Saturday, 17 January 2009

Why sales people aren’t different

I’ve had to delay the manifesto post. Don’t panic, the manifesto’s alive and kicking, it’s just that we’ve given the managers a week to fully digest it and comment, before we announce it to the rest of the company. In the mean time… here’s a nice contentious post for you to get your teeth into.

Ever heard the words “yes, but sales people are different”? I don’t know if it’s just where I’ve been working, but I am frequently being told that we can’t apply the same management logic to sales people because they’re different. Imagine if you’d never seen a sales person. What do you think they’d look like?

If you believed everything you were told, then I think they’d be a cross between a drill sergeant (loud), a butter cup (sensitive), an alligator (aggressive), and a prostitute (do anything for money). Let’s just take a moment to visualise that. No wonder we run scared at trying to apply the same rules to this bunch as we do to the rest of the company. They’re different – Oh boy and how!

Hold up a second. I stopped believing in Santa many years ago. Why? [**spoiler alert**] He doesn’t exist folks. Why am I allowing myself to believe in this mythical sales creature? What’s more, I’ve seen sales people. I have friends who are sales people. I don’t think any of them fit this description.

Let’s face it, some ideas are old and tired and need to be cleared out; office uniforms, clocking in, and micro-management to name a few. What if the Salespersonosaurus is one of these and needs to be eliminated, or at least declared extinct.

If you treat sales people as different, then you probably also only measure them by their sales. You do that because it seems easy and scientific. That’s great, well done. Now ask the marketing department how the sales people affect them. Ask the customer support and accounts departments how your sales people affect them. The way sales people work, the type of customers they bring in, and their reaction to being under pressure, all affect the rest of the company. All your hard work getting people to work together, help each other and manage happiness can be undone by a stray Salespersonosaurus. Just watch the joy flood out of people as the words “but sales people are different” leave your lips. If that isn’t proof enough that the Salespersonosaurus needs to go, then there’s no helping you.

So, sales people are… well, just people. How do we deal with them? We deal with them the same way you would others. I’m not saying to remove commission; you’d probably find it way too scary. But it should be seen as a performance bonus. What’s important is to make sure that the sales performance is assessed by everyone who’s affected by it, and not to forget that it includes your other teams; it’s not enough just to sell at all costs. If you do have a Salespersonosaurus who won’t change and only cares about their sales, then [please sit down before reading this] you need to let them go, even if they were hitting sales targets.

Yes, I know that this post will have you sales managers and Salespersonosauruses shouting, crying, banging your fists, or demanding more commission. Don’t panic, there will be thousands of soulless companies around that work to preserve and protect your kind. But, if you ever want to be where everyone feels like they’re working together with smiles on their faces and relationships built on trust and respect… then maybe, just maybe, you need to leave the dinosaurs in the museum.


  1. Not 100% clear what this article is saying. If it is saying that sales people should be courteous and civil to their fellow workers without exception then I must concur wholeheartedly.

    Thinking more about the role of sales in general, this article does tend to whiff of the same old recycled anti-sales prejudism that has dogged this country for the last 40 years. The tired foot-in-the-door, white socked, sell your grandmother Mondeo man stereo type which I believe has caused so much harm to British industry in this time.

    The contrast with Japan has always been interesting to me. In Japan, salespeople are regarded in very high esteem and viewed as the most important people in the company. This is (i think) because they are the ambassadors for the company. They fight for and win business for the company, fending off all the competition. They are the public face of the company embodying its values and ideals.

    They are usually selected from the best of the best. The best aspire to sales.

    What can we learn from Japan? Well I think that as we move towards a more global and technological world economy, we should all be striving to promote the values that make us ALL feel like winners, from the boardroom to the salesroom to the postroom and leave the old divisive way of thinking in the past.

  2. Interesting to see a response which would have you thinking that the article was not understood, yet emphasises its points with a stella example!

    Indeed the Japanese concept sounds fantastic. The best of the best and highly respected. This should be the case with all positions because every person is a sales-person whether they realise it or not.

    Everything you do is selling your company. Its image, its beliefs and ideals, integrity and all the other grandioso words we like to parade and cheer it during meetings and mission statements.

    I am a believer in dynamics and that no one shoe fits the two left feet.

    Some of us need to be nurtured, trained and educated to become the best of the best. Others are naturally gifted, and can take initiative, that's not to say that they are without flaw.

    The 'old school' rule of sales is 'if you don't meet target you are out the door'. It is so easy to overlook the reasons why.

    What if you have been feeding your new Supersellingsaurus with leaves when they are in fact a carnivore?

    Do you wait for it to starve to an agonising and undignified death? Or do you change its diet?

  3. I am pleased that the commentator agrees that everyone should be highly respected whatever their position in a company. Who could argue with this except someone who has no respect for all or some of their colleagues?

    I too believe that all people should be given the right training to get them great at their job when the recruitment process has failed to identify those people who are naturally great at their job and require the minimum of training.

    But how much training for those who do need it? How many different diets of leaves do we try over how long a period of time. What is reasonable? Is it always going to be subjective?

    One thing to consider might be if there are outside pressures which threaten the very existence of the organisation, like creditors or investors demanding monies. In this case, there may not be the luxury of a very long time line to get the people whose job it is to bring in money (sales) to start successfully bringing in money (selling) before the whole company starts to starve and face potential extinction.

    Is it as simple as the previous comment suggests, to get sales personnel or indeed any department's personnel, to exceed the company's best expectations.

    I think the answer has to be no but lets not give up working towards the same set of goals.

  4. Thanks all for your comments, I'm not surprised this topic was popular.

    To the man who fell, I'm a little confused about the anti-sales comment. I believe that sales is a very important part of a business, I just don't believe it's special or deserving of special treatment. For that reason I would disagree with placing sales people as a group at the top of any company hierarchy, in the same way that I would disagree with Joel Spolsky if he were to place programmers at the top. I believe in a hierarchy attained through respect, and that's earned through actions and experience - no matter what department you're in.

    Avanglist, I agree. In my article I was focussing primarily on how old fashioned dogma can constrain development. You've taken that a step further and underlined one of the more fundamental tenets I follow. I refer to my post on targets, and why they fail.

    SGS, training requirements are considerably impacted by recruitment. I have a hunch that sales departments that have a "hire 'em, fire 'em" approach to sales also have a poor and over simplified recruitment process. They then rely on targets to do their work for them, and it invariably fails and perpetuates their policy. Get recruitment right, and a whole world of options will be open to any department - including sales.