I spend much of my time talking to CEO’s about the importance of their organisation having a powerful sales process and building sales capabilities within their teams. The problem is, the more time I spend looking into sales issues within organisations, the more apparent it is that the bigger problem is Legacy, the way we’ve always done things!
Whether we acknowledge it or not, our behaviours in life are directly influenced by our past experiences; hence the saying, “You don’t know what you don’t know”. This often leads us to being reactive in our life rather than proactive. The things that have the greatest impact on our lives and businesses are more often than not those unexpected events that blindside you. Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his 2007 “The Black Swan” called these Black Swan events. According to Taleb, the term “Black Swan” was popular in 16th century England to describe anything that was impossible or highly unlikely. The knowledge of the day was that all swans were white; to imagine anything other than that was impossible until Dutch explorers discovered Black Swans in Western Australia in 1697. Can you imagine the controversy that created?
The impact that Black Swan events have on business is enormous and continuous. Do you think that Nokia or Motorola saw the iPhone coming or could have anticipated its impact on the market? These two companies went from having total dominance over the mobile phone market to complete irrelevance in a few short years. Why? LEGACY! Not only were they unprepared for the iPhone, they were unable to change….they were hamstrung by their own legacy. By the time they were willing and able to overcome their own legacy, it was too late; they were already too far behind.
For those who are old enough, what sort of an impact do you think the invention of the fax machine had on telex machine makers? What about the impact of e-mail on fax machines? And so it goes. All Black Swan Events; all came as a surprise, all had a major impact and all could only be rationalised by hindsight not anticipated with foresight!
In smaller ways this is happening to businesses every day.
This really hit home for me when working with a CEO last year. The company was in pain after an unexpected change in legislation saw their sales fall by more than 35%. Not only was this change unexpected but the company found itself unable to respond quickly to these changes nor find new markets to fill this gap. They were in pain and like Nokia and Motorola continued to do what they had always done while their relevance diminished.
When the pain became great enough, I was called in to look at their sales organisation. The evaluation showed that the sales team were ineffective, lacked the competencies necessary to grow sales and should not have been in sales roles. What we found was that the majority of sales came from the company’s marketing and the legislated requirements. Our view was that the sales team was irrelevant to the sales success of the company.
Can you imagine someone telling you that your sales team were irrelevant; that if you didn’t have them it wouldn’t make any difference? It came as quite a shock to the CEO who initially ignored my advice. Interestingly, over the next month, the CEO started to observe the issues that I had alerted him to and started to performance manage his 5 person sales team. Given their lack of capabilities, it came as no surprise that 3 quit and the other 2 were sacked for non-performance. In a period of 6 weeks he went from having a full sales team to having none! Do you know what happened to sales?…..nothing! Sales didn’t decline at all.
Sales didn’t decline yet the CEO had saved himself more than $500,000 in wages. Working with the CEO we started rebuilding the new sales organisation, one that would be more flexible, capable and responsive to future Black Swan Events; one that reflected best practice and would build for the future.
But this rebuilding focused on more than just the sales organisation; it looked at why the company was unprepared for change, the culture that drove behaviours and the implementation of systems and processes that supported a culture of change. This meant that legacy systems and behaviours had to be ruthlessly rejected in favour of a new way of thinking…it was either that or die!
If you could rebuild your sales organisation today to prepare it for an unknown future, what would it look like?
Great organisations are reinventing themselves constantly. They understand that they “don’t know what they don’t know” and they make themselves lean, fast and responsive….they aren’t mentally tied down by legacy and they’re ready when a new “Black Swan Event” hits from out of the blue.
The question is are you?