Dave Brock is a California, USA-based author, coach and consultant who founded and acts as the president of Partners In Excellence. He focuses on the sales, management and corporate culture domains. Given his activities he has a busy schedule and it was pleasantly fortuitous to sit down with him for a chat and pick his brain about the aforementioned topics. The questions were posed both based on professional interest and his area of expertise and his answers were additionally appreciated because he took them spontaneously and answered without advance preparation.
Dave, thank-you for your time and allowing me to pose several questions. Could you please introduce yourself and tell our readers what makes you an expert in sales and management.
I am the CEO of Partners In EXCELLENCE, a consulting company focused on business strategy, strategic alliance, sales and marketing. I am also the author of Sales Manager Survival Guide. I am a theoretical physicist by training. I got into selling after being Chief Product Officer at a failed start-up. I realized there is more to business than great products. I started selling mainframe computers to money centre banks in New York City. I went up the food chain with increasing managerial and executive responsibilities at IBM and then went on to do turnarounds of several tech companies as EVP of sales or CEO.
Could you tell us more about Partners In EXCELLENCE. What do you do and how long has it been around?
I started the company in 1991. We have fifteen partners scattered around the world today. We focus primarily on helping Global 750 organizations improve performance and execute their business strategies at the highest levels. About fifty percent of our clients are in technology and industrial products, about twenty-five percent are in professional services and the rest are in the not-for-profit, retail, CPG, basic materials, et cetra.
Could you speak about the book Sales Manager Survival Guide? Which topic does it zoom in on?
The book focuses on the role of the Front Line Sales Managers. For all the literature on sales out there there is very little that helps sales managers. It’s a practical guide on how to maximize the performance of their teams. This fall I am following it with the Sales Executive Survival Guide, which focuses on the top executive and how to achieve overall organizational excellence.
In cases where the sales numbers disappoint, is it sales managers who fail more often or is it their teams which fail? I know the goals are one and the same, but where do the fault lines lie?
The right answer is, it depends. If there is a failure at an individual level it is both the sales manager and the individual. The sales managers may have hired the wrong person or may not be coaching and helping the person achieve the highest levels of performance. It is usually a systemic failure attributable to the sales manager or higher up in the organization If the whole team fails.
One thing I want to ask you about is regarding sales managers who sell without having a personal quota – as opposed to helping their teams sell. You write about this topic. The sales manager often sees no choice and is faced with quarterly and annual deadlines and pressure, as you know.
The only way the manager achieves his numbers is if everyone on the team achieves their goals. If the manager dives in to try to do all the deals himself he will ultimately fail. The sheer volume of the deals will kill him, he loses the respect of his team, et cetra. His job is to maximize the performance of the team period. He doesn’t do that if he takes away the selling responsibility.
I believe this may be a manager self-consoling and rationalizing, but what about managers’ feeling that by doing they are also coaching? That is, his or her team members can see them in action, learn and emulate them in the future.
There is a certain amount of showing that is helpful, particularly if you are looking at new capabilities, but at some point the salesperson has to practice, execute and be coached about how to improve. More importantly, the manager has to help the salesperson learn how to think and figure things out themselves.
This is quite true and we agree, Dave. I have seen the power of what you say in action with my teams and it is a near-universal truth. One of my favourite topics is sales enablement. Could you give us your definition of this concept and expand on what you see as the most important elements that companies and managers need to provide their sales teams in this regard?
Sales enablement is a very broad topic and not just limited to the sales enablement function. In a very real sense, the entire company must enable sales. For example, develop great products, serve customers well, and create great customer experiences, et cetra. The manager is really at the lead of enabling his team. The sales enablement function supports sales with training, tools, programs and content. I disagree with the trend of many sales enablement organizations which are trying to displace the sales manager in doing those things.
Another perennial favourite of mine: it seems to me that often companies trip themselves up and get in their own way through rivalries, politics, jealousy and people not wanting to look bad and the C-level doesn’t seems to care enough to put an end to these distractions and to focus the team on the mission or is powerless to do so. How do you see this issue within the corporate and selling department context?
There are many organizations that are covertly or overtly anti sales. This is an attitude driven from the top and ultimately leads the organization to perform at a level far below its potential. There are other organizations that have terrible cultures that don’t promote collaboration, team work, accountability; they perform below their potential. There are organizations that inadvertently ‘love their sales people to death.’ By this I mean they try to be so helpful they actually detract from time that salespeople spend selling. This relates to one of the biggest issues we see in organizations which is internal complexity creating a huge sales burden. It’s well intended, but it detracts from sales productivity.
We recently worked with a Global 50 organization. Their salespeople had nine percent time available for selling! The rest was spent getting things done on behalf of the customer or deals internally. They didn’t realize this happened and figured out how to be helpful but free up the salesperson to sell. Large sales organizations have complexities in selling. People do their jobs, but the internal complexities detract.
That nine-percent statistic is astounding. I have often had to go to argue and make a case in my own career for either my team or my own ability to be able to sell efficiently, but still nine-percent is such an extreme. With that said, when you write covertly or overtly do you mean unintentionally or intentionally?
Perhaps that’s another way to do that. No organization will ever say they are anti sales, but when you look at behaviours, priorities, et cetra they are anti sales. Too often, they think it’s their “hot product” that is driving success, not realizing that hot products aren’t sustainable and don’t drive growth.
As a follow-up let’s talk about how companies, in my experience, understand that commissions, bonuses and other incentives are motivating, but do not understand how aforementioned issues and corporate challenges are demotivating. I have seen one too many eager and energetic folks enter the sales department and end up becoming jaded. Is this something you think about? How do sales leaders or organizations take positive individuals and turn them upside down? Or perhaps you like to put the responsibility back on the shoulder of the individual salesperson?
I think non salespeople, as well as many sales managers, get distracted by compensation and what sales people earn. They need to look at what salespeople produce and assess how they would be able to do the same without salespeople. If they can achieve the same results, with a lower cost of selling, then they need to do that. But too often it’s an irrational emotional reaction. For example, I’ve encountered CEOs who refuse to let a salesperson be paid more than they are. They are just cutting their nose off to spite their face and limiting the company’s ability to grow and succeed – assuming the compensation plan has been well constructed in the first place.
Most non sale executives have little experience or empathy with what it takes to be very successful in selling. They tend to think of it as transactional whereas in most B2B cases we see it is far different than that perception.
I am fully aware that it is an unfair question perhaps that doesn’t do the topic justice, but when you go into companies with these “anti sales,” as you put it, challenges what would be the one thing you first and foremost suggest as a Band-Aid?
It depends. Often, the companies I go into with this anti sales attitude are in a turnaround mode and I’ve been brought in by the board. In many cases, those execs are the problem and I replace them. In some it’s a culture issue and you have to get management to commit to a cultural change. Again, usually they get to this point because they are troubled and failing. Cultural change takes a long time and deep commitment from the top. Some just don’t have the time.
This is a bad answer, but often I won’t waste my time, if they have the wrong attitude, the wrong culture and won’t change it. I’ll deal with the management team that replaces them. There is no silver bullet or a magic solution however.
Dave, it was a pleasure chatting and discussing these topics. Why don’t you say a few words about Sales Executive Survival Guide?
Yes, the book will come out in the fall. It’s targeted at CEOs and Top Sales Execs. Where SMSG (Sales Manager Survival Guide) focused on individual and team performance, SESG focuses on organizational excellence. It will address issues like culture, people and talent, complexity, frameworks and systems’ thinking, organizational-growth oriented mindsets, creating a culture of relentless obsessive learning and relentless execution.
Partners in EXCELLENCE’s website is at www.partnersinexcellenceblog.com.