Sales and marketing

We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Salespeople!

I’m amazed by the number of CEOs who don’t want to have salespeople.  Most of them do have salespeople–begrudgingly.  But because of their attitudes their sales organizations suffer -- reinforcing the CEO’s perspective that salespeople are worthless.

These are otherwise smart, even brilliant business executives, who don’t like or don’t believe in the function of sales.  In many cases, it’s deeply and emotionally held–they can’t explain it.  When you try to discuss it, you can have “logical discussions.” But in trying to invest further, build or grow a sales capability, everything in them cries out against it.

These executives fully invest in other parts of the organization:  Development, engineering, manufacturing, operations, services, finance, HR, admin and even marketing.  They struggle in their investments in sales–making the minimum they can, usually investing a little later than needed.

Predictably Bad Results

Of course, the outcomes of these attitudes and investment decisions produce terrible results. They can’t hire the people they need because they won’t invest in them. They can’t retain people because the salespeople can’t get the support they need, see no future, don’t like the culture–so they depart, leaving only the very poorest performers behind.

These top executives create a self fulfilling prophecy, a death spiral in sales performance, adding further fuel to their internal fires about the worthlessness of salespeople.

In the end, their businesses struggle. They grow, but not the way they should.  They aren’t as profitable as they should be, usually winning on price because the sales people can’t present and win on value.  These unhappy business executives continue to blame the performance on sales.  Which actually is right–but not for the reasons they think.

It's All About the Product (Really?)

There’s another category of executive. Typically, it’s the “build it and they will come” type.  These are the executives who believe it’s all about the product.  All you have to do is build a fantastic product, promote the hell out of it and orders will fly in.

Many of the current SaaS applications tend to have this strategy–sometimes, they  need a few SDR’s to bring things over the line, but fundamentally it’s all about the product.  And any sales investment focuses on that as well—pitch,  demo, close.

It’s a strategy that works until it doesn’t. If you build your strategy around a great product, you lose to a greater (I know that’s grammatically incorrect–but give me a break) product, or the next, or the next.  It’s also a strategy that struggles at renewal time or when trying to break into complex enterprise level sales.

But to many of these executives, the solution is not investing in understanding how customers buy. They won't build a responsive sales organization. Instead, they go back to the tried and true–it’s all about the product. If sales doesn’t recognize this and produce results, then sales sucks!

Been There, Done That (Right?)

Then there is the final category of executive, the grizzled veteran.  They usually start their sentences, “In my day…..” focusing on their success in launching the company, selling the product, and achieving success.

Their view is, “I did it, I don’t know why you can’t!”  They bolster their view by picking up the phone and calling the CEO of a prospect company.  Usually they get a response, because they have the CEO title and may have some visibility within the industry.  They proudly hang up after a pleasant conversation with a peer, then say, “It’s all set up to be closed, go get the order!”  Usually, it’s a long way from that -- and guess who gets blamed for losing the “done deal?”

Welcome to the New Reality

What these executives don’t realize is how much the world and buying has changed.  They have no current reference points for what it takes to be successful in selling, so consequently have a very distorted view of the sales function.

It’s hard to imagine businesses that grow and thrive–over the long term that don’t have a powerful sales function.  Imagine an organization that had no development, engineering, manufacturing, finance, customer service, HR/Legal (Well, maybe...).  No top executive would ever think of not having those functions in the organization.

I’ve never heard a CEO publicly state, “We don’t believe in engineering and product developers, we will never have an engineer or product developer in the organization!” Yet a number of seemingly smart CEOs wear their position of having no sales function as a badge of honor!

A lot of this “anti-sales” orientation is irrational and misguided.

But at the same time, we have to own a huge amount of the responsibility for the negative reaction to sales for ourselves.  We’ve created this—not just with top executives, but with prospects and customers.

How many prospects and customers look at an email subject line or a caller ID (or lack of one), responding, “Fantastic, it’s a salesperson!  I have to talk to them!”

These “anti-sales executives” constantly see things that reinforce their poor opinions of sales.  The poor/mediocre performance of their own organizations are a result of their bad strategies/actions, but they get dozens of messages and calls from bad salespeople. All of this reinforces their opinions of sales, they take actions that don’t help sales, performance plummets, and they are in that inevitable death spiral.

Shifting Perspectives

Changing the perspectives of these executives is tough.  Perhaps my idealism drives me, but I keep trying to get executives to shift their positions.  Progress is slow, there are many steps backwards—bad sales performance reinforcing their beliefs of worthlessness or that terrible prospecting call they just hung up on.

A few tips:

  • We will never change the opinions until we start getting our own houses in order. We cannot tolerate clueless or bad practice–within our own organizations or those who prospect us.  We have to become shining examples of what “sales professionalism” means -- accepting no excuses.
  • We have to constantly demonstrate that sales is always centered on the customer, creating and assuring they realize value from every interaction.
  • We have to demonstrate sales has all the discipline, process focus, metric/goal focus, and drive for continuous improvement and innovation as every other part of the organization.
  • We have to be totally accountable for the results — both intended and unintended. We have to be committed to achieving the expected results.
I can’t imagine a thriving, world-class organization without a sales function (even if we may not call them salespeople). But we have to earn that position within our organizations and with our customers.

David Brock is president of Partners in EXCELLENCE, a management consulting firm focused on sales productivity, channel development, strategic alliances and more. Read more of his blogs here.