AI To Impact

PODCAST: COVID 19 | Redefining Digital Enterprises

Episode 14: Strategic priorities for Sales leaders through the crisis

Listening time: 14 minutes

Strategic priorities for Sales leaders through the crisis

Through the crisis and after, companies that bank on sales to bring in the desired revenue that will drive growth, also need to focus on making sure that their salespeople are doing things right. It is crucial that the salespeople reach out to customers and try to find out what’s keeping the latter awake through nights, their pain points; secondly, they need to take that feedback and see that if something could be done to help the customers out, and lastly to care for their salespeople by providing them with the right solutions and training. There is a fine line between being a motivator and a leg-breaker in sales, and in post-pandemic days, salespeople will be expected to demonstrate that extraordinary leadership.

Aruna: Hi there. You’re listening to AI to impact by BRIDGEi2i, a podcast AI for the digital enterprise. My name is Aruna Babu, and I’m a transformation consultant who spent a good part of the last decade crafting strategy that marries business, technology and user needs. We’re in the middle of a crisis in almost every aspect of life as we knew has changed in the past couple of months.

In our AI to Impact podcast, we’ve been talking with the AI & Analytics leaders, digital transformation advisors, as well as BRIDGEi2i business leaders to understand their point of view on the current situation and its impact on various industries and how enterprises can maintain business continuity while building resilience.

Today we have with us Jim Dickie, who has close to three decades of sales and marketing management experience. Jim’s talked to us before in an earlier episode about the role of AI in sales. And today he’s back with us to talk about the people in sales, Jim, for those of you who don’t know him, he began his career with that IBM and Sterling software and then went on to launch two very successful software companies.

He’s an independent research fellow at Sales Mastery and was formerly the cofounder of CSO Insights. From over 25 years of his research experience, his findings have become the benchmark for tracking the evolution of how the role of sales is changing, the challenges that are impacting sales performance, and most importantly, what companies are doing to address those issues.

Hi, Jim, welcome back to the AI to Impact podcast.

Jim: Sure. Thank you!

Aruna: So, the last time we talked, we actually discussed the role of AI in digitally enabled sales. Today, I think we’d like to focus a bit more on the people in sales. So to start off, what do you think are the top strategic priorities for chief sales officers today?

Jim: I think the major focus that we’re seeing CSOs and chief revenue officer CRO is focused on today is: How do I restart the revenue engine? And then how do I keep it going down the right path, because we’re going to go through a bunch of fits and starts right now because there’s so many unknowns to what’s going on with COVID-19. I mean, is it going to come back, you know, later on this year? Is it, can you get it twice? So there’s just a lot of unknowns. And so I’ve not only got to get the train moving down the tracks again, I’ve got to be constantly sitting there, you know, in the engine. Monitoring everything to make sure it’s still chugging down the track.

And I think that’s really one of the things when we’ve talked to CSOs recently. We’ve said, you know, the first thing you’ve gotta do is get out of your offices, whether it’s virtual or not; and you need to start talking to customers, you need to start talking about what you guys are thinking right now? What’s keeping you awake at night? it’s funny. I used to coach runners. So, I worked with people that were doing 5K on up to marathons and it was part of the Nike program. And another one of the coaches for Nike was a football coach named Lou Holtz. And Lou had a great story when he took over his first head coaching job at the University of Minnesota.

He ran into one of his colleagues on campus and they really allowed the football team back then. And so one of his colleagues on the campus grabbed him and said, ‘Lou, how’s it going’? And he says ‘Lucas, it’s going fine’. And he starts to walk away and the guy grabs him by the arm and he says, ‘Lou, I’m serious’.

‘How’s it going? You know, you’ve, you’ve taken over one of the worst football teams in the country’…and he says, ‘You want to know how it’s really going’? The guy goes, yeah. And he says, ‘Well, Honestly, I can tell you ever since I’ve taken this job, I sleep like a baby. He says, I wake up every morning at 3:00 AM and I cry’.

And that’s always kind of struck me as that’s what’s happening right now for your customers. You know, they’re waking up at three o’clock in the morning and they’re thinking, ‘Oh my God, what am I gotten into? And you need to understand that. Because they’re going to make decisions based on logic, and they’re also gonna make decisions based on emotion’. And the more that you can show them that you understand what they’re going on. So, what are you thinking by the way? What are your customers thinking? What’s the feedback you’re getting right now?

I’ll give you a perfect example. There’s a company called Sisco, here in the States. It’s Sisco with an S, not with a C it’s not the technology company. It’s a food company, but they’re talking to all these restaurants right now saying, ‘What can we do to help you? What are you thinking about? And they say, ‘Well, you know, how do I set up tables? Is it the right way? How do I change the menus so that we can, you know, make sure that we get the foods done quicker and out of the kitchen, how do I balance the budgets on these types of things? So, there are food companies, they realize my job is to help you be successful as a retro restaurant tour. And so, they’re actually doing workshops in their food distribution center for people running restaurants, saying, I’m here to help you. I’m here to support you.

And so I think those are the things that we need to do. Number one, is to sit there and start talking to our customers. Number two it’s to come back and tell that story to the rest of the company. Let them know what’s going on in the mind of the customer and say, what could you do to help, you know, finance? Is there a way that we could do extended terms just for the end of the year to help some of our clients out, you know. Customer support? Is there a way that we could do some pro bono consulting to help people install these things or implement what we sold them? Because they’ve had to cut back on staff and they’re down on head, count on their things, you know, to our development people, could you be talking to our customers and maybe share ideas back and forth, you know, maybe help them solve some of their problems.

I think it’s that value add thing to do. And yeah. Then the third part of this thing is once we got that in place, it’s to make sure that our salespeople are going out and we’re taking care of them as well. You know that, when we went through the last business downturn, 2008 in 2009, funny thing happened in 2010. Turnover went up dramatically in sales and because companies started hiring again.

And so you’ve got to ask yourself a question. Are the people that are with me today here because of what we’re doing for them, or in spite of what we’re doing to them? Because in a year or two, when all of a sudden companies start hiring and they get all these recruiting firms out and they start calling all of these experienced salespeople, if your people have been unhappy with the support that you’ve been giving them, You haven’t been giving them the right tools. You haven’t been given the right training. You haven’t been given the right information to do their job.

They’re going to be prone to be talking to somebody and you could get hit twice by this pandemic once now. And once all of a sudden, the experienced salespeople start walking out the door of your company, and going to work for somebody else and you have to onboard somebody. And I don’t care if you hire an experienced person, it’s still right now on average, taking 10 to 12 months to get a new hire up to full productivity. So I think that’s the other thing that CSO has got to do today is sit there and say, I’ve gotta be mindful of what’s going on with my people and, you know, and be supporting them just as we’re supporting our customers.

Aruna: Got it. Makes sense. Do you think sales tactics are going to be any different, at least in this situation now?

Jim: I think their sales tactics are going to be just in rapid change over the next six months, if not the next 18 months/24 months because we don’t understand all the ramifications on things.

You know, there’s so many moving parts. Well, you know, Sales has always been a very frail ecosystem. And so it’d be really nice if we could just come up with one strategy and we just do wash, rinse, repeat, you know, we just do it over and over again, but we don’t know what’s going to happen. I was talking to a friend of mine recently, who’s in the commercial real estate business and he says he starting to get are all these early warning signs that there’s going to be a glut of commercial real estate in a year, because is everybody’s already got signed leases, but like Twitter, for example, has told all of their employees, ‘You don’t ever have to come back to the office. If you don’t want to’.

Well, they’re starting to say, okay, I’ve got all these office buildings. What happens if, when they come up for a renewal, you know, the lease renewal record, it comes back cause this, ‘Hey, you know what? We only need 20% of the space we used to before. Well, who’s gonna take the other 80% if everybody else is doing that? By the way, here’s the other part of the, so it was talking to somebody who was talking about the same issue from a real estate point of view and said, you know, right now there are people like living in San Francisco, paying a million dollars for, you know, a 600 square foot studio condo.

Well, if all of a sudden I don’t have to go to the office in San Francisco, I could live anywhere. You know, why didn’t I move to a place where a million dollars buys me a real house. And so, what’s that gonna do to real estate? So, there’s all these moving pieces. They’re going to be okay. So, all of a sudden, the commercial real estate business gets hit not today, but a year from now, you know, their personal real estate business gets hit. All of a sudden, people are moving all over the country, you know, so there’s opportunities totally for moving companies and things like that. People that are supporting work at home, where their opportunities you’re going to want to take advantage of. So you’re going to change your sales tactics. There’s also going to be challenges and we have no idea how to model this.

So I think the more that you’ve got things in place to sit there and say, ‘Let’s constantly be assessing what’s going on and make adjustments based on changes in the political landscape, the economy that competitive landscape, even self-inflicted changes, you know what we’re doing with our own product lines, you know, we’re going to have to be constantly making those adjustments And those who were agile and adaptive will do much better than those who are rigid and aren’t able to change.

Aruna: Okay. Got it. So, what would your advice be to sales leaders? What do you think is the way forward?

Jim: Well, a friend of mine, John Williams is probably the best sales executive I’ve ever met, years ago.

He was a VP of Sales, Marketing, and Customer Support of a technology company. And everytime he says , ‘You got to meet John. cause he took his company from 700 million to 2.2 billion in four years’. And I said, ‘You know, that’s impressive, you know, 300% increase in revenues, but other technology companies have had that…that’s growth’.

He says, ‘Yeah, but he did it without adding any net new salespeople, the size of the Sales force at the end of those four years was the same as the beginning of that. Yeah. This is an initiative. Okay. That was cool. And so when I talked to John, I said,’ You know, why, how did you make this thing happen’?

He says, I realize it started with Sales Management. He says, you can come up with your, you know, your Sales process strategy, your technology strategy, or coaching strategy, your compensation strategy, etc.. He says, but if you put those strategies into a Sales culture that is not supportive of the strategies, or it’s detrimental to those strategies, they will fail.

So I says it starts with me, but it goes down to everybody in sales leadership, and he says, you’ve got to realize you’ve got three roles to play. Number one is you’ve got, that’d be a visionary. You’ve got to be constantly going out and say, let’s examine what’s happening in the marketplace. And let’s be open to think outside the box, not be rigid about this is how we’ve done it for the last 20 years, but really have that vision. And then be able to go out and share that with your people and, you know, be willing to accept their criticisms and their concerns about it and adjust that vision, but be visionary.

Second thing you said is you’ve gotta be a motivator. He says, you realize that when you go in and you want to make sure changes to the Sales organization, you’re introducing change. They’re already selling today. So you’ve got to motivate them to adopt a new way of selling and a new way of working with customers. But the last thing I thought was really telling us is the last thing we’ve got to do is we’ve got to be a leg breaker. We gotta make it real, real clear to everybody that this is the way we’re doing things. You know, when, when Cortez, the explorer landed in the new world, he was there to go get the Inca gold. And so in order to demonstrate to all the rest of his troops that were with him, that he was serious about this, he burned his ships at the beach. ‘He said, okay, there is now no way to go home. You know, the supply ships are going to be here, you know, in a few months, they’re expecting us back on the beach with the gold. And if we don’t have any gold there, that’s how we buy our way back. So there’s only one way to go. It is through the dark jungle and it will be a dark and dangerous and arduous journey, but that’s where we’re going.

And I think it’s that thing, you know, is that balance between motivator and leg breaker, but also leg breaker with the rest of the company. If Finance is doing things that are in the way you got to go in and fight that battle, if all of a sudden, they put in, you know, changes to the warranty and the customers are, are reacting negatively to it. You’ve got to go fight that battle and say, ‘No, we need to renegotiate. What that warranty looks like, same thing going in Product Development, same thing going into market. The messaging you’re giving me is not working. You need to fix it. And so I think type of leadership role, that’s going to have to be prevalent today.

And I think it’s sales leaders that are going to take us through this thing. And I always thought about, you know, one of the key things about Sales leader is their goal is to create more leaders, not followers. I don’t want to go in and do the job for my people. Cause then they don’t learn. So, I’ve got to figure out how do I coach and mentor them so they become the solution that we’re all seeking.

Aruna: Wow. Okay. I can honestly say that was a great conversation. I loved talking with you. Thank you so much, Jim. It was wonderful to have you with us.

Jim: My pleasure Aruna. Thanks for having me.

Aruna: Thank you so much for listening to this episode of the AI to Impact podcast. That was a fantastic conversation with Jim Dickie, from sales leaders getting out there to talk with customers and understand what’s keeping them awake at night to them bringing that information back to the organization. Sales leaders clearly need to become visionaries and motivators for the rest of the organization.

We’ll be back with more discussions and points of view from the world of data analytics and AI. Do subscribe If that sounds like something you’d like to know about. Once again, thank you so much for tuning in. Bye bye.

2020 will long be remembered for the pandemic that wreaked havoc on the global economy and disrupted communities and businesses in unprecedented ways. In our latest podcast series: COVID19 | Redefining Digital Enterprises, we will be interacting with several thought leaders, BRIDGEi2i Business Heads, Domain Experts, and reputed AI and analytics leaders to understand the various challenges emerging out of this crisis and the way forward for enterprises in the new world order. Tune in to know more!

Meet the Speaker

Jim Dickie

Jim Dickie, Sales Transformation Leader

Jim Dickie is a Sales Transformation analyst, AI thought leader and keynote speaker. Jim began his career with IBM and Sterling Software, and then went on to launch two very successful software companies. He is an independent research fellow for Sales Mastery and was formerly the cofounder of CSO insights. He has over three decades of sales and marketing management experience and is widely respected for his ideas on Digital Sales Transformation. His research and publications have led the way in finding sales challenges before organisations today and focus on right solutions.