Tuesday, December 6, 2016
Some years ago I was asked to do a presentation to an international sales and service team in the medical device industry. I attended their global sales meeting, with my presentation planned for the last day… it was to be motivational… “get them to achieve more with their customers” was my direction.
I attended all of the three day meetings to get used to the technology they were selling and servicing… good thing, since it became clear to me that my planned presentation was totally wrong. This group of people had a long way to go before they were a team, and if I could recognize it, the customers could, too.
The internal and external sales, service and marketing functions all had managers who were in silos, reporting to the President/CEO. Each had his own set of goals and incentives… and upon analysis, some were at cross-purposes. While this wasn’t going to change, it became clear to me that it needed to become more seamless. The teams didn’t trust one-another… sales felt marketing wasn’t giving them the right tools; marketing felt sales didn’t know how to sell the product; service thought sales over sold product capabilities, leaving them to clean up the too-high expectations.
The company also had product problems with the customers who, it appeared, felt the product did what several other incumbent products did… and was more expensive. This was leading to frustration throughout the company, and a low productivity level (sales to FTE ratio) that was not sustainable.
After discussions with the CEO I asked to do a very casual presentation with all three groups attending the meeting… sales, service and marketing… the teams had direct interfaces with customers, and each other. It was to be a low-tech discussion… flip chart, markers, casual seating (it turned out to be a dinner presentation), after-dinner drinks on the tables!
I worked through the issues that I saw… and new needed to be addressed:
a) The teams had no credibility with each other, or the customer.
b) They were focused on telling about their product, instead of positioning it visa vis the status quo, in each account. They were unable to differentiate their product as a result… customers were not buying it.
c) This enterprise group was the most up-tight I had met; almost disliking each other as teams, and as individuals. They were not having fun, and turn-over had become a problem for the sales and service departments.
Credibility is the currency of success… establishing it as a team, and as individuals internally in companies, is critical to success. This is done through strong internal communications before, during and after products are developed, tested, launched and sold. All commitments should be made realistically, so that success is achievable. Product, market analysis, selling tools, product training and so on, should all be coordinated before launch. I liken this to selling among the internal teams (ensuring marketing knows sales’ needs; sales knowing what service needs to achieve its goals, and so on). Ensuring that those needs are satisfied first, helps with achieving the enterprise’s goals. Transparency throughout the process is critical; to get it right with one another, before trying to get it right for the external customer.
Credibility with the customer is a similar situation. A sales person, internal or external, needs to establish her credibility, before customers will trust the company. Then the company has to come through with a product and service that meets the expectations that were established by the sales person. Credibility soars when things go wrong and the team comes together with service to ensure the product issues are resolved.
Once the teams have internal credibility with one another, they have a better opportunity with the customer.
Differentiation is the second area of opportunity I wanted to address. This is the problem of the customer not recognizing the utility of the new product verses what they already had been successfully using… the status quo. Learning how to differentiate product from competition and status quo is a fundamental of selling. Sales people cannot successfully sell if the marketing and engineering teams don’t give them product, selling tools and training to clearly define the new product.
Differentiation necessitates a deep understanding of the customer’s processes and the competitive products and companies. As marketing and its allied teams develop product specifications, this should be a core strategy… even products with clear advantages may not be differentiated to “the tipping point” * where customers will rationalize the price and conversion cost differences. Training programs for sales people have been in place for years to try and establish this situation… but without product, selling tools, sales support, service and so on, all combining into a strong proof… customers will not recognize it, and not buy it.
As I discussed the concept of differentiation with the full group, I could see heads nodding and questions/statements started. It became clear that if the teams worked together, they could also impact their credibility with each other. Just fifteen minutes into the discussion, I asked the teams to introduce themselves, with a one-line statement about whatever they wanted the others to know about them. Then I asked them to switch seats at their tables or between tables… clearly there was discomfort… the personalities, history and so on between desperate groups was significant… no less so, just because they are working for the same company.
I then started discussing the apparent silos between each group and how it was causing a clear lack of enjoyment, enthusiasm and fun at the meeting. Employees spend 40 to 80 hours a week with other employees… depending on one another. If it isn’t some level of fun, it is not worth doing. I actually encouraged the teams to find a way to have fun at the meeting and subsequently, in all interactions. When you aren’t having fun, you may as well be somewhere else… shocking the executive of the company, I encouraged those not having fun, to leave… even to leave the company. Shock treatment is old school, but sometimes works…
It wasn’t long before the participants were joking about having fun! It became fun to be with the team. A subsequent presentation that evening from the head of the sales team echoed several of the themes I had initiated, and it became OK to be talking across team lines, that evening.
I ended the presentation by taking the first letters of credibility, differentiation and fun and making the acronym CDF! My final exhortation to the company was “go CDF yourself”. They did, and the company gradually found ways to success… not just with CDF of course… but subsequent corporate successes were grounded in the concepts from that evening.**
*Malcolm Baldrige… The Tipping Point
** Yes, in the following year, I was honored to become a manager in the company, and utilized the “CDF” as part of my signature. It took years to really accelerate the business model, and it happened not only because of CDF… but it was a beginning that can work for any company with silo management issues.
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- Grad. Saint Mary's University, 1975, got into the medical device business initially in sales, then various management positions up to president, all in Medical Devices. I prefer therapy products over diagnostic, but they are all fun, and in a way have defined my life. I have now evolved, with help from my 35 year partner Lynnda with whom I now share every hour. I am into staying healthy, photography, kayaking, bicycling, gardening and two books a week. I wish I had gotten to this stage earlier!