At the final Seller Forum of 2018, we'll grapple with a fundamental truth about digital sales success: As a sales leader you depend on many departments and people that you don't control. Whether they directly report to sales or not, the loosely confederated disciplines of account management, operations, creative services, marketing and research can seem - at best - like a thoughtful bureaucracy. At worst, a self-defeating mob.
So how then do some sales teams enjoy the services of highly-motivated, high-functioning partner departments while others don't? Unified reporting structure? Better leadership in those departments? Superior recruiting and hiring practices? Maybe in part. But the real difference is made through soft power.
Soft power is a term usually associated with international diplomacy - what we do when we're not sending in the military. It's how we foster relationships and advance policy goals. It's no less real in the business world. When the sales team is frustrated by the policies or practices of a group or department they rely on, rather than circle the wagons and indulge in blame and outrage, great leaders look inward and ask a crucial question: What can we do to motivate them to work better with us? It boils down to a handful of controllable qualities:
Empathy. Sales people rarely say Tell me about your job. Instead, we're always the group that needs something right now... an exception, a better price, faster delivery. The first manifestation of soft power is empathy. Once someone feels heard and understood lots of good things can happen.
Early Access. The universal lament of partner departments is not knowing what's coming until it's too late. Talking at all about what's coming - or even what may be coming - will be a dramatic improvement. When sellers complain about knowing nothing themselves about client needs till the last minute, this indicates a whole different problem.
Qualify the Work. Bad sales teams blindly and indifferently hand over every RFP and request as soon as it comes in. Good sales teams make judgments about which part of the request is most urgent and important. Great sales teams actually triage the requests. Your AMs and ops people know the difference between an RFP that's MVP or DOA. Do you?
Collaboration. Another thing that salespeople rarely say is So how would you recommend we get this done? Every interaction needn't become a brainstorm but assigning even a little control - a voice - to those you depend on is good business. To feel truly involved is to feel truly invested. And invested people act like owners.
In the long run, soft power works. And it's completely controllable. If you're not leveraging it, ask yourself...why not?