"Boulder Management" by Sisyphus

Tony Hughes

Boulder Management by Sisyphus

Let's just assume Sisyphus finally summits to the mountaintop and rests the boulder in place. Rest assured, he'd have an instant business management bestseller on his hands that every MBA would be required to read forevermore. Implementing the below methods and drawing inspiration from these books will certainly help you breathe a sigh of relief as you right the ship and navigate it through a frenetic 2015 sales management maelstrom.

For those of us who've dedicated our lives to a career in sales, we're all too familiar with Sisyphus, the Greek Myth of the man pushing a boulder up a hill for eternity only to have it fall back down upon him, time and time again. So much of what we've traditionally done to succeed has been mind numbing repetition but all that is changing thanks to things like automation, social selling, trigger events and new ways of connecting with target prospects.

Perhaps you've felt like Sisyphus in a deal. It's even a trendy tech word "Sisyphean" which is often interchanged with Herculean, although these dimensions are highly juxtaposed when it comes to the concept of conquering a massive challenge or reaching a "wildly important goal." This post is all about the WIGs, so that I'll get right into that in a moment.

Luckily, the challenges of professional selling are not insurmountable but if you do not heed the following advice, you too may find yourself banished to a seeming eternity of rock pushing if not enjoying selling much less. In sales, we thrive on the challenge of battling time and exceeding our number. We thrive in going up against the incumbent, our competitors and the two horsemen of time and the status quo. Whether your boulder is conquering your personal best, renewing a key account with ACV growth or disrupting legacy dinosaur business models, the following ideas could help you prevent it from falling back down on you, even lighten the load:

I read the book Four Disciplines of Execution recently and was struck by its deconstruction of lead measures versus lagging measures which drew a parallel in my mind to Jason Jordan's bestselling management book, a modern classic. It was very interesting to witness Sean Covey focusing on WIGs or "wildly important goals." I've written about the rocks and the sand, my 80/20 inspiration for daily time management and extensively about Cracking the Sales Management Code, which espouses leading indicator driven KPI management in prior posts, so I think these points are worth underscoring in recommending this superb, foundational work.

Both books got me thinking about the meta concepts of Leading versus Lagging Indicators and their corollary Leading & Lagging Measures. It's an important question to relentlessly ask ourselves? Which actions am I taking that are driving results?

How can we tangibly effect change on our external environment, increase our pipeline, impact the current sales cycles we're in and accelerate our progress as professional sellers? One major way is to focus on leverage. The levers that push that proverbial boulder up the hill. They are most certainly leading measure activities in contrast to the static lagging measures that "follow," levers to hurtle the metaphorical missiles of enterprise tactics from your trebuchet of strategy over the parapets into the stronghold of Castle Status Quo. I think I just hit the TILT switch on metaphor usage.


Ironically, revenue itself is a lagging indicator and cannot be managed in a CRM. Management can bark at pretty dashboards projected at a wall and send consternation down the command chain but this typically just creates an end-of-quarter fire drill and is much ado to no avail in helping your team qualify their deals more stringently, make that 5th to 12th contact (where 80% of sales actually close) or engineer a competitive strategy to close the deal more efficiently and effectively.

Things like reporting, endless meetings and constant revenue check-ins coupled with unrealistic goal setting and vanity metrics really don't move the lever toward the Wildly Important Goal. This is a big goal each one of us sets that harnesses our inner drive. The 4DX book makes many recommendations but one I appreciate is weekly WIG sessions between managers and direct reports to recalibrate, checking in on the progress of the goals set the week before. There's a new science of change management in play here that is worth studying and applying to bring your organization to a new level. Rather than review the entire book which is a jewel in the crown of Franklin Covey's flagship global training, I thought I'd simply hone in on a few key concepts.

As a supplemental side note, Mahan Khalsa who's trained sales squadrons at blue chips, the likes of Microsoft, Oracle and Accenture is also doing brilliant things over at Franklin Covey and wrote Let's Get Real or Let's Not Play which is another sensational treatise centered on authentic "get real" sales processes to grow revenues. It features amazingly useful and thought-provoking flowcharts throughout that I recommend to help sustainably grow revenues in 2015. Key takeaways for your team:

  • Surface new business opportunities in a holistic way that all parties can be invested in
  • Build a conversation structure that gets to the bottom of the true client needs and fosters a trusted advisor relationship
  • Ask the hard questions is a finesse way, then practicing active listening
  • Increase propensity of deal closure by building mindshare and openness
  • "Move off the solution to diagnose before you prescribe," see Mahan's brilliant YouTube video below:


What are the actions that you can control in your day to move the needle as a front line sales manager or sales executive? Step one, take a look at environs you can play in where contact rates are the highest. What activities can you execute each day to engage most effectively? Hint: that's rarely still email or a telephone (under 5% engagement rates). I've tested my ability to contact senior executives in companies and granted, this is the software and technology sphere, but Twitter can often garner a refreshingly rapid response and effectively personalized, Group-driven or InMail-driven digital outreach can yield incredible results i.e. higher conversion rates to appointments set. Another leading measure can even be the research phase itself. Rather than rattling away endless calls to Executive Assistants, performing due diligence to get smart about segmenting and targeting a healthy base of the key clients based on trigger events, goes a long way. This helps you avoid the "busy fool syndrome" I've talked about and is one of Konrath's Paradoxes: "slowing down to speed up."

When asked about how to measure the success of social selling and get to ROI by Gerhard Gschwandtner in a recent Selling Power interview, Jamie Shanks responded, "There are a couple of leading indicators you should be looking at. One of them is the size and the effectiveness of your LinkedIn Network and it's called your social reach...And 'How is my voice growing over time?" Linked & Twitter are providing you these baseline metrics...Those are leading indicators. The lagging indicators are the opportunities and the revenue you are driving. And if you're not driving that money, then you need to look back at your leading indicators and say, 'what am I not doing? Are people listening? Is my social reach terrible because my network is small? Whatever that is." I would add that generating super high quality influencer content via LinkedIn Publisher will be a new lead measure activity this year as sales people become micro-marketers.

If your goal is to close 5MM in new revenue this year, you'd better have a realistic concept of where those sales cycles began last year to land some of those in the first and second quarter. Otherwise, have the courage to level set with management and your CEO that these will most likely stack up in Q3/Q4 because you'd rather do it right and nurture the account rather than destroy the natural order of paradise by being pushy or rushing. Real-time selling is real but it's no longer a sales cycle, it's a buying cycle so customers are leading the dance.

Relentlessly focus on strategy in qualifying the exact companies you will seek to penetrate based on trigger events, the strongest of which are stakeholders who were just promoted or transitioned to new companies. Keep this list a short list and go deep to the target rather than widening the approach. (Mike Weinberg) If your company has sold to these executives before and they've moved into a new world they are already champions of your disruptive solution paradigm, so getting back in touch with them via a referral / warm introduction can help you to gain ground in the new account.

Static and active is another sound way to look at KPIs from this vantage point. Bernard Marr wrote the book on KPIs as a mechanism for accurate business forecasts so peruse his prescient corpus at this link. Jason Jordan found that only 17% of sales metrics captured are activities that contribute to a sale! Jason and Michelle Vazzana unpacked 306 metrics, breaking them into 3 buckets: sales activities (17%), sales objectives (59%) and business results (24%). The first are highly manageable, the second directly influenceable and the third are not manageable but relate back to sales objectives. "Activities can be managed - outcomes cannot."

If I could only obtain 6 metrics (in addition to deal value) from a CRM, and assuming the data is accurate, here are my choices:

  1. Qualified pipeline as percentage of quota/target
  2. Opportunities by deal stage
  3. Opportunity qualification scores (with snapshot versions)
  4. Deals stuck at stage beyond defined period
  5. Meetings that progress the sale (with call plan in the CRM)
  6. Opportunities with close plans (versioned and in the CRM)

What would your six key metrics be to drive the team and ensure they are building pipeline and progressing the best opportunities effectively?


Tony Hughes is ranked as the #1 influencer on professional selling in Asia-Pacific and is a keynote speaker and best selling author. This article was originally published in LinkedIn where you can also follow Tony's award winning blog. Also visit Tony's keynote speaker website at www.TonyHughes.com.au or his sales methodology website at http://www.rsvpselling.com/.

Main image photo by Flickr: AK Rockefeller


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