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Knowing Why/When To Quit

Monday, March 20th, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/botter/70228/

Occasionally I share stuff I receive from clients and sometimes from readers, as I’m doing today. I ask if I can share it and usually the response is ‘yes’, with the caveat that I change enough to ensure that nobody will recognize the writer.

I think “Caz’s” situation and its outcome are very applicable right now. I hear from a lot of you, all asking how to know when to “pull the plug.”

As always, I’m available by phone or email if you want/need to hash things out; contact info in the right-hand frame.

Hi Miki,

It’s been awhile and a lot has happened, with both family — the adoption went through and I’m a new dad! — and I’ve got a new job.

As you know, I’ve been getting more and more concerned about my future at “Locus Systems.”

You also know I’m extremely culture sensitive and the culture has been changing quite a bit, moving more and more towards a fear-based approach.

In addition, we launched a new product about 2 years ago and landed a total of maybe 20 customers.

While the product itself worked and there is a real need, the market just didn’t respond.

This in turn led to our CEO, who owns the company, to push the sales teams harder. In the end he said the failure was on the individual sales teams, not the product.

I have a strong business background and know that for no discernible reason good products sometimes just don’t find the market demand expected.

This whole ordeal has led to a lot of resentment on the part of the sales teams and management.

Some of our best team members started leaving; I’m talking about people who sell $4MM plus a year, so great salespeople.

Each time someone left the CEO would make it a point to remind everyone that that person lacked the vision and we were better off without them.

Give me a break!

On a personal level commissions started being delayed. We always waited 2 months or so for our commission, but it was creeping into a 3-4 month time frame, sometimes longer.

All this led me to a realization that I was probably on a sinking ship. I don’t mind struggling, and you know I’m a fighter, but when the CEO and management are essentially belittling employees and putting all failures on them it’s time to go. 

So I started looking.

I found a great opportunity with “Jasper, Inc.,” another young software company that’s growing organically and has what seems like a terrific culture — all the good stuff you’ve written about (why I started reading you in the first place).

I found the opportunity locally, but the company doesn’t care where I live. That means we aren’t restricted to one town. I always wanted to be able to choose where I live and not have my job dictate that to me.

Although I just started, I’m really enjoying it. The opportunity came as a bit by surprise, but quite frankly, the conditions, benefits and pay are all superior to what I had. 

I’d like to stay in touch. This role will give me more financial freedom then I have had in the past and that may come in handy down the road ;-)

Caz

Image credit j. botter

Entrepreneurs: KG at the AA-ISP Conference

Thursday, February 25th, 2016

kg_charles-harris

FANTASTIC! An absolutely fantastic, no-frills conference that went to the core of what any startup CEO needs to know about starting and scaling sales, how to align with marketing and what types of people to hire and how.

AA-ISP stands for the American Association of Inside Sales Professionals and is an international association dedicated exclusively to advancing the profession of Inside Sales. The association engages in research studies, organizational benchmarking and leadership round tables to better understand and analyze the trends, challenges, and key components of the growth and development of the Inside Sales industry.

When I arrived I was exhausted after pulling an all-nighter and having had only 1.5 hours of sleep. I was sitting in the parking lot before to going into the conference (of course I was an hour late for the start) and kept nodding off as I was collecting my thoughts prior to going into registration. Eventually I did go in, registered and went to my first session, which I mostly dozed through.

However, by my second session called “The Uberization of Sales”, I was perky and awake, and the subject matter held my total attention. It continued this way until I left the conference at about 8:30 pm, elated that I’d had lucked out in this manner.

In fact, I had been dubious about whether I should attend at all, as I had slept so little and my impression was that it would be of only limited interest or relevance to Quarrio and me personally. I was embarrassingly wrong.

This conference is among the best I’ve attended as a startup CEO and addressed a number of issues I’ve struggled with throughout my career in startups.

After creating a product, the most challenging aspect of making the company successful is not continuous rounds of funding, but rather building the sales organization, getting the product out to customers and driving revenue.

The AA-ISP conference was wholly devoted to this. In fact, it’s the first conference I’ve attended with this focus.

In my experience, sales is the most under-emphasized area of knowledge for the startup CEO.

For some strange reason, we are just supposed to understand the process, how to build the team, how to hire reps and managers and how to manage them.

We are supposed to be able to know how to hire people whose profession it is to sell, while being immune to their ability to make us like them and make us oblivious to their weaknesses.

They are professional sales people — this is what they do every day, and most of us just have no defenses or ability to properly identify a good sales person from a bad one.

I know this has certainly been one of my areas of failure in the past.

This conference should be attended by every B2B startup CEO – other than creating the product, this is the best way to learn and network with people who are in the business of selling, building sales teams and getting new products into the market.

This is the place to learn how they think and how to hire and collaborate with them. I’d say that this is a must attend conference for anyone who hasn’t built several B2B companies.

I highly recommend joining the AA-ISP to gain knowledge and save yourself a ton of pain.

Ducks in a Row: Politically Correct is a False Positive

Tuesday, August 18th, 2015

https://www.flickr.com/photos/zaskoda/4734418941/

I sent an article about the “frat house” (AKA, sexist) culture prevalent in ZocDoc’s sales department to “Kevin”, a good friend who works in sales.

While agreeing about problematic sales cultures, he had a different take on culture in general.

His viewpoint, from someone who has been there/done that, may not be socially acceptable and could probably get him in trouble if posted on social media, but I can share it here — anonymously

Whether you’re a nigger or a bitch, this is the shit you have to deal with. I prefer environments where it’s obvious what the culture is, like this, than politically correct cultures where bigotry is the norm but you never onto why you won’t get the bonus, promotion or accolade with superior performance. Screw political correctness!

I believe it’s important to know where you stand, because then you can make informed choices. Give me this culture anytime – when I enter, I will know what the rules are. If I stay, it’s to accomplish a particular personal goal. When I leave (if not immediately), I will know why I stayed, left, and what I gained. I’m richer, they are poorer.

There is no such thing as “politically correct”. The term itself is an oxymoron that implies consensus building, popular sentiment or sinister machinations. Politics is about popularity — we never let others know where we stand or what we stand for in order to win a popularity contest. It is giving in to the tyranny of the mob, not daring to have unpopular opinions or stances, because one will not be popular.

Being a black man, I prefer a racist that’s honest about who he is and what he is. I prefer working for such a person because I know what to expect. I presume it would be the same for you as a woman regarding sexists. These days no one is a racist, we just have “unconscious biases” that prevent us from taking unpopular positions and that ensure that the powerful can continue to exclude the less powerful. 

Politically correct environments rob me of information, choice, and the ability to navigate astutely to attain my objectives.

I agree with Kevin, even in those instances where bias has its basis in neuroscience, it’s better to know.

Flickr image credit: Zaskoda

Entrepreneurs: Killing Sales

Thursday, March 5th, 2015

http://www.freeimages.com/photo/1209643

Over the years, certain posts I’ve written I seem to require reposting, because the subject keeps coming up; not investing management time in your self-starters is one of them.

Self-starter Does Not Mean Self-managed

When your company is new just how flat can the organization be? How well do “self-starters” manage themselves? These are crucial questions for startups and small businesses since how they are addressed can make or damage your company.

One of the first important outside hires made when a company is ready to grow is in sales. Today, founders are often technical with a biz type who handles sales and marketing. Unfortunately, technical people often have a tendency to think that non-tech jobs are no big deal, especially in sales and marketing.

They believe that hiring salespeople is no big deal—that as long as they have a good track record in their previous sales position and understand the product they can manage themselves.

If this sounds off base to you, you’re right, it’s not that simple. To use a real-life example, I had a client who thought that way.

Previous to hiring me this CEO hired a salesman, we’ll call him ‘Jack’, with a fantastic sales record selling to the same market.

The CEO personally taught Jack the product line and explained what the company was working to accomplish and then pretty much gave him free reign.

In the year Jack was with them he sold only two accounts, spent a good deal of his time on marketing and managed one large client.

In that year Jack’s commissions totaled only $15K.

When he left he went to work in a field completely unrelated to anything he’d sold before and in a market about which he knew nothing. In his first year at the new company he earned over 125K in commissions.

What was the difference? Management.

Based on his track record both the CEO and Jack assumed that he could manage himself. However, Jack didn’t have, and didn’t create for himself, the structure, accountability, etc., necessary to be successful.

When Jack left he admitted that although he had no knowledge or training in marketing, he spent substantially more time than he should have on it — but he had no choice.

After the CEO and I had fully analyzed what happened he concluded that the failure was 80-20, with the 80% his responsibility.

Hind sight is 20/20, and my client believes that if he had taken the time to do what was needed instead of expecting Jack to completely manage himself, that he would still be with the company and doing a spectacular job.

So remember when you hire that “self-starter” does not mean self-managed. Even the best will need direction, structure, and accountability in order to perform brilliantly.

Beyond that, tomorrow I’ll be sharing information Friday on the biggest sales error made by many startups and small companies.

Join me tomorrow to learn about the other major sales error made by many startups and small companies.

Image credit: iamwahid

Ask Tough Questions.

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014

https://www.flickr.com/photos/valeriebb/3006348550I’ve been in sales in one form or another my entire career.

One of the most common questions successful salespeople hear is along the lines of, “What is the secret to successful selling?”

Most answers are some variation of ‘hard work’, ‘persistence’, ‘it’s a numbers game’, etc.

My response is a little different — ‘you have to ask the tough questions’.

Of course, people then ask ‘what are the tough questions’?

The answer to that is simple. A tough question is any question to which you don’t want to hear the answer.

In sales the hardest question any salesperson asks is the one to which the potential client will say “no.”

It’s what’s called a “closing question” and it can take place anytime after the first hello.

Salespeople often avoid closing questions to keep the discussion going, kidding themselves and their boss into thinking it’s a live one.

A no means having to make more cold calls to refill the pipeline whereas it’s more comfortable to avoid the no and believe they can rejuvenate a deal with additional contacts.

More subtly, salespeople (like the rest of us mortals) want to be liked.

By asking the question that will either take the deal to the next level or end it, the salesperson is risking not being liked any more, i.e., rejected, AKA, no.

Tough questions permeate not just sales, but hiring, product/software development and all parts of life.

The trick is realizing that the faster you ask them the faster you will hear ‘no’ and the faster you can move on to something more positive.

Flickr image credit: Valerie Everett

Entrepreneurs: the Chief Hustler

Thursday, June 26th, 2014

kg_charles-harris

As the CEO of a startup, I’m really nothing more than the Chief Hustler. 

I hustle to attract team members, capital, advisors, etc.  I also hustle to ensure that we’re moving along quickly enough to be ahead of the market, though resource constraints and ambiguous choices always want to slow us down. 

The ability to attract resources (team, capital, etc.) is probably the most important job that I have – most people who write about the startup CEOs job mention the visionary, cultural or managerial aspects of the job.  For me it’s the constant hustling.

My hustle starts as soon as I wake up in the morning – pick up my iPhone and start reading and replying to emails at around 04:30.  Then I move on to reading articles from news sources, keeping an ever vigilant eye out for potential competitors (especially ones with abundant funding or interesting technologies).  There is an element of a negative flutter in the stomach whenever I come up on one of these – how will they affect the market, will they try to poach my carefully developed team, what is their technology basis, how do I find out more about them…

As a hustler, I’m basically a sales person. 

I’m selling investors, potential team members and anyone who wants to listen or who can potentially affect the development of what we’re building in a positive manner.  And as a hustler, there has to be a little of the “confidence man” in me – providing security where none can be had.  Making people believe that the impossible is possible, not because I’m trying to cheat someone out of hard earned cash or time, but because I truly believe it myself, and with their help it will come closer to being reality.  Hustling to create something out of nothing.

This hustler is very grateful for the people he’s getting the pleasure to work with to create something that is slated to be industry changing.  I just got a sneak peak of the UI/UX and I’m really happy with the initial cut.  Of course, it will have to be completely redone after our beta trials, but it’s so revolutionary that I’m now getting positive flutters in my belly – the kind of excitement that makes me want to shout from the roof-tops, “We’re coming!” 

But I have to temper my excitement – we still have a long way to go.  Months of hard work with the team, more delays and disappointments, and more insecurity about whether we’ll succeed or not.  Every day, however, is a joy because of the people I have around me; my woman, my friends, my family, my team.   To say “my” doesn’t clearly denote how I feel – not ownership, but privilege in being able to be part of their lives and have them in mine.

This is the essence of entrepreneurship at its best – good people, good goals, good development and good prospects.  It’s a pity that it isn’t always like this.  It does, however, make me appreciate the good times when they are here.

Thank you all.

A Better Interviewing Approach for Candidates

Wednesday, June 11th, 2014

Startups talk about their “value proposition.”

Sales people present their product as the solution to customers’ “problems/pain”.

As a candidate you should do both.

The smartest candidates recognize this and position themselves as high-value solutions that will make the manager look good to the higher-ups.

Steve Blank’s video explains how to identify and evaluate the value proposition of your product or service, but with very little tweaking you can apply it to yourself.

Candidates who focus primarily on what the company will do for them a la compensation, stock, benefits, promotions, etc., will miss many of the best opportunities, because managers see that attitude as a form of narcissism.

In other words, managers have problems and hire the best solution, i.e., candidate, to solve them.

Or to paraphrase JFK, think not what the manager/company can do for you, but what you can do for the manager/company.

Everyone is a Salesman

Monday, January 9th, 2012

“It’s all about sales. I’ve never seen an entrepreneur who wasn’t a salesman. I always feel like, with an entrepreneur, it’s not just about convincing someone to come in but it’s really about getting them to see life the way you see it through your eyes.” —Barbara Corcoran, Shark Tank

Corcoran is right, but it isn’t just entrepreneurs; it applies to everyone.

“See it through your eyes.”

Isn’t that what everyone wants?

From convincing investors to give you their money to selling yourself to a potential boss (or selling the company to a candidate), to making the case to your boss for a new piece of equipment to deciding what movie to see, it’s all sales.

Persuade, influence, blandishment, brainwash, cajole, con, conversion, enticement, exhortation, force, induce, inveigle, sweet talk, wheedle, preach, manipulate—call it what you will it’s still sales.

Folks do tend to get upset when “negative” words—manipulate, brainwash, con—are included in a discussion of sales, but then, there are people who think ‘sales’ is a negative action.

Which is ridiculous.4785507679_8645692a92

Without all the myriad ways we sell every day not only commerce, but religion, relationships and most of life would grind to a halt.

The actions that are termed sales or any of its synonyms aren’t good or bad; as with any tool it is how you choose to use it that defines whether it’s positive or negative.

Or, to paraphrase, sell to others how and what you would want sold to yourself.

See, is that so hard?

Flickr image credit: PR_Springer_Fachmedien_Wiesbaden

Self-starter Does Not Mean Self-managed

Friday, February 19th, 2010

dream-realityHow flat should an organization be?

How well do “self-starters” manage themselves?

Crucial questions for startups and small businesses, since how they are addressed can make or break the company.

Often the most important hires made when a company wants to grow are in sales.

Founders and owners often have technical, marketing or business backgrounds and many have a tendency to shrug when it comes to sales.

They see hiring salespeople as no big deal—there is an assumption that as long as they have a good track record in their previous sales position and understand the new product they can manage themselves.

If this sounds off base to you, you’re right, it’s not that simple. To use a real-life example, I had a client who thought that way.

The CEO hired “Jack” (before my time), a salesman with a fantastic record selling a parallel product to the same market.

The CEO personally taught Jack the product line and explained what the company was working to accomplish and then pretty much gave him free reign.

In the year Jack was with them he sold only two accounts, spent a good deal of his time on marketing and managed one large client; commissions totaled only $15K.

When he left he went to work in a field completely unrelated to anything he’d done before and in a market about which he knew nothing. In his first year at the new company he earned over 125K in commissions.

The difference was management.

Based on his track record both the CEO and Jack assumed that he could manage himself.

However, Jack didn’t have, and didn’t create for himself, the structure, accountability, etc., necessary to be successful.

During his exit interview he admitted that although he had no knowledge or training in marketing, he spent substantially more time than he should have because it was new and exciting.

After the CEO and I had fully analyzed what happened he concluded that the failure was 80-20, with the 80% his responsibility.

Hind sight is 20/20 and my client believes that if he had taken the time to do what was needed, instead of expecting Jack to completely manage himself, that he would still be with the company and doing a spectacular job.

The important lesson here is that “self-starter” does not mean “self-managed.” Even the best will need direction, structure, and accountability in order to perform brilliantly.

Image credit: iamwahid on sxc.hu

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