Holy Matrix, Batman!

Cheesy title – granted, but it was what just came to mind when I was reading some responses to my earlier blog on Great Sales Leaders. One of our sales community members was remarking about managing a team of people when none of that team actually report to him. This is one version of the classic matrix organization, which is a challenge to understand and “get,” and takes skill to manage. Personally, I have worked for several matrix organizations, and it is a unique way to work. It is of course funny to me when I bring this up to different sales professionals and I get a blank stare and some of them think I am speaking of the movie series…but I understand because so many of us in the sales community have worked for sales organizations with a more traditional sales reporting hierarchy. By the way, I have never seen the Matrix movies, and yes, I need to rectify that so I don’t get so many strange stares!

Sorry…I digress. What do I mean by a matrix organization? One where reporting lines are a mixture of hard and dotted line. An organization where you need to motivate and leverage people around you to achieve a common goal when none of them actually report to you. In essence, one could argue that we all work in some kind of a matrix. As sales campaigns becomes more complex and contain so many moving parts, we need the expertise of more people internally to help close the deal! A matrix organization requires that you have extraordinary collaborative skills. You must be able to influence and accept accountability for the result without formal authority of the people who are necessary to make the deal happen. If the concept of team selling is not second nature to you, then working the matrix will be frustrating for you as a sales professional. Not thriving in a matrix does not make you any less of a sales professional, but it does limit you to a degree, and it also limits your ability to do that all-important NETWORKING!! One great side benefit of effectively being a part of a matrix group is meeting people you would not usually meet and creating good relationships that might very well help you downstream.

So, “working the matrix” is no walk in the park. Let me hear from you about your experiences and how you made the matrix work for you.

Good Selling.


7 thoughts on “Holy Matrix, Batman!”

  1. Todd – Glad this idea spawned its own topic. Aside from what was attested previously regarding relying on my sales leader for feedback and coaching, some other “working the matrix” tips I have are:

    View everyone within the matrix as a “customer”. As an internal customer, I am selling them my personal brand and the vision for our team. It rallies them to you now in the near term, and as you mention, you have great contacts within the business for help with future moves and opportunities.

    Understand, as you intimated, that Leadership without authority requires a great deal of influence and collaboration. Know that everyone within the matrix is individual, and as such needs to be treated individually. Maxwell’s “360 Degree Leadership” and Sanborn’s “You Don’t Need a Title to Be a Leader” are great lessons in how to lead “around”, “down”, and “out” to other team members when you don’t wield the big stick.

    Finally, you have to own the Accountability and realize at the end of the day you’re responsible for the result – it will not get “lost” in the matrix in pricing, delivery, legal, finance, or any other section or team member. “Working the Matrix” does not mean relinquishing the wheel; you do indeed have to be continually working to ensure you’re leading and overseeing all areas as necessary.

  2. Thanks for your comments and thoughts. I am a huge believer in the matrix approach. First, it binds sales people to the organization and a wider variety of resources. This eliminates the lone wolf mentality. Second, it provides better collaboration in the selling model as their are more people to engage. In the strategic process, this is a powrful tool once the sales people learn to access them. Finally, when used as a component of the account management process, it provides the customer with more resources at their disposal. Obviously, this is a plus as the customer experience is elevated if there is a larger more committed team to support them.

    I am a big believer in the capabilities associated with fully empowered cross functional teams. It has been a key component of my professional success and I support its model on a daily basis. Thanks for your opportunity to comment.

  3. This is a common issue in organizations and happens primarily to people interacting between departments as part if a team. The concept of “influence management” as it is commonly described is actually another form of selling but in this case you’re trying to sell your ideas vs. a product. It’s one of the highest levels of selling and frequently the down fall of young managers trying to get to the director level (there are lots of sharp elbows as you go higher up the organizational pyramid).

    Influencing others to follow your recommendations or ideas involves describing a vision, selling the value to others as well as the organization. It requires a common principle of adult education that allows others to take ownership of ideas and feeling as if they originated the thought. People always believe what they say more than what someone else says so the trick is to get your thought out through the verbage of others.

    If you’re now skilled at influence management selling a great placea to learn is by working in a group of volunteers, a church group or a community project. Getting others to follow your ideas can be extremely rewarding, especially if you’re helping others.

    Good luck!

  4. Just remember, “everything happens at the intersections.” Having operated in a matrix structure at an F500 corporation, I’ve also seen some of the struggles the people within them go through. Always remember and appreciate that the partners you are working with have to navigate resource and influence competition of their own within the matrix. For example, you may find that getting enough information to further your process is hard work because there is strain on those resources. It’s the time to make sure you are offering all the assistance you can in terms of information, specifications, and testimonials from colleagues who may be connected to your partner. It’s a 3D sale!

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