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Summer is for Managers (Part I)

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While you might take a vacation, you never really take a complete break from being a manager. Over the next handful of weeks, we’ll be offering up several of our most popular posts on the art and science of being a great manager. Enjoy, and let us know what you think.

Thousands of books have been written on managing employee performance, each volume offering theories and tactics more complicated than the one that preceded it.  But like most things in life, simpler is better.

Recently I was discussing a thorny employee issue with a client, and as we mapped things out a simple ‘test’ presented itself. The three factors to be explored – in order – are clarity, capacity and will.

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When you’re questioning a performance problem, you shouldn’t simply call the employee in for a free form conversation or give him a list of complaints.  Both approaches will lead to a bunch of random reactions and you’ll get lost in the details very quickly. Instead, take things in order.

Clarity. Is the employee really – really – clear about what is expected? This is on you.  Have you communicated effectively about the full expectations of the job or task?  Have you put it in writing? You may have a clear picture of what needs to be done in your head, and right now it’s probably fighting for space with all those frustrations you’ve developed. But you must take the time to carefully externalize the picture with your employee.  Once that’s done, you can move on to question number two…

Capacity. Is the employee capable of doing what is expected? You must ask hard questions about whether the employee’s experience, skills and training fully enable to do what is needed. Many of us never ask this because it calls into question our own hiring practices. If you suspect a lack of training or adequate supervision is the issue, you may choose to apply time and resources. But don’t forget to ask the hard question: can this employee do this job? When you’ve checked the boxes on clarity and capacity, you move on to the third and final issue… 

Will. Is the employee willing to do what is required? This is the hardest but most important part of the test…and often we don’t even consider it.  Sometimes people don’t do things simply because they don’t want to. They will likely call out a lot of other issues and rationalizations. But if you look closely, a lack of will is not that hard to spot.  And it’s the issue that probably matters more than any other. This one is fully on the employee and you must act decisively when you see it. Say goodbye.

Don’t just keep this test to yourself. Share it with other managers. Better yet, share it with the employee. Walk through the three questions and make the test the framework for your next performance discussion. It just might be the simple means of solving your toughest issues.

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The One You’ve Been Waiting For.

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Maybe it’s because it’s where my birthday falls, but I’ve always felt like the mid-point of the year was a good time to reflect and reevaluate.  New Year’s Day is alright, but after the holidays who’s really got the energy left for serious resolutions?  If, like me, you’re considering a course correction for July 1, here it is.

Stop waiting.

Among the many sellers and managers I coach, waiting is a constant thread.  Before making a positive step or taking responsibility for a new initiative, they find themselves waiting:  waiting for a title, waiting for an executive mandate, waiting for recognition, waiting for their boss to really, truly approve of them and the actions they’re taking.  Sometimes they are waiting for consensus or, worse, for everyone involved to really understand or to get on the same page.

Stop waiting.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by PubMatic.  Transparency has become the most pressing issue facing digital advertisers and publishers this year. As more brand spend shifts to programmatic channels, the call for transparency around the overall value exchange has reached a fever pitch. It’s time to be clear – about control, quality, and supply. Join PubMatic in a dialogue around these issues and together, let’s be clear.

Certainly there is the occasional psycho, anal-retentive CEO or manager who tries to control every move.  But they are the outliers, the exceptions.  In my view, the need for consensus and permission in today’s business culture is more perception than reality.  When I’m asked about how to get an initiative off the ground I ask the individual, “How much of this project could you just start taking on right now, without any formal action by your boss?”  The answer is almost always “most of it.”  Then I ask, “What exactly do you need from your boss to get started?” Occasionally there’s a shifting of some resources or a minor policy exception, but most often the answer is “not much.”

The advice is simple and clear:  go take action and just keep your boss informed.  Communicate your intent and then act on it.  Most busy executives love to see their reports take initiative.  At best it shows they are thinking on behalf of the company and trying to make things better.  At worst it creates a coaching opportunity in which the boss gets to talk with you about how you’re making the change instead of a long, philosophical talk about “if.”

In the 1991 film “The Fisher King,” Robin Williams’ character gives Jeff Bridges’ some advice on how to conquer his cigarette habit.  “Decide if you’re a smoker or a non-smoker and then be what you decide.”

Be what you decide.  Be the change you want to see in the world. Stop waiting.  Because it turns out the one you were waiting for is you.

Happy mid year.

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I’m Dying Up Here!

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If you’re a sales manager – or if you manage just about any kind of team – you may be feeling, at best, ambivalent about your regular meetings.  At best they accomplish soft goals like “making sure everyone is on the same page” or “running through the numbers.”  At their worst – and all too frequently they are – you feel like the comic on stage tapping the microphone and asking “Is this thing on?”

Let’s face it:  by default these meetings are often awkward and painful.  Instead of fostering decision making, motivation and action, they end up being a weekly chore for you and your unlucky team members at the conference table or on the other end of the webcam or conference line.

It doesn’t have to be this way.  Here’s a short checklist of ideas to help you go from suck to successful.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by PubMatic.  Transparency has become the most pressing issue facing digital advertisers and publishers this year. As more brand spend shifts to programmatic channels, the call for transparency around the overall value exchange has reached a fever pitch. It’s time to be clear – about control, quality, and supply. Join PubMatic in a dialogue around these issues and together, let’s be clear.

Don’t use the meeting as a data delivery vehicle.  If you can deliver facts, numbers, research in writing (either in advance of, or instead of at) the meeting, then do it.  Telling everyone what they can otherwise read is a waste of time and only muddies the facts.

Set your agenda using verbs.  Meetings should be where you do stuff.  Decide, practice, troubleshoot, role-play, question.   Program your meetings as if you were going to have to sell your team on attending.

Cut the meeting time by 50% and the electronics usage by 100%.  You’ll be amazed how motivated and productive people can be when their phones are sitting in a box in the middle of the table.  You ambling hour long meeting just turned into a 30 minute gem.

Share your own questions with the team.  “Here are the three issues I’m grappling with that I’d like your help resolving” is a great meeting opener.  As you’re dispensing answers, your team is your audience.  Engaged in your quest for answers, they are your army.

Celebrate Interim Victories.  Add a modest amount of recognition to every meeting.  But don’t just recognize success; note the high quality actions – a breakthrough in contact, a compelling idea that opens a door with a client, a well-prepared meeting.  You orient and motivate your team around excellence, which nourishes and sustains.

Program 10 minutes of inspiration.  If like me you belong to the Church of TED, you know that inspiring talks and ideas are everywhere.  Instead of just routing a TED Talk or a blog post, share ten minutes of it with your group in person and discuss it.

Much of this won’t feel natural at first.  Leadership never does.

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Write This Down: Part Two

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Back on May 9th, I posted part one of my “Write This Down!” series – really just a running list of helpful sayings and ideas that I share with sellers in my workshops.  Today we add to the list.  Enjoy and share.

The Opposite of yes isn’t no.   The opposite of yes is anything other than yes.  Most sellers don’t get this fact.  They hear “we’re waiting on our budget” or “we have a couple more proposals to look at” and they stop selling.  They don’t see these as the objections or brushoffs that they are and fail to qualify them further.   Hence all the ambivalence and murkiness in your pipeline.

The opposite of selling isn’t not selling.  It’s describing.  This idea prompted the biggest response I’ve ever gotten to The Drift.  Somewhere along the line we lost the connection between sales and actually selling stuff.  The goal is to persuade and change the outcome.   But sellers and those who support them seem completely focused on just endlessly describing stuff.

Don’t take no from someone who can’t also tell you yes.  This ancient gem still shines.  It’s particularly poignant in our industry because of all the lower-level gatekeepers whose main purpose seems to be role-preservation.  Sellers either don’t know these bureaucrats can’t green-light projects or are just too frightened of ‘getting in trouble’ to push any boundaries.

Promotional Message:  If you could tell five thousand digital sales leaders and sellers about your product or service each week in a focused, exclusive environment, would you do it?  Digital sellers have been anticipating, reading and sharing The Drift for more than 15 years.  A provocative, POV-driven read, it’s also a great vehicle for our underwriting sponsors.  We’re taking reservations for the second half of 2017, so if you’re interested please contact Tamara Clarke to plan your campaign today.

Big decision makers want to make big decisions.  I like to talk to sales teams about the client’s floor of consideration.  We think that by keeping the price minuscule and reassuring everyone that it’s just a test we are making the customer more likely to act.  But serious executives don’t want to take political and business risks to spend $50-100K.  Risk aversion only works with those who probably don’t want to buy from you anyway.

Work backward from the cost of the unsolved problem.  The core of the media sale is to stack up enough units of value – pre-rolls, banners, videos, full page takeovers, impressions, etc. – to justify a price tag.  But it’s not about that anymore. As I like to say, if you want to make a million dollars, go find a $20 million problem to solve. One of the crippling limitations of media thinking is that we never stop to consider what the unsolved problem – or the unrealized opportunity – is really worth.

Stop negotiating against yourself.  Speaking of crippling downsides…  Experience is a great teacher in our business.  Unfortunately it tends to teach limitations.  Show me 10 “experienced digital sellers” and I’ll bet you that eight of them know exactly why every new idea won’t work….why the customer won’t pay that price….and why there’s really, actually no way out.

Don’t sell or manage to what’s in the other person’s head.  Managers and sellers alike seem fixated on changing belief and getting others fully on board.  We talk of evangelism and winning others over.   But this just leads to endless cycles of guessing.  Instead, focus on discrete behaviors.  A client either agrees to recommend (that’s a verb) a buy or not; a seller either books a call, or doesn’t.  The sooner you focus on the actions of others the sooner you’ll be fully in touch with reality – and empowered to start changing it.

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Do the Math. Make the Sale.

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“I was told there’d be no math.”  ~ Ethan Hawke as Troy, “Reality Bites.”

Like it or not, there’s math.  And if you want to make the sale, you’re going to have to dust off the calculator.

When I work with teams of sellers in sales strategy workshops, I introduce them to a tactical tool called The Teaching Challenge.  Inspired by the great conceptual work of Dixon and Adamson in The Challenger Sale, it’s really just a very clear statement – preferably written and shared early in the sales call – that answers the question “So why are we here today?”  The answer should challenge the customer’s assumptions and summon up and re-frame an urgent business problem.  This then creates a meaningful path to your solution.

I’ve come to discover that the best Teaching Challenges almost always revolve around numbers.  When reps take the time to do the math – even if the math is questioned by the customer – it almost always creates the urgency and focus that wouldn’t otherwise exist.

Promotional Message:  If you could tell five thousand digital sales leaders and sellers about your product or service each week in a focused, exclusive environment, would you do it?  Digital sellers have been anticipating, reading and sharing The Drift for more than 15 years.  A provocative, POV-driven read, it’s also a great vehicle for our underwriting sponsors.  We’re taking reservations for the second half of 2017, so if you’re interested please contact Tamara Clarke to plan your campaign today.

But very few sellers do the math.  Instead, they throw out meaningless generalities like “we’ll help you reach more millennial moms” or “we can help make your media plan more efficient.”  How many more millennial moms?  In what period of time?  What’s their economic value to my brand?  How much more efficient will you help me become?  How much money will I save this quarter?  If I’m the customer, I may not necessarily expect you to have all the answers.  But I at least want to know you asked the right questions.

But isn’t impossible to find these answers?  If your standard is immutable truth, then perhaps. But that’s not where the bar should be set.  Each of us can approach our customer with a working hypothesis about the scope and cost of her unsolved problem or unrealized opportunity.

Old, traditional approach:  “Young urban men are really important to your brand, and we’ll help you reach a lot more of them.”

After doing the math:  “We’re estimating that there will be 2.5 million urban, millennial men actively searching online for a product like yours in the next 6 weeks. Every 5% of that active market you win means $3 million in sales.  You’ve got a window of opportunity to get to these customers with a proactive strategy before your competitor, brand X, does.  We have the core capabilities to help you with that strategy.  Can I tell you how?”

Many reps avoid specifics because they worry too much about the downside of being wrong.  But it’s better to be specific and wrong than it is to be accurate and meaningless. Your hypothesis need only be credible, and you need only to be able to show your work.

So take a shot.  Do the math.  Bring your customer to the whiteboard to work on the problem with you and you’re halfway home.

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