You know, there are two types of people in the world.
Those who tolerate complexity, in pursuit of simplicity. And those who revel in complexity, having long forgotten what it is that they’re actually pursuing.
I write this a little exhausted, after spending countless hours debating technology, terminology, definitions and process with a parade of potential and existing clients.
It’s not that I don’t enjoy those conversations. I do! The reason these debates have become tiring is that I’ve started to suspect that many on the other side of the table are enjoying the exchanges more than they should be, given their current circumstances.
Take phone technique for example. Fascinating subject. But, if your business has no growth targets and no formal plan to drive growth of any kind; if your salespeople are essentially highly-paid, mobile customer service reps and your marketing folks have been turned into mindless zombies by the Hubspot hype machine; then debating the merits of injecting a synthetic laugh into the opening line of a salesperson’s telephone call is probably not the best use of your time.
It’s a champagne problem, to quote the Texan rocker!
The growth formula
If you like the idea of sharpening your focus on the simple, I have a growth formula for you. Actually formula is overselling it. A growth idea, maybe?
Estimate the total number of sales conversations that are performed in your marketplace each week and then do whatever it takes to ensure that your salespeople participate in more than your fair share of them.
That’s it. Simple, but powerful, nonetheless.
Let me walk you through its application.
Step one is to estimate the total number of meaningful selling conversations in your marketplace each week. To do this, simply take the total number of salespeople employed by you and your direct competitors, and multiply this number by 17 (that’s 2 face-to-face meetings and 15 phone conversations). If you think salespeople in your industry are more (or less) productive, you can adjust your calculus accordingly.
Step two is to determine the number of conversations that represents your fair share. To do this, multiply your marketshare by the total number of conversations. So, if you have 20% share and you estimate 425 sales conversations a week, then your fair share is 82 of them, weekly.
Step three is to determine what constitutes more than your fair share. This depends on how fast you want to grow and the rate of growth that your business (particularly your cashflow) can tolerate. I typically suggest that, if you’re bullish (but not totally unhinged), you should consider doubling your current volume of sales conversations as a starting point. If you read my book and follow the instructions therein intelligently, you should be able to achieve this within three to six months, without any increase in operating expenses.
Step four is to do whatever it takes to hit this number. Any consideration you give to technology, terminology, definitions and process should be driven by your pursuit of this number—and such consideration should only be given to the extent that these tactical issues continue to impact on your achievement of this number.
If you’ve read even the first four chapters of The Machine, you’ll understand the direction of the solution. You’ll know already that division of labor should allow you to multiply the productivity of your salespeople. Get salespeople to perform nothing but meaningful selling conversations and push all other tasks to customer service (processing orders, generating quotes and resolving issues) and promotions (generating those sales opportunities).
What you may not appreciate is why this simple initiative is likely to fail.
Your enemy is complexity. It’s easy to underestimate the powerful pull that complexity exerts on even the most simple initiatives. And, critically, while division of labor is the direction of the solution it’s also a powerful generator of complexity.
The thing is, when you divide your team into groups of specialists, the natural tendency of each group will be to optimize their own little systems at the expense of your larger one. Promotions, for example, will be much more comfortable maximizing their own local lead flow than they will be sharing responsibility for the global objective. And customer service will lobby for an expensive new ticketing system, even though they can comfortably take the customer service load off salespeople without one.
As a senior executive, it’s your responsibility to fight the onset of complexity.
You should not be looking for ways to manage it (managing complexity is, after all, an oxymoron): your job is to prevent it from occurring in the first place.
To do that, you need to keep your entire team (and your good self) focused on that critical number. Write it on butcher paper in plain view of each team, twice daily. In the sales team, update the number every 20 minutes. And, if teams do have local metrics, make sure that there’s a clear understanding of the relationship between these local numbers and the global one.
Growth is hard. But it’s not complex.