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Selling Microsoft

Sales Leaders: Are You the Linchpin or the Weak Link?

Know what ingredients in sales, marketing and operations must be measured to perform at optimal levels. A partner needs to track at least four metrics for each department.

Based on 14 years of consulting with partners and my previous years in the channel, it's clear to me that if you're the president, sales manager or both, your position tends to determine whether your organization grows or struggles.

A linchpin leader holds the organization together, making it stronger. A weak link makes the chain or organization incapable of performing. Which are you?

I recently read "Who Says Elephants Can't Dance?" written by Louis Gerstner Jr. (Collins, November 2002) as he was stepping down after 10 years as the chairman and CEO at IBM. It's a great read on real-world leadership and management in tough situations.

Gerstner had to reduce massive levels of headcount, alter IBM's organizational structure, change the mission and culture, as well as rebuild the management team. As a non-technologist, he focused on what IBM had lost -- a customer focus. I found myself folding over the corners of almost 20 pages that contained gems of ideas. Especially valuable was an appendix with e-mails he sent out to everyone at IBM. They show the power of words and his constant focus on building the right culture.

Why mention this 10-year-old book? If you're the sales leader or president you must focus both on the strategy -- communicating the mission and vision -- and the day-to-day execution of your business. Weak-link leaders either fail to understand the power of culture and emotion of the team, or lack the discipline to "inspect what you expect" or hold their direct reports accountable. Generally, they also fail to understand the business drivers that can propel their business. Gerstner focused on all of these aspects in turning around IBM.

When we work with our partner clients on developing longer-term strategies and the supporting tactics that will drive the results, we always start with the vision. Where will we be in two and five years? As an example, a client in 2006 was running approximately $2.3 million in revenue; in 2011 it sold its business at a run rate of $19 million. The president is a linchpin leader. He built a strategy and focused on the tactics necessary to succeed. He also focused on the cultural aspects of growth. Many partner executives, because of their technical nature, neglect that aspect of their businesses. One of my favorite sayings is, "Leaders must align the soul of the individual with the goal of the organization."

What to do?

First, get the vision right and focus on the culture you require to achieve your vision.

Second, build your recipe for success. Know what ingredients in sales, marketing and operations must be measured to perform at optimal levels. A partner needs to track at least four metrics for each department.

In sales, for example, you need to determine your leading indicators. The one metric I like to suggest to my clients to track is the monthly number of pre-sales engineer/technical sales calls per salesperson. Once you know what number of pre-sales technical calls per salesperson are required each month, you can begin to determine the number of proposals that might result from that activity and then measure the won/lost ratio. If the number of pre-sales technical sales calls falls below the required number, you most likely will see the future number of proposals decline, and therefore the number of wins may decline.

In marketing, you need to know the number of leads required each month to feed the sales funnel as well as the best "sources" for leads that can increase the lead/source/close ratio.

As a linchpin leader your job is to build the right metrics for each department and focus on the execution, but the focus on the analytics is only one aspect of building a high-performance organization. As Gerstner wrote on what he learned at IBM, "Culture isn't just one aspect of the game, it is the game."

About the Author

Ken Thoreson is managing director of the Acumen Management Group Ltd., a North American consulting organization focused on improving sales management functions within growing and transitional organizations. You can reach him at ken@acumenmgmt.com.

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