Jason Jordan

"Boulder Management" by Sisyphus

Let's just assume Sisyphus finally summits to the mountaintop and rests the boulder in place. Rest assured, he'd have an instant business management bestseller on his hands that every MBA would be required to read forevermore. Implementing the below methods and drawing inspiration from these books will certainly help you breathe a sigh of relief as you right the ship and navigate it through a frenetic 2015 sales management maelstrom.

For those of us who’ve dedicated our lives to a career in sales, we’re all too familiar with Sisyphus, the Greek Myth of the man pushing a boulder up a hill for eternity only to have it fall back down upon him, time and time again. So much of what we've traditionally done to succeed has been mind numbing repetition but all that is changing thanks to things like automation, social selling, trigger events and new ways of connecting with target prospects.

Perhaps you've felt like Sisyphus in a deal. It’s even a trendy tech word "Sisyphean" which is often interchanged with Herculean, although these dimensions are highly juxtaposed when it comes to the concept of conquering a massive challenge or reaching a "wildly important goal." This post is all about the WIGs, so that I'll get right into that in a moment.

Luckily, the challenges of professional selling are not insurmountable but if you do not heed the following advice, you too may find yourself banished to a seeming eternity of rock pushing if not enjoying selling much less. In sales, we thrive on the challenge of battling time and exceeding our number. We thrive in going up against the incumbent, our competitors and the two horsemen of time and the status quo. Whether your boulder is conquering your personal best, renewing a key account with ACV growth or disrupting legacy dinosaur business models, the following ideas could help you prevent it from falling back down on you, even lighten the load:

I read the book Four Disciplines of Execution recently and was struck by its deconstruction of lead measures versus lagging measures which drew a parallel in my mind to Jason Jordan's bestselling management book, a modern classic. It was very interesting to witness Sean Covey focusing on WIGs or "wildly important goals." I’ve written about the rocks and the sand, my 80/20 inspiration for daily time management and extensively about Cracking the Sales Management Code, which espouses leading indicator driven KPI management in prior posts, so I think these points are worth underscoring in recommending this superb, foundational work.

Both books got me thinking about the meta concepts of Leading versus Lagging Indicators and their corollary Leading & Lagging Measures. It's an important question to relentlessly ask ourselves? Which actions am I taking that are driving results?

How can we tangibly effect change on our external environment, increase our pipeline, impact the current sales cycles we’re in and accelerate our progress as professional sellers? One major way is to focus on leverage. The levers that push that proverbial boulder up the hill. They are most certainly leading measure activities in contrast to the static lagging measures that "follow," levers to hurtle the metaphorical missiles of enterprise tactics from your trebuchet of strategy over the parapets into the stronghold of Castle Status Quo. I think I just hit the TILT switch on metaphor usage.

Ironically, revenue itself is a lagging indicator and cannot be managed in a CRM. Management can bark at pretty dashboards projected at a wall and send consternation down the command chain but this typically just creates an end-of-quarter fire drill and is much ado to no avail in helping your team qualify their deals more stringently, make that 5th to 12th contact (where 80% of sales actually close) or engineer a competitive strategy to close the deal more efficiently and effectively.

Things like reporting, endless meetings and constant revenue check-ins coupled with unrealistic goal setting and vanity metrics really don’t move the lever toward the Wildly Important Goal. This is a big goal each one of us sets that harnesses our inner drive. The 4DX book makes many recommendations but one I appreciate is weekly WIG sessions between managers and direct reports to recalibrate, checking in on the progress of the goals set the week before. There's a new science of change management in play here that is worth studying and applying to bring your organization to a new level. Rather than review the entire book which is a jewel in the crown of Franklin Covey’s flagship global training, I thought I’d simply hone in on a few key concepts.

As a supplemental side note, Mahan Khalsa who's trained sales squadrons at blue chips, the likes of Microsoft, Oracle and Accenture is also doing brilliant things over at Franklin Covey and wrote Let’s Get Real or Let's Not Play which is another sensational treatise centered on authentic "get real" sales processes to grow revenues. It features amazingly useful and thought-provoking flowcharts throughout that I recommend to help sustainably grow revenues in 2015. Key takeaways for your team:

  • Surface new business opportunities in a holistic way that all parties can be invested in
  • Build a conversation structure that gets to the bottom of the true client needs and fosters a trusted advisor relationship
  • Ask the hard questions is a finesse way, then practicing active listening
  • Increase propensity of deal closure by building mindshare and openness
  • "Move off the solution to diagnose before you prescribe," see Mahan's brilliant YouTube video below:

What are the actions that you can control in your day to move the needle as a front line sales manager or sales executive? Step one, take a look at environs you can play in where contact rates are the highest. What activities can you execute each day to engage most effectively? Hint: that’s rarely still email or a telephone (under 5% engagement rates). I’ve tested my ability to contact senior executives in companies and granted, this is the software and technology sphere, but Twitter can often garner a refreshingly rapid response and effectively personalized, Group-driven or InMail-driven digital outreach can yield incredible results i.e. higher conversion rates to appointments set. Another leading measure can even be the research phase itself. Rather than rattling away endless calls to Executive Assistants, performing due diligence to get smart about segmenting and targeting a healthy base of the key clients based on trigger events, goes a long way. This helps you avoid the "busy fool syndrome" I've talked about and is one of Konrath's Paradoxes: "slowing down to speed up."

When asked about how to measure the success of social selling and get to ROI by Gerhard Gschwandtner in a recent Selling Power interview, Jamie Shanksresponded, "There are a couple of leading indicators you should be looking at. One of them is the size and the effectiveness of your LinkedIn Network and it's called your social reach...And 'How is my voice growing over time?" Linked & Twitter are providing you these baseline metrics...Those are leading indicators. The lagging indicators are the opportunities and the revenue you are driving. And if you’re not driving that money, then you need to look back at your leading indicators and say, ‘what am I not doing? Are people listening? Is my social reach terrible because my network is small? Whatever that is." I would add that generating super high quality influencer content via LinkedIn Publisher will be a new lead measure activity this year as sales people become micro-marketers.

If your goal is to close 5MM in new revenue this year, you'd better have a realistic concept of where those sales cycles began last year to land some of those in the first and second quarter. Otherwise, have the courage to level set with management and your CEO that these will most likely stack up in Q3/Q4 because you'd rather do it right and nurture the account rather than destroy the natural order of paradise by being pushy or rushing. Real-time selling is real but it's no longer a sales cycle, it's a buying cycle so customers are leading the dance.

Relentlessly focus on strategy in qualifying the exact companies you will seek to penetrate based on trigger events, the strongest of which are stakeholders who were just promoted or transitioned to new companies. Keep this list a short list and go deep to the target rather than widening the approach. (Mike Weinberg) If your company has sold to these executives before and they’ve moved into a new world they are already champions of your disruptive solution paradigm, so getting back in touch with them via a referral / warm introduction can help you to gain ground in the new account.

Static and active is another sound way to look at KPIs from this vantage point. Bernard Marr wrote the book on KPIs as a mechanism for accurate business forecasts so peruse his prescient corpus at this link. Jason Jordan found that only 17% of sales metrics captured are activities that contribute to a sale! Jason and Michelle Vazzana unpacked 306 metrics, breaking them into 3 buckets: sales activities (17%), sales objectives (59%) and business results (24%). The first are highly manageable, the second directly influenceable and the third are not manageable but relate back to sales objectives. “Activities can be managed – outcomes cannot."

If I could only obtain 6 metrics (in addition to deal value) from a CRM, and assuming the data is accurate, here are my choices:

  1. Qualified pipeline as percentage of quota/target
  2. Opportunities by deal stage
  3. Opportunity qualification scores (with snapshot versions)
  4. Deals stuck at stage beyond defined period
  5. Meetings that progress the sale (with call plan in the CRM)
  6. Opportunities with close plans (versioned and in the CRM)

What would your six key metrics be to drive the team and ensure they are building pipeline and progressing the best opportunities effectively?

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website: www.TonyHughes.com.au.

Main Image Photo by Flickr: AK Rockefeller

Pricing Insanity - Epic Sales Blunders


I recently read an amazing book, Sales Insanity by Cannon Thomas, and it's a mind blowing compilation of actual sales blunders made by real people in real businesses being real stupid. Every salesperson and business leader must read this excerpt but who is Cannon Thomas... really? It's not his real name and I managed to uncover his identity and then obtain his permission to share some of the insanity in this post. He is one of the best sales consultants on the planet. Enjoy gobsmacking true story and if you think you know who he really is, send me an InMail and I'll confirm.

An industrial distributor hired me along with a team of consultants to help identify ways to increase its profitability. The company was eking out the slightest profit, but it was headed toward losses that it could not endure. Its executive team knew that there was profitability hiding somewhere in the company, because its similarly structured competitors were performing much better in the same economic environment. They were confident that the operations side of their business was running efficiently and that their missing profits could be found in the sales force. We subsequently sent our search party into the field to test their hypothesis.

We began by interviewing the company’s salespeople. Among other things, we asked each seller, “Who are your very best customers?” Not surprisingly, the salespeople immediately responded with a list of their very biggest customers—the customers that generated the most revenue for the company. And from their perspective, these were their best customers, because they yielded the most money in commissions. The incentives of the sellers were based on achieving revenue targets, not achieving profits. Therefore, bigger was better.

We also asked the salespeople who they thought were their most profitable customers. Again, they listed their biggest customers by revenue. We asked, “Don’t your big customers negotiate lower prices with you, because of the volume of products they buy?” “Of course the pricing with those customers is a little bit lower,” the sellers all responded, “but the absolute dollar amounts of the profits must be high despite the lower margins.” Except that they weren’t.

At the same time we were conducting the interviews, we were also busy calculating the actual profitability for each of the company’s customers. It turned out that in addition to negotiating lower prices, the sellers’ biggest customers were also the slowest to pay their invoices. And they returned a lot of products. And they demanded the most customer service. And they received volume rebates. When all of the costs to sell and service them were taken into account, the company was making a profit on just 14 of its 50 biggest customers. It was losing money on 72% of its ‘best’ customers. That’s where the company’s profits were hiding.

In itself, this didn’t shock me. The salespeople had no knowledge of the actual profitability of the products they were selling, and their financial incentives clearly inspired them to close any deal no matter how low the price. What did surprising to me, though, was the vehemence with which they defended their price discounting practices.

Every salesperson in the company had large customers that were sucking money out from this company. We pointed out that they were essentially paying these customers for the privilege of selling them products, and if they were to stop selling to 36 of their 50 biggest-volume customers, their company would actually be more profitable. We suggested that they needed to raise their prices to these profit-sucking customers, or else we would be forced to fire them—their customers, not the salespeople.

But to a person, they defended their pricing tactics as what they had to do in order to ‘get the business.’ In fact, they claimed that getting this business was the privilege they had earned over decades by developing great personal friendships with their customers. These customers were generous enough to give them the ‘last look’ at each potential deal, so they could beat the lowest price that their competitors had to offer.

Again, we pointed out that this was a bad strategy, but the salespeople were steadfast that they were simply meeting the ‘market price’ established by their competition. If they didn’t sell the products to the customer at the ‘market price,’ then their competitors would win the business. To which we responded, “Great. Let your competitors win the business. Let them pay the customers to buy their products. Then your competitors will be the first to go bankrupt, not you.”

Alas, no amount of reasoning could convince these salespeople that selling products at a loss was a losing proposition. They were convinced that they should continue to ‘get the business’ at the ‘market price’ by leveraging their ‘friendships’ to get the ‘last look’ at every deal. No wonder their competition was performing more profitably than they were. The competitors’ salespeople were smart enough to say no to the worst deals.

Gratefully, this story had a happy ending. The executives realized that the sales force’s financial incentives were not aligned with the company’s. They cleverly redesigned the compensation plans to reward profitable customer relationships, not just big ones. Within a year, the distributor’s profits were on the rise, and they continued to grow substantially for several more years.

As these changes were taking place, I liked to imagine the amazed reactions of the competitors’ sellers as my client’s salespeople began to walk away from bad deals. The competitors must have marveled at their good fortune. Suddenly they were getting the last look at all the deals they’d previously lost to my client. They were able to win the business, and win it at the market price. Their revenues were surely on the way up. But their profitability was on the way down.

The Good Ideas

Good Idea 1: Bigger Isn’t Necessarily Better

There is an intuitive appeal to bigger customers. And all things being equal, they tend to be better for you, too. But not always. Sometimes your biggest customers might also be your worst, because they’re either less profitable, less strategic, or just more annoying. Be sure to understand the type of customers you want, and then do what you can to attract and retain those. You don’t need every customer, just the ones that are good for your company.

Good Idea 2: Beware the ‘Market Price’

The ‘market price’ is a customer euphemism for the lowest price that anyone has ever spoken aloud. Don’t lead a race to the bottom just because someone tells you a lower price exists. You shouldn’t have to give away your products—they deserve a price that reflects the true value you provide to your customers. If your customers won’t buy at a price that you want to sell, then politely walk away. Let ‘the market’ have the business instead.

Good Idea 3: You Might Have to Fire a Customer

Salespeople spend most of their energy trying to acquire and grow customers, so it’s almost unthinkable to purposefully end an active customer relationship. But like any relationship, some customers who start out as a dream will end up a nightmare. If they’re a bad customer to you, hopefully they’ll be an even worse customer to your competitor. Let them be just that.

Thanks Cannon Thomas... who ever you are! Priceless. You can buy the book on Amazon here. Over to you the reader. What pricing blunders have you witnessed? Let me know in the comments. Who do you think Cannon Thomas is... really? Could he be Anthony Iannarino or maybe Mike Weinberg? Maybe Jeb Blount or Lee Bartlett? Let me know your guess by sending me an InMail.

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website: www.TonyHughes.com.au.

Main Image: Google Images, source unknown

How [Not] To Run A Sales Meeting


Sales management is the weak link in the revenue chain. Sorry if that offends anyone but it's the truth. Leadership sets the tone and creates the focus in every organization; and culture is nothing more, nothing less, than the behavior of the leaders. Sales meetings often reveal short-term or lazy mindsets and sadly waste the time of most of the participants.

First a confession. I've held roles as sales manager and director of sales for public corporations and then Managing Director of global technology companies where I ran the Asia-Pacific region. I've been part of the problem in years past so this is a mirror just as much as a floodlight.

We all need to recognize that we cannot manage by results; only by activities and actions. If your sales meetings are dominated by the CRM on the big screen and blowtorch accountability sessions on forecast commits, then you're focused on the wrong thing.

"83% of sales management metrics do not measure sales activities" - Jason Jordan, Cracking The Sales Management Code

In a group setting we need to inspire, educate and create the right focus. Individuals need to be encouraged to share their wisdom with others. Publicly embarrassing anyone is a sales meeting is a form of bullying. Weekly one-on-one sessions are where strong accountability should be driven and direct feedback given but even these private sessions are not the forum for any Gordon Ramsay style of coaching. There are no excuses for bullying... ever!

It's almost always a mistake to fire-up the blowtorch and apply pressure to your sales people to go and explode a deal by applying clumsy pressure or making ill-conceived discount offers or announcing hollow threats. Instead acknowledge that opening is far more important than closing and that understanding the customer's timing and process is how to achieve accurate forecasting. We should always be asking the right questions of sales people at the beginning of the quarter and help them identify and execute the right actions that create progression. Applying the flame-thrower with just days to go in the quarter after neglecting the inputs that create success is a sure-fire way to damage relationships and drive-down price and margin. Pic in this paragraph by Jeff Warren (mike-lin-blowtorch).

In a sales meeting; by all means discuss key deals if multiple stakeholders are there and the group can contribute or learn. Here are some important principles for making sales meetings an effective use of everyone's time:

  • Motivate and inspire by celebrating success with individuals and recognize those who are over-achieving in their KPIs that ultimately create revenue. Highlight corporate wins and new customers. Always emphasize team effort along with the commitment of key individuals.
  • Ensure that your marketing team is part of sales meetings and that you drive sales and marketing alignment and collaboration. This is a critical success factor for strategic social selling where sales people are content amplifiers and potential content creators. Sales people can learn from marketing to improve their messaging and branding on platforms such as LinkedIn.
  • Collaboratively share market intelligence concerning competitor activity and tactics. Insights from both loss reviews and win review insights should be shared including trigger events that created interest with prospects early and then workshop how to create the most powerful conversations.
  • Foster information sharing and train a skill or technique that can help people improve their skills to drive results. Invite a guest to speak or present briefly create better understanding of other parts of the business or how to best engage with partners.

I phoned a fellow sales leader, Wayne Moloney and askedhim for his thoughts as he just published an excellent book on sales management and here are his thoughts. He agreed with my list and offered additional thoughts.

Sales meetings should be about the team, not an individual,  and meeting should be more about the customer than your company.  The objective should be to ensure consistent communication of company messages.

Consider the teams overall performance and address any issues to get back on track. Seek feedback on what assistance the team needs to over-achieve their targets but don’t allow this to become a complaint session. Provide the team with something of value to help them succeed and be specific. Share examples of how a sale was won.

The meeting agenda should not be around the performance of individuals and limit it to one hour. Always start and finish on time. Don’t get stuck in a rut, change the order around and don’t have the same people talking each week. Ask one sales person each week to share something they have tried that's working for them. It could be a way of getting into a new account, a way of presenting a new service/application (max 15 minutes including questions).

Ask individuals to present on a competitor or a new product, service, technology, process or solution. This will enable the manager to assess their skills and provide feedback and coaching later.


Tip of the Week – the sales managers chance to earn some ‘street cred’. Identify a weakness and provide suggestions on how to address, provide some market intelligence that they would not be aware of and could help them address a problem. It doesn't need to be complex, just a positive to finish the meeting and help them leave thinking they got something they wouldn’t have if they didn’t attend.

Wayne's book is excellent and the key point in all of this from me and Wayne is that sales meetings should inspire, educate and equip sales people to execute better with customers. Sales meeting should foster collaboration and serve the sales team, not the sales manager. Wasting everyone's time going through individual deals may help the manager avoid 1:1 sessions with sales people but it's not best practice.  If you run forecast updates then call the meetings exactly that. Preserve the title of 'sales meeting' for sessions that sales people want to attend and that provide value for all in attendance.

And now... the classic movie sales meeting from Glengarry Glen Ross with alec Baldwin.

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website:www.TonyHughes.com.au.

Main image photo from Flickr.