The Consequences of Unaware Leadership

The above title for this blog is a bit of a mouthful so you may want to read it a few times; the consequences of unaware leadership.

Another way to say this is the consequences of a leader’s actions/words work many times against them and they have no idea.

So here is the point:   Employees are a helluva lot more interested in pleasing their boss than they are the customer.

Are you surprised? Don’t think it is true? I bet you lunch for a year in many of the organizations I walk into I can find examples of this happening. The needs of the boss become more important than serving the needs of the customer. I scratch my head every time I see this and when it affects the work that we do, I want to scream.

You see, I am like everyone else. I like to be respected and appreciated. I appreciate having my instructions followed and to be listened to.  I like to think I am a pretty good manager and leader,  however, when team members become more concerned about keeping me happy at the expense of satisfying the customer, we are heading towards a nightmare.

In one of our clients a few years ago, the president of the company prided himself on running a very lean management team. When his department heads periodically had too much work, they would not bring this to his attention and just soldier through it. Their response to customers would lag, and they would not respond when promised and the customers would be annoyed.  Not enough to leave or complain just enough to be annoyed and put out. Just enough of an aggravation that they start taking our competitor’s calls. In another example, one of our clients lost one of the biggest customers we had ever landed. This one cost our customer tens of millions of dollars in sales. The person managing our new customer was extremely deferential to his boss and would go out of his way to shielded him from bad news. If his boss was upset with a customer, he would try to solve the problem only taking the company’s perspective and ignoring the customer’s interest. He avoided problems and did not address them when they were laid right in front of him.  It did not take long for the new customer to dismiss us.

In both of these examples, the boss never had an idea that their management wasn’t working. Not once did it dawn on the boss that their management style may have had something to do with these problems.

Our management style and approach has positive and possibly negative affect being unaware of the consequences of your leadership is a recipe to continue to have the same problem.

Listen to your Salespeople

Ok, you run a company and you think the purpose of hiring of a salesperson is for them to go find new business and grow business with the existing customer base. This is true but you may be missing a critical part of their job that could make a huge difference in your company if you would just spend some time talking to them.

I work with numerous privately held manufacturers helping them move into new markets and find new customers. My company will do the research, the cold calling, arrange the initial meetings, and manage the entire sales process. I am constantly talking to new customers and prospects about my client’s products and services.

Seldom do I have a president of one of my clients interact with me in a way where it becomes obvious to me they are trying to learn through me why customers/prospects are behaving the way they are behaving. Seldom do I have a president interact with me in a way where it becomes obvious they are trying to learn and understand their market place. These senior managers will regularly ask me when a particular customer is going to buy or to rate my proposals for probability of a sale, however they seldom go beyond this line of questioning. They seldom seek information where it is clear to me that they are trying to deeply understand their market.

I always wonder if they are not interested in getting this market feedback, not aware of the importance of it, or simply do not think my opinion as a salesperson matters to solicit this information from me. Business owners assume that their offerings are competitive and current. This is a huge assumption and can be extremely costly if it goes unchallenged.

I know salespeople are supposed to sell and bring in new business and this is their job, however, there is an aspect of their job that continually gets ignored and missed. Good salespeople have an excellent understanding of the market and what customers and prospects want and need. These salespeople can help identify trends, opportunities, and risks. In the day to day hustle of landing new business seldom discussed is whether the company has any competitive advantage in the market place and whether the company’s products and services are meeting a real need in the marketplace.

Isn’t this knowledge important? How much easier would it be for your salespeople to sell if they understand the competitive advantage their products had in the marketplace and this competitive advantage was real? How effective and efficient could they be prospecting if they knew specifically the needs their company’s products met in the marketplace and knew the type of prospect they should be looking for?  As a salesperson, I can tell you it would make my job a tremendous amount easier.

The intimate knowledge of a market does not come quickly or overnight. It takes years to develop an excellent sense of a market. It requires a ton of work, thinking, reflection, and questioning. Management needs to develop theories and hypothesis testing their beliefs regarding their market and then determine if these are accurate.

It is not difficult to sell if this work has been done. Understanding the market and recognizing that the market is constantly changing and evolving requires senior managers to be constantly paying attention. Recognizing the value your company provides in the market place is the best insurance companies have to grow their business, maintain and grow their margins, and protect their long term business viability. Owners need to decide they want this information and be willing to confront reality. Owners need to build a culture in their organization where everyone is trying to understand the market and actively trying to identify opportunities to differentiate their company. Salespeople can provide tremendous insight in this pursuit. Ownership just needs to listen.