A Survival Guide for the Chief Revenue Officer: Your First 90 Days on the Job


By Russell Sachs

With one in five Americans planning to change jobs this year, you soon may be one of millions who find yourself at a new company. For those in a high-pressure field like sales, making a move can be particularly stressful, especially as you try and acclimate to the new company.

I recently found myself in this situation when I joined BetterCloud – a rapidly-growing tech company focused on user lifecycle management, data discovery, and IT and security automation for SaaS applications – as the company’s new chief revenue officer (CRO). Upon my arrival, I had to quickly learn the ropes, gain trust from senior leadership, determine priorities, and earn a few small, but notable, wins along the way.

Reflecting on my experience during the first 90 days, I identified three key lessons from stepping into a position leading sales at a startup that I thought would be helpful to share – regardless of what managerial or executive role you may be filling.

Listen before Speaking

As a new member of any organization, it is important to recognize that the people at the company have been doing things long before your arrival and have acquired a lot of valuable “tribal knowledge” and wisdom, so seek out conversations with as many colleagues as possible to help you learn the ropes. Even though you may have preconceived notions of how to run things, listening is paramount at the beginning of any new job, no matter the level, or role, you occupy in an organization. Part of the listening process includes asking the right questions and going beyond the basics of what you’ll need to get through each day.

While there is no right or wrong way to conduct discussions, I like to frame my questions by focusing on what people are doing well and what people believe can and should be done better. For example, I like to ask leaders and veterans of the company

  1. If they had a magic wand, what would they change today?
  2. By contrast, what would they fight like mad to preserve?

Try to figure out the most common and pressing frustrations and successes, and then ascertain how best to prioritize them based upon need, impact, and complexity.

Applying it to my personal experience at BetterCloud, by listening to my colleagues and asking probing, thought-provoking questions, I learned that culture, clearly-defined work paths, and building the BetterCloud brand and community were key priorities of the company as a whole. Knowing this helped me effectively manage my teams and map out a fitting sales strategy.

Although you are a member of the team, it can be effective to take a consultant’s approach early on so you can gain trust among your peers. In soliciting advice, it’s OK to remind others that you were brought in for a certain expertise, but be careful not to prescribe a solution until you thoroughly understand the symptoms. After a comprehensive listening tour it’s important to take action, set expectations, and identify some early goals and targets for you and your team.

Look for Short-Term Wins to Demonstrate Your Value Internally

Working in any organization is a marathon, not a sprint. It is highly unlikely someone would be expected to join a company and make a massive impact in their first week on the job. However, it would be wise to look for a few small wins to quickly gain the confidence and support of your team and fellow members of the leadership team in the organization.

In the case of a sales leader, it’s important to understand and evaluate the infrastructure supporting your sales team – sales processes, methodologies, tools, personnel, etc. – to initially ascertain what is in place and what can be improved upon. For example, within my organization, I identified an opportunity to improve upon the way the sales team was forecasting opportunities. The company was using the same forecasting process it had implemented when it was much smaller and selling a simpler product. As the company matured, though, it needed to adjust to a more sophisticated set of buyers and a longer, more complex sales cycle.

Applying this to my experience, we learned the sales team was employing a process that wasn’t mapped to the buyer’s journey. From an early stage, this change required reevaluating how we define an opportunity and whether it makes sense to commit time and resources toward developing them. We implemented a new sales process that more closely aligned with our buyer’s journey, built content to help educate the prospective customers along the way, and implemented a sales methodology that more closely aligned to expectations around forecasting. Using the MEDDPICC sales methodology (an acronym that stands for Money, Economic buyer, Decision process, Decision criteria, Partners, Identify pain, Champion, and Competition) we moved from a reactive to a proactive sales approach, which aligned toward managing bigger, more complex deals. Members of the sales team are now able to better understand the dynamics of each deal and more accurately forecast when, and if, an opportunity will close.

Another area on which we focused was the company’s methodology around expanding its customer pipeline and driving new prospects to the sales team. After spending time with marketing and our SDR team, we learned the sales and marketing approach to drive new prospects had been the exact same since the company’s creation four years earlier. By partnering with the marketing team, we examined the buyer journey and spent time aligning our collateral and lead generation toward supporting that journey. In just a couple of months we have seen a dramatic improvement in both the size of our pipeline and our forecasting accuracy.

Other key considerations for quick internal wins include evaluating how and when to use POCs for clients, employee and team review processes, compensation models, call scripts, data access, and key performance indicators. While all of these aspects may already exist at your organization, they may not be optimized for the current team or the company’s current stage. With a fresh set of eyes and no inherent bias about the company, newly-appointed leaders can step back and calibrate whether the materials, processes, and people are properly aligned with the trajectory of corporate growth. Making small tweaks can yield big results and much more visibility and impact on viable deals, which is vital to a growing sales team.

Do Not Fear Giving Honest Feedback

So, there you are – hired by a company that has evolved from an idea in the founder’s mind into a fast growing, venture-backed, thriving organization with a tremendous customer roster and fantastic product. It’s easy to get intimidated and believe that everything done to date is working great. You need to remind yourself that you were hired for a reason! So, after your listening tour and as you get your hands dirty and start to identify opportunities for improvement, you must speak up! For example, does the company’s message resonate? Can you quickly discern what your organization does and how its message is being received by the market? Analyzing your existing messaging and content may yield small results (such as building a new deck) or more comprehensive adjustments (such as overhauling the main marketing message and collateral to reflect what the company represents). Giving prospects a greater understanding of what the company stands for will help them make better decisions, shorten the sales process, and save both client and vendor many headaches.

In my specific instance, I sat down with each of the executive team members and gave them specific feedback to help improve communication between, and among, departments. We worked collaboratively to fix certain things, and left others unchanged. Did they agree with everything I highlighted? Absolutely not! But they loved that I was bringing a new perspective and was willing to roll up my sleeves to improve things. Along the way, the process brought us closer and helped me earn trust and respect.

Establishing yourself quickly in a new organization is a daunting task, but you can be successful by first ensuring you build consensus from the leadership team – listening and taking the time to explain your observations and justify your recommendations. Once you have buy-in, speak up and focus on driving urgency, accountability, and ownership among your teams. When and where you see things that need to be changed, move quickly and take measurements afterward.

Finally, remember that you can’t accomplish everything overnight. But, if you go into your new job with an open mind, a winning attitude, and the tenacity to succeed, great things can and will happen.

screen-shot-2016-09-15-at-11-03-42-amRussell Sachs is Chief Revenue Officer at BetterCloud. He a veteran sales leader with more than 15 years of experience building winning sales teams and driving dramatic revenue growth for SaaS and enterprise software companies. Prior to joining BetterCloud, Sachs served as executive vice president of Sales at Work Market where he grew top line revenue tenfold in just three years. Sachs also previously held the position of sales director for Large Enterprise Services at Dell, Inc. Find him on Twitter at @RussellSachs

9 Things Sales Leaders Need to Know about Communication


by Patricia Fripp, CSP, CPAE

Do you have big ideas for success? Do you know how to communicate those ideas to your team and to colleagues?

Without communication skills, sales leaders will flounder and their ideas will go unrealized. Don’t let this happen to you. Here are nine communication suggestions based on my 25 years of training and coaching sales leaders. To hear more insight, join me at the Sales 2.0 Leadership Conference in Philadelphia on November 16th.

  1. People believe stories more readily than numbers or statistics. The listener processes stories in three ways: intellectually, emotionally, and visually (visual aids and the speaker’s movements). Start with a story, and then use a statistic or visual to emphasize or elaborate the point.
  2. Remember the Who factor; audiences are people and they are interested in other people. Use stories about people, particularly heroes. Look internally and externally in the company for the stories of your own everyday heroes.
  3. “Sound words” build tension. Crack! (Was that lightning?) Build tension in the leadership message, and then break it or relieve it as a means of holding audience attention. We all love suspense.
  4. Smell and other sensory words also trigger the formation of memory. See, hear, smell, feel, taste what?
  5. Twist a phrase, “You can’t teach a young dog old tricks.” – That’s a quote from billionaire Warren Buffet on why he consistently hires retirement-age managers rather than younger ones.
  6. Add interest to your speaking with alliteration, repetition, and rhythm.
  7. Statistics should be used sparingly and distilled. Startling numbers are effective.
  8. Quotes allow us to borrow the best that has been said or written. They can convey authority, brevity, relevance, humor, etc. Quotes get the human voice in your leadership message. Use contemporary quotes if possible. Be accurate. Use tone of voice to convey the quote, rather than saying “quote-unquote.” Edit quotes down to the meat. Paraphrase quotes that are longer than one or two lines.
  9. When discussing a complicated idea, break it down into small parts. Take the impact of the idea, and explain how that impact will affect a single person. In other words, tell the story of the war through the eyes of one soldier.

Hear Patricia Fripp speak live in person — register now for the Sales 2.0 Leadership Conference in Philadelphia on November 16. For more information or questions about the event, email larissa@salesdottwoinc.com.


Patricia FrippFor over 25 years Patricia Fripp, CSP, CPAE, has taught individual salespeople and sales teams how to speak more powerfully and boost their sales beyond expectations. Patricia is trusted by clients such as Microsoft, ADP, Visa, Genentech, Wounded Warrior Project, and the American Payroll Association. Her interactive virtual training platform offers a surefire shortcut to becoming powerfully persuasive and successful in sales. For more information, go to www.FrippVT.com.

How to Build a Great Relationship with a New Boss

new boss leader

Working with a new boss can be a tense experience. In his book, The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter, Michael D. Watkins outlines a comprehensive program for executives taking on a new role under a new boss. One of his tips is to negotiate terms of success with the new supervisor.

“It’s well worth investing time in this critical relationship up front, because your new boss sets your benchmarks, interprets your actions for other key players, and controls access to resources you need,” writes Watkins. “He will have more impact than any other individual on how quickly you reach the break-even point, and on your eventual success or failure.”

Watkins offers the following tips for establishing a productive relationship with your boss in the first 90 days of your tenure.

  1. Reach out proactively.

Your boss might be the type who sits behind a closed door and doesn’t make an effort to circulate with his or her direct reports. Sometimes executives take this as a good sign or breathe a sigh of relief that their new boss isn’t a micromanager. Hey, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Right?

On the contrary, Watkins warns that very little communication from your boss can lull you into a false sense of security. If you receive no overtures from your boss, Watkins recommends reaching out proactively.

“Otherwise, you risk potentially crippling communication gaps,” he writes. “Get on your boss’s calendar regularly. Be sure your boss is aware of the issues you face and that you are aware of her expectations, especially whether and how they’re shifting.”

  1. Bring solutions, not problems, to the table.

Although you want to make sure you give your boss plenty of warning if you see problems developing, you don’t want to become known for being the constant bearer of bad news. Whenever you need to discuss a problem, take time to see the issue from your boss’s perspective and think up some potential solutions. This way, you’ll be associated with positive rather than negative messaging.

Watkins also cautions, however, that you should not develop full-blown solutions to problems before discussing them with your boss.

“The outlay of time and effort to generate solutions can easily lure you down the rocky road to surprising your boss,” he writes. “The key here is to give some thought to how to address the problem – even if it is only gathering more information – and to your role and the help you will need.”

  1. Let your boss’s priorities, goals, and ideas guide your actions.

Caring about what your boss cares about can be an ideal way to establish a collaborative environment. If you’re working on developing a relationship with a new boss, Watkins advocates targeting some of your boss’s preferences and devoting your attention to those areas.

“One good way is to focus on three things that are important to your boss and discuss what you’re doing about them every time you interact. In that way, your boss will feel ownership of your success.”

  1. Don’t expect your boss to change.

It’s always nice when we work with people whose styles are similar to our own; however, you can’t rely on a common working style to build a great relationship with your boss. As Watkins points out, people frequently have different approaches to communication, motivation, and management. Remember that your role is to adapt the style your boss prefers and cater to his or her preferences.

In the book, Watkins describes the case of a man whose new boss had an aggressive, hard-driving approach that did not pair well with his own team-building style. Using the comprehensive 90-day method Watkins outlines, the man was able to take a proactive approach with his new boss and deliver strong results in the first 30 days. After a second month of great results, the man had built the credibility and capital to request that he be judged on his results and not on the manner in which he got them.

Your relationship with your boss is critical. A contentious relationship can spell disaster for all concerned. Use these tips to establish a great working relationship, and you’ll increase the chances that you’ll enjoy productive interactions, smoother communication, and mutual success.

Get more insight from Michael D. Watkins in his book The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter.

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Three Action Steps to Avoid Lackluster Sales Quarters

lackluster sales quarters

By David Hubbard 

When revenue starts to go off plan, your gut reaction as chief sales officer or vice president of sales is probably to ratchet up the activity level of the sales force. You know the drill: institute aggressive pipeline reviews by field management, requalify all forecasted deals for the quarter, focus field management on must-win deals, try to pull in deals forecasted for next quarter, create a SWAT team for bigger deals, and the list goes on.

These tactics used to work five or 10 years ago but not so much lately, and that’s mainly because business-to-business buyers are doing things differently, by

  • self-educating online and becoming aware of industry problems and potential solutions,
  • getting vendor referrals from trusted industry colleagues through social networking,
  • deciding on a short list of “qualified” vendors after double-checking online reviews, press coverage and analyst reports.

If your sales force can’t influence buyer teams early in their purchasing process, like it could 10 years ago, you’re almost certainly going to suffer lackluster sales quarters. To reverse that trend, here are three action steps you should strive to achieve in 2015.

Action Step 1: Establish a well-defined and understood sales process.

Your sales process should mirror your buyer’s current purchasing process. A recent study by HubSpot and the Sales Management Association shows that organizations with a clear sales process enjoy 18 percent more sales growth than other organizations.

Action Step 2: Leverage social selling in the sales process.

Are your salespeople on LinkedIn? Do they tweet? Are they using those platforms as a way to attract and reach out to prospects? If not, it’s time to get on the social-selling bandwagon. Reps who use social media as part of their sales process are 79 percent more likely to attain their quota than ones who don’t, according to Aberdeen Group’s study on social selling.

Action Step 3: Align with marketing.

If your sales and marketing teams have a strong collaborative relationship, then here are the typical benefits according to multiple research studies by Aberdeen Group:

  • Seventy-five percent of your sales reps are achieving quota (versus the industry average of 50 percent).
  • Sales is achieving its sales budget (versus the industry average of 61 percent).
  • Your corporate revenue is growing at least 13 percent annually (versus an industry average of 4.3 percent).

If you’re poorly aligned with your buyer, you’re going to need a lot of help from others to fix it, particularly from your chief executive officer, chief marketing officer, and maybe an experienced outside consultant. That’s not bad news; your colleagues on the executive team have a vested interest in helping the sales force succeed. They don’t want their budget to shrink as a result of missed revenue and profit goals.

If you are willing to accept help from the C-suite, you need to present an action plan that does these three things:

  1. reframes the solution, not simply as a sales-force execution issue, but as a cross-functional team effort with you as team leader;
  1. presents an executive-team action plan that clearly articulates how each executive can actively help make the company’s quarter;
  1. ensures that your action plan contains key components that start to lay the foundation for a successful next year under your continued leadership.

By demonstrating corporate leadership and showing progress toward a better sales strategy, you buy yourself a little more time to turn the situation around permanently.

Want to learn more? Here’s a detailed discussion of a CSO Action Plan.

Dave Hubbard David Hubbard is a revenue acceleration expert, a pragmatic marketing and sales consultant, a proven business leader, and the CEO of Marketing Outfield. Find him on LinkedIn or contact him for a complimentary consultation

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[Image via Flickr / clarkmaxwell]


4 Habits Leaders Should Lose in 2015

leaders good ideas

We tend to start the year with the best of intentions and high hopes. But sometimes our bad habits are hard to shake. This year, think about saying goodbye to these four simple obstacles that often impede success for sales leaders.

1. Operate solely on gut instinct. 

Do you have good business and management instincts? Of course you do — or you wouldn’t have climbed to a leadership position.

On the other hand, we are living in the age of data. Sales leaders who want to take control of their pipeline and forecast must start tracking data and studying analytics now. For example, HubSpot Chief Revenue Officer Mark Roberge leverages science and technology to make the HubSpot sales process truly customer-oriented.

Many sales teams run on blind optimism and the best-guesses of the sales manager. However, a growing abundance of technology and sales-enablement tools are changing the way we think about managing and leading a sales team. It’s important to listen to your gut … but if you ignore data, you’ll get left behind.

2. Make your ideas conform to expected standards. 

Once they reach a certain level of success, some sales leaders play it safe when it comes to ideas. Usually that’s because they’ve become complacent and lost the hunger that once gave them an edge. Consequently they avoid or tamp down any idea that seems too weird, radical, or risky.

However, consider that commodified creativity is a race to the bottom. When you make your idea like everyone else’s, you fail to stand out and differentiate yourself. Follow the advice of author and marketing guru Seth Godin, who said in this TED Talk that bad and bizarre ideas are far preferable to boring or ordinary ideas.

3. Fail to keep learning.

What skills would make you a better sales leader? And how can you help your reps become better sellers?

The beginning of the year is a great time to evaluate everyone’s skill sets and figure out how you and your team can improve in the next 12 months. Should you take a public-speaking course? Hone your coaching skills? Tune into what analysts, authors, and thought leaders are saying about the sales profession? Foster a culture of learning, and improvements will follow.

4. Stress out.

With great responsibility comes great stress. But many leader fall into the trap of thinking about too many things at the same time. This is extremely fatiguing and stress producing.

To stop stressing out, try making a list of other things you must do, and then put it aside so that you don’t have to think about them but won’t worry about forgetting them, either. Stop throughout the day to see if you are relaxed. Are your hands clenched? Is your jaw tight? If so, let your arms hang loosely, unwrinkle your brow, relax your mouth, and breathe deeply.

Make 2015 the year you leave bad habits behind and open yourself up to greater success than you could imagine.

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[Image via Flickr / Adrian Kingsley-Hughes]

Lessons in Determination: Remembering Muriel Siebert

This week we mark the anniversary of the death of financial-industry pioneer Muriel Siebert with this history of her perseverance in the face of rejection and adversity. — Selling Power Editors

Muriel Siebert Muriel Siebert established her legacy as a trailblazer when she became the first woman to own a seat on the New York Stock Exchange on December 28, 1967. At the time, her historic application caused an uproar. No woman had ever had a seat on the Exchange before. Facing ridicule and steep opposition, Siebert got rejections from nine men before she finally found someone to sponsor her.

Siebert faced many hurdles on the way to success. In 1954, she had arrived in New York City with just $500 to her name. She set her sights on a job in finance, but when prospective employers saw a female name, they trashed her resume.

After repeated rejections, Siebert sent out new resumes with just her initials. She got an interview and a job offer. The deal fell through, however, when she admitted she didn’t have a college degree (she had dropped out of Case Western Reserve University to care for her terminally ill father).

When, after so many unfair rejections, she got a second job offer, she lied and said she had a degree.

“They didn’t check,” said Siebert in an interview with Senior Women Web. “But when I applied for my seat on the Stock Exchange, I told them. It was a historic application and I didn’t want to lie.”

Her next hurdle was a new rule put forth by the Stock Exchange requiring a letter from a bank promising to lend Siebert $300,000 of the near-record $445,000 seat price. Unfortunately, banks would not lend her money until the Stock Exchange would admit her. With dogged determination, Siebert jumped through every hoop and found the funding she needed. In 1967, she became the first woman to hold a seat on the Exchange.

Siebert became widely known as a force to be reckoned with in the notoriously cutthroat and male-dominated world of finance. Siebert created her own firm, Siebert & Co., and continued to take bold and controversial risks. In 1975 when a new federal law abolished fixed brokerage commissions, she transformed her company into a discount brokerage house. Her longtime clearinghouse dropped her like a hot potato, and she was nearly expelled by the Securities and Exchange Commission. At the eleventh hour, she secured another clearinghouse, and the success of her company helped pave the way for the now-thriving discount brokerage market.

In 1977 Siebert took a leave of absence to serve as the first woman Superintendent of Banking. She had to ensure the safety and soundness of New York State’s 500 banks, which controlled $500 billion in assets and trust accounts. The economy made playing tough a necessity. Interest rates spiked during Siebert’s tenure, and banks all over the country went belly up.

Siebert facilitated mergers, supervised drastic restructurings and even convinced one bank president to cut his own salary by $100,000. Under her direction, not one New York bank failed.

After an unsuccessful run for the U.S. Senate, Siebert returned to her company in 1982. In 1996, her firm merged with a private company. Siebert Financial Corporation currently pulls in more than $25 million in revenues a year.

In 2000, Siebert Financial founded Women’s Financial Network, the first online trading site geared specifically toward women. Siebert was encouraged to see more women taking control of their financial futures. “When you get more confidence,” she told Senior Women Web, “you’re willing to take a higher risk.” Spoken like a true trailblazer.

Seven Motivational Questions for Sales Managers

motivateThe universal question all sales managers ask is: How can I motivate my people?

Through hundreds of research reports, one message rings loud and clear: to increase motivation, create an atmosphere where the salespeople motivate themselves. When a salesperson feels personally involved in a plan, he or she works to make it happen. To create a self-motivating atmosphere, as a manager, ask yourself the following seven questions. Notice that each one involves improving communications with your staff.

1. Do your people know your plans?

The best way to motivate people is to let them know your plans so they can participate in them. Also, make known your goals and the goals of the company. Let them see the big picture and get a sense of the importance of their contribution to it.

2. Do you give feedback?

Feedback is essential even to seemingly well-motivated salespeople. Every salesperson wants to be encouraged if he or she is doing well. If they are not doing well, they want to know why. By giving feedback, you keep the communications channels open. If your salespeople know you’re willing to discuss performance with them, they’ll be more likely to bring you their problems and questions to keep you better informed. Create an atmosphere where people are not afraid to tell you when something is wrong and you will have fewer surprises.

3. Do you build on strengths? 

Many managers have been programmed to focus on weaknesses – as though any imperfection would negate or detract from any strength. This is not so. All success comes from strengths. An intelligent and persistent person, who is also physically handicapped, succeeds because of intelligence and persistence, and in spite of any physical handicap.

4. Do you give constructive praise?

Perhaps the most golden rule for sales management is, “Never be too tough on a person when he’s down.” When an individual is upset over failure, harping on the negative can hurt him and squelch any incentive to improve. Even when giving criticism, you can create a positive framework: “I don’t think this is up to your usual standard. How can we improve this situation?”

5. Do you give rewards? 

If your salespeople meet their agreed-upon objectives, it is a good idea not to limit their rewards to kind words. Money, bonuses and incentives are key motivators for salespeople. But another reward you can give a high achiever is your time. Most managers spend the bulk of their time with the poor performers and let the best ones fend for themselves. When someone does a good job, recognize his or her efforts and set aside time to develop ways to motivate that salesperson to do even more.

6. Do you listen and learn? 

No matter what other techniques you employ in a quest to motivate your people, you have to be prepared to ask questions and to listen at least as much as you talk. No one’s ideas should be missed. You needn’t seize on every suggestion, but if you don’t at least get back to the person and say, “That was a terrific idea,” and thank him, he’ll never give you another one. Always give proper recognition for every valid suggestion.

7. Do you set an example?

The best sales manager is a good role model – not once in a while, but every day. Your salespeople pay 90 percent more attention to what you do than what you say. Actions do speak louder than words. A good manager knows how to say no, to be tough but fair. In other words, if you don’t handle the responsibilities of your own leadership position, you can’t expect your salespeople to live up to their job responsibilities either.

Successful sales managers are motivating all the time, not just when performance is down. A manager should always strive for maximum people potential – to get the best from each individual in his or her organization. The objective is always to let the other person determine the means to growth and to take the responsibility for his own development.

[Image via Flickr / Aristocrats-hat]

How to Move Up in Your Organization: 4 Tips from Legendary Leaders

If you’re interested in moving up to a higher position in your organization, prove you can think strategically — beyond quota — toward the good of the company as a whole. Use these tips to get started.

Bill Walsh leadership Find effective strategies. Vision is great, but if you cannot find a way to connect to it from the current reality, it’s useless. One leader who has been able to bring the imaginary to the realm of reality is football legend Bill Walsh. The legendary coach led his teams to amazing NFC division championships and NFC titles and earned a spot in the NFL Football Hall of Fame. One of his many strengths was as an offensive coach, constantly reading the field and creating strategies that would maximize his players’ skills and exploit the weaknesses of their opponents.

Tip 1: Strategy is something that’s refined every day, one battle at a time. Just as Walsh had to look at each season’s team and each week’s opponent anew, salespeople need to evaluate each customer and each competitor on an individual basis and create a plan to address each unique situation. What worked yesterday or last month may not work tomorrow.

Ronald Reagan leadership Be a great communicator. The key to communicating is connecting with the audience. Former President Ronald Reagan was so well known for his ability to reach the American people that he earned the nickname, “The Great Communicator.” He didn’t use fancy language or rhetoric to win people over; in fact, it was the very simplicity of his style, coupled with his humor, which made him so popular. A senior leader’s job is to communicate corporate goals to employees and motivate them to achieve those goals.

Tip 2: When you have something to say, say it in the simplest way possible. Save the fancy verbal footwork and piles of data for the engineering team, and stick to word pictures and vivid descriptions. Finally, remember Reagan’s advice: “Facts are stupid things.”

Meg Whitman leadership Listen. Sharing information is one skill; collecting information is another, equally valuable skill. And the queen of listening very well may be Meg Whitman, who is known for her humility and passion for listening to both her customers and employees.

“When you’re trained in an MBA program or in most businesses, you use the words, ‘Drive, push, go after,’ and it’s not that way here. Here, you have to use the community of users to chart the course of the company. You can’t direct them to do much of anything,” Whitman told CBS MarketWatch.

Tip 3: As a “trusted advisor,” it’s natural to want to share your expertise with your customers. But too much talking and not enough listening is a sure formula for alienating your clients. Take a tip from Whitman and commit to listening to what your customers are saying. Ask them what’s important, what they worry about, and what would make their life easier – even if it’s outside your typical scope. What better way to become a trusted partner than by solving problems your customer never even knew existed.

Jack Welch leadership Be inspirational. If there is one skill that can make up for a multitude of sins in other areas, it just might be the ability to inspire. People want to be a part of something great, something larger than themselves. Just ask business legend, former General Electric CEO Jack Welch. Known for his passion, commitment, and sense of fun, Welch led by example and took pride in his ability to develop his people. He regularly rewarded the highest performers (and cut the bottom feeders), thereby encouraging workers to make it to the top. “Giving people self-confidence is by far the most important thing that I can do. Because then they will act,” Welch has said.

Tip 4: Unless you inspire others to act, you are a team of one. The more you can inspire your team members to be the best they can be, the further your reach as a leader. Says Welch, “If you pick the right people and give them the opportunity to spread their wings and put compensation as a carrier behind it, you almost don’t have to manage them.”

Any of these legendary leaders would be sure to tell you that it doesn’t matter where your box falls on the organizational chart: Leaders can be found anywhere in the organization.

How the Best Execs Get to the Top: Q&A with Joe Nocera

Joe Nocera New York TimesThey make friends. They hire smart. They take the hits. For New York Times business columnist Joe Nocera, who has written about the Buffetts, Eisners, and Trumps of the business world for more than 25 years, a few leadership qualities stand out. In this interview, he talks with Selling Power about the road to the top – and how the best execs stay there.

Selling Power (SP): What’s the different between a good CEO and a bad CEO?

Nocera: The thing a good CEO has, more than a bad CEO has, is emotional intelligence. I know that sounds soft and squishy, but all these guys know how to deal with balance sheets and income statements. They can make the trains arrive on time. But emotional intelligence is important for a number of reasons. Number one, in a modern age, you can’t just tell people to go do something and expect them to do it. So the force of your personality – the way you try to get things done – is as important as what you are trying to get done.

The second reason is that the CEOs are on such a short leash, vis-à-vis Wall Street, these days. To me the subprime disaster is [like] every other thing that I have ever covered in my life, starting with real estate in Texas in the eighties during the oil bubble, and then on to the Massachusetts Miracle in Massachusetts, and then on to the Internet bubble and the housing bubble; they’re all the same. Basically, [the situation] starts slowly, and then people start to lose their heads and think that they can never go down, and then they start to do dumb things. Banks just lend too much money, standards get lower, and people find some technique and drive it into the ground. [These techniques] probably start as good things and wind up as bad things, which was the case with subprime mortgages, and on and on and on. These things just seem to take on a life of their own and collapse of their own volition. And that’s what’s happened here. It’s happened time and time again.

SP: So emotional intelligence can help a leader navigate through the turmoil?

Nocera: A CEO who is comfortable in his or her own skin, is likeable, and who knows how to be decisive without being rude or arrogant buys more wiggle room. He or she has more allies. The example I use on the negative side is Bob Nardelli [former CEO of The Home Depot]. The stock went down, but if you look at the numbers, almost every metric went up while he was the CEO. Yet when he missteps, he has no allies, he has no friends, and he is basically out of the company.

Emotional intelligence is a quiet charisma, the ability to lead without seeming to lead. These leaders have the ability to make a decision that may be unpopular and not piss everybody off. They listen. They aren’t afraid of criticism. They’re not overly defensive. They’re not afraid of hiring people smarter than they are. Those sorts of skills in dealing with the executives who report to them make the crucial difference between a good CEO and a bad CEO.

SP: And the bad CEOs – are they just the opposite?

Nocera: Yes, they are. When you think about the 1950s and 1960s, when American companies ruled the world, we had a generation of employees who had been through the Great Depression and World War II. They came back from the war, and all they wanted was a nice, secure job. They were organization people. The boss could tell them anything. They just wanted to know how high to jump. So you could be more high-handed and dictatorial.

Today, employees don’t have the same loyalty to corporations. They have a lot more options. They don’t expect the company to protect them for the rest of their lives. They don’t expect to be at the company for the rest of their lives. I remember Fortune used to do a cover story called, “The Meanest Bosses in America.” And those guys were really well-known figures in business, like Bob Crandall at American Airlines. You could be that kind of boss back then, but you can’t be that kind of boss today because you’ll just get washed out. Today, the paradigmatic great boss is somebody like Herb Kelleher, who really cares a lot about his employees and is completely beloved and is also [the head of a company that is] on record as the only airline to make a profit.

SP: Do you think there’s a difference in the way that the public or employees judge their leaders and what they expect from them?

Nocera: I think there’s a huge difference. I think employees want to be passionate about their jobs. They want their job to feel that it has some larger moral value. And that is why so many companies are getting into the environment or doing corporate social responsibility stuff. Employees want to feel like they’re different thinkers. They don’t want to feel like cogs in a machine. They want someone to listen to them – maybe not the CEO, but certainly the immediate superior. So you have to have a culture of trust, a culture that respects the employees. Employees want to know that, when things are bad, the leader is taking a hit along with everyone else and not gorging himself or herself on options and salary when everybody else is suffering – that there is some sense of shared sacrifice.

SP: What do you think the job description of a leader is going to look like down the road?

Nocera: That’s a tough one. We’re in this era now when the baby boomers are preparing to retire. We’re going to get a whole new generation of middle and upper management that is younger and maybe has a different set of values from baby boomers. It’s hard for me to say what kind of leadership will command its respect. The next generation of CEOs is going to have to be people who can adapt to those new expectations.

Joe Nocera is author of Good Guys & Bad Guys: Behind the Scenes with the Saints and Scoundrels of American Business (And Everything in Between)


A Dream to Run the Perfect Company (The L.L. Bean Story)

L.L. Bean sales leadership L.L. Bean was born in 1912, when Leon L. Bean (who was orphaned at age 12 and left school after completing the eighth grade) designed his own boot with a leather upper and rubber bottom. According to company legend, the first 90 shipments came back defective. Bean dispensed full refunds, borrowed $400, and launched a redesigned boot that became highly popular.


In 1917 Bean opened L.L. Bean headquarters on a tree-lined street in the town square of Freeport, Maine. Customers entered through the back alley, huffed and puffed up two flights of stairs, bypassed the salespeople (who, despite their good-natured friendliness, tended to know next to nothing about L.L. Bean products), and wandered through the stockrooms to find what they needed.

Although employees loved their good-natured, down-home, and energetic leader, Bean could also be stubborn and capricious. He wasn’t bothered by the inefficiencies of his company; he refused, for example, to ever include an index to the catalog, despite thousands of requests from customers.

By the time Bean hired his grandson, Leon Gorman, in 1960, the company was behind the times and ill-equipped to survive, much less excel, in the rapidly competitive retail market. Hired at $80 a week as a “gofer,” Gorman spent seven years working his way through the ranks.

He studied the market by reading the catalogs of competitors, visiting their stores, and reading at least three outdoor magazines a month. He began taking correspondence courses in business and finance administration. He assumed responsibility for responding to customer complaints and was the first person in the history of the company to attend retail trade shows. He carried a small notebook with him at all times. In his first year alone, he accumulated more than 400 notes on how to improve the company, from automating the customer service and inventory systems to holding semi-annual sales of discounted merchandise, to implementing employee training programs.

At age 90, Leon Bean passed away, and Gorman’s father, Carl, who had also worked at the company, died just eight months later. Elected president in 1967, Leon Gorman’s goal was to “run the perfect company.” By 1972, all products had stock numbers. In 1974, Gorman opened a 110,000 square-foot distribution center with a logical layout that encouraged efficiency. The next year, he established a new customer service department, where service was just as friendly and caring as ever, but was also disciplined and professional. Eight years after he took the helm, catalogs bulked up by 28 pages and went from 600 product offerings to 1,500. Catalog mailings went from 1.8 million to nearly 6 million.

The product lines also evolved to meet the changing face of customers. By 1980, half of all customers were women, but the company’s clothing line for women was simply resized from men’s designs and offered in pastels. They began implementing strategic designs and in the ’90s came out with a women’s-only catalog. They also focused on the growing areas of home and kids. They stepped up their e-commerce and committed to making the L.L. Bean Website fast, simple, and informative.

After more than 33 years of leadership as President and CEO of L.L. Bean,  Leon Gorman left his role as Chairman in May of last year. Under Gorman’s leadership the company grew from a $2.5 million retailer selling through the mail with a single store in Freeport to an over $1 billion multi-channel marketer with over 5,000 employees and an iconic brand known throughout the world.