There’s a Jackson Browne song called These Days which he wrote at the tender age of sixteen. One of the lines in the song goes, “Don’t confront me with my failures; I have not forgotten them.” A sixteen-year-old wise beyond his years.
For those of you who are not old enough to remember Jackson Browne, he was a seminal influence in the ’60s and ’70s music movement that came out of Sunset Boulevard/Laurel Canyon, Los Angeles—where at the time you’d have found Frank Zappa, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Joni Mitchell, The Byrds, Jim Morrison, Eric Burdon, Neil Young, Orson Welles, The Rolling Stones…and in more recent times Slash, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and so on.
“Don’t confront me with my failures; I have not forgotten them.” I heard this song on the radio today and it reminded me of a conversation I heard about recently between a sales manager and his salesperson. It went something like this:
Manager: “You lost the deal!”
Salesperson: “Yes, I know.”
Manager: “You’re behind quota!”
Salesperson: “Yes, I know.”
Manager: “I can’t believe you lost the deal!”
Salesperson: “Suspending belief doesn’t help.”
Now, not a lot of progress there. Unfortunately, this conversation, or something similar, happens too frequently and, notwithstanding the personalities involved and the obvious absence of any semblance of mutual respect, it’s for one main reason: The only data the sales manager has is historical. He lives every day trying to predict the future based solely on lagging indicators, so the only conversation he can have with the sales person is a conversation too late. The deal was won, or it was lost—in which case the sales manager can only confront the salesperson with his failures—and as we see from the conversation above, that’s not much good.
But what if the sales manager (and the salesperson himself) had access to leading indicators and not just lagging indicators? What if he could look inside the salesperson’s pipeline and understand the true pipeline velocity, not just the number, size, or the deals? What if he had intelligent insight into the health of each deal? Would it help if he could gain foresight from automated analysis of past trends, usual sales cycles, “typical” deal-blockers, and areas of risk? Of course it would.
Then you would see uncommon productivity. The end of weekly sales calls as we know them. No more “Can you tell me what you did this week on the ACME opportunity?” Rather, a conversation that’s productive: “I can see we’re running in to a possible problem with that deal—here’s how I think I might be able to help, based on what I’ve seen work in other deals.” That’s when a sales manager can become a sales leader.
While there is no technological prosthetic for a broken relationship between a sales manager and his team, there are smart sales playbooks available today and collaborative tools that help plan effectively for sales calls to deliver measurably better sales results. You might consider how to apply them in your business so you don’t lag behind.
Incidentally, Jackson Browne was managed by David Geffen, who founded Asylum Records. Geffen never signed a contract with any of his acts and, according to him, none of them ever left him. He said his role was to be a buffer between his artists and the maelstrom of the music industry and to help the musicians in every way he could so that the artist could perform. Sounds like a good model for a sales leader to me.