what really sells

January 6, 2020

Tom Schodorf, co-author, with David Mattson and Bart Fanelli, of The Success Cadence: Unleash Your Organization’s Rapid Growth Culture, decodes the mantra for successful sales. He is also a consultant and coach who specializes in working with leaders and senior executives of companies in the high-tech space.

01 superior product wins the battle every time

Sometimes we fall in love with our own stuff. Sometimes we convince ourselves that we have already changed the world. If you ever catch yourself thinking things like, “More product training and marketing will increase sales,” beware. You are riding for a fall.

Even a great product/service needs a plan and coordinated action to succeed in the marketplace, or to succeed to its potential. Great salespeople are just as important as a great product. Someone needs to connect the real-world needs and value points to the features of
the product.

Assuming a great product will solve every problem is an ego trip—and a recipe for disaster. Your product must be tested, refined, and proven in the marketplace, regardless of how marvelous or world-changing you think it is. What matters is not what your inside people who already ‘get it’ think of the product, but what a cynical purchasing agent, a crusty CFO, or an end-user who is quite content with the status quo thinks of it. Until you have gone down in the trenches and identified the compelling, quantifiable, impossible-to-overlook value you deliver to customers and potential buyers, then you really do have much.

02 you have to cut aggressive salespeople who produce at high levels some slack

Translation: “Some people deserve special treatment, better pay, more perks, and more attention than others, and should be allowed to subordinate company interests in favor of their own.” When we allow high producers to play by a different set of rules, that is really what we mean. Whenever we indulge this myth, the culture suffers, the company suffers, and we sabotage our company’s growth potential.

When we fall prey to the entitlement mindset, we fail as leaders. When we allow an unaccountable culture to take root or, even worse, endorse it with our personal example, a toxic dynamic spreads, and the company comes last. This outlook of entitlement means the person in question—whether it is a salesperson or the CEO—is not supporting the ‘we-first’ working culture. When we give slack to one person and not the others, the others begin to feel entitled as well—even though their performance is not that great—and the morale of the team declines to such an extent that even the top performers are no longer supported by the extended team. Things fall apart.

This is a common mistake that leadership often defends with excuses like ‘young and aggressive is good’. Or, ‘as long as only a few people are doing this, it is OK’. Do not buy into that.

When we allow an unaccountable culture to take root or, even worse, endorse it with our personal example, a toxic dynamic spreads, and the company comes last.

03 I gotta be me

Translation: “If it is on my mind right now, it must be important and worth saying to everyone.” This mindset handicaps the entire organization by making unaligned messaging the norm.

Tom Schodorf, co-author, with David Mattson and Bart Fanelli, of The Success Cadence: Unleash Your Organization’s Rapid Growth Culture, decodes the mantra for successful sales. He is also a consultant and coach who specializes in working with leaders and senior executives of companies in the high-tech space.

What is unaligned messaging? Consider this: When you lead a team and identify a priority, you are personally responsible for making sure all your actions and decisions support that priority. Some executives routinely assume the right to send messages that are totally incongruent with their past actions and decisions. This drags the company down multiple rat holes, creating unnecessary tension and crushing productivity by sowing confusion throughout the organization as to what the objectives and initiatives really are. People start making up their own strategic plan.

Yes. It takes discipline to keep your messaging on
track with the mission and goals you have set out. Discipline is one of the key traits of effective leadership in a high-growth organization.

Classic, disempowering justifications for the ‘I gotta be me’ myth include: ‘front-line management can translate what I mean’, ‘they are smart enough to figure it out’, and ‘people need to keep up with me because this market environment demands a flexible approach.’ All of these are examples of a me-first outlook.

04 if we have three times the value of our targeted plan in the pipeline, we will be OK

Setting an arbitrary standard such as ‘three times the desired revenue’ is meaningless if your team is feeding unqualified contacts and ‘opportunities’ into the pipeline. (Most teams are.) If the pipeline is delusional, then you can multiply its value by 3 or 10 or 20 or 50 or 100, and the resulting projection will still
be delusional.

A pipeline full of junk decreases trust between sales and management, causes bad planning, and reduces the sales team’s credibility in the organization. This is a cultural issue, and a symptom of a serious communication problem between senior leadership and the sales team. Much of the garbage in the sales pipeline is the direct result of management pressure.

While it may feel good to put salespeople under pressure to fill the pipeline, the pressure does not do any good. Set revenue goals collaboratively, from the bottom up and the top down, with all the open communication necessary in both directions to sustain a productive ongoing dialogue. (Most companies simply take a top-down approach, telling the sales team to ‘just make the numbers’.) Leaders and salespeople need to understand and agree on what the real-world ratios are, and on what does and does not constitute a qualified prospect. If a prospect is not qualified, then it does not belong in the pipeline. Period.

A pipeline full of junk decreases trust between sales and management, causes bad planning, and reduces the sales team’s credibility in the organization.

05 our people do not need training because they have already had it this year

A common, equally dangerous variation on this myth is: ‘our people do not need training because we only hire experienced people’.

The reality is that effective training initiatives are never a one-and-done affair. Rapid-growth organizations support the development of their people in the short and long terms by means of customised personal development plans with clear monthly and quarterly objectives.

Effective personal development is a net time and resource saver. Unless you invest in, create, and sustain a learning culture, your people will be demotivated, you will not attract the best new talent, and your people will not be equipped to lead when the time comes. You will be mandating a slow-growth working culture and a team composed of B-level contributors who may only be sticking with you because there is no pressure to perform. All your best people will leave, because these people always want to grow and learn.

Without a structured learning and development program, you cannot really be assured of tying anything your team does to the company’s business objectives. On the other hand, if you train and reinforce effectively, then you raise the bar on retention of your best performers, and you gain the significant side benefit of bringing up the performance level of your average players while you determine whether to keep them or not. Not only that, you find yourself putting out fewer fires. 