Thinks Blog

Foundational HR

Many years ago, when I was in my first real job, I worked for a pharmaceutical manufacturer. As was becoming the fashion but is now de riguer, employees were required to take training from human resources for employee interaction, needs identification and conflict resolution.

At the time, it consisted of getting a group of employees together to watch a VHS video coupled with an instructor-led discussion of the different scenarios involved and what could have been done better–initially, during and after the interaction.

One of these videos stands out even after all these years. I’ve tried to track it down online, but it has probably been shelved since the fashions were out of date even when I viewed it the first time. The screen resolution was striped and grainy from repeated viewings. What stood out then and still stands out in my mind though was how it addressed what I consider foundational HR issues and things like responsibility to oneself and co-workers.

In the video, a woman sitting at her desk picks up her phone and calls a person in another department. The co-worker is male and works in IT. With few pleasantries, the woman demands help. The co-worker, in return, is short with her. The conversation ends and the woman is upset and escalates to management. Management intervenes and basically coaches the pair on how to play nice.

The group discussion I was involved with focused on characters in the video, Fred* and Velma, and their method of requesting and responding. To make the HR point, the scene and its message were supposed to be cut and dried, so I don’t fault the video or its script writers for  the intended message conveyed. What raised my eyebrows was how the people who viewed the video missed what I considered the Foundational HR flaw.

So, back to the scene: after Velma hangs up the phone (remember, this was before chat and texting), she turns in her chair and complains to her co-worker about Fred. What a miserable SOB he is, etc. The co-worker nods her head sympathetically. The scene cuts to Fred, who has turned to his co-worker and is complaining about Velma wasting his time. Then he states that THIS IS THE SECOND TIME THIS WEEK HE HAS SHOWN HER HOW TO DO THIS.

After this, we, the observers, discussed how Fred and Velma should have handled the conflict. There were a lot of soft suggestions like “use a nicer tone”, and “apologize for behavior”. But something didn’t sit right with me, so I raised my hand and said, “Velma or Fred should have written down the instructions.” The discussion leader eyed me coolly and paused…and then went to another raised hand. Being young I allowed her stare to quell any further pursuit of my observation and we got back to what an SOB Fred was.

This baffled me, as the crux of the problem and what created the conflict was that Velma again needed information which was provided previously provided. The conflict was a result, but not the fundamental issue.

No wonder Fred was upset–he was just berated by someone who demanded help for a task he had already shown them how to do. The video focused on Fred and Velma’s interaction and response and how they should have handled it.

Now a few caveats. I understand the intent of the video was to demonstrate how to communicate with co-workers better. It is important as an adult to communicate our ideas and opinions without devolving into an argument and hurt feelings. People need to treat each other civilly in an office environment (and elsewhere!). And, learning better ways to express anger and frustration and avoid hostilities is important.

Some important information: First, being the monkeys we are, to quell our simian roots we begin training the our control of emotions starting at birth. Many parents call this “manners”. Second, many tasks need more than one walk through before they become fluid. Third, as the little aphorism says, “Your crisis is not my crisis,” so escalating it by screaming, yelling, arm waving, foot stamping, etc. will only make it your crisis with me responding to it with matching anger. Fourth, if the proper foundations were in place, then when this crisis appeared, its escalation would match its criticality–one does not yell “fire” in the movie theater if they see only the glow of a cigarette (not applicable today, but it was many moons ago). And fifth, if Velma had been shown the process earlier, then there should have been some documentation around to jog her memory when she was required to repeat it.

If you are familiar with six sigma and its brethren 5S, then an appendage to the 5S methodology is to incorporate a system to make information available when it is needed: right now, in a week or in a month. What Velma needed was not another explanation–that just pulls Fred away from his work and doesn’t guarantee Velma future issues–but an SOP (Standard Operating Procedure), guide, tool or template to follow to get to a point where she can complete the process on her own. If that means further training with Fred, then that needs to be built into a plan. If it means Fred left Velma with instructions or Velma took notes, then that needs to be built into a plan.

So…a few years later, different company, same video, and another instructor led discussion with a different instructor. When it came up as to what Fred and Velma should have done differently, I raised my hand and stated my same premise as before. When the instructor paused with her stare this time (they must be coached this), I continued with my observation that the solution was to make sure either Fred had left enough information with Velma or Velma had enough information from Fred so that both could go on their way and neither would have had to have angry words. Even if planning to meet again at another time for more training was better than demanding someone help you. This time I only got a little sigh from the instructor.

The moral is if you have incorporated a plan, procedure or SOP for foundational activities and information, then you won’t have to deal with Fred and Velma and their bad interaction. You could probably even hire Shaggy and Scooby to do the work for mere snacks because you would have such a great plan in place you could hire just about anyone–even a talking dog–and they could figure out the work because of all your wonderful documentation.

In the end, planning and documenting should be part of any process. When you onboard someone, you have a plan, right? Right?

Thinks, Inc. is a consulting firm which specializes in Smart Sales Operations. If you’d like for us to come and assess your chaos, drop us a line at

PS The Infrastructure Guy  and Smart Sales Operations are Trademarks of Thinks, Inc.

*My apologies to Hanna-Barbera

How Lean is Lean? When Do I Quit?

In my humble opinion…

Great words to start a post, eh? But the fact is, most of business and business process is based upon opinion. It is like a very loosely constructed scientific experiment with no great way to prove a hypothesis except with 20/20 hindsight. So when I speak of Lean in this post, it covers a lot of different ways waste and efficiency have been tested in business, but also tries to show when the experiment might be over.

From my perspective, there are two things to remember about lean practices in an organization: 1) Lean implementation is meant to take out the waste all organizations suffer from in the implementation of their manufacturing or intellectual processes. 2) Lean is like an asymptotic function and will never be “completed”.

It is this second point which I want to focus on today, the “never completed” idea. Let me set up a few scenarios for you:

Manufacturing: Elimination of muda across a production line over several years. Success has been demonstrated, and returns are harder to come by/prove, but management is still driving for 5% annual improvements. When does this cross the line from improvement to impossible?

Purchasing: The elimination of excess spending is implemented, incenting the purchasing department to challenge spending and vendor costs. Typically the more purchasing “saves” the company, the higher the bonus Purchasing receives. After years of paring down costs, vendors and excess spending, the parameters originally placed still exist, making it harder to show percent savings. Purchasing has completed the task but are required to continue to show the same result.

Sales Effectiveness: The sales processes put in place to bring all sales representatives up to minimum quota levels have been implemented, but as the goal attained, but process remains in place. In a normalized distribution, the best performing sales reps remain, but the distribution is so tight that even A-players are at risk for remediation.

The problem with all of these is there comes a point where the goals of the original program have been achieved (or nearly achieved–see asymptotes, above), but the program or initiative which was implemented remains in place. Not only the program, but also the infrastructure of people achieving their goals and objectives. Which means this becomes a hard beast to kill once the objectives have been reached since someone has taken ownership or is responsible for the program (a little job protectionism…).

Anecdotally, let’s take purchasing…from a sales perspective, the purchasing department is the enemy (I’ll get to the reason why in a minute). From the executive suite perspective, the Purchasing Department is a tool to leverage or recoup margin by driving down spend. To incent the purchasing department to do this, typically they get paid on percentage saved. Let’s use a paper purchase from Dunder Mifflin as an example. DM provides paper for the company and Purchasing has been tasked with reducing office paper costs. DM has a three-year contract to supply paper to the company and when the contract comes up for renewal, Purchasing negotiates a 5% reduction in overall price based upon an achieved volume. Now, whether this is really a company savings or not AND whether this is really a hit to DM’s bottom line is to be hashed out in details which aren’t relevant for this example. For now, let’s assume Purchasing has achieved its goal, so that 5% is represented back to them in some form of bonus, either to the group (less common) or to the manager (more common).

Buoyed by this success and newly realized profits, the company CEO declares ALL vendors will undergo a 5% price reduction, enacted every year, from now on.

Now let’s pause for a second and think about some of the consequences which could happen. If we are buying a physical good, there is a floor which the vendor cannot go below, since there is a hard cost in the goods. For services, there is a floor which the service provider cannot go below, since the service provider has to pay for the people who provide the service. If I ask for a year-over-year reduction of 5%, the vendor will have to remove some level of profit from their margins, and if they do this…

What happens? If it is a physical good, after a while, there will probably be a degradation in quality. If it is a service, then there will be a degradation in the quality of service (e.g. a cheaper resource, usually less experienced, as a replacement for the experienced resource).

So, cost cutting works in its initial phases by trimming excess spend. But in a long cycle, it is not a sustainable practice. The program quickly reaches its asymptotic limit (and usefulness), and great results have dribbled to almost results.

So why is Purchasing the enemy of Sales? Because Purchasing is missing a key component in its evaluation for cutting costs: Value.

If Dunder Mifflin provides only paper, then it is easy to say they can be replaced by any paper provider. But if DM provides 24/7 onsite service, free tech support for paper jams, whatever, then these value-added services can’t be evaluated for cost in a 5% reduction.

Recently I was discussing this with one of my colleagues, and where we saw the disconnect was ensuring Purchasing knew where the value was in the chain. Yes, Purchasing can drive price down, but if Vendor A has provided value up front, be it in consulting, configuration or evaluation, then they need to recoup that cost. Looking short term and purchasing from Vendor B may provide a lower initial cost, but there is a high probability Vendor B can’t match Vendor A in value.

This delta in the intrinsic idea of value is critical. Value separates the experts from the wannabes and quality manufacturing from defects. It is intangible but tantamount to excellence.

There is a story which I haven’t been able to track down, about General Motors many years ago. Apparently the CEO at the time told his suppliers they were going to cut their costs to GM by 2%. The thing is, telling them to cut 2% might sound trivial, but as we all know, this will flow down hill. The quote I remember from one of the equipment suppliers, and I’m paraphrasing here, was GM would get their 2% reduction in price, and a 20% decrease in quality. And they did. The problem is you can tell someone to cut their price (I’m so tired of hearing, “Sharpen your pencil.”) but the company you’re buying from still has to make a profit. If you put them in a situation where they can’t make a profit but are obligated to supply you, they will figure out a way to find that profit, and it probably won’t be to your advantage.

So, in the end, think about programs which look for perpetual improvement. If it is something where this can be applied, by all means do so. But if a program has run its course, put it to bed. There are other things which need streamlining in your organization.

Thinks, Inc. is a consulting firm which specializes in Smart Sales Processes & Operations. If you’d like for us to come and assess your chaos, drop us a line at

PS The Infrastructure Guy  and Smart Sales Operations are Trademarks of Thinks, Inc.

Carbon Copy. Cc: “-itis” — An e-mail crisis

Monday. E-mail.

Tuesday. More e-mail.

Wednesday. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Vacations. Holidays. Sick days.

Births, funerals, weddings.

E-mail waits for no one. It is constant and ever growing.

And, it isn’t going to stop anytime soon, unless you are at your own funeral (it’s true, morbid as it may sound).

There are tons of articles out there on how to deal with your Inbox. This is not that article.

It is about dealing with your cc:‘s. That is, Carbon Copy, without the carbon.

(As an aside, maybe if we once again had to fill out forms by hand in duplicate or triplicate people might stop cc:‘ing so many other people.)

Cc:, and it’s lesser used brethren, Bcc:, have interesting lives (I’m going to use Cc: vs cc: as this is how it typically appears in the mail header). There is so much written on the etiquette of the Cc: and Bcc: but in terms of Smart Sales Operations and selling, I want to take another angle: inefficiency.

For the sake of the point, I’m only going to focus on a few examples. Your mileage may vary.

First inefficient use of Cc:    Including people’s management for escalation from the start.

Let’s look at this from a content origination point-of-view. When your e-mail was composed, what was the intent? A call to action? Looking for a result or information? And what was the timeline in which the request was sent? Did you send it to someone Monday and expect an answer by Monday evening–placing the ever popular exclamation point on the e-mail indicating High Priority for your e-mail? And you know (or hope) if your original recipient sees your e-mail, he or she will hop to it because you put High Priority on it.

So, at the end of Monday, you haven’t received a response, and you forward the original message to the original recipient, and Cc: his or her boss, and maybe another party which you think might provide leverage in getting your response. Now you’ve let loose the fecal storm and those cc:’d chime in and add their exclamation points and people start running around with their hair on fire because you wanted that answer by the end of Monday…and you’ve effectively filled your Inbox by Monday evening with only one problem you escalated, which may or may not even really be a problem.

Scenario two:     You have an issue or need to disperse information which you believe should be addressed by more than one person, so you fire up a New Message, add a bunch of recipients in the To: line, then add some fringe people in the Cc: line because you feel they should be aware of this. Then you Bcc: yourself and a friend on the project so you can prove you took action and sent an e-mail.

Results for Scenario Uno:  Congratulations! You’ve just exponentially increased your workload without solving your problem. You’ve included others whom you have to follow up with and those which you have to report the resolution of the problem to. You have several more days of mopping and cleaning to do before you finally put this to bed. Uhmmm, quick question, did you get your result?

Results for Scenario Dos: Those in the Cc: line are your CYA people, and they have other things to worry about than your e-mail and your hiney. Your Bcc: buddy can go rogue with your e-mail, create a new thread and undermine anything you thought you were doing. Yeah, that’s right, your “friend” forwards the Bcc: to others and a new poo cyclone arises from a thread which takes on a life of it’s own.

What is the point? E-mail is asynchronous communication. Meaning that unlike a conversation, it DOES NOT happen in real time. It is dependent upon sending and receiving messages, and due to that one fact, is VERY inefficient in getting things done quickly. But, it is VERY efficient in quickly transmitting information that is not time sensitive to someone.

Let me give you a thought experiment: Imagine you are a soldier on the front line. Once in the field, your only method of communication between you and your commanding officer is e-mail. Every day, your unit starts with a morning meeting to discuss objectives and then go out into the field for some killin’. So today, after you have white boarded the morning’s attack with everyone in your platoon, you head out for some hand-to-hand or other form of violence. Whatever type of violence it is (i.e. bombs, bullets or brutes), your attention will be occupied fighting for your life. Your first battle starts at 8:00AM (because violence is prompt) and as your platoon gets pounded, your CO sends a blanket e-mail at 8:10AM changing the strategy. Some of those fellow soldiers not currently occupied (aka, fighting for their life at that moment) and who hear the melodious ‘ding’ check their e-mail. For some, the ding and the pause to check creates the moment’s distraction that allows for them to be overtaken (a euphemism), and for others, they check their e-mail and immediately proceed with the new orders. For you, engaged in heavy artillery and mortar fire, you aren’t able to check you e-mail until several hours later as the enemy takes siesta and resupplies and you find the rest of your platoon has moved.

So tell me, how do you think the unit or platoon fared? Do you think they were as effective as soldiers taking direct orders verbally?

If you’ve seen Saving Private Ryan then the opening scene shows how battle is comprised of infinite chaos. But people are constantly communicating with each other directly. “Do this” “Did you check that?” “Go over there” “Look over here”. Direct communication.

Don’t hide behind a facade. Use the Cc: in e-mail as it was intended: to transmit information to parties who might have a stake in something or need to be aware of a situation. Don’t use it for personal CYA, showing management how late you are staying at the office, or hoping that your carpet bombing approach to addressing will turn over what you’re looking for.

And with that, I leave you to go back to your bad e-mail habits.

Efficiency Uber Alles!

Thinks, Inc. is a consulting firm which specializes in Smart Sales Operations. If you’d like for us to come and assess your chaos, drop us a line at

PS The Infrastructure Guy  and Smart Sales Operations are Trademarks of Thinks, Inc.


Scheduling, Calendaring, Tasks and Selling

For most of my formative years prior to college, I did things as needed. I slept when I was tired, went to school when I woke up, and came and went home on the bus because it was there. I attended practices for the sport du jour which the car pool picked up and dropped me off, and basically, I just showed up–essentially going through my tasks by thinking about which day of the week it was (Hmmm, Tuesday. Must be piano…)

In college I kept a planner for academics and school social functions, but I was at the whim of proximity when a new event showed up–proximity to my paper calendar, that is–and if I didn’t enter the event on my calendar right then–which meant track down my calendar right then–then the event didn’t get entered which means I didn’t plan for it. As and example of the issues which arose, there was more than one dropped ball. As a “for instance”, I remember I had promised my mother I would go see a play with her. On the day of the play, some event had my attention, and so I forgot to show up. Oops. (Obviously I still feel guilty or I wouldn’t be remembering this so many years later…) This is pre-texting days which means pre-cell phones, and connecting with someone either verbally or physically was much more labor intensive than it is now. But, a better maintained paper calendar might have prevented this from happening.

Now-a-days I have lots of calendars. But this isn’t by choice but because of necessity. A job, three children, a spouse and a bunch of pets means everything needs time–that is, needs MY time. So I have my personal calendar, my business calendar, my children’s calendars, and my wife’s calendar(s). My pets currently don’t have a calendar, but have raised their various paws and fins in request. And with all these entities vying for my time, what now happens is my calendar gets regularly thrown out the window.

So what am I getting at? Having a connected calendar in our current era is a necessity. Having a calendar which is connected to others, be they business colleagues or associates is a necessity. Planning for your family’s movements on a day-to-day and week-to-week basis is a necessity. But ultimately, a calendar is for creating “space” where you can get your work done, and this function of calendaring should be the highest priority but is where most of us make it the lowest.

Too many times we have something on OUR calendar, but we have a tenuous commitment to it. We put things on our calendar without really expecting to do them.

If we block out time for writing (like this blog), and a friend calls and we take that call, then we are not being committed to the calendar. We can schedule prospecting, keep-in-touch calls, e-mail creation, you name it, but if we don’t follow what we’ve scheduled, then the calendar is worthless.

Let me wax poetic for a little more about this: If we have scheduled a meeting for 2:00PM but we need to contact the other party that we’ll be late because our current meeting ran late, then you and the parties involved in the current meeting are not honoring that calendar commitment. I see this happen in big companies and with executives a lot. Many years ago, for one of my customers it was a two week process to get on an executive’s calendar, and woe for me if I ended up with a late afternoon slot. These executives had meetings back-to-back, their calendar a visual solid colorblock of meeting after meeting after meeting. There was no wiggle room. So when the usual happened, that is, a meeting which ran a little long or a sidebar that opened up after the meeting had ended, the executive would show up late to the next meeting, starting the snowball rolling so that by the end of the day he was running significantly behind. I mean SIGNIFICANTLY. If I had scheduled a meeting for 4:00PM (assistants at this company would schedule executives up to 6:00PM) the exec might walk in after 4:20. Since I was only a sales rep, then he would use my time to realign his schedule and cut our planned hour to less than half. So two things were happening here: 1) the executive’s behavior was rude–that is, he was being inconsiderate of my time and 2) he was cutting short on the message being delivered, meaning he would walk away short of information.

This is very important, so I’ll expound upon this. If you have a meeting, there is a certain amount of time taken up by just entering the meeting space, making introductions and initial small talk. Just like Monty Python says in The Meaning of Life, you just don’t go “…stampeding for the…” So taking a little time to set the stage is important.

But to my other point, the executives hadn’t created any space. They had meeting after meeting, but no time to execute on the outcomes of the meetings. That was for when they went home…

On top of that, one important lesson from school was forgotten: classes only ran 50 minutes. You had to give the students enough time to get to their next class and take a bathroom break.

How does this relate to Scheduling, Calendaring, Tasks and Selling? Because many times, when someone looks at an electronic calendar and if they see an open block of time, it is assumed that person is available. Time and time again I’ve seen people’s toes stepped on by individuals running rogue over someone using the other tools of modern communication (like Instant Message or Skype). If the light shows “Available” then the person must be available, right? If the time block on the calendar is open, they must be available, right?

Be aware when scheduling appointments or tasks. Create space on either side of the time for travel, preparation, follow-up…and respect the space that you’ve created so that you can perform the tasks which need to get done and you can get the sale.

Or just throw your hands up and give your pet attention. Woof. Meow. Bubble…Gotta go…

Thinks, Inc. is a consulting firm which specializes in Smart Sales Operations. If you’d like for us to come and assess your chaos, drop us a line at

PS The Infrastructure Guy  and Smart Sales Operations are Trademarks of Thinks, Inc.

Smart Sales Operations – Pipeline vs. Estimated Revenue

When I began speaking about Sales Operations, I mentioned there is some bleed between selling and sales ops. One of the critical pieces which companies focus on is pipeline. Where sales and Sales Operations depart, is how pipeline is used to estimate revenue and revenue is used to determine pipeline.

What do I mean? With a few employers, when I entered in an opportunity and my estimation of percent completion, the company then provided a calculated revenue equivalent for the opportunity.

For instance, if I identified a $100,000 opportunity, and was in the initial stages, having maybe had an introductory meeting, I would set the probability at 10%. My employer shows revenue of $10,000. As I progressed through the sales stages, the probability would increase, and so would the estimated revenue, for instance at 40% equaled $40,000.

There is a problem here though, because this IS NOT revenue. It is pipeline. By forecasting revenue dollars inevitably the company would begin looking at this number as real dollars–essentially “counting chickens before they’re hatched”. This, in turn, would lead to greater pressure on the rep to close the deal. And if the deal fell through, which does happen to deals, the company would go into a tizzy. No wonder reps sandbag their deals…

When I’ve asked different companies why they do it this way, they explain it is for budgeting purposes, resource planning, etc. Okay, I can understand the need for planning for resources and budgeting, but it shouldn’t be done off of imaginary numbers. If anything, it should be planned using pipeline probability. A $100,000 opportunity with a 10% chance of closing doesn’t represent $10,000, it represents ZERO dollars and a chance at $100,000 dollars! If the deal proceeds down the pike and gets to 70%, 80%, even 90%, it still represents ZERO DOLLARS.

As a tangent, this mentality is seen in the statistical situations. If you ask anyone what the likely outcome would be if they flipped a coin 10 times, they would say five heads and five tails. But if they are flipping the coin themselves and run into a streak, say, heads four times in a row, then instead of using statistics to predict the next toss, they use their human math and predict what the next toss will be. The problem is, statistically, each toss is 50/50. It doesn’t matter if there has been a streak of heads or tails, as each toss isn’t dependent upon the previous toss or the coming toss, only the current toss. Prediction doesn’t cut it.

Why am I so emphatic about this? Because if pipeline is set up this way, it creates a situation for management to scrutinize deals farther along the pipeline as needed revenue, without considering–among so many other things which can sink a deal–competition or buyer indecision. If you’ve sold before, then I bet you’ve had a customer sit on a deal decision for many months longer than expected or you’ve lost in the eleventh hour to your competition. These things happen to even the best sales people. But to be on the hook to management for a deal which doesn’t close because management is forecasting revenue, well, that’s just bad accounting. Not bad selling.

In Smart Sales Operations, Pipeline Percents represent confidence–how much confidence does the sales person have that a deal will close. Based upon that, estimates of potential revenue are either shown at 100% or nothing. If a company is trying to use some sort of percentage to allocate resources, then it should take the quote which is in consideration by the customer coupled with where it stands in the pipeline, and forecast resource availability. This is a topic within itself, but suffice it to say, resource availability is significantly different from estimated revenue–and I can’t bill my resources against estimated revenue. Only real revenue.

And if it hasn’t been sold, then potential revenue equals nothing. Once it’s been sold, it becomes real revenue.

Last, remember once you have real revenue, then the deal is truly done when the business gets paid real dollars–and the rep gets paid commission.

Thinks, Inc. is a consulting firm which specializes in Smart Sales Operations. If you’d like for us to come and assess your chaos, drop us a line at

PS The Infrastructure Guy  and Smart Sales Operations are Trademarks of Thinks, Inc.


I am going to preface the following by telling you I am a big believer in Lean. Most people think of Lean Methodology as something only for manufacturing, but more and more people are coming to see organizations can implement Lean practices to improve operations and internal harmony. Dan Markovitz is an avid proponent of this philosophy and he is one of my influences when I’m consulting for companies, or thinking how companies could be better.

Recently, I was listening to a book-on-CD (yes, I still do that) by Womack & Jones called Lean ThinkingThe title caught my eye because I thought it would be in line with my thinking. Alas, the book, written originally in 1997, is focused on manufacturing and the gains to be had by using lean practices. But something the narrator said caught my attention and it is completely applicable to sales and sales operations.

Briefly, the discussion was around “muda” or “waste” (the big three are muda, mura & muri or waste, overburden & unevenness). In Lean Manufacturing, waste is money down the drain, either by time or production. But where it is easier (but maybe not just easy) to track down waste in a manufacturing line, the 3M’s , but mostly muda, can be seen constantly in business on the sales and marketing side.

And this is the crux of smart sales operations–we look at sales processes as additive. What do I mean? I mean instead of looking at how a sales rep gets their work done and how do we extract information from that work stream, we layer a process on that sales rep to report on that work stream.

Let me give you an example to illustrate. A new sales rep is given a book of accounts in a given territory. Then, the sales rep is given a tool like a CRM, to prospect into these accounts, build a pipeline and funnel and start to close deals. Most of you are probably nodding your head in agreement, “Yes, that’s how it’s done.” Next, management wants to track the progress of the rep, so they ask the rep to produce a report. “No big deal,” you say, as all the rep has to do is create a report in the CRM and run it and give it to management. Then, management wants to know where deals stand, so they ask the rep to produce a report. Again, you may say, “No big deal,” and the rep produces another report. Soon, management wants to meet to go over the reports, which by now has grown to multiple reports and multiple meetings. The sales representative who was hired to sell has now become a reporting fool, spending significant time on administrative tasks, and trying to figure out how to balance their time with the other priorities of the job–like achieving quota.

As a personal example, my most recent experience was a manager who asked us to create a report used only by himself so he could present the team numbers to his management, showcasing the manager in the best light possible. The report was tedious, arduous and an exercise in frustration as it required two or more hours to produce each time (it was a Word doc, and none of the information gathering could be automated). This, coupled with the one hour accompanying meeting to go over the report and then the additional one hour meeting with the team to go over the collective reports was almost criminal in how much time it sucked. When confronted about this (as every rep had) the manager would say with his default response, “It only takes five minutes.”

Tying this back to Lean, what was wrong here? Waste. Waste of time, of processes and specifically of consideration. (While you might feel consideration can’t be wasted, how many times have you thrown your hands up in the air when your patience has reached its maximum? If someone who has been trying your patience continues to come back to you with the same issue again and again, you would more than likely snap, tell them about your frustration and tell them to get their problem fixed before they came back to you again.)

The problem for all this is a foundational issue: If the data has been captured in the beginning, then there should be no reason it couldn’t be pulled in an automated report. Computers are great at manipulating data, it is what they are built to do. So why was (I’m sorry, is–he’s still doing it) my manager wasting his team’s time to pull data he could have pulled? Because he didn’t value his team’s time. Why, as in the first example, is management layering on a report when the data for the report is readily available if it is being captured in the first place?

Smart Sales Operations deals with these issues in a foundational manner. We need to first look at what’s being sold, what is important information for the sales rep to keep track of and what is important information which sales management needs for visibility, and we build our tools around the information needed.

Recently I was having a discussion with a former manager of mine who has gone on to sales performance consulting. Our disciplines overlap a little, but his perspective on sales comes from a different angle than mine–he is looking to use tools to get more out of the reps, and I am looking at what is in place which can removed/tweaked/re-worked to produce better results. In the end, we both are working with companies to get more sales, for as I have said before, if the rep is making money, then the company is making money. Anyway, back to the conversation, he is a huge proponent of Salesforce. He believes it is infinitely tweakable enough to put processes in place to get the desired behaviors from the reps. My take on Salesforce is that it has morphed from a tool for the rep to manage customer interactions cradle to grave, becoming a reporting tool for management. While my former manager and I both see each other’s perspective, what I think is at the overlap of this Venn diagram is data. What is captured, what is needed, what is reported.

I’ve spoken about clean data before, and I am a huge proponent of data hygiene. But also in consideration is what data needs to be collected and how does this affect how the collector goes about their job. Because if your sales rep is spending more time creating reports, collecting data and meeting with their managers, then they aren’t out in front of customers doing what they were hired to do. They may be internally productive, but overall, they are not PRODUCTIVE.

Help your reps be productive. No muda.

Thinks, Inc. is a consulting firm which specializes in Smart Sales Operations. If you’d like for us to come and assess your chaos, drop us a line at

PS The Infrastructure Guy  and Smart Sales Operations are Trademarks of Thinks, Inc.

Smart Sales Operations – Training and Expectations, Part 1

In the past when I’ve seen companies hire employees, there is an expectation from both parties as to what they need or want to hear.

For companies, they want to take the new hire, drop them into their new location and have them begin to sell.

For the employees, they want to have the new company give them direction, resources and maybe even a mentor so that they can get ramped up quickly and begin to sell.

The disconnect is all the communication in between which never happens.

During the interview there is a lot of selling going on. The interviewer is espousing how great the company is, and the interviewee is likewise espousing how great he or she is, and both interviewer and interviewee are engaged in a lively and intricate verbal dance of exposing only the positive while shielding from view any warts. Both want the same thing, to fill the role and be productive.

The issue comes after the new-bee is hired (my spelling on newbie) and what happens post-hire. Previously I’ve written my thoughts for on-boarding, and this described time frame would be in the period right after on-boarding. The honeymoon phase. Salad days, “Young, and fresh, and green.” Most companies take these shiny new hires and then hit them with the fire hose of information, scouring off that sheen of newly minted excitement and beating down the wonder of the new and the can-do. All this occurs under the watchful eye of their new manager. And while taking note of the new hire’s staggering under the fire hose blast of information, there isn’t a reduction to the informational onslaught, nor a catch-up or step back to see how the new hire has fared. For God knows, they have a training schedule…

So let me digress briefly to explain some of my philosophy. First, I was a high school chemistry teacher for a couple of years. One of the things I learned in my education classes was about Jean Piaget. Piaget was one of the first educators to theorize that children go through distinct phases in their cognitive ability. The student’s ability to learn certain types of material was dependent on what phase they were in, and the learner must go through each phase to reach the next (some of this has been proven incorrect in particular circumstances, but bear with me here). When an adolescent graduates from high school, they should be in the final phase of thinking processing and essentially be on their way to adulthood and logical processing. But, in reality, many of them are far from complete in every area and were still developing. They had been able to pass their academic tests and complete the work but that doesn’t mean they were able to truly utilize the information they were given. Second, learning happens over time, and it has been pretty well proven that an iterative, hands on approach will cement the information much more quickly than a one-off lecture (think computer-based training–CBT’s) with no practical follow-on.

I remember reading a study which found that information when first presented is freshest right after the initial presentation, and It’s memory will diminish almost exponentially over time. People remember best and most permanently information at its initial presentation, and strengthen that learning with periodic refreshers.  When they are newly hired, they are most open to new experiences and learning, which in turn lends to their ability to absorb information. But that doesn’t mean this absorption will be permanent.

The new sales hire is learning about so many things: the company culture, the company processes, how to book travel, how to submit expenses, how to work with the company CRM, how to work with their new manager, their co-workers–essentially, the infrastructure of people and process which surrounds them and creates their job: sipping from the fire hose about company processes, front office, back office, healthcare benefits, 401(k)s, on-boarding procedures, etc., in addition to learning about the product they were hired to sell.

That’s right, all this learning and we haven’t even really touched upon them performing the role for which they were hired.

All of these things are going on, and what is management asking for immediately? Their forecast.

What will be this new hire’s success window? Will they be up and running in a day? A week? A month? A year?

Anecdotally, I’ve seen most reps successful after about nine months. At six months they’ve learned enough about company culture and process to get things done, as well as enough about the product or service which they represent to be dangerous, which means they have begun engaging prospects and customers and building a funnel/forecast.

Here what I find most interesting: studies show the average tenure of a technology sales rep is somewhere between 18 and 24 months. Think about that–they only learned about the company and products just shy of a year, and just shy of their second year, they leave. Basically, they have six months of good selling. As I saw pointed out by another blogger, the company is essentially trying to make their money on a rep in six months. Which creates a pressure-cooker situation.

And leads to question: why do they leave? We can spitball tons of anecdotal reasons, and they are numerous, but the biggest one is the rep doesn’t feel they can be successful. How many impediments have been put in place to overcome? If the company is looking at making quota as the only measurement of success, how does that translate as to what the rep sees as success? Especially if the statistic is true that only 58% of reps make quota. If a rep sees a mountain to climb knowing he or she wouldn’t be successful, would you blame them for looking for a new mountain?

So, what is the take away? If the company is going to invest in the rep, then they need to invest in their success. If training is required, it needs to pertinent and poignant. It needs to be applicable and retrievable. It needs to make that new hire into a successful sales rep–not just for the company, but for the rep as well.

Because if the rep is successful, the company will be successful.

Thinks, Inc. is a consulting firm which specializes in Smart Sales Operations. If you’d like for us to come and assess your chaos, drop us a line at

PS The Infrastructure Guy  and Smart Sales Operations are Trademarks of Thinks, Inc.

Clean Data

How many times have you received a piece of mail at your work or residence, and the address is correct but the recipient isn’t? The addressee ranges from someone who’s name is close to yours with the typos creating new and interesting aliases to people who sometime in the past lived or worked at the address. The most entertaining these are riffs on the names of people who may have lived or worked at that address combined with some sort of database which creates new people that never existed possibly living/working there. Then there is the case of my mom is receiving retirement home solicitations at my home address (in another city) although she’s never received a piece of mail there.

For a while I sold database and database tools and one of the most fascinating was one which cleaned up address lists. While this may seem a mundane exercise in data de-duplication, it is important and very common for contact lists, and this particular tool had broader application. For example, one company which was considering buying it was a natural gas provider. Of the hundreds of thousands addresses, they had a percentage of their customers who would move, not pay their bill and reappear at another address and sign up for service and use a variant of their name–different enough not to be flagged, but correct enough to allow them to sign up for service. They would have an address which might be a multi-family unit and have several people sign up for service at that address, and if they were all “P Smith” but actually different people, they had a billing problem.

Also, when the gas company would go to mail bills, if they had correct customer name information but incorrect address information, then the bill wouldn’t get to the address and the customer would be correct in not paying as they had never received notice. And last, incorrect recipients and addresses created waste (i.e., lost dollars and trash entering the waste stream) in the thousands of unneeded or possibly duplicate mailings.

So why does this matter for Sales Operations? Even though this was many years ago when snail mail was the predominate form of billing, correct information was at the crux of getting paid. Clean data is the foundation of smooth sales operations. And where clean data starts is the first time a prospect, company or customer is created in your CRM.

There are a few schools of thought in how to build prospects into a database–whether someone should be able to create an individual or be required to create a company in the CRM, but it is my opinion that the first thing is to create the company, and all data flows from there.

Believe it or not, this very activity is fraught with challenge. When the rep goes to create a company, have they done their due diligence? Is this prospect a subsidiary or the corporate HQ? and does the CRM have a process for creating parent/child businesses? Does the business have to have an address? And does this address have to be a corporate address or can it be local? Is the address a billing address or physical address or both? It goes on and on.

And while a lot can go awry in the entry of a new company, there is a step which should never be skipped and which should have penalties associated with it for skipping or for willful avoidance. And that is CHECKING FOR DUPLICATES. Why yell this at you with all caps? Because if a rep enters a company in a second (or third, or fourth…) time, it can throw off billing, accounting, quoting–a whole host of downstream issues which many times cannot be corrected later, corrected easily or corrected at all. And you may ask, why a penalty? Because many times I have seen where a rep has created a new account because the prospect they are working with is listed in another rep’s name. So instead of going to their sales manager about switching the account into their name, or possibly split/give up some money to the current account owner, they simply create a new account in the CRM. But in creating a new account, they create also create confusion and a new burden for smooth operations.

The burden lies with the information owner. If it is the sales rep’s responsibility to prospect and enter new companies into the database, then they need to follow specific guidelines to ensure the foundational elements are put in place the right way. Also, I have heard many reps say they don’t have time to enter all the information right then, which is fine, but they have to enter the minimum CORRECTLY. Here is my list of basic, correct info which should be entered:

  • Company name, spelled correctly, with proper capitalization and punctuation
    • “Vern’s Pig Farm” vs. “verns pig frm”
  • HQ Address
  • Location Address of the customer the rep is dealing with.
  • Contact (customer or prospect) name, spelled correctly with proper capitalization and punctuation and a correct e-mail address.
  • Billing info (I’ll cover all required for this in another post)
  • Delivery address (see the above comments about “correctly”).
  • Correct phone numbers (again, I will cover this in another post).

Last, the one thing which can be the biggest impedance to getting correct data entered can be how the company has structured what data is required to create an entry. What do I mean? At some companies, when a prospect is created, the creator is required to enter specific information to create the record. For instance, if I am entering “Vern’s Pig Farm” I might be required to enter an e-mail address as well as a phone number. If that information isn’t handy, then many people will enter filler information, like “212-555-1212” (don’t get me started about formatting…) or an email which is “”. Can you see the problem? Right away, I’ve entered bad info which quickly propagates into a cascade of bad actions. E-mail marketing campaigns, telephone prospecting and follow up, etc. It is my opinion the minimum information needed to create a company should be a business name and a business phone number. And before that rep (or whomever) can create that company, there is a mandatory duplicate check.

This topic, essentially Data Hygiene, can go on ad nauseam, but always keep this one fact about data in mind: it is easier to start with the correct information than to go back and fix it.

Measure twice, cut once.

What are you doing to keep your data clean?

Thinks, Inc. is a consulting firm which specializes in Smart Sales Operations. If you’d like for us to come and assess your chaos, drop us a line at

PS The Infrastructure Guy  and Smart Sales Operations are Trademarks of Thinks, Inc.



Smart Sales Operations – Target Revenue vs. Quota

Picture this: in the annual shuffle at beginning of the year, territories are assigned, accounts are assigned and quotas are assigned. If one were to watch the man behind the curtain as these machinations were being performed, I’m sure the wizard would look more like a butcher, with his sparkly robes and wild hair replaced with a bloody apron and a dangling cigarette.

Why do I say this? Because many times to the sales rep, coming up with a quota number seems to be an exercise in capriciousness. As an example, I’m reminded of one of my sales positions where I didn’t receive my quota until April. Yes, after the first quarter had already passed! Then, once I had received my number, I was puzzled. How did they arrive at this number based upon the history of previous sales and sales in the territory?

Here is where the magic came in. Using figures published in business journals, Hoovers, D&B, etc. (…some source…), my company would take the target prospect’s annual revenue and estimate the percent of that revenue which would have to be spent on our product category. For instance, if the prospect was $100MM, then 10% or $10MM was going to be spent on IT related purchases. Based upon that, quota would be set at a percentage of this estimate, and this dollar amount was additive to create my total quota.

Seems harmless, right? Well, it’s not, which is why am I mentioning this as a Sales Operation issue. At its best, it is merely hopeful. At its worst, it is inaccurate and misleading–to the company and the rep. Let’s give some examples: a form being printed for a telecom company, and computer equipment purchased by a steel manufacturer. For the first example, while many large companies still have some paper forms, most have been digitized or obsolesced so whatever historic data one is using to arrive at that figure, it is always representative in arrears of actual use. To base the revenue on a declining number will only lead to inaccurate results and the rep’s quota is being based on unachievable numbers. Let’s look at the second example. Does a steel manufacturer buy computer equipment? Yes! But where is the primary investment for the steel manufacturer? In the making of steel! Which means the percent of revenue number used for quota isn’t representative of what the customer is purchasing. Will the steel manufacturer buy computer equipment? Yes, but more than likely on a three-to-five year cycle, not on an annual basis, and it’s computer equipment related purchases will be more along production systems, not desktops.

What quota setting like this creates is false hope for the company. It is akin to looking at all the accounts in a territory and thinking about how many potential customers you have and how much money each one has to spend–kind of a land grab mentality. It doesn’t focus on the actual fact of what, dollar-wise,  has the customer actually purchased in your sales vertical. In my observations, in outside sales the average rep can handle about 50 accounts. Assigning a territory of 3000 accounts with accompanying quota may seem like a favor to the rep, but what it really does is dilute effort. As a corollary which I feel is applicable, there have been psychology studies showing when a consumer has more choices it actually leads to fewer decisions. So when rep has 3000 accounts, it seems as if the world is their oyster, but in reality they will only be able to actually service a fraction of that, and of the fraction serviced, only a fraction of that will be really good customers. For example: There is a Value-Added Reseller (VAR) I’m very familiar with and know they limit their top reps to no more than six accounts. Six! But what is amazing, is the good sales reps are able to generate fantastic amounts of revenue off their six accounts because they are focused on penetrating and selling their entire portfolio of products and services. To counter this observation, I have seen a senior rep working for another VAR who was allowed to cherry picked the top producing accounts from other reps, and had more than 300 accounts in his stable. He mostly sold those accounts renewals, and because he was stretched so thin, these accounts were always being courted by other companies. Last I heard, his methodology was backfiring with the majority of his customers complaining they never saw their rep and going to other companies whose sales reps were more available and paid more attention to them.

So back to quota estimation. Looking at what the territory will potentially produce, how many Fortune 500 accounts it contains, etc. doesn’t shed any light on what the territory will actually do. It comes down to data. If the company is starting in a greenfield territory, some of the planning data and analysis can be helpful, but holding the rep to imaginary numbers is like dividing by zero. In an established territory, looking at historical performance as well as the company target will be more insightful than speculation.

The critical factor in all of this is ramp up time and traction. It has been estimated it takes a technology sales rep 9-18 months to ramp up properly and be running on all cylinders. If the company allows the rep to build their pipeline, get some wins and move towards really owning the territory, then both the rep and the company will have success. If the company saddles the rep with an unrealistic quota and a short ramp, they will be looking for a new rep in short order and be repeating the same cycle of onboarding–which means another unproductive rep (also known as an unprofitable rep).

There are more and more tools coming out every day which help companies automate the establishment of quotas and commission plans but most of these look at sales in the traditional way: set quota high, and only pay well for over achievement. They tend to look at one size fits all, and every territory is the same.

So take a step back when setting quotas and find some real data. Look at the company’s targets through realistic eyes, and then when setting a quota remember if your sales rep is successful, the company will be successful.

Thinks, Inc. is a consulting firm which specializes in Smart Sales Operations. If you’d like for us to come and assess your chaos, drop us a line at

The Infrastructure Guy  and Smart Sales Operations are Trademarks of Thinks, Inc.

Smart Sales Operations – Setting Quota


It is a loaded word, with multiple meanings and connotations for the speaker and the listener. It can be a source of frustration, relief or consternation. It can represent a perspective of hope for executives or a perception of sham for sales reps. Quota embodies a notion of achievement for performance, but many times the reward for performance is not well thought out in relation to the effort for achievement.

Daniel Pink in his book Drive talks about the how the quota/performance system is broken. How only in sales can someone work to achieve a goal and be told to achieve more the next time–essentially never getting a rest or recognition for a job completed. And while I have worked for sales companies who have tried to create reasonable quotas, I’ve also worked for companies who used a dart board for quota setting. In Drive many of the reasons for this appearance comes from the arbitrary feeling of quota setting aligning with the seeming capriciousness of company goals. The disconnect of tying these to the rep’s quota creates ensuing chaos. Admittedly, I will be coming back to this topic a lot since sales, quota and operations are tightly tied together, but this is my first swag at it–with a lot of anecdotes to start the ball rolling.

First anecdotal evidence…A friend of mine was hired as a sales representative into a territory where every previous salesperson had foundered and missed the company set goal. And, hand-in-hand with this, each of the previously failed reps ended up having a tenure of just over a year. He found the position because he had worked with the hiring manager years before, and they both agreed it would be a great fit for his skills so they signed him up. Braced with the knowledge of his predecessors and hoping the relationship with his manager would help temper the company’s prior foibles, when it came time to establish quota he figured the company would be reasonable. Nope. The target number came back doubled over previous year’s number; more than twice the revenue the territory had ever produced. In a territory which had struggled to produce $2MM in revenue, they set his plan at $5MM. After he picked his jaw up off the ground he asked why.

“Because we feel the territory can support it.” was the response. Huh?

By setting the my friend’s quota at a ridiculously high number, the company sent two messages without really realizing it. One, start looking for a job because you are going to fail, and two, we aren’t really paying attention to what’s going on inside the territory, only what’s on our spreadsheet of territory revenue estimates. A third possible message was, Oh, and we have to meet Wall Street’s expectations and you’re replaceable, so…here you go.

What this quota lacked was data. It had a lot of speculation and expectation, but up to that point in time, none of the speculation actually was accurate nor was the expectation being achieved.

At another company, quotas were set by looking at the prospective revenue spend of companies. If a prospect was a $100 million dollar company, then based upon “industry norms” it would spend 10% on products sold in the target category, which translated to a potential for $10 million dollar spend. Therefore, the thinking went, this prospect will potentially spend $10MM dollars this year and we should be able to sell them something.

This method is equally flawed, in many ways, and which I’ll expound upon later.

So, how do we start to align commissions with revenues? In my sales operations consulting, I’ve worked with companies who know the amounts of revenues they want to generate, but don’t understand what it might take to achieve–be it through sales efforts, marketing efforts, revenue incentives or commissions accelerators–they start from the wrong side of the equation to add growth. How? They look at the previous years revenues and say, “We want to be 10% bigger next year.” and then figure out how to distribute that burden among its sales people. What they should be doing is looking at it from the other side of the problem, since right now the company doesn’t know how to articulate the direction needed to set the revenues which creates the margin to set reasonable quotas. Meaning, they haven’t looked at their data to see where they should focus.

For example, if I was a $10 million a year company selling services and I was ready to bring on a rep, what would I focus on? On my data! First, I would analyze where my revenue in services was actually coming from as it might surprise you (the “what”). Next, I would analyze who and/or how those services were won (the “why” and the “how”). Was one rep particularly successful? Did the owner do it? Did the sales come through other channels? This matters, because figuring out where the seller is having success can fuel the enablement of methodologies to exploit that capability.

Let’s say it is a small business and the owner is the best sales rep (as is the case many times in small businesses). Making the owner’s abilities reproducible is critical to future growth. So teaching the keys to the owner’s successful selling will be very different than if the owner is looking to exploit a market segment or expand the business outside of its normal bounds. And analyzing the data would reveal this trajectory. From there I would look to see if there is any history or precedence for the sales being won to then calculate what I might expect a new rep to do (e.g. relationships, negotiating, etc.).

Ultimately, the purpose of hiring a new rep is to increase the company’s revenue. Which means the rep’s purpose is to sell and have the rep be successful–and by our current metric this means make quota. If the salesperson is struggling to meet quota, and the analysis hasn’t been done, the company will more than likely be doomed to repeat their sins when it brings on the next rep. When one adds in the cost of on-boarding, training and ramp-up time, it is too significant an investment to then just cut bait . By scrutinizing the needs of the job and really understanding what the expectation is for the salesperson, a quota can be set which allows the rep success and the company success. Some may read this as too indulging, but I would rather plan for success than be in a continuous mode of failure and clean up.

Because if the rep is making money, the company is making money. And that is success.

Thinks, Inc. is a consulting firm which specializes in Smart Sales Operations. If you’d like for us to come and assess your chaos, drop us a line at

The Infrastructure Guy  and Smart Sales Operations are Trademarks of Thinks, Inc.