With a career spanning more than 25 years in B2B sales, Michael Muhlfelder first started out during the days of index cards, manila folders, and manually tracked cold calls. But during the mid-1990s he had his first taste of “technology-enabled selling,” and he hasn’t stopped since. As chief revenue officer of MapAnything, a company that uses geo-productivity software to track and drive productivity for anything from sales meetings to vehicles, Muhlfelder oversees a global sales team of 70 people. Here, he shares his insights to avoid “analysis paralysis,” create open communication, and assess where the future of sales is headed.
What I’ve learned over the course of working for large, midsize, and startup companies is the value of control and authority in sales management roles. My first leadership role was in a large enterprise. I had a lot of authority; however I had very little control over the reps themselves. When I moved to a smaller company after that, I had control over process and authority over people. However, I lacked control and authority over strategy. My role now at MapAnything really defines what I believe can make sales management successful. I know I can talk to a rep or go directly to the CEO with my ideas and execute changes quickly based on feedback or direction from either. Throughout all my experiences, I’ve learned how important it is for sales managers and executives to have the empowerment that allows them the freedom of open communication and ability to make the decisions that will drive growth.
I’m always asking myself, “How do I help my company get better? How do I help my people get better? How do we improve every process every day?” But I can’t answer those questions without open and honest communication — whether it’s with a rep who has been with the company for two weeks or a salesperson with us for many years. We work to eliminate the politics because I want to know if there’s something to improve or [that’s] upsetting customers or prospects. Our goal is to fix it right away. We don’t get better unless we communicate constantly and consistently, and avoid the trap of, “Well, that’s the way we’ve always done it,” or “Well, we can’t do it that way.” That creates poor decisioning or worse, analysis paralysis.
I’ve seen this way too many times in sales and it’s generally at bigger companies. It’s that constant evaluation and looking at a process or a problem until it’s perfect. I think it was Voltaire who first said, “Perfect is the enemy of the good.” I believe sometimes you just get your process plan out there. Your customers and sales teams will tell you what’s wrong with it. That’s not to say, on the product side, that you release buggy software — never, never, never! But it’s a hypothesis mentality, and you can start saying, “I think this is going to work. Let’s roll it out and see what happens.” If it doesn’t work, be prepared to roll back very, very quickly and correct it.
I literally wake up every day by 6 a.m. because I’m so excited about what I do. No two days are alike. Years ago at my first sales job, I remember one of my colleagues saying he loved sales because you could have a bad morning or a bad afternoon, but it was really hard to have a bad day. That’s been true for much of my career. I also love the fact that I learn something every day and oftentimes from people that you would never expect to learn from.
In the last 15 years, there has been a massive disruption in everything — particularly for sales. The way we sell and engage a customer or prospect is wildly different, and it’s going to continue to change. Studies now say that by the time a customer engages in the B2B world, they’re already two-thirds of the way through the buy process. They know your company, your rep, who you are as a leader, your product, unhappy customers, and more.
All the things that we used to do to get a meeting don’t work anymore. If you get an appointment with someone, they’re already maxed out for time. If you can’t very quickly demonstrate value in the discussion, they’re not going to engage with you anymore. More than ever, you have to go through the upfront steps and stages to really personalize and know the company, the person you’re talking to, and if you can solve the problem or not.
I know that AI is kind of scary to some; however, for me, it’s exciting. The AI technology will tell you the right buying audience, how to market to them, and when to call them — even down to the minute. If you’re not starting to operate this way, you’re making your life very hard and maybe even impossible to be successful. Location of your company doesn’t matter as much anymore because a company can be anywhere and outmaneuver you because they’re using technology in an intelligent way. That’s one of the key reasons you need to know you have your people in the right places at the right times. You can hide from these technology trends and believe it’s not going to affect you. But if you don’t embrace it and acknowledge it, it will affect you and your company in a negative way.
I actually have a library of books that I love and often recommend — it really depends on the role. If you’re in sales or business development or a manager of those teams, you have to read The Sales Development Playbook by Trish Bertuzzi. If you’re in sales management, it’s Cracking the Sales Management Code by Jason Jordan. If you’re newer to sales read Jeffrey Gitomer’s Little Red Book of Selling. From a business standpoint, I still recommend Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat. These are tremendous books that make you stop and think and in a very broad way, which is what you have to do in order to be effective in sales or management.
It would definitely have something to do with the ocean. I grew up near the ocean and it’s where I spend much of my time now; I love being on or near the water. As a kid, my hero was Jacques Cousteau.
People would be surprised to find this out, but it’s “Lose Yourself” by Eminem. That is the ultimate closing song.
“You can hide from these technology trends and believe it’s not going to affect you. But if you don’t embrace it and acknowledge it, it will affect you and your company in a negative way.”