"I love you. You love me. We’re a happy family…"
— Barney the Dinosaur
I have found that there is a correlation between either the number of sales "war stories" or the number of sales slides in the board deck and how well the company is progressing. When things are bad, some management will spend 20 slides breaking down the pipeline a hundred different ways. The VP, Sales or the CEO also spends inordinate amounts of time describing the exciting activity at each account. Lot of activity and "really great developments" but sales seem to miraculously fall short of plan by large amounts.
My friend and former portfolio CEO, Juergen Stark, had a great name for these: Barney meetings.
He used to use this phrase to describe fruitless Business Dev meetings with partners. Everyone would talk about how excited they were to be engaged and how promising the future could be and then…nothing, nada, the big zero. Like the purple dinosaur, you could hear everyone singing "I love you. You love me…" with a great big hug at the end.
I say Death to Barney. It is bad enough when a company hits a dry spot and can’t close business. Sometimes it is because the market is not ready. Often, it is because the product has not been packaged and productized properly so it sits like a round peg in a square hole out in the market place. It is even worse if management, instead of fixing the issue, feels compelled to burn significant calories drafting a multitude of sales slides and pseudo victories. And more painful yet, the board gets to sit through this show, knowing full well what sits underneath. No one wins here. So, some thoughts around how to deep six the dinosaur.
1) Keep the war stories to a minimum in summarizing the sales situation. Discuss key events indicating positive or negative trends. Celebrate true & material wins. Point out key losses and lessons learned. Don’t go through 10 account stories of adventure and mayhem. If it is bad, don’t sugarcoat it.
2) Simplify the pipeline section. I find that one slide with names placed under closed (100%), under contract (90%), LOI/contract negotiation (75%) is all that is needed. Show the game between this discounted total and plan. Don’t cut it by region, by channel, by sales guy, buy astrology sign, etc.
3) Give a realistic pipeline summary. Don’t toss anything in there that isn’t in contract negotiation or near final approval. I hate it when a company throws a whole bunch of 25% and 50% prospects totaling $10’s of millions and then discounts this down. Meanwhile, the 100% and 90% names total a couple hundred thousand. Guess what…the company always misses their numbers since the lower probabilities never come through when and to the degree expected.
4) If you aren’t scaling and your competition is, get an objective perspective why. Don’t get a group hug going around the wonderful war stories and offhanded comments about your competition. They are kicking your butt in the market place for a reason. If you can’t get there, hire a third party to realistically tear into it.
In short, too many executives feel they have to manage their board and keep everyone happy. So, out comes the dinosaur, a lot of smoke goes up around what is really happening and everyone leaves energized by all of the wonderful activity. Forget the last slide that shows the company at 50% of plan. Guess what…time to blow away the smoke, start cutting expenses if needed and figure out why the dogs are eating the dog food. If you ever hear yourself saying "This [setback] is really a good development for us…", stop yourself and smell the roses.
My little daughter won’t be happy but Death to Barney…