‘Winning By A Nose’ – The Importance Of Direction & Focus For Sales Teams

When somebody throws themselves across the finish line just slightly ahead of a competitor the expression ‘winning by a nose’ is often used.  But in Formula One racing ‘winning by the nose’ has a deeper meaning – one that has resonance with sales success.

‘Winning by a nose’ Has A New Meaning

A distinctive feature of the F1 car is its long narrow nose at the end of which are found two wing-link horizontal panels.  The nose plays an important role in the performance of the car – creating the sleek form of a machine capable of speeds that enables flight, but yet must stay firmly on the ground.
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The racing car goes wherever the nose cone is pointed and that makes it an important part of Sales Pitstop™ Formula One metaphor for sales success. It is about direction, focus and alignment – things that are as important to the success of a sales organization as to a racing car.

A Clear Direction For The Sales Organization

Michael Schumaker offered up one of the secrets of his F1 success – ‘Look where you want to go…’  I’ll paraphrase the rest of the champion driver’s advice ‘if you are approaching a corner at high speed don’t look at the run-off, the barrier, or the gravel – if you do, that is where the car will end up!  …keep your eyes focused on where you want to go!’ Good advice for sales managers and their teams.

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In sales as in any other area there are ups and downs – there are good quarters and bad quarters.  There is continual pressure on the number, with as many as 3 out of 5 sales people below target at anyone time (1).  That makes keeping your team positive and future focused a challenge.  Listen to the narrative in many sales organizations and you will see that there are many people who are doing the opposite to what Schumaker recommends.

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It is the job of the sales manager to keep the sales organization focused on its success.  They understand that visualizing success is key to motivation.  Manager’s don’t want their teams dwelling on set-backs or failures, but rather the successful year end and other key performance improvement goals.

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So, is your team focused on where it wants to go?  Do people share the same goals – are they energized in the pursuit of a common purpose?  That is of course the sales target, but as we will see shortly it should be more than that.

 

Creating A Focus For Success

The pointed shape of the racing car’s nose cone is vitally important.  At high speed cutting through the air is like cutting through a wall of resistance. Through the nose cone the power from behind is channeled into a narrow point of focus.  That enables the car to cut through the air with maximum ease.

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The test of focus is to ask each manager (as well as each salesperson and sales support function) to list the top 3 sales priorities for the team in order of importance.  You may be surprised at what you find – lots of different perspectives as to what matters most. Very quickly these differences can bring behaviours and performance into perspective.

The shape of the nose cone minimizes the turbulence and drag that could slow the vehicle. The power of focus.  But a lack of focus is like throwing a rectangular block through the air – the flat surface, different angles and sharp edges diffuse energy and create resistance or drag. This slows the car and makes it difficult to control.

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Facing Resistance

Sales managers often face resistance in implementing their strategies and plans. For example they are often frustrated by poor adoption levels when it comes to the implementation of a new sales process, or system.  The problem is that mangers don’t think about minimizing resistance before it is too late.

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In their hiring decisions mangers want salespeople who are confident, persistent & self-motivated.  But these qualities make herding sales people in one direction difficult, if not impossible.  The result is each person has their own focus and their own priorities – that can result in a lack of alignment with people pulling in many directions at once.  Here are some example of what a lack of alignment might look like:

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Developing a shared vision of the future is key to high performance at an individual and a team level. Yet the focus, the vision and the growth target is typically handed down from above – the result  is little ownership on the part of the salesperson or sales team. Salespeople who are detached from the goals or priorities of the sales organization is another challenge faced by many managers.

 

Flexibility Versus Focus?

The sales organization must continually adapt.  However there can be a trade-off between responding swiftly to changing business and marketplace conditions and maintaining a clear longer term focus. When this happens the focus of the sales strategy and the manager changes on a monthly or quarterly basis. That is long before it has a chance to demonstrate results, or gain the full backing of the team.

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Imagine a nose cone that wobbled from side to side as the car accelerated – that would be dangerous.  However it can happen in highly reactive and ‘under pressure’ sales organizations.  This month the priority is sales leads, next month the focus is on getting all the data into the sales system or in following the sales process.  However sales people quickly learn that attention will move elsewhere and as a result none of the initiatives have any real chance of success.

 

The Role Of Passion & Purpose

Legendary race car driver Jack Brabham was well positioned to win the Monaco Grand Prix of 1957.  Then his car rolled to a stop – the fuel pump had failed.  Quickly he leaped out and pushed the car to the finishing line.  Clearly he had a particular passion for success – he finished in 6th place!

Meeting target is the barometer of success in sales – it is the finishing line.  But there is more – at least there has to be in an organization where salespeople are to show Jack Brabham levels of passion and purpose.

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It cannot just be about the next campaign, this quarter or the next quarters number.  People need a broader vision – a deeper sense of purpose – if they are to perform to their maximum.  As Peter Singe puts it ‘organizations cannot simply provide for the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy if they are to engage their staff fully’.  Yes people are motivated by money, but they also want meaning, purpose, personal development and fulfillment.  As Singe points out every organization has a sales target – so it is going to take more than that to distinguish the organization that really gets the most from its people.  The question is what fuels your sales team’s passion?

Purpose, mission and vision are lofty terms.  They even scare many sales managers.  Because they have the potential to distract from what is required to meet the number, sales managers are often happy to let their senior management colleagues grapple with these issues.  That is a pity – a high performing sales team needs to be rallied behind a clear purpose just as any other team within the organization.

 

Staying Grounded

A F1 car is like an upside down aircraft.  The ‘wings’ on the nose cone prevent the car from flying off the road into danger. But what keeps an organization’s aspirations grounded?  

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Bringing the gap between strategy and implementation can be a challenge for many organizations.  The problem generally isn’t about action plans or an initial spurt of action.  The challenge is to maintain the momentum.  Ironically, however (as the research shows (2)) the success or failure of any strategy or other organizational initiative has largely been determined before it begins – that is by the extent of engagement in the process of setting out what is to be achieved.

 

Want to find out more about the front of the racing car and the parallels with accelerating sales?  Click here to read about the balance of power and precision required for success.

(1) Aberdeen Research Group 2012:  62% of salespeople are below target.

(2) The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook, Peter Singe