I spend much of my time talking to CEOs about the importance of their organization having a powerful sales process and building sales capabilities within their teams. The problem is, the more time I spend looking into sales issues within organizations, the more apparent it is that the bigger problem is . . .
Legacy — the way we’ve always done things!
Whether we acknowledge it or not, our behaviors in life are directly influenced by our past experiences; hence the saying, “You don’t know what you don’t know.” This often leads us to be reactive in our life rather than proactive. The things that have the greatest impact on our lives and businesses are more often than not those unexpected events that blindside you.
Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his 2007 book, “The Black Swan,” called these "Black Swan events." According to Taleb, the term “Black Swan” was popular in 16th century England to describe anything that was impossible or highly unlikely. It arose because the knowledge of the day had been that all swans were white. To imagine anything other than that was impossible . . . until Dutch explorers discovered Black Swans in Western Australia in 1697. Can you imagine the controversy that created?
The impact that Black Swan events have on business is enormous and continuous. Do you think that Nokia or Motorola saw the iPhone coming or could have anticipated its impact on the market? These two companies went from having total dominance over the mobile phone market to complete irrelevance in a few short years. Why? LEGACY! Not only were they unprepared for the iPhone, but they were also unable to change. They were hamstrung by their own legacy. By the time they were willing and able to overcome their legacy, it was too late; they were already too far behind.
What's coming to disrupt your business model (& your sales)?
For those who are old enough, what sort of an impact do you think the invention of the fax machine had on telex machine makers? What about the impact of e-mail on fax machines? And so it goes. All Black Swan events. All came as a surprise; all had a major impact and all could only be rationalized by hindsight, not anticipated with foresight!
In smaller ways, this is happening to businesses every day.
This phenomenon really hit home for me when working with a CEO last year. The company was in pain after an unexpected change in legislation saw their sales fall by more than 35%. Not only was this change unexpected, but the company found itself unable to respond quickly to these changes nor find new markets to fill this gap. They were in pain, and like Nokia and Motorola continued to do what they had always done while their relevance diminished.
When the pain became great enough, I was called in to look at their sales organization. The evaluation showed that the sales team was ineffective, lacked the competencies necessary to grow sales and should not have been in sales roles. What we found was that the majority of sales came from the company’s marketing and the legislated requirements.
"Our view was that the sales team was irrelevant to the sales success of the company."
Can you imagine someone telling you that your sales team was irrelevant; that if you didn’t have them it wouldn’t make any difference? It came as quite a shock to the CEO (who initially ignored my advice). Interestingly, over the next month, the CEO started to observe the issues that I had alerted him to and started to manage performance of his five-person sales team. Given their lack of capabilities, it came as no surprise that three quit and the other two were sacked for non-performance. In a period of six weeks, he went from having a full sales team to having none! Do you know what happened to sales? Nothing! Sales didn’t decline at all.
Losing the entire sales team had ZERO impact on sales
Sales didn’t decline, yet the CEO had saved himself more than $500,000 in wages. Working with the CEO, we started rebuilding a new sales organization; one that would be more flexible, capable and responsive to future Black Swan events. One that reflected best practice and would build for the future.
But this rebuilding focused on more than just the sales organization; it looked at why the company was unprepared for change, the culture that drove behaviors and the implementation of systems and processes that supported a culture of change. This meant that legacy systems and behaviors had to be ruthlessly rejected in favor of a new way of thinking. It was either that, or die!
We rebuilt an agile, future-ready sales team from square one
If you could rebuild your sales organization today to prepare it for an unknown future, what would it look like?
Great organizations are reinventing themselves constantly. They understand that they “don’t know what they don’t know” and they make themselves lean, fast and responsive….they aren’t mentally tied down by legacy and they’re ready when a new “Black Swan event” hits from out of the blue.
The question is, are you?
Take a quick inventory of your sales team here:
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- CEOs: What Should You Do About Your Sales Managers?
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- Top 5 Mistakes Made by CEOs Managing Sales (& How to Fix Them)