When I was a kid, around this time of year I was obsessed with one thing – staying off Santa’s Naughty List.
The Naughty List was terrifying – getting on this list meant no gifts. It meant a ruined Christmas. It meant shame and ridicule. It meant I didn’t get MY SHARE!!!!
And isn’t “getting your share” what the season is all about? (No, Sally Brown, it’s not)
You see kids, before Chippy the Elf began his worldwide Big Brother Surveillance State we now live in (All Hail Chippy) Santa used a very basic management structure to make sure I was more Nice than Naughty. The Big Kringle was informed of my good and bad actions by two people – my mother and father.
They “reported up” to Santa – they were Santa’s Vice Presidents as it were.
All year long, they reported the status of my actions up to the Big Guy and I often heard the following phrases from them:
- What do you think Santa would think of that? (In response to me hitting my sister)
- You know I need to keep Santa informed of your actions, right? (In response to me hitting my brother)
- Do you think that’s something that would go on the Naughty List (In response to me hitting my friend – jeez what the heck was wrong with me?)
And the one they used most of all?
You better do XXXXX to stay off the naughty list!
YES! Because you see, my parents figured out the fear of the Naughty List could affect POSITIVE action as well. Clean your room, do your homework, be nice to your sister…all to stay OFF the Naughty List.
But as I got older, more seasoned, the threat of being on the Naughty List lost its dreadfulness.
Now it’s not like I was drinking Cisco (google it) in the school parking lot with my friends on December 22nd and still got a new ColecoVision (google it) under the tree on Christmas, but the POSITIVE effect on my behavior because of the threat of the Naughty Listlost it’s luster. I would grudgingly and poorly do what my parents asked and guess what - Santa still came.
In short I did “just enough” of what I asked to do just to stay off some list. I wasn’t actually being NICE – I just wanted to do the least amount of work to not be called NAUGHTY.
If you’re asking “what does this have to do with Sales and Sales Management?” you are not in sales and you can stop reading here.
Because those of us in sales know that managing people who are doing the least amount work to stay off a Naughty List is what sales management has become.
Whether it be Activities, or Pipeline or even Forecast numbers, sales managers try to get salespeople to do things to stay off some list or spreadsheet that comes out of the CRM.
Take this example – I once worked for a company that required 4 demos, 4 presentations and 1 sales proposal a week from each sales rep. Hell or high water. And every Monday, managers would be emailed a spreadsheet, with every salesperson in the company being listed either In or Out of compliance of this corporate policy.
Now, it didn’t matter:
- What your pipeline looked like
- What your forecast looked like
- Where you were in quota attainment
All that mattered were those activity numbers. And managers would literally say: Let’s make sure we’re updating our activities in the CRM to stay off that list.
Some managers actually put sales quota-performing people on a performance plan because of this list!
It doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to figure out WHAT TYPE of activity numbers went into the CRM, does it?
Garbage. Absolute and utter phantom numbers. A pack of canards, Lies.
And back at North Pole, the MBA-elves (after running these phony numbers through some Rube Goldberg machine) couldn’t figure out why activity numbers were right on target, yet pipeline and forecasts didn’t match the activity.
So they sang and danced and got drunk on hot cocoa and then cobbled together another batch of fresh Hades - creating Naughty Lists for pipeline and forecasts!
And amazingly pipeline and forecast numbers went up Up UP!
And guess what didn’t go up. Sales Revenue.
Because at the end of the day, while you can lie about talking about, or emailing about or demoing or proposing your widget to someone, you can’t lie about actually selling a widget to somebody.
Because the boss actually expects the check for the sale of that widget to come in the mail at some point.
We all know getting people to do things for you with the threat of negative action only works for a while and only when they KNOW there’s actually negative consequences to their non-compliance.
The fact is - managing your salespeople to stay off some arbitrary Naughty List is a recipe for asking them to lie to you.
And what's the effect of those lies? Only 1 out of 5 sales managers make over 90% of their forecast sales number.
If you’re a VP of Sales, this should horrify you. Forecasts sales numbers are what revenue projections are built on. And revenue projections fund product R&D, acquisitions, solution development and shareholder dividends.
Talk about Naughty Lists with a negative consequence – miss paying shareholder dividends and see what happens.
So what’s the answer, Sherlock, you ask. How do we, as sales managers and leaders, push back and actually affect change in the way we manage sales people?
Well that depends. If your sales revenue numbers are great, and these Naughty Lists are mere annoyances, that’s one thing. You’re a manager and you can figure out ways to either cajole your people to enter the activities or you can stand on your team’s 250% of quota number and 8X pipeline and push back against the SLT and these annoyances.
But what if you’re at the bottom of the board? What if your organization is missing revenue forecasts and across the sales organization quota numbers may as well be signified by ∞, as they will be impossible to meet this year.
Well it ain’t gonna be easy – You’re still going to have to push back. But smartly – and not alone:
- We Hang Together or We All Hang Separately – While you’re a white collar sales manager, you’re going to have to get a little Norma Rae here. If any of this article resonates with you, it’s likely there are others like you in your organization or company. Find like-minded sales managers and build a presentation to senior leaders as to “what is wrong with how we manage our reps.” Now this WILL expose you and your little Band of Brothers/Sisters to ridicule from the lemmings in your org – sales organizations have more than their share of lackeys and "yes" people. Never forget that you will be telling the emperor about their poor choice of tailor – and that in itself is dangerous for your career. But if you’re looking for the quickest way to disrupt, a team of field sales managers presenting a universal problem to leadership WILL get an audience. And if you can’t trust other managers or you feel you’re the only non-lackey around? Polish the resume already and get out of there. Don’t throw yourself in-front of a juggernaut. There’s enough beaches to die on at good companies where they value sales leaders – don’t waste another breath, life is much too short.
- Joe Friday them – You need facts and figures in this presentation. And you need to draw correlations and connections. You need to dust off your best sales expertise and create a value-prop deck. Grab all those Naughty List spreadsheets and draft a comparison to real sales numbers. Have all the managers document the good, strong salespeople you’ve lost in the last 18 months and put a dollar amount to revenue they took with them – as these were reps that wouldn’t play the Naughty List game. Figure out the time your teams waste entering data in the CRM – data that doesn’t end up helping increase sales revenue – and expound that effect on client facing "sales" time. And this is a sales presentation – so PREPARE yourself for OBJECTIONS. I CANNOT EMPHASIZE THIS ENOUGH. Your SLT is going to push back against you. HARD. So be ready and craft answers to all suspected OBJECTIONS – the most important being “But as a sales manager it’s YOUR JOB to manage your salespeople to success – so what’s your part in this failure?” (hint - the answer is not "None")
- No Excuses, Just Solutions – This isn’t the complaint department – it’s a call to action. Create a solution to your own malady – physician heal thyself! And don’t just trash talk the CRM – your company has invested tens/hundreds of thousands or even MILLIONS into this enterprise system – it’s not going anywhere. They will get rid of you before they get rid of it. Remember there’s a place for good CRM because sales, marketing, and customer support HAVE TO WORK TOGETHER to help increase sales revenue. Find a place for good CRM analytics – but not Naughty Lists. Uncover real-world KPIs that accurately report, prescribe, and predict while also offering “in the field” value to the sales reps tasked with entering that data. Make your metrics CUSTOMER FOCUSED – let’s not just measure meetings, let’s measure meetings with a MOVE FORWARD. Let’s not measure demos, let’s measure demos that lead to presenting a QUOTE or PROPOSAL. Let’s not measure what marketing campaigns led to the most “touches” or “interactions”, lets measure those that led to the most SALES. And let’s not negatively enforce these metrics – no more Performance Plans for reps that don’t have 4 demos in a week – try gamifying the metrics to get some POSITIVE COMPETITION between teams. It’s our job as sales leaders to build and manage a scalable and agile sales organization that focuses on customer acquisition and market share. And about that.
- Hit the bricks, pal – its 2015 and I don’t know about you but I no longer have any patience with the school of thought that there are A-type and B-type sales people. My experience tells me there are only Salespeople and people who don’t belong in sales. If you manage reps that have great activities and poor sales revenue, you have to ask the SLT for the power to cut them loose – with impunity and not a six month separation process. I can create more revenue with three stellar salespeople than I could with three stellar and three B-level sales people. How? I would give the three stellar sales people all the leads. Duh. One of the major reasons we have devolved to managing by these Naughty Lists is that we are forced to manage people who are NOT SALESPEOPLE. If you’re managing a sales team in 2015, you probably feel the same way. We are forcing managers to manage to the lowest common denominator – and if you want an over-quota salesperson to leave, try managing them like a sub-quota performer. You have to be brave enough to ask your SLT to manage No Body rather than anybody. Now, remember, managing smaller sales teams with larger territories will put more stress on you and your performers – but in the end, this is sales and sales ain’t beanbag.
So back to my Naughty Lists as a kid. As I said, as I got older, the big and scary Naughty List was less big and less scary. So my parents had to figure out a way to get me to shovel snow, cut the grass, clean my room, take out garbage, get decent grades, etc…
So they created an intriguing system – the better I did these things they asked, the more cash I got in my allowance – the more half-assed I completed these tasks, the less I got. My adolescent brain started to equate quality of work with direct economic value.
I began to do these things well because they led to direct value for ME. It wasn’t the fear of being on a list that changed me – it was because I found it benefited ME TO CHANGE.
And amazingly enough, when my parents ended up reporting my actions to Santa, I was naturally on the NICE LIST.
Imagining managing salespeople that way. And imagine as a sales manager having sales people do things (like CRM data entry or accurate forecasts) that REPORT UP WELL not because you're threatening them with the wrath of Santa - but because they believe those "things" you are asking them to do actually provide them real value and end up making them money.
I hope you have a joyous holiday season. I’m interested, as always, in your feedback so let me know your thoughts - whether you think I’m on point or off base, it's all good.