In Solving Problems, Are You Focused On The Headpin?


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Sales managers have to balance a number of, potentially contradictory, issues in leading their organizations and maximizing productivity and results. Combine that with the fact that the organization must continue to move forward producing results. In business and sales, there are no time outs. No chances to stop the world and spend time just focusing on solving problems. Someone once said that it’s like changing a tire on a car going 200 miles per hour.

I get calls from great managers, all with the same questions, which problems should I focus on first, how many can I attack at one time? Great questions–our instincts are to attack the problems that are most easily and quickly fixed. The thinking is, “let me get this problem solved and out of the way, then I can address the tougher issues.” It’s not a bad approach, sometimes “triaging” a problem is important. If it is really distracting the leadership team and the organization from focusing on the most critical issues, then putting a temporary fix may be necessary—note I said temporary. Too often, however, I see managers distracted addressing symptomatic issues, avoiding the core problems.

Everything we do in sales leadership is inter-related. Our strategies, tactical business management issues, people/coaching, leadership, systems, processes, training, metrics, goals are all interrelated and connected. Changing something impacts everything else. Put in place some new metrics or processes, they impact training and coaching requirements. They may impact your overall strategies. Change your go to market strategy and many of your day to day business processes may be impacted. In fact you may need to recruit people with a different profile and different capabilities, better equipped to execute the new strategy.

The interrelationships between these different factors is important. Understanding how everything fits together gives us great clues for methods in which we can make great strides in addressing problems and improving performance. Choose the right problem—of all the problems you face, solve that problem and possibly many other problems disappear or lessen. Think of these as the head pin. In bowling, if I hit the headpin just right, I can knock out all the others as well. Miss the headpin, you may take out one pin, but you still have 9 others you have to deal with.

What are the “headpin” problems in creating high performance sales organizations. In my experience, there are a few headpin areas: The most important, in my opinion, overall sales strategy–this sets the go to market plan, the priorities, how we hold the customer, and even the target markets. Precisely defining our sales functional strategy, helps us determine so many other things–the types of people we need, processes, programs, tools, training, metrics and so forth. The leadership style/culture of the organization is another. This sets the tone and direction, it establishes the personality of the organization and how people in the organization will work together. It provides the basis for coaching and developing people. It shapes how we manage the business on a day to day basis, who we recruit, and many other things. The only other, in my view, is the selling process—our best experience for winning deals.

The reason these three are so critical is that if we have any problems in these areas, solving some of the peripheral problems may not have the desired impact. For example, if we have a bad sales strategy or bad selling process, then the systems and tools we put in place, will probably either never be used, or not be used to full advantage. Training programs will not have the impact or, in fact we may be training for the wrong things. Until we have a strong sales strategy in place, what skills, competencies do we look for in our people? Do we want hunters? Farmers? Major account managers? Channel managers? People who will establish great relationships or people who will churn away? Until we have our sales strategies and sales processes in place, how do we know what to measure? How do we know what our incentive plans should be?

One of the biggest things I’ve seen in the last couple of years, is that we must make major changes in these headpin issues–the way our customers buy is changing—we have to change our strategies and sales processes. However, instead of addressing these core issues, we work around the periphery, perhaps solving the easiest problems or the most visible. We put in place new systems and tools–but these don’t fix a bad sales strategy. We hire more people, but are we hiring what’s really needed. We put new measures in place, but what strategy do they support, the old or the as yet to be developed strategy. We put new training programs in place, yet in the absence of a strong sales strategy or process, how do we know what to train people on?

So as you look at your problems and are choosing which to address, focus on the headpin. Get that right, and everything else follows. Miss it, and you’ll struggle to maximize the performance of the organization–wasting time, money, resource, and missing opportunities.

What do you think the “headpins” for sales the sales function are?

REMINDER: Don’t forget to join us for the launch of Future Selling Institute! Register for the GoToMeeting Launch on Friday January 14 at 1:00 Eastern. Future Sellling Insititute is the place where Sales Leaders gather for personal, professional and career development!

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Dave Brock
Dave has spent his career developing high performance organizations. He worked in sales, marketing, and executive management capacities with IBM, Tektronix and Keithley Instruments. His consulting clients include companies in the semiconductor, aerospace, electronics, consumer products, computer, telecommunications, retailing, internet, software, professional and financial services industries.


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