Tuesday, May 08, 2007

sales and the organization

How do you feel about sales?

When I tell people - whether they are business students or entrepreneurs - that everyone in business is in sales, many of them tense up. They do not want to see themselves as sales people and they do not want to have to sell. Yet without exchange, there is no business. And whatever our role in social systems (from education to retail), we are in the business of making exchanges with other people. The nature of these exchanges has to be that they leave most of us better off most of the time - otherwise we would stop making them.

What sales people do is not different in nature than what the rest of the staff is doing - it is different in frequency and in effectiveness. Practice makes perfect, we say - and so practice in sales leads (more often than not) to better results. Sales people are often good at getting what they want. When their needs or vision conflicts with that of others in the company, sales people have at least three advantages:
1) they have practical ownership of client relationships (intangible assets)
2) they are good at influence
3) they are necessary in order for all the other functions to continue to function.

This means that sales people are often in a position of practical power - maybe that's why they are called a sales force. People in other functions, from leadership to support roles, often think that sales people are 'getting away with murder' either because they are playing their power or because the sales process is so emotionally draining that sales people need to be pampered (a different version of the power card). Sales power is not proportionate to perceived levels of skill, effort or teamwork.

What happens when we understand that this imbalance results from the nature of business itself and not from the behaviour, beliefs or personalities of the sales people themselves? Can we change the nature of the connection between the sales force and the rest of the company so that the team feels more balanced and congruent?

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