September 17, 2020

Frontline Listening

Leaders Forgetting What It's Like

Many of you know that before starting this marketing firm eleven years ago, I was in the television industry. Like a lot of sales organizations and similarly structured companies, there is a tiered system in place. From the men and women pounding pavement on the proverbial street to the “big wigs” looking out from the top, most sales-driven, big businesses operate the same way.

This isn’t a knock against that way of organizing a sales force. After all, I’m not sure there is another way to do it. Instead, it is an observation based on my own experiences as a salesperson, a sales manager, a director of sales, and a person that reported to plenty of vice presidents of sales.

The further you get from the frontlines, the easier it is to simply tell people how things need to be or should be done. Sounds simple enough. It’s just that this approach is completely backward.

That's right. It's time to get on the frontlines. (Just leave the terrible disguises and bad acting behind.)

A Simple Solution to Improve Relationships

A seller who is meeting routinely with clients (whether face-to-face or on Zoom calls) may not have the sales experience or acumen of a VP of Sales for a big organization, but you can bet they get much more truthful feedback. They hear what’s actually happening and encounter real objections and hard-to-answer questions.

When I was a local sales manager, I went on sales calls on a weekly – and sometimes daily – basis. As I progressed in my management career, I noticed it was harder to leave the office and visit clients. There were too many obligatory reports and meetings. As a director of sales, I would manage to make it to sales calls every week or every other week, but nowhere near as often as when I was an LSM or an account executive. Rare were the times I saw our general managers make calls. In fact, in the twenty years I spent in the sales business and almost a dozen more as a client, I can’t recall a VP making their way from corporate headquarters to the storefront of a local or regional client.

Why is that?

If you want a better, more authentic business and you want to find out what people really think, how they genuinely want to conduct business, and how to win “on the street” – you can do it. Encourage your upper management and company leadership to regularly interact with all levels of customers. And don’t stop there. Get those VPs in front of real, hard-to-sell, and full-of-questions prospects, too. It doesn’t work to put them in front of the cupcake people, show those further away from the frontlines what it's really like and do so as a routine.

It’s the only way to uncover the truth. It’s the only way for those VPs to get honest feedback and to help make the organization better. Out of the ivory towers, folks. Take it to the street – or even to the Zoom call – and, once again, listen.

And learn.

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