Sales people, we have a PR problem. It’s real, we probably deserve it, and we need to do something about it.
I just read this post by Brian de Haaff, CEO of Aha, This CEO Will Never Hire A Sales Person. My initial reaction was, “This guy is clueless about professional sales.”
He spoke about displacing sales with a Customer Success team, people dedicated to making sure customers are successful. People on a profit sharing plan, but with no quota, not prospecting, without commissions, dedicated to the customers’ success.
He went on to explain companies like his need to be driven by relationships, authenticity, collaboration, and information.
In reading his description, I thought—this is exactly what high performing sales people do, how they act, and how they behave.
The problem is, Brian is not alone in his perception, I (we all) encounter this every day. We see customers who abhor sales people because their experience of sales people is horrible. They see sales people who are poorly prepared, don’t understand what the customer is trying to achieve, don’t understand their own products, are not interested in the customer success, but only their own commissions, and on and on an on.
We’ve all been there, heard that, seen that. We (most of this audience) know that’s not what high performing sales professionals do.
But perception is reality. Brian’s experience has caused him to have a serious mis understanding of what sales professionals really do and how they perform. Because of this misunderstanding, he is cheating himself and his company of developing a high performance sales team that can be devoted to customer success, while at the same time driving the growth and success of Aha.
Lashing out at Brian and others is the wrong thing to do. Changing our image, demonstrating what top sales professionals do, how they create value, how they build trust, how they help customers achieve goals they may not have realized possible is the only way we can start to change opinions of what sales professionals truly do.
We have a huge uphill battle. We have to overcome centuries of shoddy practice. We have to overcome the bottom feeders that exist in every profession, but seem to multiply in sales–those hucksters and charlatans that pretend to be sales people, but actually are not.
But to be honest, the biggest thing we need to overcome is mediocrity. Far worse, far more pervasive than the hucksters and charlatans, is the mediocrity we see in sales performance. Managers and people who know what they should be doing, who’ve been involved in sales training, who are using the best tools, who know we can’t be pitching, that we have to understand our customer problems, that we have to be prepared, knowledgeable…..
But too many sales people are too busy or too lazy to do this. They slip back into mediocre practice, they look for short cuts, they get sloppy. Or they us the excuse of busyness to do things half heartedly. We’ve all heard the excuses–some are legitimate for a moment of time, but never as a sustained issue.
CEO’s, sales executives, sales managers should demand the highest levels of performance–but must set that example themselves. They have to coach, develop, and hold people accountable for doing what we know is right for professional selling, and performing at the highest levels.
We should not tolerate mediocrity in our own performance and in the performance of the people we work with.
Slowly, after demonstrating this, we will start to shift the perceptions of the many people, like Brian, who do not understand, and probably haven’t met a true sales high performing sales professional.
There are a lot of things Brian has wrong in his post, or at least I disagree with:
No prospecting…. unfortunately, I see this in too many of the SaaS companies. Unwittingly product focused, thinking of a “field of dreams—build it and they will come” approach. It’s interesting, that the largest, fastest growing, and most successful SaaS and SaaS like companies have large proactively focused sales organizations, aggressively looking to find and serve new customers. But I’ll write more about this in a future post.
Then there’s that commission thing….. Brian, and many like him are opposed to commission, but still revel in bonus programs. Commission is just one form of “pay for performance,” compensation programs, as is any sort of bonus and profit sharing program. The issue is not “pay for performance,” but the design of the program. It’s actually very easy to design commission or other programs that achieve the goals Brian is trying to achieve, and drive business growth.
Finally, the quota thing and not tying compensation to deals–in other words, performance. I suspect when Brian sits with his Board of Directors, they are interested in: “How have you grown revenue? Have you hit your plan? How can you grow more? How are your growing profits/margins?” I suspect, each year, when the look at his bonus, it is impacted by his attainment of those and other goals.
Quota is nothing more than a goal we hold people accountable for. Everyone in the organization has–or should have goals. Whether it’s launching a product on time, with certain functionality, whether it’s manufacturing a product at certain costs, quality, cycle time, whether it’s reducing DSO and improving cash management, or acquiring new customers and new business.
People must be and expect to be accountable. We achieve nothing for our organizations and people if we don’t hold them accountable–and give them the tools, systems, processes, coaching and development so they can perform.
So, while I disagree with Brian’s solution (and I suspect, much of his post was firing for effect), he along with hundreds of other customers continue to have an inaccurate perception of what professional selling is about.
It’s our job to change that perception, by changing the way we perform, by not accepting anything but the best in what we can do.