Saturday, January 12, 2008

response: you can't fix stupid

Tales from an XOD author Greg Strouse wrote yesterday that you can't fix stupid

What blew me away was the following:

I was talking to a buddy today who's struggling with a non-performer, a sales guy who hasn't sold anything in nearly a year. So, I'm wailing on my buddy about what part of "nothing" and "nearly a year" he's not latching on to. 

Now all of us have had the opportunity to work with salespeople who underperformed.  Some of us have even been that salesperson.  It's frustrating and sad to have colleagues who struggle.

In the past, I might have been more sympathetic to people complaining about underperforming salespeople.  But over the last year I've come to realize that the success of a sales organization has more to do with the quality of the sales design than it does with the relative intelligence of the members of that sales organization (sales management included).

Of course, having bright salespeople and sales management makes everything better.  That's a shout-out to my current crew, just so you know.

I've also come to appreciate that depending on the sales cycle for the products you sell, it is reasonable to anticipate a new salesperson (especially one in a new territory in a new market) may not sell a dime's worth of product for a year.  Or more.  You planned for that, I hope.  If they sell something earlier, swell.  

What you're looking for in those first few months (or more) on the job is whether salespeople are learning your sales design and implementing it religiously.  Are they building a funnel of prospects who can be served by your value proposition?  Are they transitioning deals from phase to phase at the rates and percentages you expect?  Are they able to navigate through the contracting process?  Do they play well with others (this is one of my top success criteria, BTW)?

Here's the cold fact - in the absence of an explicit design that you teach and enforce, each salesperson you hire brings with them their own way of selling and managing the sales process.  99%+ of the time this is the same process that got them fired from their last job.  So why should you expect anything different?  

Dangerously, in the absence of an explicit sales design many companies manage to sell, which only masks the company's failure to implement a transparent, repeatable design.  "Hire more people like Chad," they say.  "Chad's a superstar."  This is moving the responsibility for selling from the company to the salesperson, which is not something I'd advise.

Let's look at this another way.  What does the largest national chain of hamburger restaurants (LNCoHR) do when they hire a new cook?  Do they let him sling burgers the way he did at the beach?  No, they teach him to do it the LNCoHR way.  That's how they guarantee consistent, quality results everywhere.  It's their design that creates success; they trust that if individuals follow the design, they'll get the results they expect.

They've figured out a way to fix stupid.  This is not to suggest that the people who work on the burger line at the LNCoHR aren't bright.  But the management of LNCoHR don't need bright.  They just need people to follow the design.
The next time you hear someone complain about an under-performing salesperson, try the following.  Ask him or her what part of the funnel is the salesperson having the most problems with.  Is it prospecting or qualifying?  Is it getting appointments?  Talk about funnel math: how many deals does it take at the top of the funnel to produce enough deals at the bottom to meet quota?  Who is getting the appointments - the salesperson or a call center?  Who is doing the market segmentation and targeting?  Who is handling account management?  Is everyone using the same tools, the same understanding of the value proposition, the same appreciation for the problems the company is looking to solve?

In other words, drill down to figure out whether or not they're working from a design.  You may find that most people don't think of sales from a design perspective - they're just counting closed deals, no matter what unnatural acts it took to close them.

I won't argue whether or not you can fix stupid.  But you can fix ignorance.  Smart people can seem stupid in the absence of models for success - and that's true of salespeople and executives alike.   Focus on fixing the design, then trust the design.  

Shooting an underperforming salesperson in the absence of an explicit design is more of an admission of failure on the part of management than it is of the fired salesperson.

1 comment:

Ron said...

your remarks remind me that the productivity of US workers in Japanese transplant factories is essentially the same as the Japanese factories. Not that Detroit management would act on that...