Have you got a sales quota?

The thing that truly separates a corporate job from a job at the startup is the chance to have an outsized impact on solving a problem for customers. More often than not the distance between problem, potential solution and the ability to get that solution in front of customers to test out is way short for a startup than for a corporate.

But there is also another thing that separates the two. And it’s one which is directly linked to the above discussion about impact. It is the opportunity to see outsized returns on the investment of time and ressources you put into succeeding.

Having an incentive programme at a startup is pretty normal. It’s a part of the overall compensation and incentive plan in the company, which helps to ensure that the right talent can be attracted and that people stay motivated outside what their immediate role requires of them. But being part of an incentive programme is perhaps not enough. Perhaps we need to take it one step further.

How about we talk about assigning measurable sales targets or quotas outside of the sales team? What would happen if we started putting the same kind of targets on fx product peoples backs as we do with sales? Would that make a difference for the product, it’s ability to delight customers and – following on from that – generate sales? Perhaps it would.

It has always seemed quite odd to me that a lot of startups despite having a shared stated vision and mission seldom follow it up by assigning specific market facing targets but instead confine these to sales. I know that all departments have their own set of internal KPIs they’re working hard to achieve, but since you could easily argue that startup success is impossible without market facing goals, it makes little sense that they are not evenly distributed across the organisation.

Of course sales should always be accountable for turning leads into deals and revenue that can be booked. But sinde the core foundation of sales is the availability of an attractive product that delivers value above and beyond what customers pay for it, it makes perfect sense to assign the same kind of quotas to both product and R&D. After all, we all have a shared interest in becoming a success in the market place.

Naturally, the first couple of arguments against this line of thought is that people outside sales are not exactly motivated by doing sales (hence the reason they chose a different line of work) and they don’t always feel empowered to influence how and under which terms the product is being sold to customers. I have full sympathy for these arguments, but I think there are ways to work around it.

First of all, it should be ensured that whatever sales quota is being assigned outside sales is directly related to the overall vision and mission of the startup. It should not only be about assigning a dollar amount or a number of installs. It should be set up in a way that it encompasses the storytelling about what it is, you’re trying to achieve – big picture style. That way a quota essentially becomes a recurring reminder of what you’re doing, who you’re doing it for, and how you’re progressing towards achieving your ambition.

Second, it should also be ensured that there are boundaries for how sales sell the product. Especially if it’s done through reps. No opportunity for promising customers anything other than what’s already in the product. No opportunity to put extra workload on the teams back at the office for coming up with new features or a new take on a feature just to satisfy an painful customer. Sales has to show some respect here for the team members who have agreed to take on some objectives which don’t come natural to them.

After all it is a team effort, where everybody help each other out, and where there is total transparency about how things are going, and how successful we all are. Wasn’t that what was agreed in the first place, when the startup was founded and the first team members started to join? That you’re in this together in other to succeed with a higher purpose?

Of course it was. Or should be, at least. And viewed from that lens it isn’t awkward to put sales quotas on people outside the sales team. Quite the contrary; it makes total sense in order to ensure the alignment against vision and mission of everybody on the team.

(Photo by Norbert Braun on Unsplash)

Getting partnerships right

Partnerships in business can be extremely rewarding. But making them actually work can also be super, super tough.

While many seem to think that the brunt of the work is in finding and negotiating with the right partner, the truth of the matter is that the real, tedious work begins afterwards.

When focus is on getting the partnership to work.

Herein lies three epic struggles.

The least – although many would consider it the biggest – is to actually be able to realize the potential of the partnership. If you have done your homework and your due diligence properly, you will know that you can make this happen, because all the ingredients and components you need to get the job done is there.

Which brings me to the two other struggles that will determine whether the above mentioned potential succeeds or not:

Internal and external stakeholders.

To start off with the internal, one thing you have to realize before you even start thinking about partnering is what your own internal stakeholders mean by ‘partnerships’ and ‘partners’. Because that may not be a given in any way.

Some will say they think of win-win relationships, where you give something and get something else in return, and it’s a healthy back and forth that will draw on each partners core strengths and ability to contribute. Those are the good ones.

But some will also disclose that what they think of when they think of a ‘partner’ is ‘someone who contributes, so I can win’.

Those are the troublesome ones.

Why?

Because they won’t necessarily commit to contribute what is needed from your own end in order to make the partnership a success. Worst case for you they will leave you hanging out to dry in front of the partner – and solely put the blame for the ensuing failure on you

So making sure all internal stakeholders have the same positive understanding of what it means to partner and commits to seeing it through is absolutely key.

That leaves the struggles with your external stakeholders.

What you will often find here are the exact same issues as with your internal stakeholders – why would it be any different on the other side of the table?

Because in addition to the already known and typical issues, you will also have the challenge of making sure the alliance is healthy and well, so to say.

This can be no small task. Because it works as in most romantic relationships; while the romantic feelings are on an all time high and everything is rosy, when you’re dating, the rosiness fades and the daily grind sets in once you have committed and tied the not.

This is when it becomes about making the partnership operational and durable. It will be stress tested time and time again, and just as rows occur in a marriage – sometimes with greater frequency – there will be tons of times where things will get rocky, people will want to leave and just abandon everything.

Here it is your job to keep the perspective and get everybody aligned again. And again. And again.

For the greater good that brought you together in the first place.

There is no substitute for it. It is essentially what makes every sort of partnership – personal as well as professional – work.

Now, why bother thinking about all of this stuff?

Because it is super essential when you talk about the idea of partnering and basing your strategy on partnerships that you’re fully and realistically aware of what it entails.

If not you’re going to end up in the statistics of partnerships that fails, and your only consolation will be that it’s the typical outcome of what otherwise started as a grand initiative.

Instead of getting to that place you should ensure that you have what it takes to get partnerships right;

Make sure your internal stakeholders are aligned and signed on to the approach and what it demands – yes, DEMANDS – from them. Make them sign a piece of paper, if you have to. Just get it done.

On the external front be honest and transparent. Always and from the very start. To stay in the marriage analogy get the divorce papers in order before you sign up. Tell them all the ways things are going to end up bad and make sure they understand it. And then ask them to commit.

Only when you have these things in place, should you progress with pursuing all the true benefits and value that can be unlocked through a great, mutually committed and enduring partnership.

And they can be B.I.G.

But only then.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Control vs success

There is nothing as potent to pave the way to success as being in control.

There is nothing so blocking to success than to insist on being in control.

To some being in control is an all positive thing; it enables you to define the path to follow forward and ensure the necessary decisions are being made and the focus is on relentless execution towards a goal. The bigger, the better.

To others being in control comes with such a daunting sense of responsibility that you would rather not have it and potentially not do anything at all for the sheer fear of what happens if or when something goes wrong.

Some loathe not being able to be in control and will walk away from a potential opportunity just for the lack of being able to be in control. Others loathe being controlled and not being in a position to challenge the course of action, i.e. exert control, and will refrain from putting themselves into that position.

And some just hate that excess talk about control can ultimately block every path to future success.

Because at the end of the day some sort of control is needed to achieve great success.

Because if there is one thing that remains certain, it is that great success does not arise from a completely lack of control.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

The ‘why’ on paper

One of the really interesting things you come across when you’re trying to build what hopefully becomes a great and enduring company from scratch is how much of your initial belief system, values and ambition actually makes it through the immense exercise of making it all happen?

While it should be pretty straight forward to agree on that a shared vision, ‘why’ and core values, I think you also need to realize that getting from talking about it to actually living it and agreeing on it in your founding documents can be a significant exercise in itself.

This may especially be true when you’re trying to build something with great and experienced people centered around a shared vision and sense of ‘why’. You may not have known each other for years in advance before you take the plunge, and your co-founders may not be lifelong best friends of yours.

What you essentially end up betting on is ability to take something thats easy for you all to agree about when talking about it in meetings into something that you can all actually commit to on paper.

Don’t mistake what could be a huge thing and a big task to secure alignment for a minor detail. Because it’s not.

There is a – and will likely always remain – a big difference between talking about doing something and the need to get it done and then the real commitment towards making it happen. And the sooner you start and have that conversation during your process, the better I think you will be off.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)