now. If the gap between current state and desired future state, is too wide you will loose people because they cannot imagine themselves in that future desired state.
2. Your best practice definition is not actionable: If you’ve done coaching, project management or leadership training, you’re probably familiar with SMART goals. Failure to make your objectives specific, measurable, assignable, realistic, time-related, will result in higher likelihood of not meeting targets. Similarly, failure to make your best practice definition specific in terms of desired actions, will result in lower likelihood of achieving desired results. Perhaps you tell your commercial organisation to be customer oriented, empathetic, hard-working, focused etc. etc. But what does that mean?
3. You choose to do what we want to do and not what we need to do: Only an estimated 12% of the British adult population are able to keep their new years resolution. The one thing for the year, they want to succeed with the most. But they want to eat that cake and smoke that cigarette, despite knowing that they need to not do it to loose weight. It’s David Maister’s fat smoker all over again. Knowing what you should be doing to realise your goal (stop smoking, exercise and eat healthy), but choosing what you want (or choosing not to do what you don’t want to do) over what you need. In the commercial B2B world, this is the sales rep promoted to sales manager who can’t step back from the front-line excitement. He/she needs to empower others to do well, but wants the excitement of winning the sales meeting.
4. You are telling people how to change instead of helping them transform: In our business (Commercial Performance & Transformation), we say that “people don’t hate change, but they hate being changed”. Perhaps the most fundamental reason that your commercial best practice isn’t organisational common practice is that you have neglected the change fundamentals of involvement and co-creation.
4 things you should do today
1. Don’t use absolute best practice but use minimum standards, tailored to your commercial maturity level (i.e. the higher the commercial maturity of your organistion, the higher the minimum standards). In the words of former VP of Global Sales & Customer Service at Maersk Line, (interview here), “Some change theory prescribes that you put up “Absolute Best Practice” so that people can see what perfect looks like and live into that. But that’s like showing a beginner on the piano how to play Chopin and then saying, “strive for something like this”. It may be true, but it’s not very useful. Start with a minimum standard instead and then gradually lift the bar for that”
2. Translate your commercial hiring characteristics into concrete desired actions: If you are looking for people with empathy, define your minimum standards in actionable terms related to that like “Talks less that 50% of the time in sales meetings”, “Drive conversations forward with questions instead of statements” etc.
3. Install on-the-job skills coaching sessions: Sales directors observe and coach sales managers, sales managers observe and coach sales reps etc. etc. Good coaching will help bridge the gap between what people need to do and what they actually do
4. Involve your people in defining what good looks like and how to get there: Make the definition of “how commercial works best” a joint process, in collaboration between different hierarchy levels and departments and have them articulate what needs to be true, in order to live into that. This one requires strong leadership with strong facilitation skills, but is absolutely critical from a change perspective.