All About the Work

“Brent, let me get this straight. You said that your salespeople may not be doing their best because they may not be interested in the work? Do your salespeople understand the work?”

“You’re right! Sometimes, it’s like they are brain dead. They are just mechanistic, going through the motions,” Brent described.

“So, they understand the prescribed duties, show up, make a presentation, ask for the order. But let me confirm, they may not understand the problems that must be solved or the decisions that must be made to create a successful sale?”

“Exactly, I mean we train them and train them again on the presentation, until they have it memorized, down cold, but you are right, that does not make a successful sale. The success of the sale depends much more on the questions they ask and the data they collect about the customer’s problem.”

“So, as the Sales Manager, do you sit with your team and talk about the problems that must be solved and the decisions that must be made during the sales call? That’s where the work is. That’s where the excitement is. That’s where the challenge is. If you are looking for interest from the salesperson, the connection is in the work, not the prescribed duties.”

A Sale That Sticks

“You are going to have to go slow, because I am still not getting it,” Brent shook his head.

“In order to close the sale by the end of the second sales call, what are the problems that must be solved and the decisions that must be made by the salesperson?” I repeated.

“Well, we know that to make a sale that sticks, that doesn’t get canceled or delayed, we have to collect certain information, then do some research and then present a case that is difficult to resist. Right now, it can’t even be, just a good deal. It has to be difficult to turn down.

“If the first meeting is going too fast or the data we collect is too superficial, we cannot do the analysis and we won’t be able to make an irresistible offer. The salesperson has to use judgment to determine if the information is right. It’s almost a gut decision.”

“So, the work of the salesperson is using discretion to judge the pace and quality of data collected in the first sales call?” I confirmed.

“Absolutely, the customer, in the first three minutes will tell you how this sale is going down, if you listen.”

Not Just Showing Up

“I’m still not following you. Showing up, making a presentation and getting the order, is not the work of a salesperson?” Brent protested.

“Those are valid activities, prescribed duties, but not the work,” I replied. “Tell me, on every sales call, what must be discovered about the prospective customer, before a sale can be made?”

“Well, you have to find out the customer’s need. If they don’t need it, they are not going to buy it, especially right now.”

“And what is the goal?”

“To write the order,” Brent shot back.

“By when?” I asked.

Brent stopped. “We have sort of a two-call closing process,” he finally concluded. “The salesperson needs to write the order by the end of the second call.”

“So, tell me, what are the problems that must be solved, what are the decisions that must be made by the salesperson to reach the goal by the end of the second sales call? Because that’s the work.”

What Are the Decisions?

“You mean they might not be doing their best, because they are not interested in the work?” Brent repeated.

“So, tell me what is it, about the work, that is not interesting?” I asked.

“Look, we are in sales. This is a struggling economy, supply chain issues. It’s easy to not get excited.”

“You are not answering the question. Tell me about the work,” I insisted.

“We show up to an appointment, make a presentation and ask for the business.”

“That’s a good start,” I nodded. “Those are the prescribed duties. Now tell me about the decisions your salespeople have to make when they are on these appointments.”

“I don’t understand,” Brent furrowed his brow.

“I think that’s the disconnect. You are right. Showing up and making a presentation is not very interesting. Of course, that is what you have trained them to do, but that is not the work of a salesperson.”

Passion For the Work

“Okay, my goal. Our sales targets are my goal. But you assume they are doing their best. What if they aren’t doing their best?” Brent protested. “Then, shouldn’t I be disappointed?”

“Brent, your contract with each team member is that they come to work each day, and do their best. Full application of their capability, completing the tasks they have been assigned by you. Can you tell if someone is violating that contract?” I asked.

“Of course, I have been a manager here for seven years. I can tell immediately if someone is not doing their best,” Brent replied.

“And what reasons would there be for someone to not do their best?”

“Well, it could be a number of things. They might not feel well, they might be sick. They could be fighting with their spouse. They could have a disagreement with a team member. They could be having difficulty because they don’t know how to do something. They might not be doing their best because they are not interested in the work.”

“Yes, and as their Manager, should you be aware of each and every one of those things? Frankly, most of those are easy things to know, but what about that last reason?”

“You mean, they might not be doing their best because they are not interested in the work?”

Who Can Change the Things That Matter?

“Our goal, their goal? What’s the difference?” Brent retorted.

“The difference is your relationship with the team, their relationship with you and your understanding of who is accountable,” I replied. “When they don’t meet your goal and you come down on them, how do you think they feel? What is their attitude toward you?”

“They know I am disappointed in them.”

“No, they get pissed at you.”

“Pissed at me?” Brent sat back. “I am not the one who is supposed to be selling, they are.”

“You are right. As the leader, I expect you to devote full attention to the management of this sales team. Which is why they are pissed at you.”

“I still don’t get it. Why are they upset with me?”

“Assuming they are doing their best, and you are still falling short of your goal, who is the only one who can hire more salespeople? Who is the only one who can coordinate different marketing? Who is the only one who change the assignment of leads? Who is the only one who can change their collateral literature? Who is the only one who can set selling margins?”

Brent was silent, then finally spoke, “That would be me.”

Whose Goal Is It?

“I know how it is affecting you,” I said. “How is it affecting the team?”

“Well, when they don’t meet the goal,” Brent explained, “I sit down with them, mostly one at a time and talk to them about doubling down their effort. They are just going to have to work harder. They can tell I am disappointed in them, so I am sure it makes them feel bad.”

“Why are you disappointed in them? Are they doing their best?” I asked.

“Yes,” Brent slowly nodded. “They are doing their best, but they are missing the goal.”

“Whose goal?”

“Well, the team goal. I am just trying to help them meet the team goal.”

“What do you think the team goal is?”

“Well, we measure it in revenue, average revenue per sale, and number of new clients. The goal this month, it is supposed to be our best month of the year, is 47 new clients.”

“The goal is 47 new clients? That’s good, but I want you to understand that is not the team’s goal.”

Missing Objectives

“I am a bit confused about what to do,” Brent explained. “All of our plans this year, all of our goals, we are just so far away from where we thought we would be. I am worried.”

“What do you think happened?” I asked.

“Well, we build to order. Every project is unique. We have all the resources we need, we have all the people, in fact, too many people, but our customers are not ordering according to forecast.”

“And, what is your role in all this?”

“I’m the sales manager,” Brent replied. “It’s my job to bring in the orders. And the sales team is working really hard, but just not making any headway.”

“How many sales people on your team?”

“Eight. I mean, maybe I should have hired more. I wonder if I am even capable of running this team in this market. They aren’t making sales the way they used to. We have our goals and they are just not meeting them.”

“How is that affecting the team? Not meeting your goal?” I followed up.

“Oh, they know I am not happy. I can feel my own tension. I try not to show it, but I am sure the team can tell things are not good.”

Who Has the Authority?

“I have to change. Me?” Vicki asked, not sure if she could believe her ears.

“I am going to hold you accountable for the results of your team,” I said. “What do you have to change?”

Vicki was not pleased. “Well, if you are going to hold me accountable for the results,” she stopped. “I have to pay attention.”

“Yes, you do. As a Manager, what do you have to pay attention to?”

“I may have to be more hands on,” Vicki replied.

“Yes,” I nodded.

“I mean if someone is out sick and you are still going to hold me accountable for the results of the team, then I might have to fill in.”

Only in an emergency. You are a Manager. I expect you to drive a forklift only in an emergency. Come on. You deal with statistical fluctuations of many elements all the time. What are you going to do?”

“Okay, so we are talking about cross training, maybe borrowing a member of another team, considering overtime. You know, 30 is really an arbitrary number. If we were short one day, we can likely make that up over the next couple of days, as long as there were no late ships.”

“I want you to think carefully. Are any of those decisions, cross-training, borrowing a member of another team or using overtime, within the authority of your team members? Can any one of them make those decisions?”

“No.” Vicki shook her head slowly.

“And yet, those are the decisions that produce the results. That’s why I hold you, as the Manager, accountable. What else has to change?”

Too Much Humidity

“It’s not your fault that your most valuable team member is out sick, but I will still hold you accountable for the results from your team. What has to change?” I repeated.

Vicki was still stumped.

“Vicki, let’s look at all the variables that could have an impact on production. You are focusing on the team’s manual assembly. Do they work at different rates on different days?”

“Well, yes, sometimes, they work better when there is loud music playing, awful loud music,” she replied.

“So, some days are up and some days are down. I call that a statistical fluctuation. What other elements could cause a statistical fluctuation?”

“Oh, well, there are a number of things. Sometimes our tooling or tools get worn and they just can’t do the job at the same rate, until we change them out. Sometimes our raw materials aren’t quite the same and we have to stop and make small adjustments to accommodate. Heck, sometimes, too much humidity can affect the setup time.”

“So, all of those things, including the manual assembly can create statistical fluctuations in production?” I noted, making a small list on a sheet of paper.

Vicki nodded her head. A smile crept across her face. “You are right. Those are the things that create havoc in my day.”

“And who is responsible for solving those problems and making decisions, making adjustments to build 30 units a day?” I was looking straight at Vicki. “What has to change?”