A marketplace coup: Your Sales Team + Your Customer = 1 Super Team

July 27, 2011

Customer involvement in planning their own future purchases really works

This post discusses a new trend in the B2B marketplace, where the seller does a much better job at pulling the buying customer into the planning, solution design, and decision-making process of a significant purchase.

For purposes of this post, we are focusing on an area where the authors have a great deal of experience.  The markets we will discuss include the sectors where the seller is offering complex, multi-part solutions to their customers.  Examples of the kinds of B2B markets where this approach is especially valued include Telecoms, Business Software, Logistics, Energy, Transportation, Banking and Finance, etc.

The 20th Century — the way it worked in the past

We are assuming the reader of this blog is already well aware of how the purchase of moderate-to-large size deals worked in years past. We are referring to the whole business of RFI’s, RFP’s, etc., and how the sellers would react to these opportunities with bids.

Not to oversimplify, but this was a largely reactive selling market. The buyer decided what they wanted, when they needed it, how much they could afford, and drove the selling dynamic accordingly.

The 21st Century — a new business model

The game is changed. The emphasis is shifting to what is in effect, a proactive selling market, which in fact is a better way of doing business for both the seller and the buyer.

So what is going on different? Well most everything… are we exaggerating?

Now buying and selling happens in more of a “business ecosystem” than a conventional market with clear boundaries for buyers and sellers. The supply chain for design, build and sale of the kinds of solutions we are discussing, is a much more complex landscape and environment to work within. Technology is evolving at warp speed. Relevant information for a given market, literally doubles each year, and is expected to continue to grow at an explosive rate.  Companies are morphing thru mergers, acquisitions, and personnel changes at executive levels at an unprecedented pace. And average tenure for retaining the smartest and most productive employees has decreased at an alarming rate.

So what should we do now?

Back in the late 90’s the authors of this Blog started experimenting with a new concept. What if the seller started viewing their relationship with the buyer differently than in the past. Instead of the seller seeing itself as a vendor or supplier to the buyer… what if the seller were able to create a relationship with the buyer as if — and this is the key — the seller and buyer were actually true business partners?

This would mean the seller would now sit on the same side of the table with their buyer.

  • There would be much more open communication between the seller and buyer, especially of internal company knowledge that heretofore has been much more guarded and withheld.
  • The buyer would have greater trust that the seller actually had the buyer’s best interest at heart, and was not merely looking for a revenue score for the seller’s Board to admire.
  • They may even share the same goals — formed directly because of the unique value that both the seller and buyer bring to the relationship — which served both parties equally well
  • They could both realistically factor in financial factors as well, with again both parties benefiting from a symbiotic business case which provided significant economic value to both sides.

Now that sounds to us like a true business partnership, and not all like a vendor/supplier relationship. This trend is particular exciting in the contemporary global economy, where the traditional vendor/supplier relationship with the buying customer is just not working as well as maybe it once did, in more comfortable economic times.

The experiments were very successful

We mentioned that the authors of this Blog had started experimenting in the late 90’s with a new approach to the buyer/seller relationship. We learned much about the best way to pull off this entirely new way of thinking about the seller/buyer relationship. But most of all, we learned this could be done, and done well it meant a substantial improvement in the selling game for our clients.

We eventually branded the partnering relationship, as the development of “super teams”. We have previously had several posts about this uniquely valuable business concept.

What is a Super Team?

There are several previous posts in this blog that define and discuss the super team concept, as well as provide successful case history examples. To mention a few…

Definition:  Super Teams

Teamwork-between-teams is an unnatural human tendency

The 7 key ingredients to a successful Super Team

7 examples of effective branding of Super Teams

In upcoming posts, we will provide some insight into the why, how, when, and who of developing this One Super Team — sometimes called a 1ST [i.e., One Super Team] Program.


The two most frightening words in a business vocabulary “Trust me!”

July 20, 2011

What do you mean, trust what?

In business, and therefore the consulting profession, one of the most important concepts is trust.  Every tenet of success in business has trust as a cornerstone premise.

But, when I hear someone say “Trust me!”, my brain always stops whatever it is doing. Kind of like a neural knee-jerk. Regardless of what frame of mind I might be in at the time… positive, upbeat, humorous, work-focused, or perhaps on the negative side — uncomfortable, impatient, peeved… you get it.

My knee-jerk thought is… “Which one?” Meaning, what kind of trust are you demanding from me?

Isn’t there only one kind of trust? Oh, that’s right…

Remembering this blog is dedicated to the management consulting business, we won’t get philosophical. However, trust is of course, all about setting and keeping expectations… and since that is what the consulting business is all about, then this is a key topic.

In the real world of business today, being clear about what we mean to say is very important.  I know, duh! We are consultants, and we live and breathe clarity.

But I would not be wasting your time and mine (well I can’t speak for your time), unless I had seen this all too often. In fact, I refer to situations where a person is using the word “trust” in a conversation, and it soon becomes clear that the talker and the listener came away with two different messages.

In fact, I see this especially when a person is speaking with another individual for whom English is their 2nd, 3rd, or 4th best language.

M.A.K.E. – Trust

In the affirmative position of trust, here are at least four different interpretations of the word TRUST that might have significant bearing on a consulting activity:

  • Motivation — I trust you will weigh in on our relationship at whatever level of drive you declare. If you say you are enthused about my idea, I can trust that your motivation about responding to my idea will be exactly as you said. Or if you say you are seriously concerned about my statement, I can trust that you will be tentative in considering any support I may want from you, connected to my statement.
  • Action —  I trust you will do exactly what you commit to, and do so on a timely basis. If you say you will deliver to me some information by close of business on Tuesday, I can trust you will get me that information on or before 5:00pm on Tuesday. Or if you tell me I can count on you to say something favorable to your boss, I can trust that you will indeed say something positive to your boss, and say it soon.
  • Knowledge —  I trust when you explain something, you fully know what you are talking about. If you are explaining to me something about one of our Customers, I can trust that you have the understanding to support the conclusions you are presenting to me. Or if you are telling me that one of my peers said something positive about me, I can trust that you either heard that peer speak directly, or you otherwise are quite confident that statement was indeed made by my peer.
  • Ethics —  I trust you are governed by decent moral values.  If you are acting on my behalf in a business situation, I can trust you will act with the same ethical standards that I hold. Or if you are describing to me a delicate inter-personal situation, I can trust that you have not bent the truth to better suit your own purposes.

Why we need to be careful

I may hear someone say… “I just don’t trust Bob.” [a fictitious name here used for illustration]

If I don’t know Bob, my mind might automatically surmise, “Bob must be an unethical person. So I probably don’t want to do business with him.”

But the person muttering his distrust of Bob, really meant, “I don’t trust it when Bob says he’ll do something by Tuesday. He is always late with his deliverables”. In fact, it turns out that Bob is one of the most ethical people this guy knows. Yet now, because of the original talker’s careless use of the word trust, I have an entirely wrong idea about Bob, who is in actual fact, a really nice dude.

In the business of making Super Teams [see the articles in this blog tagged accordingly], virtually all 4 types of trust — Motivation, Action, Knowledge, and Ethics — are vitally important. Super Teams are built on strong interpersonal relationships.

Elsewhere in this Blog there is a post on “The 7 key ingredients to a successful Super Team“.  One of those seven successful ingredients is Trust.

“There are at least four kinds of trust that each of the two original teams must continually prove worthy of to the other team. Demonstrating worthiness of trust will inspire confidence in the other team – they will reliably produce whatever they commit to.  With bilateral trust, each team will continually discover that the higher value of full trust is much more rewarding – both for the company and the individuals – than the alternative.”

Actually the argument could be made that the other six success ingredients are all underpinned with trust…. a member of the Super Team trusts that all other Super Team members will make their best effort to deliver against the other ingredients to success. When trust is highest, the performance tends to reflect accordingly with a high performance output.

7 examples of effective branding of Super Teams

July 9, 2011

Value of Branding

Most consultants and change agents will agree that giving a critically important project a common, bland, functional name, is OK for record keeping purposes. But if it is desirable for a larger part of the organization to take note of the changes and improvements undertaking by the work group… then the project must be effectively branded.

Most of the Super Team projects we have been asked to deliver, have served as excellent examples of the internal marketing value of branding the project. Each project activity will become more effective if it is branded with a name and tag line that is meaningful to all participating teams. Why?

The brand helps create a binding identity for which all Super Team participants  can mutually identify. This is sometimes called  the “boot camp effect”. This loosely translates into, “We did this hard work together – and it has paid off nicely for the effort.”  And as a result of Super Teams workshops and associated program, the program participants now feel they are…

  1. Better prepared,
  2. Bonded with our teammates and partners
  3. Confident we can handle situations which formerly created conflict and negativity between teams
  4. Able to produce much-improved outcomes for our company
  5. Each more personally satisfied with our contribution to the overall effort

Examples of Past Brands – for highly successful programs

NOTE that in each of the following case the brand name was developed by workshop participant teams,  working with the project consultant team. It is true that in most cases, the brand name eventually determined for the project was given considerable thought and testing before the final decision was made.

For expediency, the 7 examples provided here have been given only small, bulleted highlights of some of the key notions associated with the brand and its corresponding project. Give us a note if you want to know more…

1. SOS  Project:

  • This project provided a process, work-flow, and rules of engagement for substantially improving the effectiveness of working together by the Sales, Delivery, and IT teams in a large international data center.
  • It initially was formally branded the SOS Project, as an acronym for “Sales-Operations Success
  • Upon implementation, this same project informally gained the coffee-urn acronym interpretation… SOS = “Save Our Sales”; sales productivity had been sagging, and it had been believed this was due to poor response by the org… except each team blamed the other two for the reason for the lack of success
  • The informal acronym meaning was not planned – it came about from the troops, many of whom were not even involved directly in the project.
  • Thus this brand actually gained its own additional power, and the brand became a focus for the whole organizational rallying effort.

2. Leadership for Results [LFR]:

  • Brand name for a global internal partnering program calling for specific teams, focused on critically important business problems – come together under the Super Team cross-functional model to assure successful execution of solutions to internal critically pressing issues
  • Referred to the point that leadership in business, is not for power, admiration, prestige or privilege… but actually to realize concrete outcomes that serve the business (not the individual managers)
  • Although kind of cliché, this brand had tremendous meaning to these teams, who had labored under a business “Aristocracy” management model for 20+ years
  • The key meaning of the brand, referred to past history, where many leaders insisted on being treated like royalty due to their position in the company, not because of their results… many of whom were actually lousy, ineffective managers.

3. First Choice Partner

  • Brand name representing the actual tag line of the corporate advertised goal, “We want to be your first choice partner for… <the company’s marketed services>”
  • Referred to a specific partnering program involving the Sales Team and specific Customers [similar to Delivering the Promise]
  • In this case, the targeted partners were the customers that were the most publicly critical of our client’s services – representing potential marketplace negativity, etc.
  • This program played on the cognitive dissonance principal, that if the formerly critical customer became a public advocate of our client, then the win was substantially more powerful in terms of market impact
  • This particular project produced one of the most remarkable results in the company’s 50+ year history… in which a group of Customers offered our client an unprecedented array of free resources and thought leadership in helping our Client dominate the region in which the Customers operated.

4. Delivering the Promise:

  • Brand name for a partnering program involving Sales Teams and specific Customers
  • Referred to the sales & delivery teams actually giving the customer what they ordered – but included the promise of surpassing expectations
  • Under this program, the Company [our client] brought Sales and Sales Support Teams together with Customer Teams to jointly plan and action our client delivery of products and services to their Customer.
  • This was a highly unique program at the time in our Client’s industry.
  • None of its competitors physically involved their customers in highly structured sales planning events in which the customers actually forecast — well in advance — their anticipated purchases over the upcoming 2-5 years!

5. WinManagement Program:

  • Brand for a full cycle, sales, solution, delivery process for major deals – with minimum of three teams [sic.] from each sector in planning process of each and every deal
  • This brand alluded to the idea that winning was simply a part of managing the process – we have control, if we execute, we will win… end of story.
  • The brand name came from actual field survey with focus group-type inputs and evaluations of branding
  • NOTE: the brand reinforced the historic track record of this particular selling approach for large, complex sales, which included a 92% win ratio over the previous 5 years

6. Co-Op Project

  • Brand name was giving to represent Central Office Operations, for an international security services company
  • There was a historically critical relationship between certain departments within world headquarters and a specific field operational site — that the Co-Op project sought to improve.
  • This brand logo implied that relationships between HQ and the filed operations needed greater coordination, harmony, mutual respect, and that HQ needed to more strongly consider the good ideas coming from the field.
  • The Co-Op team actually ended up producing its own newsletter that over a 2 year period became acclaimed as the most popular field-generated internal communications piece in the 100+ year history of this international company

7. CRB Partners

  • Brand name for a Super Team program between three regional government law enforcement agencies having different but overlapping roles in anti-terrorism law enforcement – CRB stood for “Catch the Rat B@$#^rds”
  • Sensitivities for classified information prohibit us from revealing much about this one, but the Super Team model was used to address inter-agency cooperation and improved cross-functional communication
  • The specific solution we offered provided tangible processes and reminders of the ultimate purpose of the joint mission – keeping their combined purpose always in the forefront
  • The attending senior officers were so impressed with the Super Team approach and immediate results, at the end of the first workshop we were invited back for a refresher within 6 months.
  • The agencies involved went on to accomplish outstanding results in improved inter-agency cooperation – and subsequent landmark arrests between the 3 agencies.
  • To be clear, we make no claims whatsoever that our Super Team program made any contribution to the success of these agencies in anti-terrorism. We were simply asked to delivery the concept. We did that.

This is a fascinating topic, this branding stuff. It is often overlooked by companies undertaking significant change. We are willing to treat this topic with greater depth and breadth in this blog, if the readers indicate an interest.

The 7 key ingredients to a successful Super Team

June 28, 2011

Two separate teams begin to act as one team, with a unifying purpose

In the Super Team concept, the two original teams must learn to abandon certain behaviors and practices in favor of newer, more productive actions and attitudes. This post provides a brief overview of what these ingredients are.

1.  Mutual Goals

Not overlapping goals, nor coincidental similar goals… but starting from scratch, both teams must define and jointly develop goals that will direct the teams cooperative efforts in all future combined activity. This is the backbone of a successful partnering relationship.

2.  Shared Risk

Both of the original teams will demonstrate they each are putting some “skin in the game”. Each team validates to the other team they are committed to the future relationship by putting tangible value on the table for the other , and thus there is good reason for this relationship to work

3.  Trust

There are at least four kinds of trust that each of the two original teams must continually prove worthy of to the other team. Demonstrating worthiness of trust will inspire confidence in the other team – they will reliably produce whatever they commit to.  With bilateral trust, each team will continually discover that the higher value of full trust is much more rewarding – both for the company and the individuals – than the alternative. See the post in this Blog on the 4 kinds of trust.

4.  Personal Stake

There is an inspiration and enthusiastic rationale held by individual members of each team involved… to do their respective parts to make Super Team relationships work very well. The individuals all find personal motivation to serve the collective and individual purposes of the Super Team activity that are relevant to the individual.

5.  Two-way communication

Without effective and timely bilateral communication, all of the above attributes become a moot point. Each team must continuously demonstrate to the other team, openness and  transparency in cooperative interactive information sharing. This same point holds for collaboration as well, activities that contribute to both of the original teams work [now working as one Super Team] proficiency and ultimately is evidenced by improved cooperative work performance.

6.  A partnering plan

If the work relationship between the two (or more) participating teams is sufficiently important to merit the implementation of a partnering program/workshop… then it is equally important to memorialize and manage the relationship through effective control procedures.  A well prescribed, significantly documented plan will provide the support needed to help keep the newly improving partnering process on track between the participating teams.

7.  A champion

Because the notion of teamwork-between-teams is unnatural, we have found that the opportunity for success is greatly increased by the presence of a “champion for the cause”.  The champion is a person who fully grasps the importance of the concept, method, and tools that are being applied to the particular Super Team.  The champion will socialize the Super Team purpose and activity within the team and across the organization. The presence of the champion both encourages those that want the Super Team to succeed, and may also put some pressure on those that may be not on board.

Definition of a “Super Team”

June 22, 2011

Overcoming an unnatural human tendency

On June 15, 2011, this Blog posted an article… “Teamwork-between-teams is an unnatural human tendency“. Is there a solution to overcoming this unnatural human tendency?

“When it is highly important  for two or more specific business teams involved in critical part of your business, to improve their combined business performance… turn the two teams into a Super Team.”

Definition – In every sense of the term ‘super’

The dictionary defines super,  “…of the highest degree, power, etc.; of an extreme degree.”

We coined the term Super Team to imply firstly, that two (or more) existing teams can be combined together to form an entirely different level, or higher power of a team… i.e., a super team.

But the word super also can imply superlative characteristics such as superior, outstanding, superb, cracking, brilliant, excellent, enhanced, topnotch, etc. Are we implying that a super team is also an entity that is somehow superior to the sub-teams that comprise it?

Inasmuch as the level of work performance, productivity, innovation, and other terms important to a business or organization… yes, a properly trained and well-executed Super Team is indeed superior to its constituent sub-teams.

Depending on the actual mandate of the Super Team, the Executive Leadership of the org should expect one or more of the following valuable results…. increased revenues, greater cost savings, superior planning and implementation, improved ideas and innovation, superior leadership, and many other possible positive outcomes.

And the object of a Super Team, these organizational benefits should not be expected to apply only within the domain of the two or more teams that comprise the Super Team. The whole point of a Super Team is to generate value beyond the bounds of the original teams’ part of the organization.  A Super Team is often intended to produce value for the entire company’s business or operational performance.

Value is for the whole company

For example, a sales team is combined with a sales support (engineering) team, to form a Super Team that not only helps assure the sales function accomplishes its objectives. The ‘selling’ Super Team is expected to propel the rest of the organization to greater heights for all the reasons one might expect…

  • They create more money that provides more options for the rest of the company,
  • They generate cost savings that also provide additional resource for other parts of the org,
  • They produce new product and solution ideas that help improve market positioning, etc.,
  • They work under an improved planning process that allows the other parts of the business to more proactively anticipate the needs,
  • And much more…

And the same kinds of benefits can be enjoyed for other kinds of Super Teams comprised of the following cross functions:

  1. R&D teams combined with Manufacturing teams
  2. Sales teams combined with Solutions and Delivery teams
  3. Sales teams combined with Financial teams
  4. Operational teams combined with IT teams
  5. Marketing teams combined with R&D teams
  6. Installation teams combined with Customer Service teams
  7. Sales teams combined with Customer teams (yes the company’s Customer actually forms a team with the Company’s own selling personnel to increase sales production for the business!)

A Super Team takes two or more existing teams and forms an improved organizational function, a business capability whose total is greater than the sum of the parts.

All of the 7 examples noted above — in combining existing teams to form Super Teams — have been successfully produced by the Clients of our own Super Team [consisting of the authors and associates of this Blog].

A gentle reminder

A Super Team is formed for these reasons, but again it should be reminded… it is an unnatural tendency for teams to work better together, than they do individually. This is where a Super Team program actively creates the circumstances and mind set within the company that allows the Super Team to excel to it’s level of superior work performance.

“Teamwork-between-teams is an unnatural human tendency

June 15, 2011

Where team building efforts fall short

Some time ago, a group of consultants got together for a bus-man’s holiday.  The intended purpose was agreed as “… let’s just kick back and relax, share a few jokes, have a few drinks, and not worry about business…”

Yeah, right. Before the first drink was delivered by the waitress, the conversation was already on favorite clients, tricky issues, and creative solutions. In this particular instance, I was very glad we overcame our feigned interest in avoiding business chat and wasted no time on our favorite topic – our clients.

On this particular day, the question that seemed to evolve out of typical banter, “What is the most common problem in any large organization, that is also the most ignored problem?”

Once we got rolling on the discussion, it did not take long to reach resounding agreement. The clear winner… “teamwork-between-teams”. It very often sucks.  In fact, a very common experience for consultants… the higher the stakes for two or more teams working cross-functionally, the inter-team working dysfunction seems to increase proportionately. The higher the stakes, the bigger the problem.

This situation occurs when cross-functional teams must work together at some point in a work flow, supply chain or similar organizational tasking.

And the issue is often under the radar. It may be that…

(a) this is not recognized as a problem to begin with, it is merely an accepted fact that cross functional teams are going to have their differences, or

(b) the organization recognizes the under-performing between the cross-functional teams, but simply does not feel there is a reasonable solution to the problem. This has always been a problem and it may always be a problem.

So what is the deal here? Why is this such a common problem?

It is Genetic

Teamwork is a natural tendency within any human organization.  When a group of people are pulled together to fulfill an organizational purpose, it is a natural condition. Each person within the group sees himself as a part of “team” and in fact, the people enjoy the spirit of belonging to a team… working together for the good of the cause.

However, when two teams are pulled into a common work situation, the affiliations and belongings of the separate, individual teams tend to dominate. Two teams are naturally competitive with, and sometimes even inherently distrustful of each other.  At times, when an individual perceives the needs of the other team [not his own] as conflicting with his own team’s needs… the overwhelming tendency is to protect his own team, even at the expense of the other.

So when asked to work together toward a common purpose… the individual members of different teams,  tend to look out for their own team first, and  more so under the daily pressures business.

Is this a problem?

Returning to the conversing consultants mentioned above, cross-functional teams working together at significantly underperforming levels, is a problem in almost every organization we have ever worked for.

To be fair, it is not always a problem that is creating a show-stopping, profit draining barrier to corporate success. But teamwork-between-teams — where cross-functional groups are trying to fulfill a significant business purpose — is almost always an underachieving activity.

For example when sales teams must work with their counterpart sales support teams, sometimes called solution teams or sales engineering teams, our consulting org has a  history of case after case of cross-team conflict, misperceptions, poor communication, one-sided decision making, and more… leading to loss of time, waste of money and diminishing good will within the org.

These underperforming cross-functional teams may come from each of two (or more) of the following areas of the organization:

  • Marketing
  • Sales
  • Operations
  • R&D
  • Manufacturing
  • Maintenance
  • Engineering
  • Management
  • Business Partners
  • Unions
  • Executive Leadership
  • Board of Directors
  • Customers
  • … and more

What problems are caused by dysfunctional teamwork-between-teams?

  • Task performance performed by one team, may be done in isolation, without the benefit of ideas or valued input from the other team
  • Task work involving joint effort from members of both teams, tends to be executed for expediency, rather than for quality or value of output.
  • Internal collaboration is poor, with minimal accountability and inaccurate reporting.
  • Joint problem solving between the two teams often fails to account for significant risk.
  • The two teams fail to present a common, well-organized output to the rest of the organization, and often an inconsistent message to the Customer.
  • The two teams tend to bend organizational Governance guidelines, due to lack of cohesive cross-team effort.
  • Best practices and lessons learned tend to be lost in the shuffle of business, and the rest of the organization fails to gain from the two teams’ experience.

These are all real situations documented in case studies from our consultant networks. They are remarkably common, and there are many, many more examples of this kind of underperforming activity.

Coming soon…

“Super Teams – An unnatural human tendency, turned into common sense business success”