Are you a 1 in 10 or a 1 in 10,000?


I am honored to host a guest blog by my pal Kaustav Mitra, who is a dear friend and colleague. He is the fearless leader of the SAP startup focus program. When I joined SAP last year, Kaustav was assigned as my “buddy” to show me around 🙂 

When I say fearless, I am not just saying that in the figurative sense – I mean it literally too. If you don’t believe me – look at this photo

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I have been bugging Kaustav endlessly to start blogging and finally succeeded. At about 3.30 AM today – he sent this to me. Please enjoy – I am sure you will like his first blog just as much as I did. 

Leading a team of talented Type A personalities is a treat but comes with its own challenges. One major part of it is trying to offer the best guidance as a manager when it comes to the topic of career progression. You see both ends of the spectrum with colleagues either overestimating or underestimating their readiness for rapid progression. Being a fan of playing with numbers in general this sent my thoughts in another direction altogether. What could a basic estimation Gedankenexperiment (love that word!) tell me about talent management?

**CAVEAT. I am not claiming that any of the numbers below are remotely accurate; they just seemed more or less reasonable. If you don’t like them, feel free to use your own guesstimates instead.**

1:10

Factoring in children, gender distributions in the global workforce, unemployment and people past their active working years I’d still estimate that about 1 person out of every 10 on this planet are employed at an organization large enough to support a career track. I use this in the broadest sense – say entities larger than a few hundred people. Using a world population of 7,000,000,000 that still gives us 700 million people working in offices, factory floors, call centers, workshops and so on.

1:100

You’re already in a privileged position if you are one in a hundred. You’ve had a good education and a lot of advantages in life. Chances are that you are in a white collar job and placed solidly in the middle class. If I stop to think about though, I’d bet you still feel very much part of the 99% rather than the 1%.If you’re competitive though the bad news is that there are 70 million others like you.

1:1,000

At one in a thousand, it should be getting hard to breathe since you’re in the upper atmosphere. You’re probably well on your way on a decent growth track with your eye on management or acknowledged functional expertise. Still doesn’t feel like though, does it? You’ve got some luxuries but you’ve also got the pressures. The nice house, the good schools and the shiny car all come at a price. And by the way, there are 7 million people who are probably as good as you.

1:10,000

Bust out your air guitar, rock stardom beckons. You’re good enough at what you do to have fundamental impact wherever you are. It still feels like you have a lot of company with 700,000 others like you around but the reality is that organizations are desperate to find people like you. Even in a large corporation with 100,000 employees there are only about a hundred people with your ability (keeping in mind that you had to be one in ten even to get in in the first place) and if employers don’t work hard to keep you, it will be to their own detriment. Congrats! You’re on the fast track.

1:100,000

Great – you’re the Big Kahuna. You’re no longer working for The Man, you ARE The Man (or The Woman, as the case may be). You’re already in the C-suite and with just 70,000 people like you around, it’s a nice little club. There are probably more than 70,000 firms around (of notable size) and they really, really want you. Feels good to be wanted, doesn’t it?

1:1,000,000

Hope you have your spacesuit on because at this altitude I can guarantee you’re not sucking air. You’ve either won a Nobel or Oscar (bonus points if you can name the two people who have won both, no Googling) or Olympic gold or otherwise need a five point font for a one page resume because your achievements are overflowing. No one will see the personal sacrifices you’ve made to get where you are because we’re blinded by your dazzle.

Most of us will never get to meet one of these people and if you do shake one of them by the hand, be sure you wrap that hand in plastic in case that talent rubs off on you. And there’s STILL 7,000 of them today on this planet.

I could take this to the logical extreme, at one in ten million, you’re a regular on the global news circuits; at one in a hundred million, much of the planet knows who you are and at one in a billion, there’s a good chance people will still know who you were a hundred years from now (all hail Jimi Hendrix).

This blog is really not about the last few categories since I can guarantee that most people in those categories are not reading this. But for everyone else, this exercise should be fascinating.

I started out talking about talent management. Employers have the tough job of recognizing and rewarding the incredible talent of people in the 1 in 10,000 category.  They not only have to attract these people; they have to keep them engaged, motivated and committed. In a corporate setting, you need the right management talent to do this effectively and the odds are not in a company’s favor when the managers are likely 1 in 10,000 people themselves. This is just not something most HR departments are designed to do well. To be certain, you can’t build a company around rock stars alone but it sure is nice to have a few handy when competition comes nipping at the heels.

On the flip side, for employees, it’s incredibly difficult to make the jump from the 1 in 10 to the 1 in 10,000. Any misstep can send you tumbling down the ladder and that is assuming you started out blessed with the colossal amount of talent, appetite for consistently insane hard work and wizard-like organizational savvy (and yes, plain dumb luck) needed. Think of the numbers and realize there are a LOT of people at least as smart as you and quite possibly, a whole lot hungrier. There’s a reason the odds against you are 1 in a 1,000. Not odds to take to the races. But here’s a basic truth. You can’t stop trying – even if your efforts don’t take you where you want to go, everything you do to improve the odds works in your favor in the long term. As good a place as any to end with one of my favorite quotes from Les Brown

“Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”

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Who is your teacher? And who taught the teacher ?


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I saw this today morning at the Starbucks counter in the hotel lobby . And then I had to change my shirt – and I have mocha dripping through my nose .

I am not a big fan of Alexander – and have a hard time saying Alexander the Great . However , I do like what little I know about his teacher Aristotle and other teachers like Plato , Socrates and so on .

In India , there is a pecking order of respect that goes “Mata, Pitha , guru , Daivam” (mom,dad,teacher, god) . If I had the liberty to reorder this list, I will put teacher at the top of the list . Here is my rationale
1. Not everyone is fortunate to have a mom and/or dad in their formative years
2. You can have only one mom and one dad , yet you can and should have many teachers
3. As you grow older , in many cases you will stop taking introduction from mom and dad – yet when the student in you is ready, the right teacher will appear
4. Unlike mom and dad , you can choose teachers you like

Like many of you, I can trace back my (limited) success in life to a few great teachers in schools and colleges I attended . I also had some pretty horrible teachers – and don’t wish them on even my enemies . And at work, I am eternally grateful to the mentors I have had .

But the more important point is – are we growing the next generation of great teachers ? As I look at my daughter growing up – I think the primary school teachers are just as awesome as Mrs Nirmala Marhrubhootam who taught me in Chinmaya Vidyalaya . I can only hope that she gets equivalents of Fr Berthold, Prof Nasser, Dr Kevin and Dr MNV nair to guide her through her academic life .

But at work – I am not so sure . I think people actively seek mentors these days way more than when I started working . However , I don’t see anywhere close to the same interest in people going out of their way to mentor others . There are a few exceptions like John Leffler and Ken Englund in IBM and Sanjay Poonen in VMWare . It is still a pull model – and I think that should change . As we get past each stage in life , we owe it to the next generation to pass on our knowledge .

This is just as true in the world of dog shows . As the older generation is getting into their golden years, there are not enough youngsters to keep running the kennel clubs . Many clubs are defunct now . I am as guilty as the next guy in this situation . I should do a lot more in supporting the clubs I am a member of – and not just monetarily .

It is definitely the most satisfying part of ones life – I have seen the joy in my teachers when they hear how well I am doing . I also feel quite the thrill when the people I mentor do well . Words cannot express it – you should feel it to know it .

Why do companies exist ?


In business school -I was taught that the primary idea of having a company is to maximize returns to its shareholders . There were some essays on the “additional necessity” of stake holder management too .

As I joined the workforce – I was taught that companies exist to make sure customers are successful . My favorite manager of all time taught me “when in doubt, do what is right for the customer”. It made all the sense to me – and I rationalized that if the customer is satisfied and excited , company will succeed automatically .

Along the way, I became a manager and then an executive . And I started getting the employee dimension . The idea of pleasing share holders and customers will work well only if employees are happy and committed to what they do . Yet, most managers have limited abilities to do what is right for employees . I think that is the root cause of lack of growth in a lot of companies .

Yesterday , on twitter – I was reading something on companies buying back shares to boost their stock price . As an investor , this is a pretty good thing to see the big companies spending tens of billions of dollars on buy backs every year . My gut feeling is that at least 500 billion dollars should have been spent by companies in share buy backs in last 5 years . If anyone knows an approximate number – please leave a comment .

I have mixed feelings on the idea of share buy backs . This is money that could have been used for product development , acquisitions , better customer support ,employee compensation etcetera . Whenever I hear about stock buy backs – I think “is it because this company has run out ideas of getting more profitable business from its customers? “. On the other hand – if I have stock in that company, I feel less bad given there is a chance that the market will reward them.

However , after watching the buy backs at big companies like IBM and AAPL having little impact to share prices , I am starting to wonder how long is this strategy effective ? At some point the market will require companies to do actual business to get rewarded . I wonder if it is possible to isolate the impact of buy backs on share prices to see if this is more effective than regular business in driving up the market cap of a company . My guess is that it is not – but then I have not done any real analysis . It’s just an uneasy thought in the back of my mind .

The idea of having share holders , customers and employees happy doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive . Some over lap via getting more employees to be stock owners can help – and some companies do it very well . It is also a good pulse check on whether employees of a company are fans of the company’s vision . Same thing with employees and customers – if better customer satisfaction drives better stock price , employees who own stock will not need to be forced into doing what is right for the customer . They will do it naturally .

PepsiCo CEO Mrs. Indra Nooyi, recently told Forbes magazine that she writes letters to the parents of her direct reports congratulating them for the good work of their kids . I was blown away – my parents have been extremely proud of everything I have done , but I would have never thought of my boss sending them a note to say that I am doing well and they should be proud . What a great idea ! Ok I guess some employees might think that is way too personal for their comfort , but I personally think that would be the sweetest thing a boss can do for parents and the employees .

I wish more managers and executives would take the time to take care of the employees – I know I have ways to go as well . But every time I hear about creative ways other managers use to get their team to develop into better people and better leaders – I get inspired a lot . It’s on my bucket list now to find a way to meet Mrs Nooyi 🙂

Professional Handlers and Breeders – thank you , from a grateful dog owner


Many of my friends at work and in my social circle have asked me what is the point in dog shows if you get a professional handler to show a dog. It’s a good question – I thought that way too initially.

Dog shows in US have way more professional handlers than any other country that I am familiar with . And many of those handlers are now good friends . While I don’t always agree with their tactics , I am a huge fan of the profession .

When I first came to this country , I got the impression that these folks have a good thing going financially . Looked like easy money to me . But it didn’t take long to understand I was way off in my judgement . And not too long after , I started being a fan – a big fan.

I consider myself a decent handler – but I seriously doubt I stand a chance against the best professional handlers in the sport today . In theory – I should be able to beat them easily. I will only be showing one dog at a time , and I can probably afford to buy one of the best dogs available for sale and I probably can advertise all out to promote my dog . I can train my one dog with full focus and groom it with more precision . I can pick the shows where I think the judge would like my dog. So why bother with a handler ?

Because that is theory and it is not in the least bit practical 🙂

In my day job, I will never get around to training and exercising my dogs to the degree they need it to be competitive . I travel hundreds of thousands of air miles a year which means I don’t want to be at a dog show every weekend. I would rather be home with my family . I will never have enough dogs to become great at grooming them professionally and so on . And I will never have the face recognition needed to win repeatedly in shows . Also – just because I can afford to pay the asking price doesn’t mean that a good breeder will sell me her best puppy or dog . Finally , my interest is only in showing -not breeding .

So for me – the solution is to find the best handler I can , and trust that he or she will do everything ethically possible to get my dog to his potential . It is also way more economical for me in terms of time and money . And to some degree – I have a better shot at finding the dogs or puppies I like via a handler than by myself . It also helps that I have trained and competed at a high enough level in my younger days that I don’t need to do it myself to feel fulfilled . I am happy to sit back and watch a professional do the job. And when I think it is not fun for the dog or me – I can stop and go throw him oranges to fetch and never take him to another show again.

While they do it for a living – handlers love dogs just as much as I do . At least – the handlers I know do , if not everyone . That is important for me – if I have the slightest doubt on that factor , I won’t hire that person . Same about ethics and integrity . I am an extremely competitive person. But while I like to win as much as the next person – I won’t do anything against the spirit of good sportsmanship . Dog shows are not a game I play just to win . It’s just an irrational hobby 🙂

It takes a physical toll on these folks – I know many have bad knees, back and feet at a minimum. And sadly, many of them can’t get the right medical treatment to take care of it because they cannot afford it . Yet weekend after weekend , they show dogs with utmost professionalism . Some are blessed to have great clients who have them on a retainer year after year. But vast majority have to work supremely hard throughout the year to make a living . That takes the kind of tenacity and toughness I admire .

There isn’t a dog show I have been to where someone hasn’t said “oh it’s a handler breed” or “it’s all political” or “the judge always looks at the wrong end of the leash”. None of these comments are wrong . But I think the handlers get a disproportionate degree of blame . Actually I think so do judges for that matter .

Professional Handlers do it for a living – and they become good at it . The opportunity to beat them is available to everyone including owner handlers if they put in the same effort and cost . Since it is not feasible for an average owner handler to train and show as many dogs in as many shows as a professional , the professional has an edge in most cases . That is not some evil plan 🙂

To make a name – handlers have to start with great dogs . Over time their skills and face recognition increases and lesser dogs will start winning with them . That is true for owner handlers too – if you keep at it , it is a natural result . In my line of work as a technology executive – the same holds true . What my colleagues and I do can be done by many others – but it will take a lot more time and effort and money to do it as well as we can . It is not because we are more intelligent – it’s because we have done it many times over for many customers in varying circumstances. That is why our customers buy engage us to get some stuff done and not try to build everything themselves . I think the same way when hiring a handler .

That being said – there is one case where I look forward to handling myself . That would be if I ever show in India again . For old times sake – I totally would love to hold the leash and trot my dog. But even there , I would rather have a professional groom my dog . Hopefully I can do that soon – nothing beats the feeling of showing dogs with people I grew up with , under judges that taught me a lot about dogs and dog shows .

Before I sign off – a big shout out should also go to the responsible breeders in the fancy. Although I have a problem with the sheer number of breeders , I am a big fan of their insatiable appetite to breed a dog that meets the standard in letter and spirit . Almost no breeder I know got rich by breeding – many could have bought a second home with money spent on dogs . And it is exhausting to bring up a litter – which is why I don’t breed . Owners like me – who just enjoy the fruits of their labor – owe a lot to these kind folks . I am very grateful to have the opportunity to have the choice of several excellent breeders to buy a puppy from . THANK YOU

Once an IBMer …


I left IBM a year ago – but have always held the company in high esteem . A lot of what I know today about the industry is stuff I learned in my time there . And I definitely had more good days than bad days there . I still own a tiny little bit of stock in IBM , and some of my best friends and mentors work there . Where I work now , IBM is both a partner and a competitor . And for all those reasons – I keep a close eye on IBM . As always – I am posting this as my personal opinions , not that of my employer .

It was pretty disturbing for me to read that IBM is planning another round of layoffs in 2014 and they have kept aside a billion dollars for that, like they did in 2013 . Having several friends who work there – it is pretty sad for me when I see IBM in such trouble .

When I joined IBM, I think the share price was a little less than $70 . And every year it kept increasing and at some point went well over $200 and now it is about $182 or so . So over the long term, they did pretty well and many employees and investors did well as a result . While there were always some unhappy employees – for the most part , IBM did ok .

IBM is unapologetically capitalist in nature . By the time I joined – there was no pension plan or life time employment type things . And the company was expanding rapidly outside USA. If you look at IBM as an American company , it is kind of hard to see it in a good light . But if you think of them as a global company – it made sense to make use of cheaper labor, better access to other markets and so on .

IBM , in Sam Palmisano’s time made the promise to investors that it will hit $20/share as EPS by 2020. And EPS has been on an upward trend through every quarter I think , irrespective of top line growth.

And then Sam handed over the reins of IBM to Ginnie Rommety . She had already managed services and sales for him, and was supremely qualified for the job . She also grew up the ranks at IBM and knew the company inside out . I thought it was a great decision to make her the CEO and Chairman . It was a pretty smooth transition too .

Sam not only grew the share price and EPS , he also did some savvy stuff like selling off the low margin PC division , investing significantly in IBM Watson etc . So all things considered – it seems Sam set up Ginnie for a decade of success . And Ginnie told the world that she is executing on current strategy .

IBM is laser focused on that EPS goal , and uses all possible levers . There are mainly just four things –
1increase revenue
2.decrease cost
3.buy back shares
4. show investment commitment to future revenues .

The latter three levers were the ones IBM seems to have played best in recent past . In Sam’s time – this was amply rewarded by the capital markets . But in Ginnie’s time – Market is punishing IBM for playing exactly those same levers . Not growing revenue is what is hurting IBM big time .

Selling the low margin part of hardware business to Lenovo seems like a good idea – but probably something the market has already factored in . I have mixed feelings of this sale – I have friends among the people in that business , and I can only wish them the best . But stemming that bleeding profit is good financially for the company .

All that being said – one question remains in my mind . Did Ginnie do the right thing by telling investors that she will follow Sam’s strategy and not chart her own course ?

Street likes predictability more than anything . So if a CEO resets expectations, market will usually give the company more time as long as the plan and time line is communicated well . In much worse situation, HP CEO asked for more time and the Market didn’t punish HP stock for that . If anything I felt HP CEO should have asked for even more time to steady her ship .

So if Ginnie had said “I am playing a long game – so I am going to extend the time frame of EPS roadmap” , would IBM stock have been punished more than the value it lost so far ?

Market is used to not seeing profits – companies like Salesforce and Amazon have gotten the market to believe that revenue/bookings growth should be rewarded even in absence of real profits . Yet, IBM will get punished for showing real profits and growing EPS but not revenue growth . I guess that is why capital markets have that mystic aura 🙂

Or maybe market is not that irrational – and IBM can’t cut costs forever and reach their promised glory . Like every large matrix organization, I am sure IBM has opportunities to cut costs and get leaner – but every time they do that, it does a lot of harm to its employee morale and that is not easy to repair . It is a hard choice to make .

Competitive landscape doesn’t make it easy either . IBM is an amazing technology company and has a habit of making long term bets – like Watson. But a mothership cannot always easily turn on a dime .

Amazon is the Walmart of infrastructure providers with its everyday low price model . That is not IBM’s game . IBM needs to play up its “value added services make us better than Amazon” card really well to see if it works . While I don’t under estimate Mr Bezos, I actually think IBM can out do Amazon since it has staying power in abundance . Soft layer acquisition is a good indication of IBM doubling down . Also , while intel based HW is out – IBM still has Z and P business which can provide manufacturing expertise for their cloud . IBM microelectronics has cutting edge expertise on semiconductors too. But data centers are a capital intensive business and IBM will need to get to the efficiency of the consumer company data centers at some point . Not at all easy , but eminently doable in my opinion .

I am pretty positive that IBM will do well again . I have three main reasons for that

1. Before my time at IBM, they had a near death experience . They know how bad it can get if things don’t go their way . But they survived that and thrived . That is invaluable experience that they can use again

2. IBM has invested a lot in leadership development . People like Ginnie and Steve Mills are some of the best in the industry and they have plenty of leadership bench . I always bet of good leaders and I would be shocked if these people can’t pull it off . It’s not just the top leaders – they have some very bright engineers and an amazingly well trained sales force with great customer relations . This is a people business first and foremost .

3. IBM has continued to invest in research through all kinds of economies . They have more patents most years than other companies . That kind of IP is invaluable in the long term – and not easy for someone else to overtake them

Good luck IBM – I wish you nothing but the best . But in the few times that I have to compete with them – I will try everything possible to kick their butt . That is how IBM trained me 🙂

A short personal response to Josh Greenbaum’s SAP FKOM blog


Well known analyst Josh Greenbaum posted 2 blogs with his views on how SAP sales reps should be selling to customers .

http://www.eaconsult.com/2014/01/14/the-new-year-in-sap-land-selling-customer-success-part-i/

http://www.eaconsult.com/2014/01/16/the-new-year-in-sap-land-selling-customer-success-part-ii

I absolutely enjoyed reading it – and want to make a few minor comments , strictly in a personal capacity . I don’t work in sales at SAP – I am on the engineering side of the house , but I work closely with sales all the time . But please don’t consider it as some kind of official SAP response . I am just typing as fast as I can on my phone in response to tweets from Josh and Jon Reed .

1. Relationships – do they matter ?

Josh starts off slightly dinging the idea of relationship based sales . I disagree with that position All business is done between people and for sales to move away from transactional realms to transformative realms – a strong relationship is a must .

The IBM quote of no one getting fired for hiring them – IBM didn’t earn that with clever marketing . IBM earned it with the blood , sweat and tears of its employees trying their best to do what is right for their customers . When I worked there , I have had CXOs tell me that “one reason we hire you is that we know that you will do right by us if things go bad in a project”.

This is true with SAP too – no one just listens to a transformative message and then writes a check . You have to work really hard to build a relation with key people at the customer to earn your seat at the table to tell them that story.

2. Quota vs Customer’s long term interests

I don’t think these are mutually exclusive things. And when they are – I won’t hold the sales people accountable – I hold the managers accountable .

Sales people have little to no choice in determining quota – that is done by sales leaders . So telling them to not worry about quota is essentially telling them that they can’t worry about putting food on the table for their families . That will not go anywhere in terms of getting another behavior . The possible course of action is that the quotas are set realistically and rewards being set on not just quota but on other things like customer satisfaction scores etcetera . Again – I agree with Josh , just want to point out that sales people cannot act on that message directly . This can happen only top down for the most part – and not bottom up .

3. Sell own services VS Partner services

I think this is a sure shot recipe for disaster . The SI ecosystem gets a bad name because of a few high profile projects that turned into disasters . What does not get mentioned in news is that vast majority of SI projects are successful . And when things fail – it is seldom that it is the SI that caused the failure by themselves . Most of the time the customer and SAP would also have done something to contribute .

SAP can never scale enough to cater to all service requirements . So it is in SAP’s best interests to make sure that SI partners get a good share of that business . SAP has an excellent services arm , but most projects need non SAP skills too to make them work . And the SI partners usually have plenty of expertise there .

SAP is primarily a software company – and what I would rather see is an acceleration on engineering efforts to make sure that customers don’t need as much services to use our products . But where services are required – I think it is best to either partner with other SIs or let the customer pick the best SI , including SAP services .

SI partners have fantastic relations at several customers . By partnering instead of competing all the time , SAP gets to leverage those relationships . Channel is good business for SAP – and SIs are important part of the channel business . Many SIs are also resellers .

4. Selling training and education

Quite agree with Josh here . Training should be part of every deal in my opinion too . However , my wish is that ultimately the software should not need any training to use it in vast majority of cases . That onus should be on engineering to make sure we build products that need less and less of training .

5. Don’t sell mobile , cloud etc

Again, completely agree – what an organization needs is a business strategy and not a mobile or cloud strategy . However , most customers start small and will have to satisfy themselves that the software works well before they think of transformative use cases . Selling cloud and mobility licenses are an integral part of helping those customers without bleeding the profitability in short term .

Ideally , the sales should be of solutions – not individual technology products . But that is again something that lies with product and solution management . Sales can only work with things they have in the bag . And when the SKU list is vast – no one in sales can realistically figure out what solutions are possible by combining all the cool toys . That means some portfolio rationalization needs to take place – which is not controlled by sales people .

Apart from these small points , I am more or less in great agreement with Josh . SAP and other technology vendors should change how they sell . It won’t happen over night and it won’t happen without customers changing their buying habits too . As I have always maintained – the sole judge of innovation is customer , and not vendors or analysts. All I can hope as an SAP employee is that customers continue to trust SAP in 2014 just like they did for last four decades .

It is hard being a sales leader


Off late, I have run into a lot of highly stressed out sales leaders – at work, at airport lounges and at assorted other places including at customer sites. It is real hard being a successful sales leader.

In most jobs, if you do well in current role – you are generally setting up yourself well for your next higher role. But I doubt that is true in sales . Many of the best sales people I know made mediocre sales leaders when they got promoted. And some of the top notch sales leaders I know today were just about average sales people in their prior life. While such things do happen in other job functions too – I have a strong feeling that sales kind of bucks the general trend.

To begin with – many organizations do not start grooming sales people into sales leaders early. They like sales people to be laser focused on quota and will not recognize the other skills they will need as they move up the chain. And compared to a developer or a finance person or something at the same level, the remuneration for a young sales person doing well in their job is pretty high. So the behavior patterns needed for narrow objectives of the organizations are rather strongly reinforced early in their life. I think this is also the reason why several successful sales people like to continue as individual contributors and not get promoted to leaders.

A developer who grows into an architect or development manager or a VP of development is not expected to code at that point. But  sales leaders have to occasionally take matters into their own hands and sell directly. That is not really the hard part – the real hard part is to resist the temptation of taking matters to their own hands too often in sales situation.

If you have an A team for sales, the chances are that they won’t sit patiently through a cadence call and take instructions and report status in a structured way. And many sales leaders are not very good at sales operations. It never ceases to amaze me on how long it takes for some of them to understand the need for good operations and hire a good COO . Good ops leaders are worth their weight in gold -once you find them, keep them close. However, you always need to watch out for where you draw the line on ops efficiency. End of the day – you need the sales to happen and reporting is an after effect. Don’t let controls screw up front line sales . It is a very hard balance to strike – especially for those sales leaders who totally hated controls when they were doing front line sales.

In  a big sale I did at IBM as an account partner – my deal strategy required a senior partner to come in as a “closer” to get the deal signed. I did not really need that given I had a great relation with the customer CIO and his staff, and we had done a good job in understanding each other. However, I was so tuned to having a closer in such big deals. Thankfully, when I pinged my boss to show up – he said ” this one is on you buddy, call me when you have it signed”. Words cannot express the sense of elation that balanced out my sense of panic. He was a senior guy and totally saw that the defined process is only a guideline – and I needed help in seeing that. Now, this is my guiding principle in any situation – sales or otherwise. Do not use “process” as a rigid mandate – use it only as a rough guiding principle. As long as you have the trust of the manager that you are ethical and responsible – you will have the support you need.

What is the most important asset for sales people? That would be the relations they have nurtured with customer contacts. This is also why a lot of Sales Force Automation systems get implemented by companies who want to keep that data. This is also the reason why most sales people do not care to put the information in these systems. It is hard to get the sales people to share those relationships. However, as a sales leader – your very success is dependent on your ability to share your relationships with your team so that they can go make the sale. This is the most counter intuitive thing for most sales leaders in their first leadership appointments.

As the size of the organization increases, there will be a number of over lay sales roles created to make sure there is sufficient attention on all important stuff. Too often – this results in lack of clarity and vast majority of leaders just become “checkers of the double checkers”. Eventually, everyone and no one is responsible for the actual sales or the lack there of. Over lay functions cannot be avoided when a company has a large number of products and vast geographic coverage for markets they serve. I have seen upwards of ten people “managing the spreadsheet” and “checking on status” for same sale in some situations in past life. It is a rough life to be at the receiving end of that mess. And this is only flavors of sales people. On top of that – there will be general managers of products, HR and assorted others who will need to be kept informed too. They cannot be blamed for asking “who is the customer here ? you folks or the company that actually is paying us?”.

Finally, there is the love-hate relationships with channels. Nothing demonstrates misaligned goals more than the goals set for direct sales and channel. Everyone loves channel up the chain – except the people held directly responsible for the quota for the same business. If you put direct sales and channel in conflict via goals and processes – you have no one else to blame for the resulting chaos. It is a hard lesson – with very few right answers. These are strategic goals to be set at the CEO level and lower level goals should be aligned perfectly to that strategy.

Despite all these things stressing them out day in and day out, all my buddies in sales leadership roles still keep their heads up and motivate (ok ok, occasionally even manipulate) their teams to achieve the big targets. I hope they have a less stressful 2014.