A Sales Story for Our Time: Part 2

10 minute read

This is not the way it’s meant to be. It’s far too complicated. Christy Dignam’s plaintiff voice crept out from the Bang and Olufsen surround sound system in Jack Swenson’s new 7 Series. Jack always felt that Dignam, the lead singer of Irish rock band Aslan, was one of the world’s undiscovered singers. “Damn right, it’s far too complicated” Jack mused as he nudged the BMW forward on San Francisco’s Montgomery Street.

As CMO of JKHiggs, Jack was thinking about his conversation with Matt Langton, one of JKHiggs’ star sales performers. Or, perhaps better said, one of the company’s past star performers. Matt’s results had not been great recently, and Matt felt that Jack and his marketing team were to blame. Jack was going to meet his CEO, Kelley O’ Brien at the Starbucks near the Hyatt on Drumm St, just around the corner from JKHiggs’ new offices on California. Matt had told Kelley about the loss of the DeepEarth Oil account to Innopartners and Kelley wanted to discuss it.

Kelley was already sipping her double espresso when Jack arrived at the coffee shop.

“Sorry, traffic on Montgomery was just a nightmare.”

“Sit down Jack. Here’s what I heard.” quipped Kelley, flicking through her iPad. “Matt, one of our top performers, just lost DeepEarth to a new sales person from Innopartners. He’s not happy. Frank, our sales leader is not happy. I’m not happy. They’re the facts.”

“Now the opinion: Matt thinks that Innopartners – or at least this Mandy Adamson person who won the deal – are better equipped to compete than us. I called Joanne over at DeepEarth, and it seems she agrees. She says that Mandy unveiled for her a whole new set of issues to think about in her business. She deflected a little when I asked her if she thought that Innopartners has a better solution than Dynamix14, but I’d say she thinks it is good enough for what she needs. All of the R&D we put into Dynamix14 makes no difference. Joanne thinks that Mandy rocks and knows more about her business. Given that we did not bring any fresh insight, or new perspective, Matt’s credibility, and ours, is now damaged. What’s your plan Jack?”

When Kelley had suggested they meet for coffee, Jack had expected an open discussion. Kelley was the main attraction that brought him to JKHiggs. He enjoyed spending time with her and often sought her advice on big corporate issues. He certainly was not expecting this frontal attack.

“I think you know that I agreed with Frank that what his sales team wanted was a central repository for all marketing collateral. Suzanne and Robert worked their butts off to get that done but the sales guys are just not using it.” Jack shuffled in his seat, waiting for Kelley’s response. She was just looking at him with no reaction, so Jack continued. “Frank committed to me that his team would follow-up all of the leads, but over the last quarter, only 47 percent of what marketing delivered was acted on by sales. What else does Frank want me to do?”

Kelley sighed. “Do you have some paper and a pen?”

Jack rummaged in his bag and handed Kelley one of the expensive JKHiggs branded leather-bound notebooks. He liked the feel of the quality leather and felt that it would give people like Joanne at DeepEarth a sense of the heritage of JKHiggs. He hadn’t really got to meet many customers since he ordered the notebooks, so he had plenty left.

Kelley opened the notebook and drew a big triangle on a blank page. At the left edge of the base of the triangle she wrote the letter ‘S’. At the other end of the triangle’s base she scratched a capital ‘M’, and at the apex of the triangle she put a big question mark.

“Jack, winners take ownership and take action, so let’s fix this. Frank will be joining us soon to give us his perspective as our sales leader – actually, he should be here by now – but, here’s how we have to think about it.”

Kelley turned the notebook to face Jack and ran her finger along the base of the triangle.

“This is where you and Frank are focused. ‘S’ is sales, and you can figure out that ‘M’ is marketing, right? You’ve both invested a lot of time in trying to make sure you are on the same page. You agreed to build the marketing portal and he agreed to follow-up on the leads, right? You both probably think you have nailed this sales and marketing alignment thing. You’re probably on the same page alright, but is it the right page?”

Jack’s emotions tumbled over each other as competing feelings and thoughts fought to come to the surface. Was he going to get fired? Wow, even thinking about that seemed weird. His record throughout his career was stellar, but did he still have his finger on the pulse of the market? Did Frank or Matt Langton throw him under the bus? Was his relationship with Kelley as special as he thought? Where the hell was Frank? Was this incident at DeepEarth as big a deal as Kelley seemed to think? Have things changed that much? He realized that he really wanted to keep working with Kelley. But what did she mean by the big question mark at the apex of the triangle?

“Look Kell’, we know each other well enough. Where are you going with this? Do you want me out of Higgs? I don’t think that would be in the best interest of the company, but if you don’t want me here I don’t want to be here. And where is Frank? I thought you expected him by now. And what’s behind the bloody question mark?”

“Stop Jack, ok? I want you working closely with me to figure this out. I’m surprised you don’t know that. Really. But, I’m CEO of JKHiggs and we have a strategic problem that we need to fix. So let’s move on.

“I sent Frank to meet with Mandy Adamson from Innopartners. I told him to get her to come to work here – money no object. We need to figure out why Joanne at DeepEarth is so enthralled with her. Joanne is no one’s lay-up, if you know what I mean.

And what’s behind the bloody question mark, as you call it, is the most important question we need to answer, if we are to survive.”

Jack leaned forward. He loved that Kelley had sent Frank out to poach Mandy Adamson from the competition. He was relieved that Kelley saw him as part of the solution, not part of the problem. He was beginning to see where Kelley was going. He thought he knew what the question mark signified.

“That’s brilliant, just brilliant. If we can get Mandy Adamson in, I think we can learn a lot. But isn’t that just part of the problem? I know the DeepEarth loss is really painful, but maybe it’s just the wake-up call that we needed. Let’s get to the question mark on your drawing there. I think I see where you’re headed.”

“Jack, before I answer that – and it is the most important question we need to answer – one last thing.” Kelley smiled, put her elbows on the table and cupped her chin in her hands. “Do you know why we developed the Dynamix14 product? Do you know, and do you think Matt Langton could tell us?”

Jack chuckled to himself, thinking that it must be Kelley’s Irish heritage that meant that she often answered a question with a question. Kelley’s grandparents had immigrated to the United States from Ireland in the 1950s and she had often visited. In more recent times, as Ireland had become the technology hub in Europe, JKHiggs had set up their European HQ in Dublin, alongside Google, Facebook, Salesforce and many other leading software companies. There was something about Irish creativity that seemed to make for great innovation. It was on one of Jack’s visits to Dublin that he had first come across Aslan, and the Irish band’s back catalog was a staple on Jack’s iPod.

“Well I know what our esteemed head of engineering would say. Henry is really proud of the world-beating energy efficiencies from Dynamix14. I guess that is what Matt would tell his customers as well, though now that I say it out loud, that doesn’t seem to be working, does it?”

Kelley circled the question mark at the third point of the triangle. “That’s just the problem. We didn’t build it because it delivers world-beating energy efficiencies.” She circled the question mark again. “What’s really critical for everyone to understand, and for our sales team, and your marketing team to communicate, is that our customers need exceptional energy efficiencies to deal with things like the Kyoto Protocol and that’s why we invested heavily in R&D on Dynamix14.“

“Behind this question mark is a customer, and behind every customer is a series of business goals and pressures that they need to solve for. Our job is to help them shape the projects they need to initiate to relieve those pressures, and to identify what’s stopping them being successful today. That’s what Innopartners did for DeepEarth. Mandy helped Joanne get a better understanding of her business and what she might need to consider if she is to get ahead of the Climate Change issues.”

Jack understood that the Kyoto Protocol puts a heavy burden on developed nations, who through 150 years of industrial activity had created a big emissions and climate change problem. He just never connected it to the fact that JKHiggs could help businesses like DeepEarth Oil to respond. He never considered that this might be how the sales team should frame the issues they could solve with Dynamix14.

“You are so right. I can’t believe I didn’t see it this way. “ Jack wrote down four headings: Goals, Pressures, Initiatives and Obstacles. “Our customers can learn everything they need to know about our products from the Internet – so we need to think about this in an entirely new way. We have to be Customer-First in everything that we do and how we sell. We need to focus on their business issues first, before our products, or we are going to be in real trouble.”

As Jack sat back to think, Kelley’s phone pinged with an incoming text message. She glanced at the phone, and then slowly and deliberately put the phone down on the table.

“Jack, it just got much tougher. Frank has just resigned. He is joining Innopartners to lead their West coast sales team. He says Innopartners are more in tune with the customer than Higgs. Damn!”


The message here of course is that Kelley has recognized this as a strategically important issue for the company. Unless you take a customer-first approach to your sales and marketing efforts you are unlikely to be successful.

One approach might be to use a smart software solution to help you figure this out.

There will be more details about this problem and some possible solutions on this December 17 webinar: Bridging the Buyer / Seller Credibility Gap.

Part 1 of the story is here: A Sales Story for Our Time

Reliable products. Real results.

Every day, thousands of companies rely on Upland to get their jobs done simply and effectively. See how brands are putting Upland to work.

View Success Stories