Understanding the sales people you need…. and when!

SalesSales people come in all shapes and sizes. Some sales people are really adept at only one style of selling; others can adapt according to circumstances.

Based on my experiences there are four main types, organised along two axes: Transactional to Relationship-based client conversations; and  Tactical or Strategic sales techniques.

The Ambulance Chasers take their cue from personal injury lawyers who literally follow the stretcher into the emergency room. These sales people are almost entirely reactive, and only ever think about the next “chase”. They are less interested in building client relationships, and more focused on how much they can get from a single sale. Such sales people can often be relied upon to achieve short-term sales targets, but they don’t necessarily generate a lot of repeat business. If they develop a good nose for where more opportunities may be found, and if they can engage in more systematic sales planning, they may be able to transition into the Tree Shaker.

Tree Shakers are skilled in tapping into existing networks and markets, and uncovering latent opportunities – at times it’s simply a question of knowing how to harvest the low hanging fruit, at others it’s knowing when to dig deeper into an established client account. These sales people can usually find an extra sale or two when their colleagues might have given up – but beware of Tree Shakers who are really sand baggers, holding back those deals for when they really need them.

A skilled Tree Shaker or even an experienced Ambulance Chaser will know that leveraging industry contacts can help them get to more opportunities – but in order to cultivate deep client relationships that yield returns time after time, or to build long-term pipeline potential, you really need strong Networkers. These sales people play the long game (not always helpful when short-term sales goal need to be met….) because they know that having a strong strategic plan and resilient relationship skills will pay off in the end. Networkers are great at leading by example when it comes to account management and updating the CRM system – but they can infuriate if they become too reliant on too few contacts. (Tip: check their expense reports to see if they are having coffee with the same people every month…)

However, the type of sales people who can leave all others in their wake are the Rainmakers – those that can literally conjure something up out of nothing. At times, the Rainmaker may appear to be totally opportunistic – pulling a rabbit from a hat just when it was needed (again, beware the sand bagger) – but their forte is going into uncharted waters and coming back with the catch of the season; and while their colleagues may resent their skills (or question their methods?), secretly they admire the Rainmaker because they show what can be done in seemingly difficult or untested markets. The downside is that Rainmakers might only have one big deal in them, unless they can build sales momentum and sustain interest in the market – otherwise, they quickly move on.

In reality, every sales person probably needs to demonstrate each of these styles at different times; and like any balanced team, a sales organisation needs to have all four styles on their bench. The real insights are knowing where and when to deploy these different skills, and understanding what the results mean when doing a breakdown of the sales reports.

NEXT WEEK: Revisiting geo-blocking in light of the Competition Policy Review Draft Report

5 Challenges for Performance Management

I recently facilitated a round-table discussion on Performance Management, with senior executives from commercial, not-for-profit and public sector enterprises. Our topic was current practice in Performance Management, and was hosted together with my colleagues at Bravo Consulting Group.

At the outset, we posed a number of discussion points, including:

Are there direct correlations between Performance Management, Employee Engagement and Productivity?

How is Performance Management linked to Rewards, Recognition and Compensation?

Do your people understand the context for Performance Management?

We also discussed the true costs of Performance Management systems (time, resources, software, administration), as well as the different attitudes of management, team leaders, HR and employees toward current processes.

The good news is that all the organisations represented are running annual or semi-annual employee appraisals. There was also an increased focus on performance outcomes (i.e., it’s not just about effort expended on job-defined tasks, but more about what is being achieved and how). And our participants reported the importance of using appropriate tools to deliver effective employee communications around corporate strategy, organizational goals, change management and project roll-outs to ensure greater alignment with, and context for Performance Management.

However, we identified a number of key challenges and critical issues facing any organization that takes Performance Management seriously, or who wishes to increase the effectiveness of their current practices:

1. Negative Perceptions of Performance Management

Despite the widespread use and acceptance of Performance Management systems, there remains considerable negativity around the process, the context, and the even discussions themselves. There appears to be a sense of foreboding when it comes to the mid- or end-of-year appraisal, a fact that was borne out for me just a few weeks ago: I was in the furniture display area of a well-known department store, when I overheard the floor manager say to one of her sales colleagues: “Mike says he’ll do your one-on-one at 3pm today.” What might appear to be a fairly innocuous statement visibly filled the employee with dread, at the prospect of his annual review. Surely Performance Management discussions should not be fraught with such unnecessary anxiety or stress?

2. Performance Management Systems Are All Different, And Too Rigid

Our round-table participants all reported using different software (and paper-based) systems, which is understandable given the proliferation of HRMS tools that support Performance Management. But many of these systems resemble accounting or project management software, and lack more qualitative or cultural performance measures. Alternatively, systems tend to be rigid, process-driven applications that often take a checklist and compliance approach to conducting Performance Management. They can also suffer from a “one size fits all” solution, and don’t readily help organizations to develop meaningful performance measures or point-in-time indicators, mainly because they are backward-looking and use retrospective data. Shouldn’t Performance Management help employees move towards the job that they want (and towards their longer-term career objectives), rather than confining the discussion to current or out-dated tasks?

3. Formal Processes Are Disconnected From Informal Processes

By making it a “process” (and an infrequent one at that), Performance Management becomes artificial, and divorced from day-to-day reality. This can result in performance issues being stored up and only “discovered” during the formal appraisal – which will add to the anxiety and stress if long-term resentments about manager-employee behaviours and relationships are only brought to light during the Performance Management process. A common outcome from the formal Performance Management process is a corrective or punitive response, due to the absence of continuing efforts to manage and direct performance. Why should employees only hear feedback about their performance at the end of the year, when it might be too late to address the issue, leading to knock-on implications for remuneration, recognition and promotion. Shouldn’t Performance Management be part of the everyday dialogue between colleagues?

4. Many Managers Are Simply Ill-Equipped To Have The Performance Conversation

Without the appropriate skills to foster meaningful and open dialogue with their direct reports, managers end up having to manage the Performance Management conversation, rather than helping their people self-manage their own performance. This awkwardness is compounded if there is a lack of organizational context for Performance Management; worse, poor performance is ignored or circumvented because managers do not feel confident to start the dialogue, which is not fair to the individuals concerned if they are not given the opportunity to discuss what might be the root cause of a performance issue. If there is no dialogue around Performance Management, how can employees know what they are being held accountable for, or appreciate the consequences of not meeting performance goals and objectives?

5. Performance Management Systems Ignore The Middle Majority

Most Performance Management systems (certainly the ones I have been exposed to) end up using forced bell curve distribution analysis to classify employees according to high, middle, low and under achievement categories of performance. I recall one former colleague who used to cite Garrison Keillor when annual appraisal ratings had to be allocated according to the expected distribution curve: “Well, that’s the news from Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.”

When we asked our participants “what keeps you awake at night?”, one CEO commented that he worries about the middle 60%-65% of his employees – the bulk who “do a good job” – because more of his attention and focus is on the high and low performers (the top and bottom 15%-20% respectively). This “bias” can distort management perspective, and lead to disaffection in the middle band, unless there are adequate ways to recognize and reward solid performance independent of annual compensation or promotion. (This issue is particularly acute in Australia when we consider the impacts of slower economic growth, comparatively high wages and sluggish productivity – yet, employers face a war for talent as new and highly valued skills become harder to resource.)

Conclusion

If Performance Management could become a continuous dialogue, backed by meaningful performance criteria and underpinned by a greater emphasis on employee self-awareness and self-directed Performance Management, then organisations could spend more time on strategy and execution, and less time on managing individual performance. Not only would this create greater cost efficiencies in the Performance Management process itself, it would likely lead to improved productivity outcomes because there would be more clarity and engagement around goals, outcomes and incentives.