The sales function far too often treated like an impenetrable combination of personalities, voodoo, and tradition. It’s time for that to stop.
I have a theory when it comes to sales. It goes something like this: Along the way in their executive development, a lot of really smart people develop a disdain for sales as a function. In some cases, they view sales as “dirty” or “basic.” They might view sales as risky . . . why would a smart person ever subject themselves to the risks of not making a sales quota.
As that prejudice against sales develops, this particular sort of executive tends to think of sales and the people and systems that enable sales as a sort of mystery. It’s a realm of knowledge that is best left to the salespeople, who take those risks and drive the relationships necessary for the business to thrive.
But they also leave a lot on the table.
Some of the most complete business strategies I have seen have also completely ignored the processes and tools that accelerate sales. Why? Because, as noted above, it’s a mystery. It’s rumored to be personality- or relationship-driven. The thinking goes that we can control our product. We can control our operations. We can control our cost structures and our hiring and our marketing messages. But we can’t “control” our salesforce.
This thought process is dangerous since there are process losses in sales just as there are in a manufacturing operation. The difference is that in a manufacturing operation if something is left by the wayside it gets calculated as a cost. It’s a known quantity.
In sales, if a call doesn’t get returned or a meeting is botched–and millions of dollars of sales are lost as a result–the cost never gets really quantified. Sales process losses are far too often an unknown quantity. . . and a lot of people have incentives to keep it that way. Sales leaders who make their number don’t really have to own up to unforced errors.
On the other side, there are also plenty of elements of focus and efficiency that can be missed within a salesforce. Poor lead qualification can lead to salespeople spending a lot of time on dead ends. Poor account planning practices can lead to salespeople spending a lot of time selling the wrong things, or at the wrong value.
Imagine if your manufacturing plant consistently produced the wrong product. You’d likely be mystified and perhaps furious. Now imagine how often your salesforce might be selling to the wrong customers, with the wrong products, and at the wrong times. Do you know? Can you possibly know?
In most environments, you very much can know these things. But, your attention must be focused on sales as a function, as a process, and as an integral lever for strategic management success.
What do you think?