Speakers: John Pierce | , SBI



John Pierce of Motorola recently joined me on the SBI podcast.  John leads the global HR team at Motorola supporting the sales and marketing functions, as well as the entire Americas region.  Motorola has morphed over its long history and is now a $4 billion company with 7,000 employees focused on generating the data intelligence needed to make sound business decisions. They do this by providing technologies such as RFID, barcode printing, mobile computing, data capture, and motion sensing.


The topic of our discussion was talent acquisition in the sales and marketing function.   


You can listen to the podcast here.



By listening to this podcast, you will learn how to:


  • Go from open headcount to fully-staffed quickly.
  • Leverage HR to fill the funnel with qualified candidates for open sales positions.
  • Partner with HR to understand what happened when A players resign.
  • Train new sales managers on how to go from player to coach.


In our practice, we routinely see the head of sales under utilize the HR business partner. This is a mistake and I hope after listening to John you form a great working relationship with HR.


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Show Notes


Speaker: Welcome to the SBI Podcast. Offering CEO’s, sales and marketing leader ideas to make the number.


Greg Alexander: Welcome everybody. This is Greg Alexander, CEO and co-founder of Sales Benchmark Index. This is the SBI weekly Podcast series. Today, I’m joined by John Pierce. John leads the Global HR function for sales, marketing, and corporate functions. As well as the overall America’s region for Zebra Technologies. Zebra Technologies employs just over seven thousand people. It has annual sales of just over four billion dollars per year. Their solutions, what they do for a living, is they generate the data intelligence, that leads to better decision making for technology such as, RFID, Barcode Printing, Mobile  Computing, Data Capture and Motion Sensing. John, welcome to the show.


John Pierce: Thank you very much. It’s great to be here.


Greg Alexander: All right. Today’s topic is going to be talent acquisition. This is a topic that John could probable spend three weeks on. We are going to try get this done in thirty minutes. The time of year that we’re in … The time of year where there lots of to be hireds on an org chart. We’re slightly under staffed in many sales organizations … We’re in desperate need of A players. Let’s start with that. My first question for you, John is, what role does HR play in supporting sales specifically to fill the top of the funnel with enough talent and enough candidates?


John Pierce: Obviously, HR plays a direct role in that front. HR works alongside the sales leadership team and trying to structure overall org design. Align with the business strategy in a way to make sure we have the right skills and abilities to drive business strategy. HR, we dive in heavy duty in helping to define where the talent pools exist, where they’re needed, and the numbers that are required. Help also build out a plan for the competency models that are required, and work hand in hand with the sales team. Then, identify candidates, source those candidates, bring them in to the next … Get the right people on board as quickly as possible. Get them engaged as quickly as possible.


Greg Alexander: Okay. That was a lot said there. I want to unpack that a little bit. Some of our listeners don’t have the number of years of experience that you do. Let’s first talk about the labor pools. There’s a company strategy that dictates the people strategy, which then get translated into the design of an organizational chart. Now, sales has their org chart. Marketing has their org chart, so to speak. There’s positions to be filled. When you say identify the labor pools. Does that mean come up with a job spec and find individuals that meet that job spec, or does that mean there are certain companies that you want to hire from?


John Pierce: It could be a little bit of both. The way we approach it is depended upon … We look at what go to market model we’re going to be using for particular areas. When you’re focused on, whether it’s products or services, or broad based solutions. We take a hard look at what the skill sets are that are going to be required. Then, we assess where we think those skills can be best located. Now, sometimes it is directly going after current employers of particular companies, and have those skill sets. Other times it’s looking in a broader industry focus, because of technology knowledge base that’s there. We take a pretty broad view initially, and then narrow it down as we refine the specific needs we’re going after.


Obviously, we deal with a lot of technical sales. Identifying very clearly where we find individuals who have the specific technical background that we need is definitely something we have as a starting point, and then you can narrow your search from there in a lot of different ways, depending on what you’re looking for.


Greg Alexander: Okay. The second part of your answer was talking about the competency models. Sometimes, sales leaders, in particular, which is the focus of this interview. Have a hard time getting out of their head and onto paper what they think the competencies are that make for a suitable candidate. You might even say an A player. Yet, HR, business partners, that’s core to their function. They know how to do that. How have you partnered with sales to create these competency models? What advice would you give both sale leaders and HR leaders to do this correctly?


John Pierce: That’s a great lead in to some of the things we have done in the past. When you’re looking for that A player … To not only deal with what you have today, but the A player of the future. You’re right, a lot of times, sales managers have a tough time completely articulating exactly what they’re looking for. We in HR partner with them on a regular basis to, not only look at some of the traditional sales competencies that you see out there. Account management and negotiation skills and otherwise. We talk to them about some of the other key things that they have to have, really successful sales people demonstrate. We help them corral a fairly consistent model of what that sales person looks like. It’s a mixture of, the way we’ve attacked it in the recent past is, we look at it as the actual sales competent’s themselves, the leadership behavior that those really strong A players demonstrate.


Lastly, it’s a little more or a little less tangible. It’s that leadership mindset, that sets them apart. If you’re able to give a sales leader a quick one page summary of what these key behaviors are. What examples are of them, competencies and behaviors, and what the key examples are of an A player versus, an average player. It gives them a much better mindset. When they’re going out and looking for talent in the market, this sort of thing helps frame their own mind set of what they’re looking for and really drastically increases their success factor in identifying A players in the search process.


Greg Alexander: Yeah. I was going to ask you how long this is, but you just answered that question, which is one page, which is a great answer. Because sales leaders, they’re busy. They have a number to make, anything that’s longer than that, might be over engineered. On that one page … This is a tough question, if you can give me a range, roughly, how many competencies and behaviors should be on there?


John Pierce: You just mentioned it, in dealing with sales teams, they like to keep moving quickly. They like simplicity, so they can action things, and make sure their attention span stays focused. Typically, we like to identify literally somewhere in the neighborhood of five to eight competencies. They may have sub-competencies under the each of them, but five to eight core competencies. The behaviors are typically similar. You don’t want more than five to eight of them. In both of those categories, the competencies and the behaviors, there’s a bit of a prioritization, where, theatrically, we recommend it. Whether in the interview process. Actually, the nice thing about this is, then you build this into actually talent development later. You use the same competencies and the same behaviors to measure performance and development later.


You focus on no more than two or three in each category at the most. Usually one or two in each category for a particular individual, whether that’s the search process or the developmental process. It helps them stay really focused. The third category, beyond competencies and behavior is that, as I said, that A player mindset. That comes into how the individual approaches the actual market, their industry, the way they think about the business world. That one’s, a little, sometimes again, a little harder to define. If you get your sales leaders to help you define their use of social networking. Not just as a paint by numbers tool kit, more of a strategic tool. That mindset and listing that as a mindset competency, there you’re probably going to literally name again, no more than, we typically go three to five in the mindset category. Again, you can focus on that to see if there are people who are looking much more strategically at the wide world around them.


Greg Alexander: We’re going to take a quick break. When we come back from the break, I’m going to ask John how we take this one page document that has competencies, behaviors, and A player mindset to the market to source candidates. We’ll be right back.


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Greg Alexander: Welcome back everybody, this is Greg Alexander with Sales Benchmark Index. Today I’m speaking with John Pierce who leads a Global HR function for Sales, marketing, and corporate functions, as well as the American Region in whole. For Zebra Technologies, Zebra is the leader in data capture and data intelligence through things such as RFID and barcoding, and mobile computing, etc.


Right before the break. John did an excellent job explaining to us how he partners with sales leaders by creating a one page document that’s a spec so to speak that has three things on it. It has competencies, behaviors, and A player leadership elements. Just real quickly, before we move on what we do with this document. John could you describe for us the difference between competencies, and behaviors?


John Pierce: Sure. Competencies are measurable skills, hopefully measurable skills that an individual can learn and demonstrate. Typically, many of them are experience based. There are typically, clear indicators of success versus the actual competencies. Again, as we mentioned there could be things like account management skills, negotiating skills. There’s typically somewhat of a check list of fairly standard actions that can be taken in each of the competencies. A behavior, obviously, is a demonstrated action, I guess, or how someone approaches something. It typically ties to how someone approaches a broader subject. A lot of behaviors could be strategic thinking. It could be talent development. Granted, you may crisscross a little bit between competencies and actual behaviors. The behaviors are how you act in a broader world, and what leadership looks like, versus the competencies, which are the actions that are taken and they’re actually measurable components of the actions that are taken.


Greg Alexander: Okay that was helpful. Just to power phrase here to bring some clarity to this. The competency in that particular case was, let’s say account planning. That’s kind of the technical knowledge. Do you know how to do account plan, can you follow this step 1, 2, and 3 kind of process? The behavior is strategic thinking applied to the account plan. Can you strategically think through an account, and then document an account plan? That was a good definition I appreciate you clearing that up. All right, so now I have this one page document that defines what it means to be an A player, for this particular job that I’m trying to fill. If I’m a sales leader.


You mention that I would use this document to go out into the marketplace, and be much more time efficient by making sure that I’m always speaking to potential job candidates that meet that spec. Also, much more effective right, so the people that I ultimately hire, hopefully are very close to that spec so the likelihood of success goes up. The acquisition of talent, do you think that’s the responsibility of sales to go staff their own positions or should they ask HR to do that for them? You have a very broad role, you’re supporting lots of people inside of a fairly large company. Can you support individual sales manager’s needs? How does that work?


John Pierce: The bottom line from my perspective is that every manager, whether sales leader, any functional leader. They know their area of expertise better than anyone. I always see it as the sales leader’s responsibility to really be the person to drive the search process. Be able to really assess talent and move forward. The HR team, can I myself cover that? No, when you have a lot of sales people out there that are in the front line. We always take the mentality that every sales person should be a little bit of a recruiter every day. When you’re out there meeting different people. Even when your visiting customers, or at industry conferences, and trade shows. As you’re meeting people you should almost always be in a recruiting mode and an interviewing mode. Looking for talent that could add value to your organization.


We, HR help provide some of that coaching and some of the tools to drive that. Yes, we have recruiters who are focused on sales recruiting and sourcing. They can help find candidates in the mix. You can get a plethora of candidates that seem to meet the criteria you’re looking for. Until the sales manager actively engages with these individuals and really starts diving into the process of identifying exactly what they’re looking for. Matching those skills and competencies to what each individual brings to the table in the interview process, nothing really makes … You get really no progress. The sales manager is the lynch pin to the entire successful search process.


Greg Alexander: To use a metaphor there, you’re the architect of the program right, you inform the sales manager that needs to have things, like behaviors and competencies and A player mindset. Needs to have a standard interviewing process, needs to be one page, and then the sales manager is the actual builder of the home. So the get the plan from you and they have to go execute it. It’s that a way to think about it?


John Pierce: Yeah, that’s definitely a very good analogy.


Greg Alexander: Okay great. Now I have this spec. I’m the sales leader I have a need, I now can be much more effective and efficient because I know what I’m looking for. Sometimes sales leaders because they’re so focused on time to fill. Normally when they have an open spot or spots on the org chart they’re still carrying their quota. These uncovered territories are killing them. Sometimes they believe that bad breath is better than no breath and they skirt the interviewing process. Do you teach the sales managers how to conduct a job interview?


John Pierce: Yeah. It varies when you say teaching. Is there formal training? We vary that over time and found varying successes as for the formal training. As far as providing managers with clear coaching and tools to conduct effective interviewing and skills identification is key. If you take what we talked about, this kind of high level profile of the A player of the future. What we do is we translate that into a structured interview process. Again, a one page sheet that basically takes each of the different competencies, each of the different behaviors you’re looking for. It aligns questions, key consistent questions that get at key components of a particular, again, competency or behavior.


Hopefully you’ve also identified fairly acceptable or desired answers so that you can have a manager go out, address the couple of areas, competencies and behaviors you’re looking for as primary drivers. You can fairly quickly use a fairly consistent process that you and anyone else who’s interviewing the same candidate can divide and concur what they’re going to ask. Consistently ask some of the same questions, in different ways and be looking for particular types of answers. Particular types of approaches that really indicate what we would assume our current definition of A players, how they would respond. It really helps them by going through this quick, again, it’s a one pager, that by reviewing that ahead of time or preparing which questions they’re going to ask it gets them very well prepared, very structured.


They start developing a very consistent approach and they almost train themselves. After they’ve been interviewing multiple times, the one pager as more just a refresher they don’t have to read it in detail. They become very good at the interviewing process, and attacking these core competencies they’re looking at. They also start getting a track record of seeing how effective they’re interviewing process is. If they come through, they think an interview went great they hire the person, and then they find that the person is lacking in a particular area, it helps them refine their interview process and their questioning and the way they structure their next search much more effectively.


Greg Alexander: The statement that you made there which is worth repeating, because I think it’s often neglected. John walked us through a process of having a spec. Having a set of interview questions to ask a candidate to hunt for the specific competencies or behaviors in a player mindset. He took it a step forward which is he’s providing his sales leadership team examples of acceptable answers. Says, “This is how an A player might answer this question.” If I’m a sales manager doing a job interview especially if I’m a new one and I’m not very well experienced in this, I can look at somebody’s answer, hold it up against what the answer should be and make a judgement call.


How close to or far away is this person from being an A player? That last piece is often forgot and it’s so critical because it’s one thing to run a structured interview and it’s quite another thing to interpret the answers. I appreciate you sharing that. We’re going to take another quick break here. When we come back from the break I’m going to shift gears a little bit we’re going to ask John for his perspective on what you do when an A player walks out the door? How you react and what you learn from that process? So we’ll be back in a moment.


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Greg Alexander: Welcome back everybody. This is Greg Alexander with SBI, today I’m joined by John Pierce of Zebra Technologies and we’ve been discussing how HR can be a great business partner for sales and marketing functions. We’re now going to go down a line of questioning that I’m really curious to get your perspective on. That is, when you assess, quote, A players that you lose especially if you think about it in a sales environment, let’s say you come out of Q1 with three quarters left and you lost an A player talent, how should you react to why they left what do you do in that situation?


John Pierce: The given, right off the bat is confirming with the individual. What factors led to them departing, assuming that they’re willing to share, usually they are. We very quickly assess if it’s obviously if it’s a very personal issue based on some outside opportunity. Obviously, if they quickly identify that it’s something internal, whether that be anything from their current earning potential or quota setting or it could be management related. We assess any of the different variables, and then HR plays a big part in helping the sales team quickly dive into any regrettable loss in particular.


I guess we look at all turn over fairly consistently in particular when we lose an A player, we try to get as much information as quickly as possible about the cause and the effect that jump started it to see if there’s anything systemic or anything that we could have done differently. Obviously if they’re a true A player we also at least assess what possibility there is of trying to either bring that person back into the fold, or at least maintain a good ongoing relationship and trying to make sure that if there are changes in the future, we stay in close contact. We track where that person goes and try to make sure that we always have an opportunity to bring an A player back into the fold.


Greg Alexander: I was going to ask you about that. So let’s go there quickly. So when an A player leaves is it person by person or do you have any rules of thumb, as to whether or not you try to save the person before they submit their resignation they usually give two weeks. Do you try to recover and keep that person with some type of counter offer?


John Pierce: It’s on an individual bases we don’t typically like to make it a practice of demonstrating the diving catches are the best way to do business. We don’t do it actually that often, if people made up their mind to leave hopefully with an A player we would have had indications about that ahead of time and would be able to work it. If it is a comp related issue or otherwise we should’ve been, number one, working that along the way and we do take, when we know we have A players, we try to take a very active focus in insuring that they are rewarded as A players as well. So we hope that comes out of the play, we don’t think diving catches typically work if they’ve made up their mind. Again, it sets a bad precedent that most companies don’t like to get into.


Greg Alexander: I agree with you I think diving catches, I actually like that phrase, is a bad idea. It sets a precedent that you can be extorted, basically, that’s never a good thing. It’s always best to be proactive, have such a positive working experience for your A players that even when the call comes they don’t even take it. In the event that someone does leave and you don’t practice the diving catch and they leave on good terms, you mention that you track where they’re going and you stay in contact with them. Does that imply that you welcome somebody back? I’m surprised at that. Many of the organizations that I worked with even the companies when I was on your side of the desk early in my career. I worked for one company in particular that if you left them then you might as well you fall off the face of the earth. They viewed it as a betrayal and you could never come back to them. What’s your perspective on that?


John Pierce: I agree with you that it’s been a perception that, I think, we used to see much more often. I think that you get to a point where if people are moving up in one industry or another, they’re pretty well known and knowing that they would cross over to the enemy used to be viewed as a very negative thing. It’s obviously gotten to the point more and more where the A players are people who are always looking for growth and opportunity and the ability to do something different and move and shake. Hopefully you keep them within your own organization, and give them opportunities to do different things, and grow and expand in their career. At times you run into situations where that’s just not completely feasible at the time, and they find some other opportunity that interests them more.


I think the mentality has changed a bit though that when the next opportunity arises, if you can reach back out to them in a couple of years. Knowing they’ve got a proven track record of how good they are, and how they approach things. I think that at least my experience is, in general that attitude of complete undying loyalty to a particular company has changed. It’s one of those where, it really is the ability for people to grow and expand their experiences. You can do that at different companies, and then come back to the same company again, a few years later. The good news is that you’ve gained invaluable additional experience elsewhere, that you can bring to bare back in the organization again.


Greg Alexander: Very mature way of looking at it. You’re right, people don’t go to work for companies now for forty years. Sometimes, they move around. It’s not in anyone’s best interest to burn bridges. That’s a transparent way of looking at it. Okay, we’re going to take one more break. In our last segment, I’m going to come back and talk about how to move somebody from a player to a coach. A sales person to a sales manager. When that change happens, how HR can help that person develop those management and coaching capabilities. Stick with us. We’ll be right back.


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Greg Alexander: Okay. We’re here with John Pierce, who runs Global HR for sales and marketing in Global Functions. As well as the America’s region in total for Zebra Technologies. We’ve been discussing talent acquisition and talent management. Our last segment, is going to focus on a very specific issue, that’s near and dear to many of our listeners. That is the super star Sales Manager, I’m sorry, the super Star Sales Rep wants to progress their career and move into management. When that happens, sometimes we ruin A players. Great individual Sales Reps have a hard time moving to Sales Managers. That pull of great sales people does represent the future managers. I think HR can play a really important role for that person at that trainsitionary point. When they go from being a player to a coach, so to speak. John, what’s your perspective on helping an individual contributor move into a managerial position?


John Pierce: I think you hit it on the head with the term coach. Coaching, we found has become a huge, huge competency that a good sales person needs to learn, and serves as a spring board for becoming a good manager. Too often we have people dive in, as you said, we dive into a management role, and they fail. As you said, we lose an A player. A great sales person who failed as a manager, the next thing you know they’re out the door. When really, a lot of it is just because of the fact that they didn’t have the right skills, in hand, to work appropriately with a team and managing, as opposed to working as a peer. To go to the coaching side of things, one thing we focus on heavy duty, at least I have for quite a while, is getting anyone to continually build their coaching skills. Coaching skills are … It’s a really simple concept to me. Basically, instead of being directive, you ask probing questions.


When somebody is talking to, whether it’s a peer, or as a manager talking to an employer saying, “How did the XYZ account go?” They start talking about it. They say, “Well, are there are things you could have done better. Are there different key work partners that you probably could have talked to actually move this along faster. Were there different decision makers that you could have touched based with?” Just continue asking questions in the process as opposed to standing there going, “You need to go talk to so and so. You need to do this. You need to do that.” It sounds like semantics, when somebody learns good coaching skills, where they’re asking questions and helping another individual think through for themselves, what the issues are. You’ve quickly become a manager, and have management skill to be able to help, to guide other players on your team.


That’s the biggest failing we see with people that are shifted from an individual contributor role to a management role. Walking in and just not having some really fundamental tools in their management tool kit to be able to work effectively with the rest of their team. A manager that comes in is overly dictatorial, or just is too straight line in their approach to everything. Typically, alienate themselves from their workforce. We see time and time again, whereas, if they come across as being really interested and collaborative and trying to coach the person through the process and help them as opposed just constantly point … “Go do this. If you didn’t go it, why?” It changes the dynamic. That’s one of our critical approaches here that we think is affective.


Greg Alexander: It’s a very pragmatic piece of advice, so directed verses through questioning. New Sales Manager tells a Sales Rep, “You should do this. Do it this way.” That’s directive. That’s the wrong way. A coach focused Sales Manager might say, “Maybe that didn’t go so well. If you could do over again, what would you do differently?” Just a subtle change, using questions instead of statements can make a big difference. You’re right, coaching in the number one competency for Sales Managers. Particularly, new Sales Managers. All right, we’re at our time allotment here. I just wanted to provide some closing comments. That is, I think partnering with Human Resources, as a sales leader is under appreciated and under exploited opportunity.


As you just heard from John Pierce, there’s much that they could be doing for you. Since people are such a critical piece of these sales leaders business. In the end, it’s through the Sales Reps and Sales Managers that you engage with customers. Customers are the source of your number, they give you orders, you make your number. If they don’t, you don’t. Partnering with the head of the people’s strategy in the firm, just makes all the sense in the world. I wanted to have John on the show as just an example of somebody who’s been doing this for a long time, who has partnered very effectively with sales and marketing leaders from the HR office to give everybody an example as to what good looks like. John, with that on behalf of everybody that’s listening, thanks so much for being on the show and sharing some of your wisdom.


John Pierce: Thanks very much for having me.


Greg Alexander: Okay, take care everybody.


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