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Ireland Knows How To Support Growing Companies

Four workshops down, one to go here in Ireland. No sign of Swine Flu anywhere!

I continue to be amazed by Enterprise Ireland—Ireland’s Department of Commerce.  The support they provide start-ups and high-potential Irish companies is something we can all learn a lot from.  EI provides funding, programs, advisors, resources, introductions to key decision makers, market research, competitive intelligence, advice on market entry strategies, partnering and acquisition strategies, and what appears to be endless support.  They’ve got offices in 31 countries with support in an additional 39.

During the past two weeks I’ve heard story after story from CEOs about how they’ve been helped by Enterprise Ireland.  In fact, they’re subsidizing the program for which I am a facilitator.

Although Ireland is suffering through the same recession as we are in the U.S., Enterprise Ireland continues to invest.  That investment in many hundreds of companies run by smart, hardworking, and determined CEOs will continue to leave Ireland in the best possible now and coming out of the recession.

There is no question that all this costs a lot of money.  We don’t have the stomach for this degree of federal spending in the U.S.  Our needs aren’t the same.  Ireland depends on exporting its goods and services.  Evidently this country of only 4 million considers the significant ongoing investment in Enterprise Ireland, coming out of the pockets of the Irish people, worthwhile.

Photo credit:  This blogger, trying on his Swine Flu mask anticipating the Dublin to Boston flight home on Saturday.

Hiring The Right Salespeople: Try This

I’ve written a lot about hiring sales people and sales managers on this blog.   ESR knows that the epidemic of ineffective hiring is one of the reasons that sales performance has been so dismal over the years, even before the current economic situation.

The best sales methodology, training, tools, technology, coaching, and reinforcement doesn’t have much impact if the people in the sales jobs don’t have the foundation for selling effectively.  It drains the enthusiasm and motivation of the team, wastes money, and forces sales management to spend time selling for the misfits rather than supporting and leading the rest of the team.

I’m in Ireland for two weeks facilitating a series of workshops with Irish CEOs and sales executives.  Hiring is a big issue here.  The record among Irish companies in this area hasn’t been good.

Here’s a refresher.  ESR recommends:

  • Build or buy (then customize) a profile-based, structured hiring process;
  • Use psychometric and predictive tests as well as income verification and background checks;
  • Train hiring teams on the skills required for effective employment of the process, including interviewing and reference checking;
  • Don’t by-pass the process under any circumstances;
  • Understand that a key to successful hiring is objectivity.  Hiring salespeople on gut feel, the old-fashioned way, doesn’t work.

Consider adding a subjective measure or two where appropriate:

  • Walk the sales candidate to their car and do a quick appraisal.  Clean inside and outside, or junk strewn about?  Untreated rust spots?  What about those bumper stickers?  How would your customers react?
  • Invite the candidate and their significant other to a social evening along with you and yours.  Dinner in a nice restaurant gets the job done, especially if part of their job is entertaining prospects and customers.  Observe how they and their partner communicate for a hint of how they build and maintain relationships.

The definition of A, B and C players differs from sales vp to sales vp.  My take is you can’t make C players into B’s, because, by my definition, C’s don’t have the requisite traits.  And you can’t train someone to improve what’s in their DNA.

If you follow that logic, you’ll want to never hire a C player again.

Photo credit: © Dmitri MIkitenko – Fotolia.com

Groundhog Day

I’m in Ireland this week and next working with Sales Executives and CEOs in a series of one- and two-day workshops as part of the International Selling Program offered by Enterprise Ireland (Ireland’s commerce department) and DIT (The Dublin Institute of Technology, where I am an adjunct professor of sales and sales management).   My overall message to the 125 or so people I’ll be in front of is one word: process.  (Here it’s proh-cess, not prah-cess).

I cover three of the most critical processes for building an effective sales capability: qualification, hiring and planning.  Sales process itself is covered in another module.

Timeline to disaster

One of the big challenges here is similar to that in the U.S.—selecting a sales VP (or director) who can get the job done. Considering the average tenure of sales VPs these days—less than two years—I created a pro-forma timeline for the newly-hired sales VP who isn’t going to work out long-term:

  • Months 1-3: On-boarding. VP learns about the company, salespeople, colleagues in marketing, services, customers, competitors, etc. Asks a lot of questions.  Generates excitement and hope.
  • Months 4-6: VP makes changes in approach, terminology, territories, business partners, marketing materials, routine (sales meetings, forecast calls, etc.) VP may bring in former salespeople that worked for them in the past.
  • Months 7-9: Little to no performance improvement realized. VP says that new mechanisms haven’t “gained traction.” Or that their new reps “need a little more time.” VP suggests that there have been changes in the market/economy/environment since they joined. Assures the executive team a little more time will do the trick.
  • Months 10-12: An occasional success! The heat is off for a time, until the CEO realizes that “one big win does not a trend make.” (Dave Hathaway, partner, now retired, from prestigious VC firm Venrock Associates said that to me in a board meeting when I was an inexperienced VP of sales and bragged about a big deal we had just won.)
  • Month 13: Consultant or board member or expert is brought in to assess the situation. Meetings, reports, discussions, back and forth
  • Months 14-16: VP and CEO see the handwriting on the wall, but keep it to themselves, hoping that the situation will magically approve.
  • Months 17-20: CEO covertly searches for new VP. VP covertly taps into his/her network while updating their resume with the appropriate spin on this latest position.
  • Month 21 (or The New Month 1): New VP of sales arrives… On-boarding…  It’s Groundhog Day!

Who is responsible?

You might wonder who are responsible for this all-too-common situation.  It’s the people who continue to hire the wrong VPs of sales or promote their best salesrep to the job.

What is the root cause?

The profiles for a Sales VP and a salesperson are, by definition, different.  Granted, most successful sales VPs have a sales background.  But promoting a successful salesperson into a management role doesn’t work unless that person has the skills and traits required for that job.  Here are a few generic sales leader skills:  management (!), team building, conflict resolution, strategic planning, coaching, hiring, and motivating.  There are numbers of additional skills required for success in each unique sales leadership position.  Plus there are a list of traits, too, many of which even top-performing salesreps just don’t possess.  Process orientation is just one.

Wait, wait!!!

If you’re about to hire a sales VP, director, or sales manager (or are about to promote a rep into one of those positions) and you don’t have a profile for that position specifying the skills and traits required for success with your company’s sales people selling your products to your customers against your competitors, STOP.

Old Habits Are Hard To Break

After seven days on a bike tour through Northern Thailand, my wife and I wound up at the Anantara Resort at the Golden Triangle.  She was ready to sit by the pool for the day.  I was ready for one more ride.  Last day.  Only 25 miles.

I got used to the left-side-of-the-road traffic the very first day.  No problem.  I lived in England.  Drove quite a bit there. Also in Australia, Ireland, Jamaica, and other places as well.

Most days we biked 30 miles or so.  Two days we biked 70.  That’s a lot on a mountain bike.  I was strong and confident.

I was uncharacteristically late getting myself ready for the ride.  I missed the briefing.  No worries, the guide told me.  Better hurry down the hill, he said.  Catch the rest of the group.

I jumped on the Trek and tore downhill.  I couldn’t see the group down the driveway (opens up the location in Google Earth).  I pedaled faster.  Two-thirds of the way down there was a sharp right turn.  I figured the group was just around the bend.  As I got closer a guy on a moped came around the corner.  I was doing about 25.  I moved to the right.  He moved to the left.  I moved further to the right.  He moved further to the left.  Just before we crashed I remember the guide telling us on that first day, not to get hurt to the point you’d need a blood transfusion.  This is Thailand, he said.  I remembered that as I was flying over the guy and his moped.

Somehow I wound up with nothing more than a scratch on my right elbow and one on my knee.  I still can’t imagine how.  The guide, who had been following me in the van was astounded that I was OK.  I was as well.  I asked for a new wheel.  Done.  The guy on the moped was fine.  His moped wasn’t.  Employee of the hotel.  Don’t worry, sir, he said.  Within a minute I was on the bike again, catching up to the group, staying diligently on the left side of the road.  In fact, locked on the left side of the road.

Breaking a habit is like that.  Everything is fine.  Feeling comfortable.  Maybe you even get a bit complacent.  Then an interrupt resets the circuits in your brain and you react.  Not as you learned you should. But as you used to.

New times call for new approaches and new habits.  And practice and discipline so they stick.

My Interview with SMT

I was recently interviewed by Lori Champion from SMT (The Professional Society for Sales & Marketing Training) as part of the ramp-up for their annual conference in Orlando October 14 – 16, 2009.  I’ll be keynoting at the event.  The topic will be Sales Excellence 2012: Overcoming Tough Obstacles,  Achieving Measurable Results.

Lori’s interview begins:

What do a CEO, a Trumpet player, a computer software programmer, a VP of Sales, and an expert in landing “very big contracts” have in common? They describe the background of one man and he is Dave Stein! Let’s add “Opening Key Note Speaker” to the list. He is, after all the Key Note for SMT’s 2009 annual conference in Orlando, Florida this October.

I had the privilege of sitting down and speaking with Dave about a week ago. I wanted to find out more about this very versatile CEO who will be addressing us this fall.

Dave Stein is the CEO and Founder of Massachusetts based ES Research Group, Inc. (ESR) which provides Gartner-style, independent advice about sales training programs, sales performance improvement tools and approaches. It also does  evaluations and comparisons of the companies that provide them.

Read the rest of the interview here.

A High-Level Sales Call Gone Bad – Really Bad

Years ago I was based in Europe, opening up operations there for Datalogix International, an ERP software company.  Datalogix “wound up” in Europe after selling a large deal to a Boston-based adhesives company, Bostik.  Bostik came to us with a problem: the were being sold by their parent company, Black & Decker, and Bostik had to get off B&D’s mainframe within five months.  Bostik had a number of locations, including several in the U.K.  They were being acquired by Total Chemie (pronounced toe-TAL Shem-EE), the chemical division of the very large French multinational petrochemical company.  Talk about a compelling event!  Bostik had no choice but to invest in their own system.  There was a need, a budget, a timeframe and we were talking to the key decision makers in the company.

Greg Taylor was the salesrep.  He, along with VP of sales Steve Andersen, did a fabulous job.  The deal came in at $1.9 million, which was the largest deal for Datalogix up until that time.  We took a customer-focused, proactive approach.  I was VP of Operations at the time, and I drew up a plan to commence support operations by moving several people to the U.K., and opening up an office there.    Bostik felt very comfortable with it and that was a key reason they decided to go with Datalogix.  Since I had a diversified background in sales, operations, professional services, software development, marketing, etc., the board asked my to spend the next 18 months in Europe.  (By the way, Greg and Steve completely outsold Marcam, who was our competitor.  I wound up working for them several years later.)

My new role as VP of International Operations was to drive the launch of the company in Europe.  I was to bring the VP of Europe, Jim Cluchey, up to speed.  Another of my roles was to drive the strategic relationships we had established with IBM, DEC, and HP, and to contribute to the sales effort wherever I could.  Jim was a really smart guy and a experienced software executive.  We had recruited him away from Cognos, where he ran their European operation.

Datalogix was making significant progress implementing additional Bostik sites in other countries in Europe.  During that time, Jim Cluchey and I were devising a strategy on how to expand our reach within Total.  We had the right software, but the wrong platform.  Total ran on IBM’s AS/400 platform, and our Unix-based software ran on just about everything else.  There was a possibility that we could rehost our software onto the AS/400 and we decided we would approach Total’s VP of IS  with that plan.

Jim Cluchey went to great lengths to secure a meeting with Leo Mercier, Total’s VP of IS to discuss the progress of Datalogix’s Bostik implementations to date (flawless, and Leo knew it) and our future ability to support other Total chemical companies.  Leo was receptive.  Jim and I were encouraged.

Jim and I met in Paris the morning of the meeting.  He had flown in from London, and I from Rotterdam, where I was then living, coaching the new central Europe general manager.  Total was headquartered at La Défense, in Paris.  We were scheduled to meet with Mercier from 1:00 to 2:00 in the afternoon.  As we made our way to the office we took yet another opportunity to validate our plan for the meeting.  We knew we had to overcome the IBM challenge, but we felt confident we could do that.

At one o’clock Jim and I arrived in Leo’s office.  His assistant told us Leo was at lunch and would return shortly.  Jim and I sat there until 1:55.  That’s right, 1:55.  When Leo arrived, he invited us into his office.  No apology.  No smile.  Not even a hint of one.  He uttered one sentence.  “I want a 40 percent discount.”

As GM of Europe, Jim owned that account.  He did the right thing by telling Leo that we needed to understand their situation: what plants needed our software, what hardware platforms were required, timelines, resources, etc., before we could discuss any discount.  Leo huffed and said he had another meeting.  We left the meeting angry, frustrated and determined to go under, over, around or through Leo Mercier.

What went wrong?  Was it the centuries-old Franco-American problem? Ineffective qualification?  The NIH (not-invented-here) syndrome?  Some effective blocking by IBM, who was threatened by our Unix-based solution and had Leo’s ear?  An unwillingness to acknowledge a success in a new, unproven division of Total? Leo just being a tough negotiator? His ego?  Just one of those bad meetings that happens to everyone?

Jim continued to make great progress in Europe.  We made a number of good sales—some strategic and some tactical.  I moved back to the States early having overachieved on my objectives.   Later on I left the company.  I had heard that additional systems were sold into Total, but only after Mercier’s departure from the company.  With all that I had done before that day and considerably more after, I’ll never forget that meeting.

What did Jim and I do wrong?  What would you have done differently?