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Rule 6: Lead from Within

Overview

Implementing innovative solutions takes leadership. Innovative solutions require a change in perspective and a change in thinking. Sales leaders champion those changes for the customer within their own organizations.

You would think that everyone in the organization would welcome a chance to accommodate customer requirements or new ways of serving them, but there will always be some who resist. They will argue that the organization doesn't do what you are proposing. They will argue that it will cost too much, that it isn't in the budget, and that if they do what you want it will mean they can't do something else. They will suggest that it will not work. They will stand behind protocol.

I've observed that in many cases, the most difficult part of the sale or of implementing the sale isn't getting the customer to agree—it is getting the support of people inside your own company to do what needs to be done, or to do it quickly enough that you don't lose your credibility with the customer or your competitive position. Many times it is the classic battle between sales and marketing or product management.

As a leader, you want to be prepared to communicate your vision for the customer solution clearly, compellingly, persistently, and patiently to win the support of these internal people. You want to convey to them that although what you are proposing may seem different, difficult, or even impossible, all need to keep in mind that they work for the customer. If you need support that is out of the ordinary or very different, let people know that most great things are viewed as impossible when first proposed, but come to be accepted as necessary once people get used to them. (How many of us could live without ATMs if they suddenly disappeared?)

In order to get people aligned behind your idea, you will need to take the initiative. You'll need to positively influence your colleagues in your organization to get them to do what you see as needing to be done and do it in a constructive way, not burning bridges. What this means is that rather than forcing support, you work to gain commitment. You can force support, but that will work only so many times before people say no. In essence, you need to "sell" your idea on the inside even more effectively than you sell it on the outside. How do you do this? By being a leader.

Peggy Champlin, formerly an engineering manager with a Canadian technology supplier, saw firsthand the challenges of getting engineering and marketing and sales to work together to develop updated or new applications for customers.

Engineering is quick to say no. Marketing is eager to say yes. Each had different incentives for their work efforts, and those different incentives could easily cause them to lose sight of whom they were both working for. Marketing saw the sale being at risk and was rewarded for making sales. Engineering had schedule and quality requirements for which they were accountable. With lead times of six to nine months, we had to coordinate all our projects.

The salespeople who were the easiest to work with did two things: They respected the constraints we had to work under. And they listened to me—they tried to understand what was possible and what wasn't. I would always try to bend over backward to help them, explaining what we could or could not do. The key was when they were willing to work with me to find ways together to make the customer happy, when they took the technical requirements into account and worked with us to develop the best solution for the customer, given the technology, the schedule, and budgets, and when they did it without an attitude. The leaders knew there were better ways to achieve their goals, to get us working with them. They looked at things from a higher plane.


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