‘Stagnation is to decline’ that is the motto. So if you stop learning, you can assume that you are losing your authority and leading role. I recently wrote this blog for the Sales Management Association (SMA) in The Netherlands and – as far as I am concerned – it applies not only for sales, but also for colleagues in Marketing, Finance, Back Office, ..
It has been a while since I was in the final of the SMA election ‘Chief Commercial Officer of the Year’. I was requested to state my ‘SMA sales motto’. A number of well-known life mottos such as: “Treat someone else as you want to be treated yourself” and “live life as you want to be remembered later”, I try to apply every day with trial and error. I doubted whether my motto “The moment you stop learning, you stop leading” would really be a sales motto. This holiday I have taken the opportunity to read the book of Satya Nadella “Hit Refresh”. A very nice book about the transformation of Microsoft.
A number of open doors that Satya uses in his book are: “That you stop when you learn nothing, while you grow through learning” and “we grow as a company when everyone grows individually as a person”. But the way in which he personally encourages everyone to embrace ‘dynamic learning’ is impressive and, in my opinion, particularly useful for everyone in our beautiful company. He asks his employees to work on growth in three different ways every day:
- Try to find out what customers and partners are looking for with interest, knowledge and empathy. When we talk to customers and partners, we have to listen. Such a conversation is about something. It’s about learning to predict what customers like; continue to innovate to positively surprise customers and partners;
- Actively look for diversity. Do not just sit and listen, open up to other opinions. By integrating people who think differently, we recognize prejudices and we use the collective assets of the company. The result will be that the quality of our ideas will increase and customers and partners will be better off;
- Do not just do what you feel comfortable with, because what matters is that everyone comes into their comfort zone and tries to do something that is important to the partner or customer. We must learn to elaborate on each other’s ideas and remove obstacles to offer the best to our customers.
Satya seizes every opportunity to talk about this and in this way he tries to keep ‘dynamic learning’ within Microsoft alive and practical. I am convinced that this way of thinking and openness also forms the basis for Microsoft to work together successfully with approximately 65,000 partners worldwide. “Together we are collectively building the future” reflects the willingness and openness of Microsoft to work with its partners to serve existing and new customers
In the many conversations I have had in recent years, however, I still come across prejudices about the indirect channel:
- “The indirect channel is expensive”;
- “Business partners, dealers, agents are only driven by commission”;
- “Changing an indirect channel is much more difficult than a direct channel”
Undoubtedly there is a core of truth in these ideas, but in general I dare say that too many organizations prefer their ‘own’ direct channels and underestimate the power of the indirect channel. With the ‘digital transformation’ of suppliers, business partners and, last but not least, customers, we have to review these ideas again. Every business process – and in particular the marketing, sales and service process – will eventually be digitized.
With the emergence of ‘Cloud’, geographical boundaries are disappearing. And how do you manage your potential and existing customers in countries where you are not present with your own sales force? Will the business partner not become much more of a service instead of a sales channel in this digitization? And is the business partner only a channel or does he also add customer value as a partner? How does a business partner ensure that it distinguishes itself and remains relevant for both supplier and customer? Questions that cannot be easily and unambiguously answered because every industry and every customer is different.
Open up and keep learning
What is important in such issues is to approach this “open”. Difficult questions and other views should certainly not be avoided. Listen to your client or partner, talk to people who think differently in and outside our company, look into new technological developments and also look at business models that originate in other industries.
And that is why I think that the statement “The moment you stop learning, you stop leading …” applies to everyone. “Learning” starts and ends with yourself. Take a quarter of an hour or half an hour each day to be busy with other things than your current job. You learn a lot from it, you may see ‘opportunities’ that you do not see now and you are better prepared for what comes next. And if your local QBS contact can help or support you with that, then QBS am more than willing to do so!