Creating Chemistry (Part Two)

March 21, 2009

When I was at one of the _BS branches there were two very unique sales teams in the company, the one in California took a “REAL TEAM” approach. There were several members of this team, one was the phone guy (he set the appointments), a couple were the Account Reps (who were real good in front of the customers), there was the Sales Manager (who started the concept by putting her best accounts into the pot), and of course a Solutions Engineer. They all shared equally in the revenue of the deals that they brought in. Could your team do this? Maybe not but it worked for them. OK, maybe it does sound a little communistic but it was California after all, so it worked for them ๐Ÿ™‚

When we talk about chemistry it is not an exact science. How you do it in San Fransisco may be different than what works here in New England. But which is more important, that we are individually successful? Or that we all do it the same way? Well, that depends upon who you ask and what culture dominates your organization. There is an American proverb that says “the squeaky wheel gets the grease”. Contrast that to the Japanese proverb that says “the nail that stands up gets hammered down”. Now both may be true (to some degree) but they reflect a difference in cultures that I think should be considered when trying to create that illusive chemistry on your sales teams.

There was a different _BS branch that had a team of System Integrators that came to work for this branch (I beleve that it was in Detroit). And they did some amazing deals that revolved around customized solutions that their team had the know how to pull off. But the National Sales Organization is unhappy with individual success they wanted each of the _BS branches to be the same.

As I have mentioned in a previous post when I was at the _BS branch we were the only _BS branch of thirteen _BS branches to hit our triple crown numbers that year. How do you think you would feel (being a part of that Sales Team) going to the end of year meeting? I won’t lie we were strutting around, feeling pretty good about what we had done. Until we got to the end of year meeting and not a single word was said about what _BS-Boston had accomplished! Instead they spoke about how they were changing everything, not to mimick what we had been doing but something completely different. Something that had not yet been proven to be successful. They actually moved my team from reporting to Sales to the Service side of the house (WTF?). They clearly had no idea what pre-sales System Engineers do.

I have had the privilege to work with one of the best Pre-Sale SEs in the country, I have actually hired him 3 times. That’s how highly I regard his talents. When I first took him away from Ikon he said something in the interview that I have never forgotten, he said he was tired of someone at Ikon management “moving around the coconuts every six months”. It seems like some “genius” at corporate would have a “brain storm” to fix everything that was wrong with Ikon. So they would implement the new fix-it-all plan and change everything (even what had been working well before). In six months when that would fail the next “genius” would step up with his/her “fix-it-all” plan and begin to move the coconuts again. My absolute favorite asinine plan that Ikon had is when they split the city on Boston into two separate markets! So the southern part of the City was part of the RI Branch, and the northern part of Boston was a part of the NH Branch. ONLY A BEAN COUNTER could have come up with such a stupid plan. Of course “on paper” to the guy at corporate who doesn’t have to make such a stupid plan actually work in the real world, it probably looked good (at least on paper), It made one strong branch and one weak branch look like two mediocre branches. And that is the problem with corporate bean counters! They choose mediocrity over an individual commitment to greatness. They don’t leave the strong branch alone (or better yet ask them what they need to do it even better), and then focus on making the weak branch stronger, they feel compelled to change it all. Why? In a word arrogance! They think that they are smarter than the people in the field, after all they work for “Corporate” as if that alone makes them smarter. I have personally met more empty suits who worked for the corporate manufacturer than I could believe (not all, but way too many). People who I wondered how they got, or could possibly keep their job. IMHO.

The reason that I think that Ricoh & Konica Minolta are going to follow the same path (and hence get the same results) as Ikon & Danka is because they practice the same heavy handed Corporate (centralized) management that Ikon & Danka did. Fundamentally the Corporate office thinks that they know better than the people who run their branches, But almost without exception when they have a “Brain Storm” it is simply something that they saw work at one of their branches, and now EVERY branch must do it the same way. But what works in Chicago with the personnel that they have may fail miserably in Miami with their people. But all too often Corporate doesn’t get this point.

When I first interviewed with the Manufacturer, many years before I actually accepted an offer to become the Solutions Manager at the _BS-Boston branch I met with a hiring manager from Corporate. He recommended a book to me that was all the rage back at HQ in NJ. It was called The Agenda by Michael Hammer. I will say that one good thing that I got out of this book was that as companies we need to be “easy to do business with”. That nugget was worth the price and time I paid to read the book. But what made me laugh out loud was his notion that as managers we can train people so that they are basically interchangeable. That is a manager’s pipe dream. Would it be great for a manager if this was the case? Sure, because talent and ability and motivation would all be equal, so pay would drop and the managers job would be easy! Wouldn’t that be great! OK, back to the real world, the oneย  we we all actually live. People are not interchangeable. The primary job of a manger is to get and keep good people. This of course includes developing “good people”. If you do this your organizations will run well.

Have you ever read On a clear day you can see General Motors By John De Lorean? The biggest problem he faced when he took over GM was people had been cross promoted. He had Accounting people promoted to run Operations, and Operations people running Sales divisions, Sales managers running HR departments. Why because of this concept that good people are interchangeable. BULL! What makes a great Salesman would make a terrible Accountant, or Assembly line worker and visa versa. Sadly he had to clean house and begin to promote people with in their areas of expertise. We should all take a lesson from his book. This doesn’t mean that you can not change careers. I have been a Service Technician, A Field Service Manager, a Systems Engineer, a Sales Person, and now an Executive. But when I went from being a Field Service manager or an SE over to Sales I wasn’t put in charge of the Sales Department.

So I think we have well defined the problem that our industry faces. So what is the Answer? Have you noticed that when i often mention IKON or DANKA that I rarely lump Global in with them? If you did give yourself 10 points extra credit for paying attention ๐Ÿ™‚ Why? Because the Global Model of management was very different than IKON or Danka’s model. For the most part Global let the companies that they purchased run autonomously. The Global Corporate office DID hold them accountable to “hit their numbers” but they did NOT micro manage their day to day operations. This is where the centralized management of the manufacturers will fail. Global was the most profitable (I didn’t say the largest) of the three National Copier dealers because of this strategy. Politically it is the difference between a strong Federal government and a looser Confederacy (No I am not talking about slavery). A Confederacy is a looser association of States that cooperate together towards the common good or the common goals, But NY does it differently than GA. Like a Confederacy Global allowed their individual dealers to retain their management teams and styles that made Global want to buy them in the first place.

Let me ask you this, Do you hire good people? Do you think that they are qualified to do the job that you hired them for? Then why for God’s sake don’t you let them do the job that you hired them to do. Should you hold them accountable for results ABSOLUTELY! But if they are good at what they do, let them do it. Help them, measure their success, or failure, but don’t micro manage their day to day work. The one exception to this may be a brand new person, like a new sale person. They have not yet proven themselves. We don’t yet know IF they can do the job. The best thing you can do for a new sales person is manage their activity (Yes, I learned that at Ricoh U). What they “do” today will greatly impact their success or failure three months from now. But it drives seasoned sales professionals crazy when you try to change what they are already doing successfully just to make it uniformed with everyone else. It is often the reason they leave.

When I got hired by _BS-Boston to be the Solutions Manager I was told that Corporate had disbanded the previous Solutions team several years before and that it had a significant negative impact on the branches sales efforts (see above reference to “moving around the coconuts”). They wanted me to come in a reconstitute the Solutions Sales Team. Ricoh has a great Interviewing process. I won’t give away the details (you should experience this kind of interview for yourself sometime, you won’t soon forget it). I met with three separate managers, two of whom I ended up would working for directly. Good men all. My immediate manager ran a number of successful sales teams with sales managers reporting to him, and in my opinion he was a big reason why the branch was so successful. I have never worked for a better boss or one that could read me so well. It was almost scary. He had that great balance of professional and personable. People not only respected him (because he had proven himself to be a great salesman and manager) but he was, and is well liked too. That’s part of putting together the chemistry I spoke of. His boss (my bosses boss, when I was at _BS-Boston) was a long time industry guy. And I respected him. He was always decent and fair to me and I knew he had my back, with Corporate. These two men (My Bosses) told me what they wanted me to do, and then they actually let me do it. They knew the results that they wanted to see and they held me accountable for them, but neither of them had ever done my job, so they did not try to micro manage me. This was a great part of the chemistry of that branch. It extended beyond the local sales teams to the larger branch. I liked working there, they were good people, professionals.

And then the Lanier merge happened. Like I said they completely ignored what this branch had done because the other 12 branches weren’t doing well, so we (the geniuses at Corporate) have to fix all 13 branches so that they are the same (mediocre). BTW, How are they doing so far? At the end of year meeting when the coconuts began to get moved around, I was told that they were moving my team to service (EXACTLY what had happened to the previous _BS Solutions team before me). To his credit the VP who ran the Northeast (a guy I respect) came to me personally and told me it was just for “logistics”. He wanted to settle me down because I was floored by Corporate’ response (or lack of) to our year. But It did not turn out to be so. Originally they put a guy in charge of Service for the New England Market place that had previously managed 10 technicians. He was a nice guy but way over his head. Soon after I was assigned to report to him he came to me and said “Who tells you what to do?”. I said Joe, Ricoh hired me to manage, if someone has to tell me what to do, then you hired the wrong guy. He was only there for a short time, to fill the gap until they eventually brought in a couple of top notch service guys.

I knew it was time for me to go when everyone else in the management team had their comp plans in place except for me. I had a conversation with the gentleman who ran service for the region and he said to me “We are not sure what to do with you”? Sadly, I knew what he was saying. My Comp Plan would not work under Service, the measurables are not the same. We had meetings about all the new (coconut moving) things that my team of SEs and Solution Sales people were now going to do. I asked my Service manager well what about all the things that we had been doing to make this branch successful? Who is going to do those things? He paused for a moment, looked at his shoes, and said well (pause) you guys will still do ALL that too. I asked him “are we going to get comp’d on those things”? He said no. Well then you and I know that they are not going to get done. People, especially sales people, will only do what you pay them to do. That is the purpose of a comp plan.

As long as Ricoh, KMBS, and Xerox try to run their direct sales branches like Ikon & Danka did (rather than the Global model) they will get the same results. AA has a definition for insanity. They say that it is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

That’s My $0.02
Vince McHugh

PS: I will be on the floor at the On Demand \ AIIM show all day on 4/1/09 maybe I will see you there.



  1. Picking up on your thread about why Ikon & Danka are unlike Global I will add this.

    Having ended up at Danka because of the buyout of Kodak sales and service, I went from a very regimented corporate structure at Kodak (I was in service at the time) to Danka. Why Kodak failed may very well lay at the foot of this same discussion, but that is for another day. For the first year or so at Danka nothing changed. I could not even have told you where the Danka office in town was. The Kodak folks were not unique in this respect, pretty much all of the dealers that Danka had acquired in town ran as separate businesses out of separate offices. Cutting each others throats on deals if the chance arose.

    Eventually we all migrated to the same offices just because the leases on the office space were coming up and there was no need to rent several office buildings a few miles apart. For the next couple of years Danka ran the same as you describe Global. Dan Doyle may swing through town once or twice a year and spend more time smoking a cigarette in front of the building than actually sitting in an office inside, but as far as I could tell as long as a branch made its numbers and “payed unto Caesar” nobody in Florida cared what you did in your branch.

    In my view two things changed this.

    One thing was that law suits started popping up that corporate had to fight off because a sales rep and his system engineer would cobble together a solution for a problem that no one else in the company knew anything about. Approval, what means this new term “approval”? All you had to do to sell some hair-brained software package was to write in into a deal. There was someone in St Pete whose job it was to add anything you wanted to the price book. A year after the sale, when the rep and the systems engineer had moved on to greener pastures and no one in the company had any idea what the customer was sold, how it worked, or how to support it now that it had fallen over, the customer would pull out the contract and start complaining. So sue us.

    The other thing that happened was that the board of directors had decided that Dan Doyle had outlived his ability to run the company. He was great at piecing Frankenstein together, but not so good at keeping him from causing trouble in town.

    So out with Dan and in with Lang Lowery. Lang decided (and not without reason) that Danka’s biggest problem was that it was run like the wild wild west and what we really needed was a new sheriff in town with a whole new set of laws. In comes Vision21. The dozens of different systems that each branch brought in from before being bought that did not talk to each other and made the company difficult to manage overall were to be replaced by Oracle. I hear rumor that KM is throwing the $50+m Danka put into Oracle overboard. I don’t see anybody shedding a tear. I wonder where Danka would be today if they had put up with those disparate systems rather than throwing $50m down the Oracle hole with all of the customer satisfaction issues it caused and the customers lost in the process.

    The problem I see is not that corporate imposed its will upon the field. It’s not even the huge outlay for Oracle. It’s that the structure imposed was short sighted. Dump the sales trainers to save payroll and make the sales rep train their customers. Dump the office support staff who made sure orders got entered correctly and make the sales rep enter their own orders. Make it the sales reps job to follow the order through the supply chain whose staff had also been slashed. In service if you have 50 service techs and workload to support 49 techs, lay off two techs to maximize your service margins.

    The result? Sales reps who spend less than 50% of their time out trying to drum up business. A service base and annuity stream that are always in decline because the one thing that has always proved itself out in a service business is that your customer base will always downsize itself to match your support level. Dump service techs to squeeze your margins and the base will bleed off to make you fat again so you can lay off some more techs.

    This is not a problem specific to Danka, Ikon, KM, Xerox or even the copier business. This is MBA 101 in America. Big business does not structure its operation to grow, big business structures itself to make the best number it can for this quarter, don’t worry about how to make next quarters number until next quarter rolls around.

    One thing I remember from my Kodak days was the annual performance reviews where you had to put down your 1 year, 3 year and 5 years goals with the company. And the company did the same type planning. Well OK in today’s environment the 5 year plan is a bit out of line with the fast changing digital photography market, but at least you knew that someone was thinking ahead.

    These days it looks to me that long term planning in big corporations has changed to “this month”, “this quarter” and “this year”. I’d bet most CEO’s don’t expect to be with their present company 5 years from now. Why should they care that the next guy inherits a pile of crap? They got to get their money NOW.

  2. Rudy,

    What an excellent recap from an insiders perspective of the decline an fall of Danka. Also good insight to the bigger problem of shortsightedness in our industry. Thanks for posting the comments!

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