In this episode, SAMA’s Harvey Dunham talks with Arun Sharma, one of the most widely published authors in the strategic accounts arena and a foremost authority on “liquid” organizations. He is a professor of marketing and vice dean of graduate business programs and executive education at University of Miami’s Herbert Business School. His faculty bio is here, and his personal website is here.
Harvey Dunham: So Arun. It’s great to be able to reconnect with you.
Arun Sharma: I am really excited to be on this podcast with you, Harvey. I have been working in this area of strategic accounts for maybe 30 years. You would find it interesting that I’m the second most published author in that area. So I’ve done tons and tons of research in this area, but recently my interests have moved towards a concept called liquidity. And I’ll explain that to you when we start talking about the trends, what we see with COVID-19, et cetera.
HD: Great. Well, let’s, let’s just get right to it and start right there. I mean, I know you’re doing research on how companies are responding to the COVID virus. What are you hoping to learn?
AS: So, uh, Harvey. I’m going to interrupt just one second, just so that people understand. They all know you, but I’m a professor in the Miami Herbert School at the University of Miami, and my interest has always been in the area of sales. And just to give you a background, about four years ago when disruption started hitting industries, uh, people came to me and said, “Folks, uh, you know, tell us more about disruption.” So we created a model of disruption and we started showing it to folks, and the people came back and said, “Um, you know, this is interesting. But you know, it’s unpredictable.” Just like COVID-19 was absolutely unpredictable. So how should companies, including sales organizations, prepare for these kinds of disruptions as they come?
And the analog of liquidity is an automobile. I’ll just talk a little bit about this automobile. Give me a minute so we understand. So we can all drive at 65 miles an hour. Every car that we buy drives at 65 miles an hour. But the key here is how quickly can you go from 65 to zero, and how quickly can you go from 65 to 85? So that’s the speed piece of it that you’re interested in.
You’re driving, you’re seeing the mattress in the middle of the road or a chair, how quickly you can change lanes and come back to your lane is an example of flexibility and adaptability. And ambidexterity I didn’t get it, but one of my friends who was the CEO of AutoNation, came back and said, “Arun, ambidexterity very simple. When you’re driving, you are currently looking at traffic and flowing through traffic, whereas your car is looking long term and saying, “Which route should we be taking so that you get to your destination faster?” And what he was telling me was that most people concentrate on driving in the car while they are driving and looking at cars around them but don’t think what’s 20 miles ahead.
And that’s the point that we started looking at. Okay. And when we studied, when COVID-19 hit, our concern was, are firms liquid enough to respond to this pandemic, which is completely unexpected, and hit firms so fast that they would not have the traditional, uh, methods of addressing these changes?
HD: Maybe just a little bit more about liquidity and the ability to adapt. Can you just dig into that a little bit more for all of us to give me a refresher and educate the audience on what, uh, what, what this looks like inside of a company? What are signs that a company either is or is not ambidextrous?
AS: We think there are three things that, uh, define liquidity — and, by the way, by sheer nature, ambidexterity. So overriding part is teamwork, people working in teams. So that comes out very, very quickly. So we are working in teams. Behind that, there are three kinds of adaptation that firms need to do. One is called functional adaptation, which means can you do one thing only, or can you do multiple things for the organization? And this is the split, which we call between generalists and specialists. Liquid firms are more generalist firms versus specialist firms. The more functional adaptiveness you have, the more liquid you are. The less functional adaptiveness you have, the less liquid you are.
So if there is a salesperson, as an example, in a strategic account, who’s very good at just doing presentations, that is not liquid. And the reason why that happens is right now, in the current stage, in COVID-19, presentations have stopped, let’s say for four weeks. How are we going to harness the intelligence and power of this person if we have made them so specialized that they can shift? So that’s the first kind of adapting that that you talk about.
The second kind of adaptiveness that we talk about is at an organizational level, and we talk about scale adaptiveness. Which means that somehow we fix the number of people in a team and our ability to change team sizes as the demand increases and decreases is very limited. And the reason is that once we set a team, we don’t want people to come out of the team. We don’t want to add members to the team. Whereas if you have teams of people can jump from one team to the other, depending on what the requirements are, it really works better that way. And these companies, which are very liquid, the boundary between internal and external is very, very limited.
So as an example, when people outsource their call center, they outsource everything about the call center. In companies that are liquid, they don’t outsource the call center. What they do is they …an outsourced personnel runs the call center. And what that allows a company to do is to have more flexibility. It allows us to go deeper. We can bring some other people out from here and help them help the call center when the call center volumes are up. That’s the number two thing that we call scale adaptiveness.
And the number three thing, which is, which is very surprising to me, but it turned out, was technology adaptiveness. And technology adaptiveness means that there’s a huge gap between what the customer wants and what the organization provides. So, you know, there’s a McKinsey study that just came out about three, four days ago, this is post-COVID, with numbers. And of course the vendor looked at business to business consumers and business to business consumers said, “Listen, we don’t want to be contacted face to face. We want to you to use technology to contact us.”
What is more interesting was that they surveyed sales organizations and found that 80% of the sales organization had moved to video conferencing and calls. Harvey, the interesting piece is not the 80%. The interesting piece is 20% did not. In the COVID pandemic, where remote communication has become very important, one in five sales organizations saying, “We’re still not doing it.” And isn’t that, isn’t that shocking that data? It doesn’t, that 80% was interesting. I thought the 20% the 20% was more interesting to me.
HD: Well, and I, I, uh, I’d even add it, just an observation that we’ve had with some of our conversations that may help you. Of the 80% that have, there’s a difference between having made the adaptation and doing it well. Being good at it as a, is another level that many of the organizations that we’re talking to say they haven’t achieved yet, they don’t feel comfortable. They can do it, but it isn’t. It isn’t normal. It doesn’t feel right. And, and they really don’t know how to engage effectively virtually.
AS: I would absolutely agree with you. I have been doing this for now two months, at least 20 hours a week on Zoom. And I can still tell you, I don’t know how to use the technology, et cetera. It’s just like everything else. The experience is very, very important, and my feeling is that a lot of these people who are not learning will drop it as soon as they can physically travel and meet customers.
HD: Right, right, right. So, so I’m curious, Arun, because you know, we had, here at SAMA have advised our members to really look at their current strategic accounts, which as you know, are a subset, a very special subset of the overall account, and make changes necessary depending on whether their customers are going to emerge from this pandemic recession, if you will, and come out stronger. If they, you know, the customer’s going to come out of the crisis strong, then you, of course you keep the customer. But if you’ve got some customers that look like they just don’t have a chance that they’re, they’re really going to be injured by this…Not that you’re going to fire the customer, but that you’re going to change the way that you’re focusing on them and — and in other words, try and pick the winners and assign your strategic account managers to the customers that are going to win. Do you think that advice is sound, uh, in a situation like this?
AS: I think the advice is very solid. Now, Harvey, luckily your organization has always emphasized that the customers that they select have to be special. And if you look at the way you define your customers, there’s an inherent definition of liquidity that comes into that. Now, I do want you to know, I do not expect very many accounts that your salespeople, that your members, have chosen a strategic accounts to actually go away. I don’t anticipate that. But my anticipation is that their speed by which they will come back to the old normal will be much lower in some organizations and much higher in certain organizations.
So it’s not a disappearance problem, in my opinion, but it’s an issue of when will they start buying in quantities that they used to buy? So the more liquid firms will do it much faster than the less liquid firms. So let me give you a simple example. It’s very easy to see liquidity in firms, and I’ll give you two examples, and both of them are very interesting.
The first was Panera bread company. So we all know Panera bread company is a fast casual restaurant. And when pandemics shut down restaurants, of course their sales suffered. They try to go out and um, do deliveries and pick ups, but the volume was very low. So what they decided to do was to get into groceries. And from the day they made the decision to he day they could get groceries into stores was 14 days. To us it’s really not important whether that move is going to be successful or not, but that tells us what is the speed of adaptation, the speed of flexibility and are they being ambidextrous? And that’s the big point I want to make.
Universal Studios have this movie called “Troll World Tour.” And as they were releasing it, they suddenly found out that theaters were going to close. So they decided to go ahead and release it on video for $20 a pop — rental. Please remember that most movies rented about $5-$6 a pop, but they said, “This is a new release, and we’re going to release it at $20 for rental.” In about 17 days, they have grossed a hundred million dollars. Well, just out of the ballpark! And once again, it is the flexibility that got them to do this so quickly. And that’s the big point I want to make.
So what one should look is: “Among my strategic accounts, who is being flexible and trying to look at other businesses versus who’s no?” And the people who show adaptation, liquidity, et cetera, will always come back at a faster pace than those who do not.
HD: So basically one of the things that a SAM should do is look at their customers and see how they’re trying to, I guess the popular term is “pivot” or adapt or change or experiment with some new model. That’s a sign that they’re liquid. Right?
AS: They will have higher speed than the industry, and they will come back to the normal much faster than industry.
HD Right. So what, what we might see, I mean, the novice might look at this, Arun, and say, “They’re desperate. They’re trying to go into something completely different.” What you’re asserting is, is that they’re actually quite agile and adaptable and able to flex.
AS: Absolutely. In fact, I think liquidity is like muscle memory. The more you practice it, the better you get at it. And unless you practice it, you won’t be good at it, right? New systems need new supply chains. They need new POS (point of sale terminals). They need a lot of new things have to happen. And for a company’s ability to do new things rapidly is an example of there that they have liquidity muscles. And if you flex them during times of stress. You really flex them when times come back to norm.
HD: Let’s take the example where a SAM, you know, typically a strategic account manager has one or maybe two customers, perhaps three or four, but I mean, it’s a very limited number of customers. What if the SAM hasn’t seen the companies do anything yet? It’s still very early days. Are there things that the SAM could think about their customer, you know, just examples that might be obvious to someone like a strategic account manager to show whether they have a tendency to be liquid and flexible and adaptable or not?
So that, um, that’s slightly more complex. Capturing non-behavioral liquidity is difficult, but we do know that the larger the organization, the less liquid it is. So by definition. For a company to be liquid, they have to go out of their comfort zone and do things which increases the liquidity. And the question a strategic account management head can ask is, “Are these people, are we seeing these kinds of behaviors from them?” Now, a strategic account management salesforce can also say, “How can I help my strategic accounts increase liquidity? Is there something I can do?” But Harvey, that assumes that the strategic account team is liquid.
Mm mm mm.
AS: So if you’re not liquid, you can’t teach anybody else to be liquid.
HD: Right, right. So you have to look within first.
AS: So that’s the big point I try to make to people is: Listen, you can’t be, you can’t be telling other people about liquidity unless you personally are liquid and everything you do is liquid.
HD: Uh, very, very interesting.
AS: So I can tell you only about myself. I am, every decision I make in my life is to ask, “Will this increase my liquidity or not?” And I swear I’ll make, you know, the other day I, I told you this, Harvey and I, I’ll tell, I’ll tell your audience the same thing. But Harvey, when you saw me, I was wearing a jacket. That jacket, I bought it. It’s an expensive jacket. Um, it was a designer-brand jacket, and I really thought long about it. Should I buy it or not? But the reason I bought it is it was the first jacket that I had seen it had a combination of rubber and wool. And the combination of rubber and wool was, one, that when you hang it and you take it off, there’s never a crease on it. And I said, if I want to increase my liquidity, I have to buy this jacket because this is how it makes me more liquid. I don’t have to worry about creases in my jacket. And I’m not asking anybody to go that deep because this is just me. But I think we all have to be more liquid in our choices.
HD: Amazing. No, that’s…I understand. And I really like the idea of looking within, first, for the SAM to really look at their own team and their own, how they’re approaching the customer and assess their adaptability.
AS: At this point. Can I just talk a little bit about. how we think SAMs can be, uh, more liquid? So this is some research that I’m doing with a colleague of mine. His name is Deva Rangarajan. He’s at Ball State, which is very close to where you folks live. And the other one, his name is, Bert Paesbrugghe and he is in Paris. And we’re doing some research, and we think there the three fundamental things that a SAM has to do.
The first thing that they have to do is form teams. They have to be in teams. And there are two kinds of teams, by the way, and I know most SAMs are in teams, but there are two kinds of teams. One we call a committee ,and one we call a liquid team. A committee is one where we have people from different areas coming in, and we sit in a room and we make decisions that satisfy every member of the team. And the focus here is that supply chain guy saying, “Listen, you know, there’s nothing I can do. Don’t make me go and call people up.” So, “OK, we tell the customer this.”
The other thing, the other team, what we call is a liquid team. And a liquid team says, “Listen, whatever the customer wants.” And the key aspect of a liquid team is that it can solve, if a customer calls any member of the team, it can solve 90% to 95% of the questions of the issue that the customer has an answer. 90 to 95% of the questions. So somebody calls you and says, “Listen, what’s happening to the supply chain? My supply is not there.” The answer is not, “Listen, I’m sorry, but Mike is not in the office. When he comes back, he’ll look at the computer screen, tell me, and then I’ll call you.”
That’s the wrong answer! What I want you to do is go on the computer screen, look at what Mike would look at and give the answer. So once you form teams like this, now you realize that the second part of the team is we have to learn from each other. We cannot be functional specialists because then any time it’s not a team anymore. If everybody has to come there and ask you the question, and you’re the only one with the answer, it’s not a team. It’s a group of individuals or a committee.
So a team means that we all know each other’s business. And a good team, by the way, just like they call agile teams, every morning gets up, all of them get into a room, do a stand-up meeting, 15 minutes. What are we going to do today? You do this, you do this, you do this. Everybody knows. In the evening another we have a stand-up meeting. Here’s what happened. This is what I did. Here’s what you did. The customer said that. All of us know this, and the salesperson says to the supply chain, “Show me your systems. Let me learn your systems.” The supply chain guy says, “Listen, let me go on a call to you so I understand who the customers are, what the relationship are. That’s what the team is.
And so salespeople now have to learn, we call them adjacencies. So they have to learn their sitting in the middle. We have to learn sides. Sometimes, and it may not be true of SAMs, but salespeople have become so specialized, they don’t look sideways at all. They’re huge teams of prospectors, and they just prospect and do nothing else. So the good companies, the companies that have teams, make them go and sit and reposition before they come to a position – so they know every position. And right now, as an example, when everything shuts down, we can do maybe an online prospecting and we can look at other kinds of data. But the specialists don’t do it because they’re just into one area. So that’s the second part.
And the third part is we have to release time for strategic thinking. We cannot have so much day-to-day work that they’re not strategically thinking about the account. If they need to be ambidextrous, they will solve the customer’s problems of the day, but they will also solve long-term customer problems. And for you to do strategic thinking, you need time off. And I don’t mean time off that says you go in the woods and think about it. That’s not I’m trying to say. Either companies have started saying, “Listen, Friday morning we not going to have any calls. This is the time you use it. No meetings, no calls. You sit and think about all the issues that you have this week and how are we going to solve that?” That’s one.
But in a very interesting experiment, a couple of authors went to BCG and what they did was they told the consultants working with organizations that you have to take time off on Wednesday afternoon, you have to take it, you have to take time off and nobody can, uh, contact you and you’re not going to respond to any emails. And then they look back, and they made everybody go through this. So in the beginning of the week, everybody would say, “Listen, I’m going to be on… I’m not going to do Wednesday afternoon. These are the issues that I think are going to come up. If this happens then I want the team, whoever is there to do this.” Everybody would come and tell what they were doing. So suddenly the team knew what everybody else is doing.
And we suddenly start getting cross-training. And then what happened was Wednesday afternoon, when this guy had free time, he still thought a little bit, Let’s spend time with the family, played with the kids, but he was thinking about this work. And the strategic aspects of that, the strategic implications of what they were doing, rose. And they were able to do a much better job. So we think there are three things that are important with teams: form teams, cross-train and cross-learn, and then release time for strategic thinking.
HD: Well, very, very sound advice. This is a, and in fact, you know what? Something I’ve been thinking is that one of the aspects of the pandemic is, is that all salespeople have been sent home, told not to travel and stay in place. Their customers have said, “Don’t come see us.” Which is really a gift, in many respects. Especially with regard to this last point, because as opposed to spending a lot of your time in transit trying to get from where you are to where your customer’s at, you’ve really got time freed up to, to be able to set some aside time to think, to read, to ask questions, to, to really try and figure out where your customer’s trying to go and how to help them get there.
AS: So I agree with you, Harvey. I think this is a great time to learn something new that you don’t know. And you know, learning is, again, exercising of mental muscles, right? Find something that you find is difficult to do. I can give you mine, I’m sorry. I’ll give you my liquidity examples. I set up a website and it’s called http://www.theliquidorganization.com. So when I set up this website, I had all the data. And what I did was I went to a person and said, will you make this website for me? “Oh yeah. 2,500 bucks, do it”. And I said, “Am I truly going to be liquid if I let him build a website?” So what I did, and by the way, I do have more time than other people. What I did was I learned how to do a website development. I developed that website, the entire website. It’s not very good. It’s okay. But I did it, and that’s how I increase my liquidity.
I send a lot of communications out, and what I would do is I would firstly address it and I had to format each one of them separately. And one of the goals this last couple of weeks was to learn how to do it so it can be done automatically. And that’s what I’ve learned. So, but all of these things, what I’m saying is let’s have a learning orientation. Let’s learn things. And if it’s easy to learn, we’re not learning much. Well, you have to get into the weeds and say, “Oh my God, I can’t believe how bad it is.” So then you’re learning. And that’s my point.
So we have to, this is a great time for salespeople to learn new things. If nothing, learned about your customers’ industry. Read up all the articles you can do about your customers.
HD: Great advice. That’s fantastic advice. The one thing that I’m curious about: you said early on that the size of a company is a good indicator. That the smaller companies tend to be more agile, more liquid, and the larger companies tend not to be. Is there, can you sort of give us a, you know, a lot of, I know many of our corporate members are we sort of estimate somewhere between $500 million in sales up to billions and billions. So they’re, by definition, they’re certainly medium to large. Is there a any kind of a cutoff point that you can say, or is it just sort of a heuristic?
AS: Harvey, it’s just a, you know, liquidity is just a negative sloping indicator. Just as the sizes start going up they’re going to be less and less liquid. And the reason why it happens is the two reasons: number one, uh, as your organization becomes larger, you can’t control anything, so bringing in process control contributes to it. And the second thing that happens in larger organizations is we have specialists. And as soon as you have a specialist, what happens is everything gets routed to the specialist. And because it’s routed through the specialist, the speed slows down.
And interestingly, just the sheer definition that they have, a strategic account management team means that they’re less liquid, right? Because you’re bringing specialists in. So, so if anything is an indicator of less liquidity. So what we have to do is we have to fight the tendencies of the organization to become more liquid.
And it’s really interesting. So when we start going and implementing these things, most companies have no idea how to reward teams. They just don’t. They know how to do hierarchy, okay? But they have no idea how to evaluate teams. So when we go and look at sales teams and people come say, “How are you going to evaluate the sales teams? We think there four factors. (1) The quality of deliverables, which can be sales, if you would like that. (2) The innovativeness, which needs to be presented and rated. (3) The learning. How much did the team members learn from each other? Very important, by the way. If there’s no learning, there is no liquid team. (4) And number four, what was the evaluation of the group members of each other?
HD: Interesting. How about this? Just I want to explore this a little bit more because I mean, every SAM basically is leading a team and typically leading them without authority. They have no hierarchical authority over this team. But I’m thinking as they’re putting the team together, what I’m hearing you say is you should be looking for, uh, people who are generalists, who have, have sat in many of the different functions. I suppose you should assess your own skills and try and find people who have skills in areas that you don’t, where you’re not strong, and build out a team that really can cover th the vast needs that your client would have.
AS: Absolutely. So diversity always improves team performance. The more diversity, the higher your team performance. And Harvey, if you really want to have a good team, you rotate team leaders
HD: Within the team?
AS: Within the team. Three months one and they just rotate. Whether that person is senior, junior, they’ll be a team leader.
AS: So there is no longer, the most senior person is no longer, his ideas are no longer running the team. It’s a team that runs a team. So the leader of the team is not hierarchically the most senior person. That’s the big point that we’re trying to make. And that’s how you break down the boundaries. So nobody’s ideas are less relevant than other people’s ideas.
HD: It’s interesting. One of…I’ll leave him nameless, but one of the people that I think is one of the, one of the best SAMs I’ve run into in any company anywhere…he talks about having a, uh, he’s a, he calls himself almost, uh, we use this word at SAMA. In fact, we’re a convener of our community. He talks about himself in this way and the way that he convenes this community of people around the world that are serving this very large global customer. And his role is mainly to get the people together to talk to one another. He’s not the, you know, hierarchically he’s no different than they are. They’re all on, on par more or less, with one another. And, you know, his job is to, of course, give the point of view of the overall view of the company and what he’s seeing probably from a corporate level, if you will, looking down from, uh, that, that point of view. But really encouraging the people to talk and share their own local experiences and learn from one another and share best practices
AS: And that is the key thing. So if you’re a vice president of strategic accounts and you have six different teams working with you, your job, as you correctly pointed out, is just coordinating what’s coming out of the teams and giving them resources when it’s needed. Your job is not to get into the team and say, “Do this, do that.” Let the team be autonomous and self-managed. And there’s enough data, there’s enough data to show you that managed teams and autonomous teams are autonomous teams function at about 30% to 40% better than managed teams.
HD: I don’t know that I’ve ever seen…I’ve never seen that. Uh,
AS: I’ll send you that research. There’s enough research now that shows that autonomous and self-managed teams perform 30% to 40% better than managed teams.
HD: Wow, 30-40%, that’s a lot. That’s not trivial.
AS: That’s not trivial. So that’s why, uh, you know, with people like Japan and it’s automobile manufacturing, they have teams. And the team is in charge of the quality of the product. And they realize as soon as you put people in teams and let them manage each other, because then you can go, if you’re self-managed, then, Harvey, your boss doesn’t have to tell you this person in the team is not working. The team tells you you’re not working. And in six months, if you don’t continue working for the team, you’re not contributing, we’ll ask you to leave. And that’s what a self-managed, autonomous team does.
HD: Hmm. That’s amazing. There’s one other aspect of this that, that, uh, I’d like to just delve into a little bit because, as you know, uh, with your lifelong affiliation or interest in sales, there’s a particular category of sales that we call hunters — as opposed to the account managers that are often called farmers. And I’m just wondering in this world, do you have a sense of what’s going to happen to the hunters as a profession?
AS: So I, you know, let me share some data with you before I go there. I think you’ll appreciate this data because it’s relevant to the question you’re asking. So we know the liquidity of functions. We go out and ask how liquid are functions. And what we find is typically the highest liquidity is customer service. And customer service is an example of everybody’s solving everybody’s problems. The lowest are finance, marketing, and after finance and marketing, we get to sales.
And then the reason why it’s so much is because there’s a certain prescription that certain sales people follow, and they just go ahead and do this. So hunters are examples of this? Any company that has a formal, well-established sales systems have dropped hunters because the hunters just don’t fit in properly. So, but if you’re a small company and you want a boost in sales and you can’t hire good sales people, you don’t have good sales systems, you go and look for hunters to come in and help you.
The proportion of hunters over the last 20 years is declining, and I think the COVID-19 will lead to a much faster decline also. And there are two movements that have taken place. Once again, professional sales organizations don’t like hunters for various reasons. And a lot of what hunters were doing, now those customers that the hunters were getting have access to your firm through the internet. So it’s becoming much easier for them to come to your organization without having a hunter. And those two trends, I think, lead to a long-term decline of hunters.
HD: So could one then make the conclusion that, to the extent that you’re able to allow the customer to self serve, if, if the customer knows what they want and they want to serve themselves, is that, uh, an indication of liquidity in, in a sense of the customer? You’ve enabled the customer to be able to come on when they want, where they want, and buy their products as they need them.
AS: Right. And so this concept of multichannel purchasing is an example of the purchasing department’s liquidity. All purchasing people still want whoever is going to come to come and talk to them, right? I want to look the person in the eye and see if they can really solve our problems. So again, age is very negatively correlated with liquidity.
HD: Ugh, I knew you were going to say that.
AS: So how are we, what we have to do is constantly change , as we age, we have to keep remaining liquid. So, you know, in psychology there are two kinds of intelligence. They talk about one kind of intelligence called fluid intelligence. And the other one is called crystallized intelligence. Crystallized intelligence is your intelligence and knowledge of a job or what you do. Fluid intelligence is one where, when you hit novel situations, your ability to deal with those novel situations is your fluid intelligence
So if you look at what happens is over time, as we age: This hand is crystallized intelligence, it keeps going up. This hand is fluid intelligence: it rises, and as we get older, it starts going down. For us to be liquid, we have to keep increasing our fluid intelligence. And that’s really what happens, you know? So when you’re young and you want to buy a suit, you’ll go and try out 20 or go to stores, look around and find out what it is. By the time you hit my age, you basically know the brand you want. You know the sales person, you want to go there and say, “What’s the latest?”
He gives you a suit, you wear it and leave. And that’s the big point I want to make. There’s not much fluidity that you have. And when you’re 30, you order six suits on the web, they come home, you try all of them, find the one you like the most and buy it. So we have to exercise our liquidity muscles. That’s the point I want to make.
HD: Right, right, right. You know, I, there’s one other thought occurs to me. I’ll loop back to the SAM again. I suspect, and just listening to what you’re saying about different functions being more liquid than others, and maybe this, in a way, the great SAMs have figured this out. When they’re looking at opportunities, it’s, it’s fairly common that they’ll find a number of different opportunities that they could propose to the customer to help the customer improve their business and help the SAM, of course, improve their own business. And great SAMs have a knack of being able to prioritize those by, uh, I’m not sure this is the proper word, but achievability. Where, you know, to a certain extent… push against the open doors. Don’t go push against the closed doors unless it’s so big and so, uh, potentially transformational maybe for both companies. You might want to go climb up that mountain, but you’ve, you’ve got to pick and choose your opportunities.
And I suppose the SAM, in a way, is really sensing, ” Where do I think I have the best chance to win? Where, where should I spend my time with the part of the organization that’s likely, of the customer’s organization, that’s willing to transform with me, that’s willing to do something new?”
AS: Our research has shown something very interesting: that sales people seem to go back to similar solutions for similar functional areas. And the more senior you are, the more you limit what you propose to customers. And I think the team is very good because what teams, and if you’re willing to listen to the younger people, you may have solutions that you’re not comfortable selling. I want to be very clear. But for a functional area that you’re not comfortable going and talking to. But if you listen to new people because they don’t have this deep crystallized knowledge, you can truly go out and propose things that you will get comfortable in the long run. And that’s what I mean by liquid teams.
When you’re a liquid team, you’re saying, “I will move around into non-comfort zones also. I know whenever I met this person doesn’t like me, et cetera. Let me not go. Let me not be the face. This young person believes that they have it. Let them go. Let them try it, and let’s come back.” And that’s really what I’m trying to get here in a liquid team is that we prioritize… Based on our data…The more you work, the smaller your box gets. Because you realize you have a very good ability of selling this to this. We become product or service specialists and customer specialists, and we become narrower and narrower and we become literally experts. You can wake me up in the middle of the night and put me in an organization within a day, I will convince them that this is the solution they need. If I now turn around and say, “Listen, can you sell this different solution to a different customer?” It becomes much harder. So they’re doing a really good job based on their existing competencies, but not a truly good job based on the potential. That’s really what my feedback would be in typical cases.
Now, of course, some of them are just brilliant and they’ll do this correctly, but that’s what typically ends up happening.
HD: Well, Arun, I see our time is coming to a close. Every conversation with you is so illuminating and so interesting. Thank you so much for, for sharing what you were seeing out there. And your advice to those strategic account managers is, is priceless. So thank you very, very much.
AS: Thank you, Harvey. It’s always a pleasure to talk to you. You have such great insights, and you know these great questions bring out the best in us. You can always get, you know, the easy softball questions, but you know, challenging questions is what brings all our knowledge to the surface. I truly appreciate this interview.
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