Everyone Has Blindspots

For the past several weeks since my new book Blindspots: The Hidden Killer of Sales Coaching was published, I’ve been on a tear spreading the word about this phenomena I call blindspots.  I’ve suggested that they are killing your coaching and leadership.

It’s possible that some of you are still struggling to understand how this really affects you, because you believe you’re doing just fine, you know there’s always room to improve, and you don’t believe you have any problems that could be having a significant effect on your leadership.

I understand how this is possible.  I denied my blindspots for many, many years.  In the book I share my story of what it finally took for me to see clearly.

In this blog I want to tell you about two very well-known leaders who fell hard because of their blindspots.  I would bet my next commission that both men would’ve said that, before the respective pivotal events that rocked their worlds, they too were completely blindsided by what occurred.

Before the start of the 2018 college football season Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer unwittingly professed to his own blindspot regarding his program. Meyer was heavily criticized for not being 100% transparent with information he knew regarding an assistant coach.  This was serious stuff – an investigation into a domestic abuse allegation made by the wife of an assistant coach on Meyer’s staff. Meyer was also heavily criticized for not knowing more about this situation.

The PR damage crushed Meyer, the football team and the university. Though Meyer was never seriously considered culpable regarding the allegations, and the assistant coach was never charged, Ohio State president Michael Drake suspended Meyer for the first three games of the season.

Why did coach Meyer think it could be OK to not be fully transparent with what he did know? I’d say it was because of a blindspot.

In the press conference the day before his first game back following the suspension, Meyer was asked if he thought that members of his staff were reluctant to bring him negative information. “I hope not”, he said. People need to feel comfortable coming to me. I always thought I created that atmosphere.” Well, maybe coach was wrong.

If you’re a college football fan you know that Urban Meyer strikes a serious and intimidating demeanor. Would you like to bring him bad news? His blindspot was in not seeing that his serious, intimidating demeanor might actually create the opposite of what he wanted – instead of people feeling comfortable coming to him with negative information his demeanor discouraged them from doing so.

I know people who personally know coach Meyer.  I have every reason to believe that he is a good man who cares deeply about his players and coaches and his community. The expectations of a public figure like coach are reasonably high, easily matched by the public’s appetite for castigating perceived missteps.

The  second public figure is Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau. Recently, someone uncovered photos of the PM at a party when he was 29 years old dressed in a ‘black face’ costume. Other, very public political figures have dressed up like this in their pasts.  Most educated people should know by now that this behavior is considered very offensive to black people.

Mr. Trudeau  was quick to confess to the “massive blindspot” in his thinking.  He said, “I have always acknowledged that I came from a place of privilege, but I now need to acknowledge that comes with a massive blindspot.”

This is not the venue to debate anything about these two events and the sensitive subject matter of both. I  would bet my next commission check  that both Meyer and Trudeau are deep down good men with honorable hearts, and like all people they made some big mistakes due to their blindspots.

The paradox of the blindspot is that these hard lessons are  gifts meant to  teach us something about ourselves.  I wouldn’t begin to attempt what those lessons are for Meyer and Trudeau, but if they don’t learn big from the lessons then the gift is wasted.

In my next blog I’ll reveal some of the reasons that you get in your own way.

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Why You Have Blindspots

In my new book Blindspots: The Hidden Killer of Sales Coaching I suggest that something I call your blindspots is killing your coaching and leadership.

In this blog I want to reveal why that’s happening so you can do something about it.

The main reason for your blindspots is explained with a paradox.  One of my favorite paradoxes is ‘to speed up sometimes you have to slow down’. Another one I like is ‘nothing succeeds like failure’.  These are paradoxes because the two things seem to be at odds with one another. Yet, within the paradox is the deeper meaning that reveals the connection.

You’ve probably heard of Shark Tank investor Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks NBA basketball team.  I heard that Cuban was a mentor of sorts to former Uber CEO and founder Travis Kalanick during Kalanick’s early days with the company.  Kalanick left in 2017.

Cuban said of Kalanick, “The thing that’s impressive about Travis is he’d run through a wall for you.  And the thing that’s troublesome about Travis is he’d run through a wall for you.”

How can both be true?

It’s a type of paradox I call the vice in the virtue.  Kalanick has some impressive virtues, eg some traits that have been instrumental in his success.  I don’t know and don’t need to know what those are to know that those same traits that helped him succeed have at times also betrayed him.

Here’s an example maybe you can relate to.  Do you know someone who is very disciplined?  I bet this discipline has helped this person in both his or her professional and personal life.  Discipline helps someone get things done, stay focused, and accomplish things.

But take a moment to consider how being disciplined can get this person into trouble.  Being disciplined usually takes having forethought and good planning skills.  If taken too far however, too much planning and forethought could mean missing out on important, maybe fun things happening right in front of her.  Taken too far and the disciplined person lacks valuable spontaneity that makes for a richer life.

In his thought-provoking book Range, author David Epstein tells the story of Frances Hesselbein, the former CEO of The Girl Scouts.  Hesselbein had basically four professional positions her in her life,  a career that spanned six decades.  Each position sort of fell into her lap.  She apparently never sought out any of them.  This wouldn’t likely be at the top of someone’s career building advice but it certainly worked for her.

As  a planner I surely can relate.  My wife has taught me to ‘be open to the possibilities’, and it’s made a big difference in many aspects of my life.  The saying ‘life is what happens when you’re busy planning’ has a lot of truth to it.

Discipline usually comes with sacrifice because it means saying no to something to be able to say yes to something else.  The value of making sacrifices is not debatable, but again if taken too far then saying no to some things could be a bad decision.

The New York Times conservative columnist, and author David Brooks knows too well the vice in this discipline virtue.  He’s had a celebrated career.  He’s written several books.  He’s a sought after speaker on popular news programs.  He also has gone public the past few years with his personal struggles that culminated in a divorce after 27 years of marriage.  He confessed to being a workaholic who said for most of his life he “prized time over people and productivity over relationships.”  Sacrifice gone wild.

It takes courage to share that witness with the millions of people who know and follow him.

The question you should be asking is “what are my virtues, my impressive traits that are helping me succeed in my life?”  That will be an easy, quick exercise.  Your big challenge is in seeing the paradox of how those traits have and will continue to betray you.  Be honest and don’t judge yourself.

 

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Your Blindspots Are Killing Your Coaching and Leadership

Your blindpots are killing you and everyone else. They’re killing your coaching and leadership.

Blindspots are behaviors you exhibit, routinely, regularly, that prevent you from creating an emotional connection with the people you lead.  They’re blindspots because you don’t know you exhibit these behaviors.  They’re hidden to you but are usually in plain view of everyone else.

The problem with not creating an emotional connection with the people you lead is those people won’t give you all that they have to give, and eventually their performance suffers.  Just think of a sports team – did former US Women’s national soccer team coach Jill Ellis know how to get everything her players had to give?  Did Tiger’s father know how to motivate Tiger in his prime? Did Michael Jordan inspire his teammates?  Yes, yes and yes.  They all made emotional connections.

No manager or leader is immune to having blindspots.  Everyone is cursed with them.  Titles don’t matter.  Nor does years of experience.

Let me give you a personal example of what a blindspot looks like.

I was playing golf with my father Monty and good friend Ned several years ago. On the 3rd and 4th holes I made birdies. My friend Ned was giving me high fives and big smiles. When I made birdie on the 5th hole, my third birdie in a row he was really excited. I admit I was a little amped up too.

I then birdied the next two holes to make it five in a row and by now Ned was roaring with praise. He couldn’t have been happier if I were his own flesh and blood.  Dad on the other hand, didn’t say a word.  Not even a ‘great job’ or ‘keep it up’.

Several weeks later Ned told friends my birdie binge story at a party and finished it by saying, “And you should have seen Monty. Boy was he pissed!” I was really surprised to hear Ned say this because I was there of course and I didn’t think Dad was mad. Plus I know Dad and he would have no reason to be mad at me for making a bunch of birdies. Still, Ned clearly got that impression?  How?

Dad can come across as very serious, reserved and quiet.  A guy with a good poker face.   When I played competitive golf in high school he taught me to not get emotional because that usually lead to making a mistake.  I didn’t think twice about it at the time.

Years later when I started writing Blindspots: The Hidden Killer of Sales Coaching this story came into my head because I thought it was a textbook blindspot example.  Let me tell you why.

I called Dad and asked him if he was mad at me making those birdies, though I knew what the answer would be.  Then I asked, “Can you think of any reason why Ned would have thought you were mad at me?” Again, Dad was flabbergasted, speechless.

This is why Dad’s behavior was a blindspot.  Dad had no idea he came across to Ned like he did.  You could even say I had a blindspot too in not seeing what Ned saw.

Let’s change the players and the narrative.

Let’s say you’re a salesperson and you have a manager who doesn’t know that he doesn’t endear himself to you. There’s no emotional connection. Maybe he always tries to impose on you how he used to make sales calls.  He doesn’t let you have your style, which is just as effective.  Maybe he does a poor job of recognizing your efforts, and you need that emotional fuel to keep going.  Maybe he steps in too often on sales calls with you, dominating the meeting without that being the pre-call plan.

This would annoy the hell out of most people.  It would cause some to leave to go work for a different manager.  If your manager does this once, he’ll do it eight hundred times because it’s how he’s wired.  It’s a blindspot.

Let’s change it again.   One of my clients has a challenging salesperson, a prima donna who puts lots of points on the board but who creates more chaos in the home office than a two year old at Target who was just picked up from a sleep deprivation clinic.  This salesperson consistently has unreasonable high demands, has short lead times for what he requests from people that support him, never wants to play nice with partners, and has been known to undermine those who challenge his domain.  Other than that he’s a charm.  Here’s a shocking statement – people like this don’t think for a second that their behavior is in any way inappropriate.  Their blindspots are hidden to them but are in plain view of everyone else.

If you’re wondering if blindspots are some kind of a death sentence, a flawed character trait that can’t be controlled or contained, it doesn’t have to be fatal.  But doing something about your blindspots is no easy adventure.  Self-awareness is big first step.  Being honest with yourself is key.  Being vulnerable is important.

Don’t think that blindspots are limited to behaviors that are biting, or toxic.  I know a manager who cares so deeply for her team that she’s always putting them first, and believe it or not that’s sometimes a blindspot. If she doesn’t take care of herself too, and sometimes before others, she might lack the energy and insight to look after her people properly.  I know another manager who’s blindspot prevented him from doing what was pretty obvious to me and the person who hired me to coach the manager – he couldn’t fire one of his salespeople that should have been let go long ago.

Blindspots affect your leadership and coaching and ultimately the results you seek.  The good news is there’s a way to deal with them.  It will take commitment and effort.

 

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Sales Managers Stop Asking These 3 Questions

In the pursuit of the truth, sales managers routinely set themselves up for not getting it, by asking these three questions:

1) What’s your confidence level on this deal? 2) Who’s the decision maker?  3) What’s your next step?

What’s your confidence level on this deal?

Sales managers ask this question when their funnel/pipeline stages have ‘confidence measures’ assigned to them.  Stage 2 might have a 30% measure of confidence in winning the deal.  Stage 5 might have 80% confidence.  The intent is to drive a logical, objective conclusion of the deal status which drives the manager’s coaching regarding next steps.

The problem is the confidence measures too often steer the manager away from the intended objective – what’s really going on?  They get squishy replies like ‘I have a good relationship’, or ‘they like our solution’. A manager confided in me not long ago that he lost count of the number of deals he ‘felt confident’ were going to close that didn’t.

Instead, managers should ask pointed, specific questions to inside the confidence measure. Questions about stakeholders and influence, about what matters and what doesn’t, about why they want to change and why change now.  Managers should seek ‘tangible evidence’ in the reps’ replies.  They should ask questions that challenge assumptions, especially about relationships.

Who’s the decision maker?

There are at least two problems with this question.  The first is that it’s not always clear what it means as therefore you’re handicapped in coaching to it.  Does it mean final approval?  Veto authority?  Does it mean the ability to disqualify your solution from further consideration?  When your rep Kyle says yes Mary’s the decision maker how do you coach Kyle to the next activity?  The second problem is this is the same question your reps will be asking the stakeholders they call on.  They will often get misleading or insufficient information.  They’ll ask someone in purchasing “Are you the decision maker?” and she says “Yes I am!”  And yet, as my clients have shown me the past 20 years that question too often misleads.

A better question to ask is around role in the buying process.  What role does the head of engineering play in this buying process? What role does the IT manager play? What role does the construction supervisor play?  You’re more likely to identify the stakeholder whose role is to deliver on a top line or bottom line objective, and that includes being able to make investments to achieve those objectives.

What’s your next step?

Every manager in a deal review discussion has jumped to the question “What’s your next step?” ‘What’s next’ is internally focused on the rep’s activity.

Problem here is this too often leads to busyness and busyness doesn’t always lead to effectiveness.

A better question is one that is based on the customer buying process.  Customers have to make commitments to buy something.  All of those commitments collectively make up the customer buying process.  So let’s trade ‘what’s next’ for ‘what does the customer need to do next?’

For example if a problem isn’t a priority then some stakeholder needs to take time (commitment) to make it a priority.  Or, if your salesperson knows the cost of the problem, then a stakeholder has to commit to acting on information.   Otherwise the deal is stalled or even dead.

 

Mark Sellers

Managing Partner, Breakthrough Sales Performance LLC

Sales training, coaching and consulting with businesses from 25M to 250M in revenue

Author The Funnel Principle – named a Top Sales Book to Read by Selling Power

Author of Blindspots: The Hidden Killer of Sales Coaching (to be released in 2019)

 

 

A Sales Manager’s Most Difficult Task

If you’re privileged to sit in the sales manager chair long enough you’ll experience the most difficult task a manager has – you’ll fire one of your salespeople.

I’ve had many conversations with my clients about people they are considering firing.  Some clients use me to pressure test their conclusions and some want a sanity check.  None of them have taken lightly the responsibility.

Firing a salesperson is difficult for at least the following reasons:

It’s personal. Someone’s livelihood and life is affected.  Their income stream is now cut off.  Their ego is likely injured.  They have to go home and tell the wife or husband.

You think you’ve failed.  All managers are affected by firing someone but some believe they have failed.  They think about what they have done, and what they have failed to do.  In the song These Days, Jackson Brown says “these days I seem to think a lot about the things that I forgot to do – for you.”  That’s a heavy burden to carry, so it’s reasonable that a manager would put it off.

You avoid conflict.  Some people are wired to avoid conflict and certainly firing somebody falls into that category.

You hang on with hope.   Let’s face it.  Deep down us sellers are heavily optimistic and romantically hopeful in our trade.  We resist purging our funnels of Plymouth Rock deals, and we often put too much stock in what a stakeholder tells us.  We like glasses colored rose.

The challenge is to know when you have a ‘necessary ending’ on your sales team.  In his wonderful book Necessary Endings, Henry Cloud gives us an entire field guide for understanding the complexity and necessity of endings.  He says we need to make them a normal part of life throughout our lives, instead of making them artificially unusual and often overly traumatic.

Anyone downsize lately? Yikes.  Anyone have that box (or boxes) of stuff in your basement that you haven’t opened in 12 years?  The ones that have survived 3 moves?

One way to know if you have a necessary ending on your team is to consider the following:

  • Is this butt in the right seat? People who aren’t an ideal fit for the sales job can still succeed in it.  However they might need to expend an enormous amount of energy.  Over time they can flame out. Can you afford to keep this person on?  Can you invest time and training in them?
  • Have they gotten your best effort to make them successful in the job? Be honest.
  • Have they repeatedly not taken the message of direction, strategy and what you need them to do? The scientific term for this is thick skull.
  • Do they show a pattern of not being coachable?

With such a dramatic outcome at stake it’s always a good idea to get another person’s opinion.

Finally, for those that need to go, this is your responsibility to your entire team.  You can’t shirk that duty.

Good selling,

 

Mark Sellers

Companies in the range of 25M to 250M hire me to train, coach and consult around sales matters

Author of The Funnel Principle, named by Selling Power magazine a Top Ten Best book to Read

Author of the soon to be released book Blindspots:  The Hidden Killer of Sales Coaching

 

 

 

The Cure for the High Cost of Losing Customers

When you hear about businesses that have high turnover of customers you might be tempted to think there’s something wrong with the business.

After all, why do customers leave their suppliers?  Maybe it’s an operations issue like a product problem or delivery problem.  Maybe it’s a sales issue.  Isn’t sales supposed to retain customers?  Maybe the customer has outgrown the capabilities of their supplier. They need ‘y’ and the supplier can only provide ‘x’.

Before taking any course of action companies would do well to know how their customer attrition rate compares to that of competitors.  Maybe your competitors shouldn’t be the bar you set but falling behind is probably not optional.  You might even compare your attrition rate to other industries.

Customer attrition of any degree is another reason to have a sound funnel management process.  Reducing attrition gives you fewer lost customers to replace YOY but in the end you’re going to lose customers and you’ll have to replace them to get back to square one.

Build or test your funnel management process against the following 4 parts:

  • Do your people have a funnel? A funnel is simply a list of opportunities that are getting selling attention.  It doesn’t matter if the list is an excel spreadsheet (cost effective!) or a fancy CRM.  The list provides visibility to you and them.
  • Do you have a way to organize the list? The best way to organize the list is to define how qualified the opportunities are. We call these funnel or pipeline stages. Each stage has a definition of deals that belong there.  This is critical for communication and valuing the funnel.  Our clients organize their lists with our BuyCycle Funnel™ model.
  • Do you have a way to talk about the funnel? If you speak Italian and I speak Dutch we’re not going to communicate very well.  Or, if you’re the coach of a basketball team and you draw up plays to beat a press, and your plays look to your players like a 4 year old’s pre-school artwork, they won’t get your coaching.  Every funnel management process needs terms and phrases for things like stages, funnel value, win rate, and more to enable coaching and understanding.
  • Finally, do you have a funnel inspection process? Funnels need to be changing throughout the year.  If they’re not they’re not healthy.  If you’re not aware of how your reps’ funnels are not changing, you can’t coach to reality.  They’ll get behind and backed up and in a corner that you can’t pull them out of.

So how does your company’s funnel management process stack up against this framework?  If you have all four parts, you’re off to a good start. But – and I mean a big but – you still might have a long way to go.

For example, visibility is important but it’s not valuable if what’s visible is not real.  When it comes to funnels it’s GIGO – garbage in, garbage out.

For example, if your funnel inspections are nothing more than going down the list of deals and asking ‘what’s next?’, you’re not coaching to the funnel.  That will eventually catch up to you and your reps.

And if your way of talking about the funnel isn’t focused on where the customer is in the buying process then you’re swinging a golf club with one arm.

No one said it’d be easy. But the payoff is worth it.

 

Good selling,

Mark Sellers

Author, The Funnel Principle

Named a Top Ten Best Book to Read by Selling Power

Author, Blindspots: The Hidden Killer of Sales Coaching available March 2019

Creator of The BuyCycle Funnel

 

 

 

 

A Life of Leadership

He was lovely.

This past week our 41stpresident of the United States George Herbert Walker Bush passed away. He was 94 years old.

Like most of you, I yearn to find those brief and random moments of civility as I scan the papers or scroll through the sound bites on my phone.  I was thrilled to read the tone of the reporting on the former president’s passing.  The New York Times reported that when James Baker, the former president’s secretary of state appeared at Mr. Bush’s side sometime during his final days Mr. Bush suddenly grew alert and asked “Bake, where are we going?”  Baker replied “We’re going to heaven.”  The president responded “That’s where I want to go.”

The Washington Post offered a wonderful reflection of Mr. Bush as a high school senior when Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7, 1941.  Instead of choosing the security of Yale, he enlisted.  Before he was 19 years old he was assigned to fly torpedo bombers off of aircraft carriers in the Pacific.  On a sortee toward a Japanese island Bush’s plane was shot down.  He commanded his crew to eject before the plane crashed into the sea.  Miraculously Mr. Bush survived.  His two crew members died.

CBS’s Sunday Morning had a reporter who recalled the 1987 Newsweek cover story of George Bush that labeled Mr. Bush ‘a wimp’.  The reporter said man did we get it wrong.

This is the paradox of humility.  What looks like weakness is actually strength.  Thomas Merton might say when you’re humble you’re living a second half life, a fuller, richer and more meaningful life than the false impression that a first half life wants us to believe.

We applaud humility but would rather not wear those shoes ourselves.  It takes too much sacrifice, too much risk, too much vulnerability. We fear how we’ll be seen (weak). We fear being taken advantage of. We fear we’ll miss out on something. Which is true, but in an ironic way.

Another article highlighted the relationship that Mr. Bush nurtured with another former president, Bill Clinton.  With the game clock expired neither one had anything to do against the other so they joined forces.  They used their heavy weight influence to raise hundreds of millions of dollars for charities.

It’s ok to think that it’s hard to be a strong leader today.  It probably seems that every day there are multiple forces working against you, some as simple as a flight delay to an important meeting and others complicated like a poorly functioning salesperson or manager.  It sure helps to have something to believe in, or maybe multiple things to believe in. Your strength needs a rock solid base.

Mr. Bush believed in country, family, friendship, God, service, the power of kindness, collaboration.

As for lovely comment, that came from Mr. Bush’s longtime friend Mr. Baker during the 60 Minutes interview.  Mr. Baker was emotional.

I watched the interview at our kitchen table with my wife Sunday evening and said to her “when was the last time you heard a man call another man lovely?”

Me neither.

How lovely.

 

 

Mark Sellers

Author The Funnel Principle, named by Selling Power magazine a Top Ten Best Book to Read

Author of Blindspots: The Hidden Killer of Sales Coaching, available late Q1 2019

Sales trainer, coach and consultant