Saturday, November 15, 2014

Building or Breaching Trust: It Is The Responsibility Of Leadership To Communicate and Build

A coaching client of mine in a start up software company told me an interesting story the other day. He was looking for a sanity check on an opportunity that he was working on - one which truly needed to have value sold to the customer in order to overcome a large price variation between themselves and the competition.After months of working on a solution (in a sales leadership vacuum), he managed to rally both the internal and external stakeholders. With a solid, value laden solution in hand he went forward to the customer with his colleagues and management. In such a situation we would expect the leadership to have been engaged throughout the process and be up to speed on the issues and competitive threats within the account.We certainly would expect the leadership to clarify any barriers to closing the sale and to be prepared to support the sales team in removing these so that a deal is possible. However, that is not what occurred.The salesperson returned from the client meeting absolutely 'pumped' by the opportunity to win and to provide the customer with what they needed both today and into the future. As the Team worked through the items (the sales people, engineers, programmers and account representatives were all aligned on the 'ask' from the customer) they completed the re-write in record time. The Sales Leadership Team was not available to review the content as they were working on other deals (as often happens in a start up environment). Recognizing the urgency of the situation, the salesperson used initiative to acquire sign off on the language. Problem solved, right? Wrong.The Team was working with a partner company that owned submission of the bid to the final client - a health services/quasi governmental agency. With the sign off in hand they put forward a deal that was still more expensive than the competition but could be sold on value and positioned as a win for both the client and his organization. Part of this offer was to hold the pricing for new services (expansion of services) at the same negotiated price for the three years of the agreement. Since the software that is being sold is becoming a commodity that has downward pressure on the pricing it seemed like a win for all parties. Sales Leadership re-engaged and stated that they never intended to offer the client additional services (for which a follow on order is likely in the next 3 months) at the same price. Yet all parties (except the Leadership - which as you recall was sporadically engaged) remembered that the discounts offered would be extended to like products and services - especially since it was known that there were follow on licenses coming.

Instead of supporting the efforts of the Team, acknowledging her part in the confusion (due to lack of engagement and understanding the complete competitive environment), and using the opportunity to secure a win while also having a coachable moment whereby she could take the time to explain how she likes to be involved and why the deal might have been worded differently - thereby increasing morale and strengthening the relationship with the sales team - she forced the salesperson to retract the offer. Recall this was an offer signed off by the organization.Not only does this represent bad business (the customer will surely go elsewhere - or at a minimum place the smallest possible order), but the way in which it was handled with the sales person can only create a morale hit. Furthermore as salespeople discuss what happened (as salespeople do), the company (and that Manager in particular) will have real difficulty overcoming the perceived breach in trust.Perhaps there was a reason why the Sales Manager reversed her decision. Perhaps there were economic variables that the sales team was not aware of. Regardless the critical conversation between the sales person and the sales manager could have been handled much differently. It could have been the basis for a relationship of trust and respect and understanding.Unfortunately conversations and situations like this are all too common. Real or imagined misunderstandings hurt more of our opportunities and morale than anything else. It has been said (I'll give the credit to IBM Leadership Development since I remember the saying from my Executive training there) that people join companies and quit managers. While this sounds simplistic it is true.Be sure that you are attracting talent - not repelling it - as you interact with your Teams. The reality is that people will form, change, reform opinions of you and your company based upon the perceptions created by your interactions with your staff. It is the responsibility of the Leader to communicate and build trust. After all, a Sales Manager is only as good as her Team.---

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