Whether you make products or deliver services, you are at the mercy of how well you get your message through to your potential customers. That is why you need an adept sales force.
By that I do not mean a well structured sales organization comprised of a sales manager, regional directors, and the foot soldiers we have all been at some point in our careers. Look at any successful organization, from the brick-and-mortar, traditional Fortune 500, to the nouveau riche companies like Google and Amazon. The organizational lines that define departmental functions are not as clearly defined.
This is to say that everyone in the organization, from CEO to admin, from IT to deployment, are all sales people. They all share the same vision, the same mission, and speak the same tongue. They have consumed the proverbial kool-aid. If this sort of culture is not what you are accustomed to seeing in your company, be assured you most likely do not work for a top notch organization.
What is at play here is the unmistakable belief that these folks may not make a commission on the sales, but they all get rewarded equally when a sale gets finalized and the check clears the bank.
I have worked in various organizations, small and large, and have witnessed the narrow-minded approach management often takes towards selling. It generally is focused on short term goals such as meeting quotas. As a V.P. of Sales for a software solution provider, I was once pleaded with by the CEO to quickly close a deal I was working on to get the Board of Directors “off his ass…” in spite of my insisting that we were not at that point. Generally, this approach is very nearsighted and leads to long term failure and ultimately to a new sales strategy, new managers, and may be even a new CEO. This is a vicious cycle and the top person better be aware of it, and know how to avoid it.
Any new sales manager, or sales person’s first marching order is to meet the set quota, and therefore save his or her job, for the moment. That is the reality, and I had my share of those. But, what gets lost in all of this are many important elements necessary to the company’s overall survival, competitiveness, and position in the eyes of the customer. Organizations with strong focus on sales–and who isn’t these days–and no real focus on structure or strategy, will spend countless dollars and man-hour resources reacting to and supporting non-productive management initiatives. Occasionally, and driven by outside market forces, revenue may increase, but not on a strategic or consistent basis. This too is very dangerous because it will provide for a temporary, false sense of accomplishment leading to lost or, altogether missed opportunities.
Successful selling begins with the vision and strategy set by the senior leadership of the company, translated to the middle management not only in tangible metrics such as quotas or incremental sales per customer, but also in unquantifiable terms such as customer satisfaction, return business, referenced customers, and referrals provided by current customers. There has to be a long term plan, and management better resist the temptation or the investors’ call for drastic action if the first quarter’s number are not there.
I have yet to see many companies change their strategy often and remain competitive, or even in business. Of course, all of this assumes that you have the right people manning the right positions. Like in any competitive sporting event, a coach who overreacts quickly to the oppostion, often times spends his time chasing and reacting to the opposing game plan, losing sight of his own. Teams like this rarely win.
How quickly you master this will determine whether you are in this for the long haul, or should sharpen your resume writing skills. Whether your organization is the opportunistic, unstructured type, or the proactive, stick-to-the plan type, with a scalable winning model, depends on the entire team’s belief in one another, and the belief in the long term plan, and decisions you take.
Next, I am thinking about sharing my views on seeking business internationally, and the tools you need for better results.