Friday, July 19, 2013

Why Stress is Good for Sales People

Published in the Huffington Post earlier today:

With so much riding on closing the sale, making quota and generating revenue, sales reps are some of the most stressed out members of the workforce. Yet some stress may actually improve your performance. Recent research found short bursts of intense stress can improve your cognitive functions and make you more productive, even boosting your overall health. While many studies advise workers to reduce their stress for better health, just a bit can help you to improve sales productivity and stay focused. But be careful to note what type of stress you're experiencing and make sure you don't overload yourself -- the key is to recognize deadlines are good, but burnout is bad.

Stress Improves Your Brain Power According to New Scientist, a technology and health resource, recent research identified short periods of stress can increase a person's cognitive functions, resulting in brain power improvements. Researcher Kirstin Aschbacher of the University of California, San Francisco, and her colleagues sought out to examine if small intervals of intense stress produces the same adverse effects as chronic mental strain. However, the researchers found the opposite to be true, with the short bursts of stress improving an individual's concentration and making them better able to handle future mental strain.

Aschbacher described smaller periods of psychological stress as a way to make your mental muscles stronger. "It's like weightlifting, where we build muscles over time," Aschbacher said.
In fact, the research highlighted short quantities of stress causes the body to release the hormone cortisol, which can improve immunity in small doses. But you mustn't overdo it because too much stress can result in excess cortisol, which suppresses your immunity.

As a sales rep you want to be able to use stress to your advantage, as health expert Lisa Evans recently advised in Entrepreneur. You don't have to be stressed all the time, but knowing if you are the kind of rep who works better under a deadline or you need to plan ahead to be productive can improve your mental functions and your overall performance.

By embracing stress, hormones like cortisol and adrenaline enter the blood stream for a short amount of time, increasing your memory and cognitive function. With the flood of hormones in your system, you may be able to think faster and become sharper. This can be beneficial right before you enter that client meeting, make the sales pitch or negotiate the deal.

Most sales reps know that feeling of intensity right before the call, and the let down afterwards so pay attention to how your body feels. When you use stress to improve your short-term performance it's also important to take some time to recuperate afterward to recharge your body and de-stress.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Defining success

Invited to answer a few simple questions about success and leadership I found myself having to think hard. To really think about how to get such a complex concept across simply - and be truly authentic.

My answers are here (and if you know me personally some of these will make you nod knowingly):

1. How do you define success?
Achieving happiness while making a positive difference to the people around you.

2. What is the key to success?
To know what you want to make happen (in work or out of it) and then go after it. Don’t stop for anything or anyone.

3. Did you always know you would be successful?
I knew I had the chance to be successful but I didn’t know if I could pull it off. I still worry about it every day. I’ll probably worry about it until the day I die.

4. When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
Fear. Fear of disappointing my father. Fear of what people will think about me if I fail.

5. What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
To be truly interested in the well being of other people. Life’s not easy for anyone and a little caring and kindness goes a long way.

6. What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
Wandering around art galleries, gardens and ancient ruins in Europe.

7. What makes a great leader?
The ability to inspire people to be greater as a group than they can be alone. It’s a combination of ideas, brains, beliefs and charisma – and good old fashioned guts.

8. What advice would you give to college students about entering the workforce?
Seek a path that you are totally passionate about. If you love what you do you’ll be good at it. And, if you want a great job, take a good look at Tech. It’s the future.

Thanks for the opportunity Jason.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

10 things I don't need to know about you

I believe in having an open door. I believe in making it easy for employees to talk to me. And yet, there are some things I just don't need to know. posted an advice piece on the 10 Things You Should Never Tell Your Boss. They start with "keep personal things personal" and of course "discrimination in the workplace is illegal" so as long as you don't get too personal - and you work for a good company that does not discriminate - anything should be OK right?

Well, you'd be amazed at the things people tell me that I really don't need to know. I'm hard to offend, and I only judge people on their performance not their personal habits, but some people over share. Believe it or not, each of these examples is based on a real conversations.

Here are 10 things I don't need to know about you:

1. The gory details of your shoulder surgery. I'm sorry you had surgery. I hope you're better. No I don't need to know at a level of detail that makes my skin crawl.

2. Your politics. My mother told me there are three subjects never to discuss in polite company: politics, religion and sex. I don't mind knowing your political leanings, but I really don't need to debate it with you endlessly, please.

3. Your skill dealing drugs. Even if you were very successful selling coke out of the back of your car in college... or in the 90s... or in South America it's TMI for me. We're selling solutions to problems. Cocaine is never the solution.

4. How often you have a hangover. Come on - you really think that is something your CEO should know? Which days you felt bad at work because you'd over done it the night before?

5. The amount of time you spend on your second job. I do actually understand that sometimes people have outside responsibilities but it's not a good idea to spend too much time telling me about it. Remember FirstRain comes first!

6. That you don't believe in my company. This is an intelligence test. I'm open to you not agreeing with me on strategy and tactics but don't tell me you don't believe in what we're doing. If you don't believe please leave. Now.

7. The blow by blow of your divorce. This is a hard one. I've had employees get divorced and tell me nothing (and then it's hard for me to be supportive), but then I've also had employees tell me the blow by blow he-said-she-said which, I confess, is boring. So, here's a guideline: if we're out at dinner and telling life stories yes, I'll listen, otherwise, keep the details of how "she's crazy" to yourself.

8. Your porn habits. See point #2. Nuff said.

9. How your boyfriend cheated on you. How you came home and found him in your bed with another woman and so you can't concentrate today and you're not sure you can handle the customer meeting you're taking me to. The drama of your love life doesn't belong in the workplace. If you need a personal day, take the day.

10. (Ladies) How nervous you are, or how scared you are. A man would never tell me that. Why do you need to tell me?

We spend a lot of time at work and form deep friendships so sharing your life is natural. And in a social setting like out to dinner after an intense day with customers yes you are going to share, as am I. But think first and don't drink if it makes you over share!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

What day would you relive every day?

If you had a chance to relive one day of your life every day forever - do you know which it would be? Do you know what you would be doing? Would you be working? with friends? camping? sailing? eating and drinking?

The ancient Etruscans believed that when you are buried you can put yourself in surroundings where you can relive a day forever. And just East of Tarquinia, a couple of hours drive north of Rome, you can go and see their tombs and their vision of the best of days. Just below the surface of a series of hot dusty hills, there are about 6,000 tombs. They make up the ancient Etruscan necropolis (from 700BC to 100BC) and about 150 of these tombs have been excavated and are gloriously painted with artist's visions of the best of days.

About 20 are now open. For each tomb you climb down a steep set of stairs, climbing down into the cool from the scorching midday heat. At the bottom you push a button to get light and then press your nose to the glass pane sealing the painted walls in, and imagine that day. Imagine the day the owner described to the Greek artist of how he'd like to spend his eternity. What day did he pick for he, and usually his spouse, to repeat forever?

So what day would you want to repeat over and over?

Would you want to be at a feast, eating and drinking with your friends and entertained by music and dancing?

Would you want to be out in nature with birds and dolphins, forever in the sunshine and water?

Or would you be in the office, working hard, making the world a better place? This is unlikely - as the WSJ reported yesterday - most people would rather not be at work, even if the work is meaningful.

After seeing the tombs last week we did a quick survey of our little group around the bar table - recovering from the heat with crisp Italian beer. The answers to how each person would decorate their tomb were revealing. One would be hiking in the Sierras, one would be kiteboarding on the San Francisco Bay (yes no prizes for guessing that one's my husband), one would be with friends on a wine tour, one would be with her children.

And me... I'd be in my garden entertaining my friends and family at the outside dinner table. I'm in agreement with the 2,500 year old couple from the Tomb of the Lionesses - there is no better way to spend a day than outside at a banquet with friends.

And you - what would you chose?

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Scaling a startup can be like driving without brakes

I dream of driving with the brakes failing on my car all the time.

As CEO, sometimes you just have to put your foot on the gas and go, knowing you may have no brakes and if you take a wrong turn you may not have time to correct and recover. It's part of growing fast. But how do you know when is the time to put your foot on the gas?

First, you have to have enough proof of the value of your product - proof that some people, and enough of them, will use it. In the enterprise world this means one of two cases:

1. You have lots of SMB (small and medium business) customers signing on fast and you can track the adoption rate. You want to be sure these are real companies with the ability to buy over time, and not just startups who want to use a trial or freemium product for free because, unless you're lucky like Yammer and you get purchased early, your value will depend on your growth AND your renewal rate, so you need to be sure your SMB business is repeatable. Or

2. You have major household name companies buying in volume. When you can see companies with $10B+ in revenue (the usual suspects like HP, IBM, GE, J&J) buying your product, and then buying more, you can track their usage, how much they'll pay you and whether they renew.

Both cases tell you that your product has value to end users. So it's time to ramp your revenue.

Next, you need to be sure you have a business model where you can make money, sustainably. For every rocket ship ride like Facebook and Twitter (who still have not actually worked out their business model), the startup landscape is littered with failed companies who never worked out how to make money and, eventually, tapped out their investors and could not find more. Cool product but no ability to scale the business.

Your path to revenue obviously depends on the type of product. In the enterprise case you need to be clear, again, whether you are going after SMB or large enterprise. The sales channels are completely different and it's very tough to do both (or very expensive as the Marketo P&L shows - so to do both you need very strong access to capital).

You need to track your cost per sale - can you sell your product for enough money, to enough people, that you can pay sales people and make enough margin? And then, can you support the customer and still make a profit on each sale eventually? This can be hard in the early days of a SaaS model where you are paid annually (and many business do not make a profit until year two) and can be easier in a licensed revenue model (where you charge about 5 year's worth up front and then maintenance) so it's important to model cash carefully, and know which model is right for your market.

Now you've convinced yourself that your product has real value to lots of users, and that you can make money selling it, now what?

Finally, you need to have the team to do the ramp. Scaling fast means knowing how to hire and train quickly. It means having a strong culture so you can keep shared goals in mind as you make rapid decisions. And that means leadership. So before you pull the trigger and say go, make sure you have enough of the right leaders in the room with you for critical mass. You can't lead alone.

Most VCs will tell you to scale too early. They have a standard model and often don't have the on-the-ground experience to advise you on when is the time to be cautious vs. when is the time to take risk. I've heard the same hackneyed phrases from so many different VC mouths based on what worked for the 1% of companies that have been wildly successful - and many VCs would rather you succeed or fail fast rather than be patient with you because that is a more efficient use of their time. As Fred Wilson describes on his blog - the failed companies take the majority of the VC's time so IF you are going to fail they want you to fail fast and hit the wall, not turn into a zombie company.

Instead seek out other successful CEOs for advice - they have a much better nose for the timing. They'll ask you questions, challenge your assumptions and help you figure out whether your business is ready for scale.

Once you think you're ready your job is to lead. To bring your team with you, help your cynics get on board, encourage your more cautious employees and make sure every one is aiming for the same target. This means focus and repetition, but if you have the product, the business model and the team then you're ready.

Some people dream of being naked in public. I've never had that dream. But in my dreams I'm driving round a corner and the brakes fail; I'm pulling up to a traffic junction and the brakes fail as I careen through the oncoming cars; I'm going down hill and the brakes fail. Each time I pound my foot on the floorboard but the car doesn't slow down. I wake up in a sweat, my heart pounding, and smile. Yup, it's that time again.

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