My friend, Mike Weinberg, has been one of the most consistent and vocal spokesperson on the Dysfunction of Sales Leadership. He wrote a brilliant article about this, identifying 8 Sins that destroy sales cultures and results. Be sure to read his article. For a much deeper discussion, make sure you read his book, Sales Management Simplified. (It’s a perfect complement to Sales Manager Survival Guide.)
Mike’s right on target. I want to weigh in on his discussion and will be writing a series of posts covering each of his 8 sins, as well as adding to these.
This first article will focus on what I consider the most fundamental sin–Anti Sales Attitudes. Mike states,
“Anti-sales attitudes dominate the organization; it’s fashionable to openly criticize sales reps when things go wrong, and deflect or deny credit to the sales team when things are good.”
It’s easy to understand how people outside of sales can get a negative attitude about sales people. Virtually, every day, each of us deals with sales people in some shape or form. Whether, it’s the escalating volume of sales pitches we get on email or the phone every day, or the encounter we have going into a store and needing help from a poorly trained sales person. Sales is different from most every function. We don’t have manufacturing people, finance, development engineers, operations or HR trying to catch our attention every day. But inevitably in some form we have an encounter with sales people virtually every day.
Layer on top of this, the horrible experiences we have with those sales people. As proud as I am about the profession I’ve chosen, too often I’m ashamed of what I experience in being “sold to.”
There are plenty of bad sales people. They are sloppy, manipulative, and don’t care. But most of the times, sales people are well intended and are trying hard to have a meaningful impact. When we see these people doing dumb things, we have to reflect, “Why are they doing these stupid things? Why are they engaging customers and prospects in such ineffective ways?”
The answer is pretty simple. They are doing what we have hired and told them to do! They are doing it the way we trained them to do it. They are doing it because we are measuring them on doing those things–even if these things are insanely stupid! I don’t know how many sales people tell me, “I know this is ineffective, but my manager is making me do it and measuring me on what I do.”
This is not just a sales management issue, but the issue goes to the top of the organization and their expectations of sales.
As a result, too many of us, out of the gate, have an anti-sales attitude, just because of our daily experiences with sales people.
Layer on top of this, revenue problems. The moment revenue misses expectations, management starts looking for the problem. Since sales is responsible for generating revenue, the easy answer is “it must be a sales problem. They aren’t doing their jobs!”
It may be a sales problem. But it’s too easy to forget, they are just doing what we have told and equipped them to do. Their effectiveness is impacted by their skills, their knowledge, the systems, processes, tools, support we provide them. If we aren’t doing those things, if we aren’t doing them effectively, then even the best sales person in the world won’t produce.
In reality, it’s never just a sales problem. It could be a product/solution competitiveness problem, it could be a customer service/experience problem, it could be a strategy problem. One of the things that comes up in virtually every client project we have is it is never just a sales problem. It is actually pretty easy to fix sales performance, but once you fix sales performance, we start to see problems with the rest of the organization. Recently, I had a discussion with an EVP of Sales who was under serious pressure from the CEO. Revenue wasn’t growing as it should. It is a SaaS company, the sales team was chartered with acquiring new customers. They were actually doing this, the challenge was, customers weren’t renewing their subscriptions, retention had fallen below 85% and was declining further. Consequently, revenue was plummeting. While, for some reason, sales wasn’t responsible for retention, sales resources were being diverted to help with the retention problem. The retention issue also impacted new customer sales. Prospects started “hearing” about others not renewing. While all this was going on and sales was being blamed for the revenue problem, very little was being done to understand and address the retention issue.
In another situation, growth had stalled. Again, sales was under the magnifying glass, why weren’t they growing as they had in the past, why was revenue stalled? A little research showed there had been a tremendous shift in the market structure, needs and requirements. Sales had been telling the organization about this issue, but the rest of the organization wasn’t paying attention. The organization hadn’t shifted it’s strategies to address these changes. Marketing was doing the same old thing, sales was chasing after the same old customer—even though they knew the potential with those customers was declining.
Sales people are wired to perform. They want to compete, they want to win, they want to produce revenue–that’s how they measure their personal success. Sure, there are a few bad people, just as there are in any other function in the organization. But like anyone else in other functions, they are only doing what we train them, equip them, measure them, and lead them to do.
If they aren’t performing, the first thing we need to do is look in the mirror, asking, “Are we putting the right people with the right capabilities in the job? Are we asking them to do the right things? Are we training and equipping them for success? Are we removing barriers to their success? Are we supporting them and doing everything we can to help them achieve their goals?”
Whatever our position in the organization, whether we are sales executives, whether we are executives leading other functions, whether we are the top executive in the organization, it’s in our own interest to see our sales people be wildly successful. If sales people can’t achieve their goals, then we will never be able to achieve our goals.
Anti-sales attitude at any level are just betting against our own personal and organizational success! Betting against your success and that of the organization is simply insanity! If you aren’t behind the sales organization, helping them achieve success, then the organization will ultimately fail!