October 10, 2021

Every single one of these responses is a sign that we got stressed.

Did you get stressed this week? I know I did.

What was the trigger?

Was is someone or something? Was it an unfulfilled expectation or an unexpected disruption?

I’ll get into what causes our stress later, but this week I’d like to talk about our response. Or rather, our responses.

I have learned that there are basically six main responses to stress. And only two of them are healthy.

The healthy ones are simple: influence or adapt.

They are both driven by an attitude of serving – which is what makes them healthy.

Things get unhealthy when we go into survival mode.

Unhealthy response #1: Shame.

This is when we say to ourselves “I don’t belong.” Or even say “nothing I do is good enough.”

It’s usually not true, actually. But it’s hard to think/feel clearly when we’re stressed.

Unhealthy response #2: Manipulation.

This is when we try to force the outcome. It’s not serving anyone but ourselves – even if we don’t see it that way.

We use anger, perfectionism, pouting, and a host of other techniques. But the outcome is always the same: get things settled the way we want them to be.

Unhealthy response #3: Blame.

This is when we say to ourselves “it’s not my fault.” Or better yet “it’s their fault.” 

It produces a false sense of certainty. Usually by projecting all of the shame-based uncertainties we feel about ourselves into someone or something else.

Unhealthy response #4: Withdrawal.

This is when we disconnect – physically, emotionally, intellectually, socially – to be “safe.” It’s driven by a sense of avoiding blame, especially toward ourselves (“you can’t blame me because I wasn’t involved”).

So, why the big breakdown of unhealthy behaviors? Every single one of these responses is a sign that we got stressed.

And if you, like me, take a moment to look back on the past week to see how many responses were generated – we’ll see how much stress we’re under.

And whether or not we’re as healthy as we want to be.

(Like what you are reading? Please follow this blog and join the conversation.)

October 3, 2021

“It’s time to change the narrative…”

I think the most dangerous thing about stress is that we have become so used to it.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Stress is something that will never go away.

But the sheer volume of it today – the constant presence of it – makes me shake my head in disbelief.

The crazy part is that we all know this is bad.

So, why do we allow it to roam so freely in the wide open spaces of our souls?

I have been wrestling with this question ever since my wife got leukemia. I wrestled with it all the way through her chemo. I wrestled with it all the way through her recovery. I wrestled with it all the way through the cancer coming back and eventually taking her away from us. And I’m still wrestling with it now.

With that said, all of the wrestling has taught me a few things. Things like:

Stress leads to poor decision-making. When we’re stressed, we shift from the pre-frontal cortex of our brains and go to our amygdala – the so-called “lizard brain” in the middle our heads. We know this is happening because we immediately get angry or afraid. Some of us just freeze.

But regardless of our response, we immediately become focused on ourselves. And only ourselves. We start surviving – and stop serving. In other words, every solution we come up with, and every decision we make, is focused solely on “me” – which only injects toxicity into the situation. The good news is there is a way to completely change this response, but only IF we intentionally master it.

Stress leads to poor health. Many of us – especially Type A personalities like me – will often fake our way through the moment, only to let it all out once we get home. We somehow delay self-centered gratification until we walk through the door and crash – physically, emotionally, and/or spiritually. We call it “I’m in a bad mood” or “I’ve had a really hard day” – then proceed to drink/eat/consume what we shouldn’t. Or unload on our partners and children. Or disengage completely, withdrawing from the very connections that nurture our souls. The list goes on and on…

The outcome is always the same: we’re not healthy. We eventually have a hard moment with the doctor, the therapist, or the lawyer. Again, there is a way to completely change this response, but only IF we intentionally master it.

And perhaps the most important thing that I have learned from wrestling with stress is this: Stress keeps us from becoming the best version of ourselves.

When I get stressed, I stop being the me that I want to be. I undo the progress I have made. I reinforce habits that I’m trying to kill. It’s like climbing a metal slide that is covered with oil.

Which is why I’m reviving my blog. I have found many friends – and even strangers – who understand the struggle with stress all too well.

Business leaders, stay-at-home parents, pastors, and students. Whatever the label, stress has become too big to ignore. Too common. Too “normal.”

And it’s time to change the narrative.

If you want to join me, please follow this blog and join the conversation. Let’s turn this struggle into a victory.

My blog has moved…

Friends, after being almost completely inactive for two years while working heavily on a special client project, I am reviving my blog!

But not here.

If you would like to follow the journey, please subscribe to my new blog here. You will receive a weekly email from me that covers:

  • My latest blog
  • Links to other people’s blogs that my team and I thought were worth sharing with you
  • Special announcements

For the less adventurous, you may hesitantly explore my new blog at GrowthAndAssociates.com/blog.

Personally, I really hope you hit the subscribe link so that we can stay engaged…

I mua. Onward and upward.

A Lesson for Grief

Recently, I have been having a lot of conversations with people who are grieving.  Big griefs. The loss of a little sister. The loss of a husband. The loss of a career.

Every instance is one that pulls my heart strings. I tangibly feel the weight of each story.

And I am reminded of my own journey. I know grief. I know what it feels like to have the world suddenly turn itself upside down, to have the sky itself surge upward and away while the earth drops beneath my feet.

Chances are, you know grief, too.

So, this post is for you.

In a recent letter to a friend, I wrote this:

First, there is a question I have for you.

What path are you on: the path to survive all of this or the path to healing? Because I have learned that they are very different paths.

I cannot recommend the path to surviving. It is our most natural choice, but is does nothing for us, especially since it never ends. Ever. The life of survival never allows us to tell our story without pain, without grief. Sure, we can “move on,” but we never truly do. And we then carry the wounds of our past as burdens, susceptible to any bump/scrape/trip that would cause them to flare up and shut us down.

The path to healing is very different. It leads us to be able to fully serve again, without any hesitation or pain. It’s a liberating path, full of breakthroughs and newfound peace. It also involves a tremendous amount of transparency, the kind of personal vulnerability that can never be experienced on the path to survival.

So, if I may ask you again, which path are you on?

If you’re on the path to healing, I would offer you one more learning… Blame will automatically push you to the path of survival.

Trying to blame the people who have hurt you (whether they be drunk drivers, false accusers, or even the randomness of Life), will always take you away from the path of healing.

Sure, we want justice. We want truth. We want the lies to be exposed and we ultimately want to be vindicated of whatever blame we feel… So, we push that blame back at the players within our painful story. We create airtight arguments in our minds that both soothe us and trap us at the same time. We search for the willing ear who will hear our tale and join us in condemning the evil against us. This is the insidious part. It feels good to blame. It helps us survive. And keeps us from healing.

I don’t know where you are at today. I may not even know you at all. But hear me in this: you can heal. You can do more than survive. You can eventually thrive in such a way that your story ends with peace. Beautiful, heavenly peace – the kind that transcends our current situation and gives hope to others.

Thanks for listening.

I mua. Onward and upward.

By Tim Ohai

Good Metrics vs Worthless Ones, Part Two

(Warning – this post might get a little snarky. Well, okay, a lot snarky.)

In my last post, I hammered on the idea that a metric is not a goal. I got a little bit of pushback on that, so let me briefly reiterate my point.

DruckerIf I wasn’t clear enough (which is entirely possible) on the idea that metrics are important, well… Goodness. They’re critical. As Drucker famously pointed out, what gets measured gets done. (Which by the way, is not actually what he said. Drucker said, “What gets measured gets managed.” But then again, the idea of “what gets measured gets done” might actually go back to a dude named Rheticus – the sole pupil of Copernicus. But I digress.)

The key idea is that metrics have a secondary value, at best. The primary value lies with the actual goal – the desired outcome that the metrics are trying to serve.

So, if we can agree on that, then it’s time to move into some metrics-related best practices that I have uncovered over the years.

Let me begin by saying that all of the classic concepts are still valid/true. Great metrics are accurate, on time, benchmarked, strategic, credible, used, shared, blah blah blah. Not that I want to make fun of it, but I have a short attention span and I hate to drone on about what (I hope) is obvious to you.

That wouldn’t qualify as very insightful, right?

So, here is my first best practice: great metrics validate the goal.

What do I mean by that? Picture something like measuring how many demonstrations a sales person gives to potential clients. Sadly, I see this metric all of the time. If it was a great metric, it would show the value of giving a demo. But it doesn’t. Not at all. It simply measures if something that the salesperson called a demo (and maybe even the customer called it a demo) occurred.


Here’s why.

The purpose of a demo is NOT to simply show your product off. It’s to explore and validate the requirements of the potential customer. It’s to create a 2-way dialogue between that customer and your sales person. Maybe even pull in other folks from both sides of the table. But you aren’t measuring that. You’re measuring the number of times a rep scheduled a demo – which usually turns into a monotonous, painful “watch me show you every feature/benefit possible” demo.

Which is not what was originally wanted.

Which actually invalidates your goal.

See what I mean?

A great metric will validate the goal, speaking to the heart of the desired outcome. Instead of measuring the number of demos, measure the number of times that it worked. Measure the number of times that requirements were validated with a demo or the number of times that a demo opened the door to the next stage. Use the metric to reinforce the goal, to illuminate it. Not hijack it.

My second best practice is this: great metrics provide an insight that leads to action.

Nothing is more worthless that a piece of information that you can do nothing with.

Days without a safety incident, anyone?

Seriously, I jumped on this last time, but it is such a classic example of what I am talking about. Beyond trying to achieve new records, there is nothing that I can gather from a metric like days without an accident. Are we safe? I have no idea. Are we at risk of something bad happening? I couldn’t tell you. Are people engaged and looking out for each other? Maybe, maybe not.

And we see it in other parts of our business all of the time.

Like, what is our current revenue when compared to last year at this time? Tell me – what insight do you get from that? And more specifically, what action do you want me to take? If you say “work harder…”

Bulls Eye 3Great metrics will drive toward an insight.

And this is where it gets a bit trickier. Because getting insight from a metric requires that you are measuring the right thing. Which implies that your goal is the right goal. That you have actually taken the time to diagnose what the problem is – and that your solution to that problem is getting measured. And that you made a legitimate goal out of it.

But if you are not actually measuring the solution to a problem, what are you measuring? Why is the metric so important? And please don’t say because we have measured that very thing for decades.

Which is why we have metrics overload. We have dashboards full of metrics where EVERYTHING is important – so none of it is. We overwhelmed any and all possible insight that could have been identified. Because the goal was not to generate insight. It was to collect and report data.

My third best practice is this: great metrics collect lagging, leading, and leadership data.

Let me explain.

Let’s say you want your sale people to sell to the C-suite more. Lagging data (what is produced at the end of the process) would be the overall number of C-suite sales. You could also go after C-Suite revenue or profit. Leading data (what is produced during the process and leads directly to the lagging outputs) could be the number of C-suite interactions. Or perhaps the percentage of overall sales in a rep’s pipeline that are C-suite interactions. Leadership data (what is done by the leaders of the people being measured) would be what the sales managers are doing to ensure that the sales reps are producing the right outcomes in the right way. You could measure the number of times reps are coached on C-Suite interactions. Or maybe the number of joint sales interactions with C-Suite buyers (be careful with this – you could be guilty of invalidating the goal by making the manager hijack the conversation to hit a “metric”).

Leader coachThe essential principle is that you are layering the role of leaders into your measurement equation – which isn’t done often enough.

Look at it this way, what would you think if you saw that C-suite revenue was low and C-suite interactions were up? You could think a lot of things. But what if you also saw that sales manager coaching was non-existent? I think you’d be a bit more equipped to get things on track. Fast.

Adding in a leadership metric makes a massive difference in both the level of insight you are getting on performance, but also in the very energy that drives performance to begin with. You create accountability and emphasis on teaming – even if the teaming is one-to-one, manager and player.

And yet, too often, we have no idea (beyond simple anecdote) if our leaders are the root cause of the problem – or the key to success. Unless having engaged leaders is not a goal of your organization.

So, there you have it. Three of the best darn best practices I know of. Let your metrics:

  • Validate the goal
  • Provide an insight that leads to action
  • Collect lagging, leading, and leadership data

What metrics-related best practices do you have that I may have missed?

I mua. Onward and upward.

By Tim Ohai

Good Metrics vs Worthless Ones, Part One


Maybe it’s just that time of year, but I am somehow getting into a lot of discussions about metrics.

Sales metrics.

Compliance metrics.

Safety metrics.

Evaluation metrics.

And on and on…

What is grabbing my attention is how I often I am seeing worthless metrics.

And by worthless, I mean devoid of worth/value/utility.

Sure they measure things, but they don’t actually tell anyone anything. And worse, they don’t actually drive the desired outcome.

Because that’s the whole point, right? Getting the right things done?

Let me give you a brief example that everyone should find familiar… Safety.

Anyone who has every worked in a larger organization (even as the cashier for a fast food joint) has seen the safety posters and seen the safety numbers. My favorite safety metric is “days without an incident.”

Does it clearly measure something? Of course it does. But, by itself, it doesn’t really tell you anything.

By itself, knowing how many days we have gone without an incident does not necessarily mean we are safe. We could just be lucky. There could any number of bad/risky behaviors at play, but since we are only measuring incidents – and not the behaviors that lead to safety – people can easily fall into a false sense of security.

Lazy workerAnd the worst part of this particular dynamic is that the better the number, the lazier people can become.

This happens in Sales all of the time. People make plan (or even beat plan) for one period and suddenly start to sleep coast.

It happens in Production, where Quality numbers look good for one month, then drop off the next. Then go back up, then drop off again. It becomes a consistently up-and-down pattern over the course of a year.

And here’s what is going on.

If the only thing that is being measured is the final result/outcome, you don’t have a metric any more. You have turned it into a goal. Instead of focusing on doing the right things, people are focused on whether or not the numbers look good.

But here is the kicker: Metrics are not goals. They are simply indicators of whether or not the goal is being achieved.

Picture this: It’s the Olympic Finals in Team Sport Z. The winning team gets the gold medal. Before the game starts, the coach of the underdog pulls his players together and says, “I’m proud of you all. We’ve worked hard to get here. I know we are about to play the most important game of our lives, so here is what I want you to do. Score X points. Do whatever you need to do to get to X points, but if you don’t score X points, we fail.”

Can you see the ridiculousness of that approach? Can you see the foolishness of telling people to just focus on the score?

A great coach will never focus on the score. He/she will focus on doing the right/best things and let the score take care of itself. Does the score matter? Of course it does. But it’s just a metric. It’s not the game.

Let’s go back to the safety analogy. What is the actual goal here? It is NOT to go Y number of days without an incident. That is just how we will measure the goal. The actual goal is to have a safe, engaged working environment, right?

This means that people need to do things to create that safe, engaged environment. They need to take safety training. They need to conduct safety audits. But there is more than formal activities involved. People need to look out for each other. They need to watch each other’s back – and hold each other accountable. They need to proactively look for and address potential risks. And so forth.

It’s the same things in Sales. Hitting a number is not the goal. Generating revenue and protecting revenue are the goals. There are a TON of things involved in effectively generating and protecting revenue, like researching customers, connecting with different altitude levels, identifying and solving problems, making your value tangible, and so forth. The numbers are just ways to measure if these things are being done.

FocusDo you see my point? Clarity of the actual goal drives different, better behaviors. But if the team has turned the metric into the goal… the result will be different, worse behaviors.

In closing (at least for part one of this particular rant), let me give you a simple test.

Ask the people on your team what their goals are. If you only hear metrics as the answer to your question, you have a real problem. Your metrics have hijacked your goals. And that is going to lead to a bunch of bad behaviors.

But then, you can probably already see that now.

I mua. Onward and upward.

By Tim Ohai

Management vs Leadership, Part Two

As I continue my rant thoughts about the difference between management and leadership, let me recap the core difference between the two concepts.

Management is about optimization and leadership is about transformation.

The Office Michael ScottSo, if you don’t mind, I’d like to stop using the terms manage/management and lead/leadership for now. I get too many reactions from people who cannot separate the bitterness of their past experiences with bad managers. It always leads to some sort of knock against the idea of management – which is just absurd. I mean, get over it already. We’ve all had those bad experiences, but you can’t knock the value of driving because of idiots with driver’s licenses. You get my point…

Instead, I will simply say optimize when I mean manage and transform when I mean lead.


At the master/uber strategic level, this distinction is huge. In other words, what is your strategy about – optimizing or transforming? It’s amazing how often I ask this question to folks and they don’t have any clarity on the answer. Which guarantees that everyone in the organization is making up their own answers as they go. Which would really suck if the most senior leaders of that organization actually intended the answer to be one or the other.

Imagine that – an entire organization trying to optimize their way through a transformation… Surely, that doesn’t describe your company.

(Side rant thought: We live in an age of massive shift. This means that MOST companies, if they are not brand new, need to transform how they work. Their entire model is rooted in Industrial Age realities (and thinking). These realities are either rapidly fading into history or, frankly, no longer exist. If you are one one these companies and your master strategy is not about fully transforming – and the people in your company are not committed to fully transforming – you’ve probably got substantial problems.)

But I want to turn our attention now to the individual level. Mainly, I want to talk about YOU.

Have you ever assessed your ability to optimize and/or transform?

It seems to me that we have all the capacity to do both, but in very different levels of proficiency.

For example, I am pretty good at optimizing, but I get bored with it after a while. I much prefer to transform. I see needed changes and am willing to completely dismantle sacred cows standardized processes and roles to create entirely new capabilities.  As a result, my proficiency in transformation is higher.

But how do I measure my proficiency in optimizing/transforming?

Let me give you a simple way to assess it.

At the most basic level, there is the team. And when I say team, I simply mean a collection of people.

The next level up is how those people work. It is their processes and the way that the team works with each other.

The next level up is how the team works with other teams. It is the interconnection of various processes and relationships to produce outputs together. (Note: together means collaboratively, not in spite of…). These relationships can be internal to the organization or even external (hello, customer – and even supplier). And you cannot simply say how you worked with one other person (like your buddy in Finance) as a “team.”

Finally, the ultimate level is how you use information to make decisions. I call it information flow. It is WAAAAAAY bigger than simply using lines of communication, reporting, or technology. I’m talking about collecting data, analyzing it, and getting the entire organization to make decisions with it. The entire organization. Making decisions. To drive results. Not creating a report and sharing it with stakeholders.

Got it?

Now, here is the test – how high have you gone in optimizing and/or transforming?

Coaching soccer(Note: This is a napkin tool. It is REALLY dumbed down – enough to fit on a napkin as part of a lunch/dinner conversation. If you want to get serious, you have to assess more than one experience, in more than one level of complexity. Getting your kid’s soccer team transformed is wildly different than getting your team transformed in a Fortune 500 company.)

  • Have you optimized a team? This means that you got the wrong people off the bus and the right people on the bus.
  • Have you transformed a team? This means that you have actually redefined the roles on the team (and maybe even the purpose of the team). Then you got the right people into their new roles.

IF you have successfully done either of these, you may move up to the next level in that category. If you have not, you have to stop. This is your current optimize/transform level of proficiency.

  • Next, have you optimized how your team works? This means that you have refined their processes and workflows to get better results.
  • Have you transformed how your team works? This means that you have redefined their processes and workflows to get new/different results.

Assess and continue IF you have successfully done either of these…

  • Have you optimized how different teams work together? This means that you have refined the roles, processes, and workflows of different groups to get better results.
  • Have you transformed how different teams work together? This means that you have redefined the roles, processes, and workflows of different groups to get new/different results.

Assess and continue IF

  • Finally, have you optimized information flow? This means that you have reassigned/distributed the organization’s people, budget, and resources to make better decisions to get better results.
  • Have you transformed information flow? This means that you have created/secured the organization’s people, budget, and resources to make new/different decisions to get new/different results.

I know this is a really crude approach to defining your management/leadership proficiency, but do you get a picture of where you stand? Can you see your own journey of optimizing and transforming?

When I walk through this exercise with folks (including myself), it is amazing how often we over-evaluate our proficiency levels.

  • We often mistake (or assume) our leadership proficiency because we optimized really well. Once.
  • We often mistake (or assume) our management proficiency because we have only transformed things.
  • We often get wrapped up in job titles and dollar signs because the initiative we worked on delivered big numbers. But we were not in the actual position of being THE PERSON in charge of the optimization/transformation.

The implications go on and on…

If you are an individual contributor, give yourself an honest assessment. Do you want to be a better manager? Do you want to be a better leader? Do you need to change roles – or even companies – to make those changes? Define what your goals are and put a plan in place to pursue them.

Chimps on the teamIf you are a senior leader (or even THE leader), give your team an honest assessment. Who are your managers and who are your leaders? But more importantly, what is your strategy? Is it to optimize or transform? And is your team up to the task?

I mua. Onward and upward.

By Tim Ohai

Management vs Leadership, Part One

Sacred CowFor this post, I’d like to take a shot at a very sacred cow (at least for some folks) – management vs leadership. Frankly, I can already tell this is going to take more than one post, so let’s call this part one.

Personally, I’ve been talking about the topic of management vs. leadership for years, but I’m suddenly seeing a surge in the topic with some very good posts and even some of the dialogue in the comments section on my own rants.

So, let me ask you – what is the difference between management and leadership?

If you give me anything that sounds like “managers are bad and leader are good” I’m going to call BS on you.

Because that kind of pop industrial “insight” is about as worthless as they come. There are great managers and there are horrific leaders. We’ve all worked for them. So please don’t give me some tired recitation that leaders are somehow members of the Golden Age of Heroes (and yes, I just went comic book geek on you).

The next possible answer you’ll likely give me is some variation of Peter Drucker’s quote that “management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.”

I agree with that – to an extent. In other words, the concepts of management and leadership truly are different. And they are both centered on the act of “doing.” But pulling a quote from Drucker is still not sufficient for this discussion. Here’s why.

Management is about optimization and leadership is about transformation.

Think about that for a moment.

Good management – and great managers – focus on driving more efficiency and effectiveness into their process/team/organization. They seek out waste and try to elevate performance. At the end of the day, they are fundamentally optimizing how we work.

But they HAVE to do things right AND do the right things. Therefore, Drucker’s quote as the only point of definition is incomplete.

Bad ManagerYou cannot consider yourself a good manager if you make people do the wrong things in the right way. That is bureaucracy. That is insane. And that is why “management” often gets treated as the “lower” discipline.

But criticizing the concept of management because of crappy managers is like criticizing the profession of selling because of aggressive vacation time-share sales people.

Good management is absolutely critical because optimization is absolutely critical. There is nothing ignoble or inferior about management.

Then there is the idea of leadership.

As I said earlier, leadership is about transformation.

And that is an entirely different game.

Good leadership – and great leaders – focus on driving the organization into the unknown. Hopefully, because that is where the organization needs to go. It is Nokia transforming from the forest and power industry into cell phones. It is Apple transforming from personal computers into defining the very foundation of how entertainment is consumed. It is Microsoft transforming from the monster who thumps all competitors into the cloud-based partner that everyone will (hopefully) need. Leadership is willing to disrupt efficiency and effectiveness in order to achieve something new – and greater. At the end of the day, leaders fundamentally transform how we work.

But they still HAVE to do things right AND do the right things. It’s just different things than what managers have to do.

So, here is the real question for you…

Do you need to optimize or transform?

Small fireIf you are an individual contributor, keep your thinking small. Start a small fire. Pick something that you need to optimize or transform and then tackle it. Identify a personal process or a personal tool and make that the focus of your attention. Build momentum from this. Slowly create your own business case for bigger optimization/transformation.

If you are a senior leader (or even THE leader), start many small fires. Do not light one big fire. I have personally been a part of these kinds of attempts and they only make people run away. And I have the burn marks to prove it. Identify a collection of processes, tools, or even roles and start making incremental changes. Take a pilot approach. Learn from the small experience before sending it out to the larger organization. And slowly create your own business case for bigger optimization/transformation.

But be CRYSTAL CLEAR on what you are asking people to do. They MUST know if you are expecting optimization or transformation. Because if you allow any ambiguity on the overall objective, they will create their own definitions of success.

And optimize/transform the wrong things in the wrong way.

I mua. Onward and upward.

By Tim Ohai

Four Reasons Why A Sales Process Will Never Work

Let me begin by saying that I believe in having a great sales process. At the same time, I do not believe that a sales process is going to provide any value. I have seen way too many sales teams try to anchor their entire strategy on the implementation of a sales process. And it’s just stupid foolish such a colossal waste of effort. (Man, I can tell already that this is going to be a rant – sorry).

Here’s why I think that way. 


Seriously, how many times have you seen a sales process get rolled out – and there is zero accountability for actually using it. And by accountability, I do not mean getting yelled at, harassed, or shamed for not following the process. I mean quite the opposite – being empowered to use the process and being evaluated on your effectiveness with it. THEN working to master both the process AND your role. With role being primary to process (and THAT is a whole other rant – you can see my thinking on this topic here). 

Which brings me to the point of this particular rant.

I see four reasons why a sales process never gets used/adopted. Call them root causes. Whatever. But these four culprits are some of the main reasons why stuff like forecasting is a nuclear dead zone miserable experience for so many. And if any of these problems exist in your organization, don’t be surprised if your sales process (and sales team) is suffering.

Tension with a ropeNumber one – The sales process doesn’t integrate with other parts of your business (Marketing, CRM, forecasting, etc.). What I mean by this is that far too often we complain about the separation between Sales and Marketing (or Sales and IT, or Sales and leadership, etc.). There’s this constant tension as the Sales team never fully implements whatever Marketing, IT, leadership, etc. intended. This is usually because what was designed by non-sales folks was focused on just one aspect of the sales experience – not the entire sales experience.

This creates a bunch of demands on the sales person that actually disrupt the process. Or worse, shuts it down.

Picture this: Jonathan the Sales Rep is busy trying to schedule his week. He’s got targets to hit and customers to serve. And while he is throwing everything he has into getting his pipeline running at full strength, Marketing shoves a new product/brochure/lead into his queue that has nothing to do with the current customers that he is trying to serve. Then there’s the CRM system that just got upgraded to “make his job easier.” It makes no sense to him and he cannot see how it makes the sales process more effective. It just gives someone in “management” more data to obsess about. Jonathan’s sales manager starts sending him email “reminders” to use the new Marketing stuff and CRM update.  Jonathan gives up on the sales process and starts doing his own thing to manage his time AND make Marketing/IT/Leadership happy. Process killed.

Number two – The sales process is not customer-focused. At all. Every term is couched in an internal context. Prospect. Approach. Present. Negotiate. Close. This is completely irrelevant to customers. Which means that they will not contribute to the process. They won’t respond to it. They won’t engage in it – or finish it. This makes it really hard for sales reps to stay committed to the process. Who wants to follow a process that rarely ever gets completed?

Picture this: Katrina the Sales Rep is trying to talk to more senior buyers. She has gone through the training, been coached by her manager (kinda), and now has to log every attempt she makes to connect with executive customers. But her sales process has nothing to do with those people. The C-suite could care less about being prospected, approached, etc.

Female sales rep on phoneAnd they do NOT want to buy. Their budgets are strained and their timelines are shrinking. What they do want to do is solve real problems and drive measurable outcomes. But Katrina’s sales process doesn’t actually account for that. So instead of tracking how relevant she is, she simply tracks all of her activities. Which delivers absolutely ZERO insights for the people who are trying to support her and make her more effective. Process worthless.

Number three – The sales process is too linear. Look, if you are trying to sell in more complex situations (especially at the enterprise level), no one makes a decision to buy based on a series of progressive steps. Why? Because human beings are involved!

Think about that. We don’t work in straight lines. We don’t think in straight lines. And we certainly don’t make decisions in straight lines. We start down a certain path, involve other folks, take detours, go back and rethink what we thought, and so forth. This is especially true in the context of a knowledge economy. It’s no wonder why the myth of “buyers are 2/3 of the way through the buying process before engaging sellers” is cited so often (It’s wrong, but sure seems real). Because we’re telling sales people that they have to follow a linear process in order to get sales.

Stop it! Make the process about gates that the customer goes through in solving a problem – not the stages of a linear decision-making experience. Think like the buyer. And engineer a sales process that allows the sales rep to move with the buyer through their problem-solving journey.

But instead of doing this, we tell the Jonathans and Katrinas of the world to use a linear process. And to forecast against it. Then God forbid that the customer actually goes backward in the straight line of a process. Process meaningless.

And finally – number four – The sales process is never just one process. Sales is about all kinds of processes. There’s the opportunity management process (which is what we usually mean when we say “sales process”), and the customer relationship process (which should lead to more opportunities), and the customer administration process, and on and on…

Tangled messWhen we look at this as multiple sales processes, not just a singular sales process, we get a different perspective on what we are asking our reps to do. They have a LOT of work to do if they are to manage opportunities/manage relationships/provide administration/etc. These processes are all connected to each other, making it a gigantic tangled mess if not respected. And I don’t think enough leaders and non-sales people have enough empathy for what is required to do all of these things in an aligned, integrated way.

Picture Jonathan and Katrina again. While trying to manage their “sales” process, they have a solid list of follow-up activities to do. This includes tasks related to protecting their accounts, not just trying to land new deals. But they get caught up in their follow-ups and forget about prepping for their next call. They struggle to squeeze something in, but preparation has become hit-and-miss. Which translates into how they execute their opportunity management process. It becomes equally hit-and-miss. Like all of their other processes.

But if they’re still hitting their numbers, nobody really cares. Process overwhelmed.

Now, for those of us who actually want to use a health sales process, we simply have to reverse engineer from these four ideas:

  1. Integrate the sales process with the business. Or if you REALLY want to be smart, integrate the business with the sales process. Because nothing happens unless something gets sold.
  2. Make the sales process customer-centric. Or rather, don’t define a selling/buying process. Define a problem-solving process.
  3. Make your sales process more of a non-linear pattern than a sequential process. Allow for buyer (and seller) behavior to be harnessed, not battled.
  4. Recognize that multiple sales processes exist. Never work on just one process without thinking of its impact on the other sales processes.

I mua. Onward and upward.

By Tim Ohai

P.S. Special kudos to my co-author and partner in crime, Brian Lambert, who inspired this post over one of our many random conversations.