What Day Is Laundry Day?

When you think about laundry, what comes to mind? Lost socks? The folding? Or maybe you simply don’t like to do laundry (like the 100+ year-old woman I saw interviewed on Johnny Carson many, many years ago. “What don’t you miss?” asked Carson. “Warshing Dey!” She exclaimed) . A lot of what I write about centers on lean thinking the application to Smart Sales Operations. But I’m not just about smart sales operations. As I’ve stated elsewhere, I think about efficiencies and how to get more efficient all the time—in every facet of my life.

And one evening when I found myself conversing about doing laundry with a fellow hockey player, I realized my obsession with cranking through laundry wasn’t only my secret obsession. He and I were both about getting laundry clean and put away as quickly and as efficiently as possible. It was our children and spouses who created our OCD, but the growth in our compulsion was through experience: things like finding mildewed wet loads left in the washer and our bedrooms and family members’ various pieces of furniture looking as if hit by a yard sale. Clothes laid on furniture instead of put away in closets or drawers–basically clean clothes left out for cats to sleep on and children to pile up dirty over clean. So, he and I discussed how we crank it out, getting from dirty to clean to put away in one fluid and very compressed event.

How does clean, folded laundry relate to Smart Sales Operations? First, let me clarify if any have concern about me doing the laundry versus my wife please understand that I have no issue. My dad and his generation might, but me? I just want it done. And since I work out of my house, I do most of the laundry. I ended up taking it over completely when I started working out of my home, and what clinched it was one of my past companies had a series of calls every Monday morning which were interminable. Since I was an hour ahead of the main office, by the time our calls ended it was usually noon my time.

To make better use of that time, I started throwing in laundry before the first Monday call and transfer loads in between the queue of calls, pulling clothing from the dryer so things wouldn’t wrinkle, and then when all the calls and laundry were finished, take it upstairs for eventual folding.

Now, don’t judge my parenting skills, but the intent was then to have my children (and sometimes my wife) fold their clothes. Or, what usually would happen is the clothes would sit in a chair in the bedroom and I would end up folding them— on the following Sunday.

So what really happened is clean laundry sat for week in the chairdrobe. Sometimes it would sit for more than a week depending on my travel schedule and what I had going on that weekend. There might be two weeks of clean clothing in my bedroom chair waiting for folding. My children would ask where particular items were and I would palm my forehead wondering if they understood where the clean clothes were and what they were capable of–that is, folding and putting laundry away as well me.

And then one day, many years after I had been away from the company where I formed this habit, I realized doing laundry on Monday wasn’t achieving what I really wanted, which was to get everything completed in one day. My habit created a situation that hung over my head. In the vein of David Allen, think Getting Things Done, I wasn’t getting things done or prioritizing so I could get things done.

The epiphany came one day when I had to do the laundry on a Friday. Per my usual, I finished everything and had it upstairs in a day, and then realized when folding it on Sunday I only had two days between getting the dirty laundry clean and getting the clean laundry put away.


If I were in manufacturing, this would be akin to combining assembly stations or cutting out a step where the next pick in line had to wait to add value to the product.

Do you see why this relates? Why I got excited enough about this to write about it? By rethinking what I was trying to achieve (clean, folded laundry) I had to change how I approached my timeline to get it done. I went from a process which could take up to seven days to one that takes only up to three.

Part of the struggle evangelizing Smart Sales Operations is there are two jobs to do: first is to educate what is “Smart Sales Operations”.  Second is to point to the company’s sales operations and get them to see it could be better. The best possible outcome is they “get it” and engage to correct. Sadly, what I’ve come to learn is most companies and most people don’t realize they have a problem in their sales operations. Like my laundry, they just don’t see that gap of four days, because things work well enough that it isn’t apparent to them—so they don’t acknowledge the pain it is causing because the expected outcome has never been measured. Because no data has been applied to their process, the end users downstream live with it because it is all they have. It is very much like cutting the end off the ham.

Think about your company processes. Where are there forms, reports or reporting which are redundant or extraneous? Or where do expectations march along without too much question because management isn’t affected by them? Where are the places in your sell chain where you are unaware of the friction it creates for their sales reps? (This is a “known unknown” and will be addressed later.)

And, we all have the same thing going on in our personal lives. We have habits, and we have training, and we have our way of executing—it takes a lot for us to raise up our heads and look around with fresh eyes. We tend to do what we know, and judge from a our perspective

We are always capable of learning new things—and your company is desperate for change, believe it or not.

So, what are you going to look at anew? Better yet, when? The sooner the better.

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 contact@thinks-inc.com



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 contact@thinks-inc.com

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 contact@thinks-inc.com

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

Remote Workers Working Remotely in Remote Offices – Part I

Siberia. So Cold. Brrrrr… At least, that’s what I’ve heard.

When I was growing up, I would always hear the threat that if someone in Russia (technically then the U.S.S.R.) did something wrong they would be shipped off to Siberia.

I never quite understood why. When I asked my father, he would say because it was so cold and remote. And like the kid that I was (admit it, that we all were), I didn’t really think about what that meant–until I had to do a little research on it and found out what “cold” and “remote” really were and where Siberia really was.

When someone was sent to Siberia, it was to do two things: Punish them and remove them. The former Soviet Union didn’t dilly dally here, if you were considered a dissident, you were unceremoniously shipped off to the frozen wasteland via a train on a trip which could take up to nine days to get to the destination. Nine days. That certainly was remote. And during winters, the temperature would hover around -35F. Ouch.

So, when one looks at working remotely for a company, is the company punishing the individual? or do they really want them to perform?

As businesses grow, typically they want to expand into territories and grow their footprint. Placing local bodies there is really important, because local resources know local buyers. Kind of like the dictum, “Promote from within the company”* my corollary would be “Hire from within the territory”. As businesses expand they should place people in the territory that are from the territory. It simply gives a leg up to that worker and to that business.

But since every business has a culture, and has people which create that culture, it is really important not to unintentionally ostracize those individuals who can’t participate in the HQ culture. Especially those who work solo and/or remotely. If you want to ensure they are in sync with your company goals and doings, you need to make sure the employee is somehow fed enough culture to feel a little more warm and snuggly.

One of the best ways is to have your remote employee(s) come to the corporate headquarters once or twice a year. Also highly recommended is to have people other than the immediate supervisor come visit them at least once a year. While this may seem expensive, if it increases sales and productivity, then the cost will be offset. In the same vein, if you choose to save the cash, make sure to calculate the cost of onboarding and ramping a new employee.

In my last job working for a Value Added Reseller, initially the company had an all-hands summer meeting and an all-hands winter meeting. While I was working remotely, my management would come down once a year to our satellite office and work from there a couple of days, and I always had a parade of engineers coming through for various projects, even though most of my projects were handled by my local engineer.

Then, the vibe changed and there was no longer a summer meeting. While I wasn’t a fan of spending time going over a pages of company data, the afterhours portion of the meeting connected me to the other sales people in the company, as well as the inside sales people I spent so many hours on the phone with correcting processes, and allowed me to interact with the back office staff whom I spoke to on the phone but rarely face-to-face. It allowed me to see people interact with others, hear snippets of gossip, and feel like I was a contributing cog of the machine. And then, with no corporate meeting, I wasn’t. As new people were brought in for the various back office and inside roles, I had to create new relationships based upon nothing but what I needed.  It took at least twice as long to get into a groove and develop rapport, and even then I found myself going back to those I had worked with originally since I trusted them. And trust with my new people could have similarly achieved with a couple of beers onsite.

Why does this matter? Because people don’t just work for a paycheck. Productivity goes up when people feel they are part of a team or cause. And when people work remotely, they are in their own special bubble. In someways they are insulated from office politics and the day-to-day shuffle which can distract from their job, but they also are blind to corporate decisions, discussions and determinations. They have no say and aren’t asked for one–because no one knows them.

And, like Cheers, in the end what they really want is a place where everybody knows their name.

*We will be covering the topic of Promote from Within in a different post.

Any better ideas for remote workers? I’m always interested in learning.

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 contact@thinks-inc.com

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

Smart Sales Operations – Front Office vs. Back Office – Getting Paid, Part II

Last week I talked about processes internally for taking an order to fulfillment so sales gets paid. Knowing you have dutifully addressed all the bumps and burrs impeding your order processing in the past week, I want to address the next big looming issue: Customer Payment.

Let’s go back to last week at Company X where the sales rep has received a PO. The order gets processed and pushed through the back office, the customer has received their product and/or services, and they have been invoiced.

What happens next? In an ideal world, the customer receives your invoice, smiles at the thought of the good work or product you’ve provided, and then happily cuts a check. And Company X, in turn, excitedly rewards the sales rep by paying the rep their commission due.

Did you notice a lot of smiling and a lot of processes happening? Daisy-chained together and executed without a lapse? Unfortunately, in our more accurate world, the customer hasn’t paid, for any number of reasons, and now the invoice is thirty-days old, the goods and/or services are sixty days past delivery–meaning the customer only has a vague remembrance of Company X–and you, the sales rep, haven’t seen a dime of commission.

How does this get rectified? In a sweeping generalization, many of these issues need to be dealt with up front. And I don’t mean in PO language (a topic for another post). I mean, talking to the customer about how an order gets processed, who on their side of the company touches it and ushers it through, and what obstacles loom which could stop your company from getting paid.

Herein lies the rub. This part of the typical sales cycle is either brushed aside or avoided because it is uncomfortable. It makes the rep anxious as they don’t want to be presumptive of the sale, and it makes the customer irritated, because of the aforementioned (potentially) but also this is typically not an area of expertise and they don’t have the knowledge or understanding to answer these questions.

One of the recommendations which was made to me by one of my former managers and a mentor to me, is to have the customer purchase something small from you. Whatever you can consider “small”, it is more the exercise in getting the flywheel moving so when the big purchase comes through, the axles are greased, the engine is ready at idle, and the wheels are ready to roll.

Why? Most companies have myriad documents to sign before they can engage in business. Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDA) and Master Service Agreements (MSA) are two big ones. Ask to see a copy of the company’s PO, especially if it may contain additional language. Many times customers will state their payment terms on their PO. It is quite a surprise to send in your quote which states payment is expected within 30 days of invoicing, and see this trumped by the customer’s PO which states that the customer will pay within 45 or even 60 days of invoicing.

To hammer the PO language catch example home, a former customer of mine had a clause on its PO which stated that if the customer paid within 30 days, they would take a 3% discount off the invoiced amount. We always received payment from the company on the 29th day. Another customer paid for services on a different timeline than goods–60 days versus 30 days. Each of these smells a little rank in terms of ethics, and due to the fast paced nature of business, these iniquities were allowed–with a lot of grumbling. Only when the customer was addressed about the difficulties their policies presented to us did they relent. But if we would have known about this upfront, the surprise for me and my back office would have been a lot less.

While many companies use their purchasing policy to create a mechanism for “float” it doesn’t have to be that way. If you have done the homework and asked the questions up front, you should be able to alleviate many of the speed bumps which get your company paid and you receiving commissions.

Of course, there is much more which can be done, but consider this is a musing’s first blush.

Your task for this week? Go to that customer who is always slow to pay. Ask them if there is anything you can do on your side to get them to pay on time. And if possible, help them streamline their process.

Any better ideas for Front Office vs. Back Office? I’m always interested in learning.

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 contact@thinks-inc.com

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

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