Executive field visits – Conflict or Conquest?

I’ve been on both sides of this issue. I’ve been the host for executives visiting my customers and I’ve been the executive being hosted. These visits can be very productive but I’ve also seen them be disastrous. How do we avoid the latter?

To Sales People: Have the courage to let your executive see reality. Know specifically, what your executive can do to help move the sale forward. Clearly communicate those specifics and don’t over orchestrate what the executive sees and hears. This leads to later surprises that won’t bode well for you or them.

To Executives: You are a tool to move sales forward. Recognize that and encourage teams to show you reality versus the show. Without your encouragement, your people will be ruled by fear and you won’t be equipped to be an effective tool for your teams.

I’m going to share ways, to address this conflict, which I first learned from HP executives who understood the challenges facing their sales teams. We also executed on this practice at Microsoft with good results. For the purposes of this blog, I’ll use my own example, but I’ll detail examples from peers in my book.

Putting on the show On my first tour of Asia, as Regional GM, I was taken to retail outlets in countries where sales were poor, where there was known software piracy. I was shown stores filled with Microsoft advertisements and many devices with genuine Microsoft software. The stores were in big cities and, aside from the language difference, they looked like upscale stores in the US.

I left the cities expecting great results on the next sales reports. Unfortunately, two months later I was back in one of those same cities reviewing reports that showed no increased performance. I asked for an impromptu visit to a different mall close to the office, which caused visible concern from the team. What we found was the opposite of what I saw before. There were almost no devices with genuine software, Microsoft’s or other’s.

I had allowed myself to be duped. There was no other way to see it and in my anger, I demanded to know what the team hoped to gain by putting on the show. It was simple… they wanted to get through the week without being fired.

Certainly, this brings into question the suitability of the people, for these sales jobs, but I’ll save that for another writing. For this blog, I’ll take personal accountability and talk about what I’ve done differently since that experience.

Encouraging the sales team
Six months after that first visit, I was on my fourth trip across Asia. I was in a country for a week’s stay, which included weekends. I had asked to visit technology stores on the weekend when consumers were shopping and when we were casually dressed.

The team picked me up on Saturday morning and started driving west to a mall I’d seen before. I asked how far east we’d have to drive, to find a place that sold PCs and phones. They said it would be a 90-minute drive. I said, “Let’s go.” The three team members all started texting and dialing. I told them to put down their phones. I said I didn’t want anyone to prepare and I explained to them that I needed to see real things if they wanted real help from Redmond.

We ended up at a mall where every device had pirated Microsoft software on it. We also visited one of our partner’s internet cafés, where they had 500 PCs that people used for everything from business to gaming. I talked with the manager who casually told me that he didn’t pay for any of the software at that cafe. He said they had great IT people who were able to get it free. He clearly didn’t know he was doing anything wrong which taught me this wasn’t a theft problem but a deeply rooted cultural problem.

I still count that trip as one of my most educational moments. Nobody got fired that day, and it changed how I represented the problem in Redmond. It also changed how that team prepared for executive visits. No more shows.

To Sales people… It is never beneficial when you put on a show versus showing reality.

To Executives… You will get the show if you don’t encourage the teams to show you reality.

I look forward to sharing more of my own experiences and those of my peers, in my forthcoming book, The Five Abilities of Incredibly Successful Sales People, and in our training materials.​

©2013 Rick Wong – The Five Abilities™ LLC


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