Today we are seeing change at a pace not seen before. Many new leaders are being appointed and thrown in the deep end and its literally sink of swim. Some sales leaders I have seen are given a quarter to make their numbers or its into the next person. Its not healthly, but its often reality. When I see this behaviour I know its not the new leader where the work needs to happen but the leader of leaders.
Many so called leaders and even leader of leaders are not leaders and often confuse the roles of leadership and management. Both are vital to business success but they are very different in approach. My experience has been an abundance of KPI driven, tick the box managers and a vacuum of true leadership in the business world today. Yes compliance and regulations have driven some of this cadence but it should not come at the expense of true, inspirational leadership.
Why is this given we have a more educated, sophisticated and intelligent workforce? The actual size of this leadership issue hit me only recently when a banking leader said to me “Rob, how many really good leaders have you had in your career”. I said many, I worked for some fabulous inspiring leaders at my times at KPMG, Apple and HP for a start. My answer left him somewhat perplexed. He said that his experience was not as rich as mine with leaders and especially leaders in todays banking world. His view was that there was such a lack of leadership that he could not rely upon the so called leaders coaching best practice during customer engagements or in the office that he was forced to provide the best practice via online means. Leadership guru and my mentor John Maxwell says, “A leader knows the way, goes the way and shows the way” through their everyday actions and values. While I am a big supporter of online learning, I honestly believe that there is no substitute for learning on the tools as it were from a seasoned experienced leader. Can you imagine an AFL or NRL player been only exposed to Playstation and never getting to play for true leaders such as a Cameron Smith, Jonathan Thurstons, Adam Goodes or Jobe Watson. So yes leadership can be taught, it has to be taught and we must find a way to build more leadership talent.
Everyone in some way in their life is a leader, you certainly don’t need a business cars, Linkedin title or corner office to be a leader, in fact its often the opposite. I believe we should start teaching leadership principles such as respect, diversity, communication and coaching skills early in peoples careers and frankly even at a post grad level. I will John Maxwell have the final word as he often does. He states quite correctly that “If you are leading from the front but no one if following you are merely taking a walk by your self”.
The role of leadership should be to set the “LAD”. That is L is for Leadership. The Leaders sets vision, the why before the what. The A is for Ability. Leaders need to ensure their people have the ability to execute on the strategy. D is for Discipline. Leaders need to finally ensure management practices are in place to ensure the vision is delivered.
After 10 years running Key Account Workshops and 25 years of doing Key Account Planning for my major accounts I can quite confidently say that Key Account Planning (KAP) for most organisations is a complete waste of effort unless senior leaders and sales leaders fully embrace, enable and add value to the process.
When leadership truly leads in the spirit of John Maxwell ie a leader Knows the Way, Goes the Way & Shows the Way, then KAP is incredibly successful and I am fortunate not to have only worked with such leaders but met many along the journey while running workshops for some of the worlds & Australia’s best brands. The difference these leaders make and more importantly their leaders (leader of leaders) is both tangible in terms of account growth but also intangible in terms of their team morale and team contribution.
In most circumstances the intent starts out ok, the leader supports KAP initiatives and funds a workshop or pays for a CRM but then gets distracted by the busyness of business and soon the KAP program turns into being all about quantity not quality. This mostly occurs as leaders who didn’t attend programs with their teams because of the “too factor” ie Too busy to attend, too senior to attend, too knowledgable (so don’t want to embarrass others) start measuring the success of the KAP program by how many Key Account programs are sent to them monthly or quarterly. They rarely give them a passing glance and almost never provide any feedback, even that they were received and never add value back to the account team on how they can reduce red flags or make a connection to drive the business forward.
However when the opposite occurs it is a game changer. When the leader attends the workshop with his or her team, contributes to the session even if its kicking it off and returning for the action item review later in the day it makes a significant difference. Even better is when they embrace Key Account Management as a strategic pillar of their business and a major contributor to the business revenue model and track the Key Accounts in sales funnel meetings and regular operating meetings. The real difference however is when leaders add value to the process by scheduling time in advance to regularly review Key Account Plans, add comments, suggest actions and take action themselves when this needed. One client I worked with in Asia did all of the above and would schedule the last Friday each month to review the Key Account Plans for his region and provide feedback to his team. His value contribution was so immense that his team would compete to get their Key Account Plans in his diary for review. Take note I have seen leaders do this with and without CRM’s!
What is important for leaders is you need to make this easy on yourselves. For example not every Account no matter how big it is deserves Key Account status. That doesn’t mean you don’t manage them but it does mean you do need to do segmentation so you don’t get overwhelmed. The same goes for Opportunity reviews of deals in the sales funnel. One sales leader asked for Opportunity Plans for all Key Accounts as soon as they hit the top of the sales funnel and then wondered why the data was of low quality. We moved his request from top of the funnel to stage 3 out of 6 and boom! he had less plans to review and they were higher quality.
Key Account Management is about 5 critical factors:
1.Understand their Market, Strategy, Issues & Opportunities
2.Continually Build High Impact Relationships
3.Invest for Success in the Relationship
4.Drive Long Term Revenue Plans for Both Parties
5.Develop & Execute on well coordinated customer focused Action Plans
All of the above is very difficult to achieve without the endorsement, enablement and active participation of senior leaders being true leaders. After all know one cares how much you know as a leader until they know how much you care as a leader.
Sales is a role that is often misinterpreted and often the subject of bad press yet it is one of the most important professions and certainly one of the most rewarding for those who are successful at it. Firstly let me say this. Sales is a noble profession. The definition of a professional is someone who continues trains and invests in their career. Sales is a role that demands constant investment in learning. Learning about communication skills, selling strategy, client buying patterns, the products and services you market.
Many people hire what they think are sales people however they turn out to be no more than professional order takers. Order takers have a role too but mostly there role today is being taken by a website or e-commerce engine. True sales is where you work with another person or persons to demonstrate that the value of your products, services or solution to them outweighs the investment they have to make to acquire it. Negotiation typically follows the sales process and is the amount of value you get to keep from that transaction. Above all whether you are selling complex technology to Rio Tinto or products at a Pharmacy you need to approach each and every sale from a win- win perspective. This means you need to approach every transaction with the view that is your solution or what they are asking for is not a good match for you or them you will not proceed and withdraw elegantly. The reason for this is that in over 25 years in sales and marketing I have never met a business owner or sales professional who has not got at least some clients they wish they didn’t. Win Win works but not every opportunity represents win win and its the experienced sales professionals who can pick them better than most that end up with better clients and not surprisingly more time to spend with them.