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Nov 16 18

Productive Conflict

by David Brock

Over the past week, I’ve been involved in several conversations that have the same underlying theme.  It’s basically around the concept of Productive Conflict.

I believe this is a critical concept–both in how we engage our customers and in driving change internally.  At the same time, I believe it is misunderstood, avoided, and executed very poorly with horrible results.

As sales people and/or as business leaders, we are responsible for driving change.  Whether it is with/for our customers our within our organizations.

Change always creates conflicts, though we may not recognize them as such.  Why change, change to what, change for what purpose, which change/direction, what are the risks, how to change, and so on.

Change is about choice and inherent in the process of making choices is conflict.  This conflict can be small or it can be enormous.

But to be successful, we can’t avoid the conflict.  We must identify it, understand it, manage it, where possible, reconcile conflict, but, sometimes agree to disagree.  Too often, we fail because we have either avoided conflict, or we’ve failed to manage it effectively.

Conflict can be a very powerful tool, we can leverage conflict to crystallize issues, to drive alignment, and to drive action.  This is productive conflict.

But productive conflict is a very tricky thing.  The power of productive conflict is basically driven by motivation.

Leveraging conflict for purely self-centered, selfish purposes is likely to be destructive, in the very least manipulative.  It always fails, either it is immediately recognized for what it is and rejected by everyone else; or because it has failed to get alignment/buy-in and will ultimately fail under it’s own inertia.

But Productive Conflict motivated by wanting to help others or the collective value to the team/organization can be very powerful.  It’s powerful because the underlying motivation is very transparent and aligned with the interests of the others you are working with.  It may not be comfortable, but it creates the “moments of truth,”  and powerful methods of aligning and taking action.  Stated differently, productive conflict can be a very powerful “forcing function.”

This concept is very difficult for people to grasp.  The word “conflict,” is tinged with negative connotations.  We associate fights, violent disagreement, wars, social/economic polarization with the concept of conflict.  We tend to think of conflict in win/lose terms.  We see people exploiting it in manipulative, bullying ways.  We associate it with “disagreeableness,” “impoliteness.”

In our upbringing, we are probably trained to avoid conflict.  We bring that into our business lives and reinforce it with ideas like “the customer is always right,” or misguided notions of being “team players.”  Notions like “being nice,” or “getting along,” inadvertently drive avoidance behaviors.  This avoidance and inability to harness conflict productively leads to huge wasted time/effort with “hidden agendas,” “politics,” lack of focus on identifying and resolving problems.

Conflict, exploited selfishly, can be all these things, and more.

But it can also be so powerful.  Leveraged well, it can help drive great clarity.  It can help us understand our fears, our differences, our disagreements.  It can move us to resolve them, align ourselves, and move forward together.

The implementation of productive conflict has nothing to do with creating fights, being disagreeable, impolite, or whatever negative connotations we have about conflict.  It is usually lively discussion, healthy sharing of ideas, and an openness/respect for different ideas.

Productive conflict is all about your motivation.  It is all about being open to changing your own point of view.  It is all about learning.  It is all about respect and trust for the people you are working with to drive change.  It is all about caring.

And these may be the most telling issues about how we fail to leverage productive conflict, and why we fail to achieve.


Nov 14 18

The Sales Jigsaw Puzzle

by David Brock

Every once in a while, I like to do a jigsaw puzzle.  It’s nice to do in the evening, no distraction from devices, there’s the great tactile feeling as I pick up a new piece, trying to figure out where it fits.  Then there’s the great reward at the end, once all the pieces are in place, you finally see the whole picture and it makes sense.

Sometimes, I think selling, and all the things sales people must do to be successful, is something like a jigsaw puzzle.  It’s often confusing and difficult to understand each of the pieces/parts until you have put the entire puzzle together and can see the whole picture.  And the reality is, often, there are a lot of pieces missing.

Too often, we inundate our people with all sorts of things they must do to achieve their goals.  Ongoing prospecting, finding/qualifying deals, moving them through the buying/selling process, building healthy funnels/pipelines, forecasting, account/territory planning, call planning, creating value for our customers, developing competitive strategies, and on and on.

Overlaid on this is the endless administrivia, CRM updates, dealing with all the latest sales enablement or marketing programs that are supposed to be helpful.

And then there are the latest new initiatives, programs du jour, new product announcements, and on and on and on……..

With all this going on, it’s no wonder sales people get confused!  They don’t know what they should be doing, when, where their focus should be–other than the continued quest to make the numbers.

Yet we keep demanding they do these things, but they don’t know why we are asking them to do these things, and how the pieces/parts fit together.  Too many sales people I speak with tend to view all of these as disjointed, vaguely related activities—“My manager is the one obsessed with the pipeline, I focus on deals….”  or “The only reason I do account plans is because I have to do one….”

But all these activities are closely related, and balancing our activities across each is critical to achieving our numbers and sustaining performance.  Failing to do all of them impacts our ability to perform.

How do we put the pieces of the puzzle together, what’s the complete picture look like?

A framework or picture helps understand the relationship of the /pieces parts.

Referencing the image at the bottom of the post, at a high-level, starting from the left:

  1.  Account plans and territory plans are, at the simplest level, structured prospecting plans.  It is in our targeted accounts or our territory (however that might be found), we find and qualify the opportunities we want to chase.  To find new deals, we have to be prospecting and the account/territory plan focuses on the most productive areas in which to prospect.  Without them, we would struggle to find the right deals to pursue and to fill our pipelines.
  2. The sales/buying process and the related opportunity/deal plans are all about the deal.  These are qualified opportunities, in our sweet spot, with customers that have a high sense of urgency to change.  Successfully executing our deal strategy enables us to win orders and business.  The sales/buying process provides us the most effective way to maximize our win rate, compress the buying  cycle, and maximize our ability to create value with the customer.  The deal plan is the tool we use to execute the process with a specific customer, helping us identify the specific problems/opportunities, the buyers involved in the process and how we help the customer navigate their buying process.
  3. Meetings/calls are how we execute our account, territory, and opportunity plans.  We engage with customers in meetings/calls.  The meetings we have in the account/territory plans are prospecting, qualifying, nurturing meetings.   The meetings we have executing the selling process/deal strategies are focused on helping the customer move through the process.  We want to maximize the impact of each type of meeting, leveraging design thinking in planning these is very powerful (but that’s a different post).
  4. The pipeline/funnel is the tool we use to track all of these things.  Fundamentally, it focuses on the question, “Are we doing enough of the right things to achieve our goals?”  The pipeline doesn’t solve our problems in achieving our goals, but it helps identify where the problems are–causing us to focus on improving our ability to better execute our account/territory, sales process/deal strategy, call plans.  Pipelines, too lean, focus us on prospecting–executing our account/territory plans.  Win rates too low, deals stalling, our pipeline points us to improving our execution on our deal strategies.  In each of these we want to plan meetings to maximize the impact of each.

I’ve only developed this at a high level, but you get the idea.  Helping our people understand how each piece of the puzzle fits with the others, creating a complete picture about how we most effectively achieve our goals is important.  Understanding the total picture and how the components inter-relate is critical in maximizing performance and helping our people perform at the highest levels possible.

How are you helping your people understand the pieces of the puzzle and how they fit together.

(304) 920-2843

Afterword:  My thanks to my friend, Rene Voorhorst, for helping clarify my thinking about the framework!

Afterword 2:  For a full page PDF of the Sales Execution Framework, email me at

Afterword 3:  There is a larger framework of the Sales Organizational/EXCELLENCE Ecosystem that is core to the upcoming Sales Executive Survival Guide, stay tuned.



Nov 14 18

What Is The Purpose Of Buying?

by David Brock

I can imagine the raised eyebrows, the questioning expressions, and the thought, “What the hell is he talking about now?  What kind of esoteric journey is he dragging us on?”

Some might glibly say, “Well to solve a problem….”  Which is correct, kind of….

But most sales people seldom think about the purpose of buying.  A customer wants to buy, sales people immediately leap to selling, knowing the purpose of selling is to get an order.*

At best, we focus on helping the customer buy, but seldom pause to think about the purpose of buying.

Buying doesn’t exist in a standalone context.  Buying, in itself, doesn’t solve a problem.  Buying always exists in a larger context of something the customer is trying to achieve.  Yet, as sales people, at best we isolate our “helping” the customer to their buying activities and our consequent selling activities.

But what if we started trying to probe a little deeper to understand the purpose of buying?

Why are they buying?  Perhaps to solve a problem/address an opportunity.

Why do they want to solve the problem?  Perhaps because it is preventing them from doing things that are important to them.

Why are those things important to them?  What are the consequences of not doing those things?

Why have they chosen to achieve those things in the way they are, with this particular problem/project?  Are there alternative approaches they considered in solving the problem but have chosen not to do?  Why did they choose not to do those?  And the answer to this has absolutely nothing to do with your competition, but may be the source of your real competition.

Buying never exists in isolation, but is always just a part of what the customer is trying to do and the result of a number of choices they make (or should have made) to get to the part that involves buying.

But we limit ourselves and our ability to engage the customer in meaningful ways by just focusing on buying.  Or in the worst, focusing on selling.

What would happen, if we started understanding the customer’s purpose of buying?  How might we and the customer be more successful?  How might that increase the value we can provide?


* This post was provoked by Charlie Green’s great post, 5174648375.


Nov 13 18


by David Brock

One of the biggest mistakes sales managers and sales people make is spending too much time focusing on the health of the pipeline.

Managers are constantly holding pipeline reviews.  They are constantly asking, “What’s changed since we reviewed the pipeline yesterday?” (You can see how tedious these constant reviews are, particularly if you have a long sales cycle (anything over 3 months).)  Inevitably, there are problems with the pipeline.  There’s the universal managerial answer to these issues, “You need to get more in the pipeline!”

“Well yeah, but…….”

Turns out the advice to get more into the pipeline isn’t really helpful.  Why more?  How much?  What else could I do?

The pipeline is a terrific analytic tool and can help the manager and sales person identify potential problems.  For example, not enough in the pipeline—we need to focus on adding more opportunities by prospecting.  Alternatively, we have enough in the pipeline, but deals are stalled or we aren’t winning enough.  Or maybe the quality of the opportunities isn’t great.

The pipeline is a terrific tool for the sales person and manager to identify problem areas.  But you don’t fix those problems in the pipeline.  We fix those problems by focusing on other areas.

Not enough in the pipeline?  We need to do more prospecting!  Our territory and account planning processes are basically structured approaches to prospecting.  They help us identify where we find new opportunities.  Coaching in prospecting helps us understand how to to this most effectively.

Deals stalled, win rates too low?  We need to build stronger deal/opportunity strategies!  Leveraging our sales process and any sales methodology helps us look at each deal maximizing our ability to win these in the shortest time possible, at the greatest value possible.

Quality of the deals in the pipeline bad?  We need to focus on our ICP and more effective qualifying.  If the deals are falling out after they’ve been qualified, we need to build stronger deal strategies.

We solve problems in the pipeline by building/executing stronger deal strategies, leveraging our sales process more effectively, doing better qualifying, and executing higher impact sales calls.  We fill the pipeline by building and executing strong territory and account plans.

Ironically, too many managers are obsessed with the pipeline, spending virtually no time coaching deals, account, territory, prospecting, or call plans.  They think they can fix the pipeline by obsessing on it, not realizing the pipeline only tells you where the problems are likely to be.

If managers spent less time on the pipeline and more time coaching sales people in the problem areas identified by the pipeline, they would have to spend less time on the pipeline.  (Hmmm, that circular logic actually makes sense.)