Her name was Babe and she was one of the best.
I had researched English Springer Spaniel breeders and found one that was known to produce excellent hunting and family dogs. I remember the day I sat on the basement floor of the breeder with all of these puppies running around. How to choose?
But there was this one puppy that just wanted to hang out. Unlike her littermates, she climbed up in my lap and decided to take a nap rather than trying to chew the laces out of my tennis shoes. Yep, she was the one.
For the first six months I did nothing but work with Babe on the commands I would use with her when I took her to the field to hunt pheasant, grouse, and woodcock. I trained her to respond to my whistle and acclimated her to the sound of my shotgun.
And then it finally came – our first day in the field. And I knew she was ready.
Since I had never been to this hunt club, I was with one of their experience guides who had his own dogs. But that day it was just going to be Babe. I wanted to see how all of the training we had put in over the last six months would manifest itself during the hunt.
As I looked at the large field before us, I knew without a doubt that the area of tall grass on the left was where the pheasants would be. But Babe, at nine months old, decided they would be in the shorter grass on the right.
I hit my whistle twice, she spun around and started to come back to the left. But about halfway to the grasses I wanted her to work, she turned and started back to the right.
I hit my whistle again. And once again she turned, trotted halfway back, and retreated back to the right.
I was about to hit my whistle again when the guide said, “What are you doing?”
I answered, somewhat defiantly, “I’m trying to get her to where the birds are.”
And then the guide asked me an interesting question, “Did you buy this pup from the back of some car by the side of the road or from a breeder known for breeding hunting stock.”
“Of course, a breeder.” I said. “One of the best.”
And then the guide said, “Exactly. So why don’t you trust your dog? She has the pedigree shown to be an excellent hunting dog. You have trained her well. Now it is time to let her do what she does. I promise you; she knows where the birds are better than you do.”
From that moment on I trusted Babe’s instincts, skills and experience and followed her completely. I can’t tell you how many limits I shot over that wonderful dog. And like a fine wine, she just got better with age both in the field and as a wonderful family pet.
Babe passed a few years ago at the ripe old age of 17 and I still miss her.
You may be wondering what this has to do with leadership.
Actually, when it comes to leading sales forces, quite a bit.
You see, leaders and companies spend countless hours and thousands of dollars evaluating the incredible talent that they bring into their sales organization. More often than not, they are looking for individuals with tremendous experience and a strong record of success in the given market for which they are hiring.
Yet, even with this talent and experience within their customer-facing teams, some organizations believe they, aka “the Mothership”, know how best to work a territory. In my experience, not only are such actions demotivating to the experienced professionals they have brought on board, but they often miss the mark as well.
But what about those analytical packages that report how often sales forces should be able to access key customers? Ask any of your top sales people – you know the ones you have hired for their past experience and sales success – how accurate those analyses are, and eye-rolling will be the least of the feedback you receive.
Yet some companies continue to demand that sales forces spend their efforts following the findings of these analyses as if they are the Holy Grail when they are anything but.
I once worked with a company that used such an analysis to place a significant part of the sales forces’ quarterly compensation on the sales results of a list of targets. The feedback from the field was that these targets were virtually inaccessible, but the purchased analysis said otherwise.
At the end of the quarter not one member of this experienced and knowledgeable sales force made the required goal. Zero… Zilch… Nada. Micro-managing at its best with negative consequences to the business and morale.
This is not to say I don’t believe in the power of business analytics, because I do. Just as I wouldn’t have dropped Babe off at the Mall and hoped she found birds, I wouldn’t approach a new launch of a product or lead a sales force without the informational benefit analytics provide. However, my experience leads me to strongly believe that the true value of the wealth of customer data available is not to direct, but rather to inform.
In my opinion, analytics are best used in the hands of those talented individuals you have hired to work those territories so that they can have all of the tools at their disposal, including their own experiential insights, to make the decision as to what is the right approach to land key customers.
So if you are contemplating how to determine which customers your sales team should call on, where they should spend their time, i.e., which grass they should hunt, I propose you keep your “whistle” in your pocket and follow those excellent, experienced, committed “dogs”.
You hired them for their experience.
You trained them for success.
Now trust them and let them do what they do in leading you and your company to the birds of success!
Stay safe, stay well, and good hunting!