Customer-Centric Salespeople Are Four Times More Effective


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That’s the claim in a recent white paper.
The authors claim that sales professionals fall into two categories, eagles and journeypeople.
According to them, most sales organizations are made up mainly of journeypeople. They rely on their knowledge of the company and its offerings in sales calls. They are most comfortable talking about their company’s capabilities and products. They make lots of statements about their products and services, in hopes that something will resonate with the buyer. In general, journeypeople see their jobs as a facilitator of transactions between their company and its customers.
Eagles, on the other hand, make up less than 20 percent of most sales teams but account for the bulk of sales revenues, in some cases more than 80 percent. What makes eagles so much more effective is their focus on the customer and the customer’s business issues. In general, eagles see their job as capturing pertinent customer information, diagnosing customer issues, and then prescribing the most suitable solutions.
As someone who has sold and managed a nationwide sales team I am not surprised by this position. And, I believe their claim that eagles account for up to 4 times more sales. The question is, why haven’t more sales leaders figured this out and why aren’t they doing more about it?
In my experience there are two primary reasons. One, most sales organizations train their sales teams to sell products and do very little to recruit and train sales people who can sell business solutions. The obvious reason for this is that most sales organizations are run by salespeople who were themselves journeypeople. The second reason is most sales people have very little business acumen outside of selling, that is to say, they have very little insight into the challenges that face their customers. Moreover, they do not have systematic ways to gain these insights. Most often, their insights come from marketing and marketing slants the information in their company’s favor.
The authors of the paper believe that journeypeople can be taught to be eagles. They do bring some bias to the issues since they sell software to facilitate the process.
My personal experience says that the majority of journeypeople will not make the transition. If sales organizations are going to become customer-centric it is going to involve a transformation. Will the traditional sales process and people be replaced? Or will there be a metamorphosis?
I invited your comments and love to here about your experiences.

John Todor
John I. Todor, Ph.D. is the Managing Partner of the MindShift Innovation, a firm that helps executives confront the volatility and complexity of the marketplace. We engage executives in a process that tackles two critical challenges: envisioning new possibilities for creating and delivering value to customers and, fostering employee engagement in the innovation and alignment of business practices to deliver on the new possibilities. Follow me on Twitter @johntodor


  1. How should companies define sales processes in the context of their overall strategy and the forces that are acting on their organizations?

    How should sales organizations be structured and how should they engage with prospects?

    These are questions that must be considered, and the answers aren’t the same for every organization.

    Most important of all, the way products are bought is changing. How people find and share information is changing. Sales must change also, but the metamorphosis has been a slower process, in part because as you point out, sales managers can’t mentor eagles. The result for sales: an ever-widening gap between forecast and actual outcomes.

    There are many challenges in this. At the top of the list how to promote trust–as mutual trust is a required condition of any valuable business relationship. If transparency of motives is central to promoting trust, exactly how will organizations define the motives of the Eagles they want to nurture? To prescribe “the most suitable solutions?” What if that means prescribing a product that isn’t one their company sells?

    That by itself could change fundamental assumptions about trust and about salespeople. If there’s anything that people believe about our sales culture, it’s that salespeople are tasked with selling their company’s product or service. Customers have shared that when a salesperson’s motives are unclear, it’s a trust-breaker.

    And that’s already started to happen when the word “Sales” is purged from sales job titles, favoring more nebulous terms like “Associate,” or “Consultant.” And, as social networks expand and more people become engaged in selling (the familiar refrain “the whole company is the sales force” is close to the mark!), mapping out such details as how to make motives transparent, and what job titles really mean becomes strategically important.

    These are a few of the risks and challenges that organizations will face as new sales paradigms give primacy to understanding clients’ strategic goals and to promoting and measuring relationship building over strict revenue goals.

    The new generation of Eagles will enter a game with a much different set of sales rules.

  2. Andy,

    I am glad you have gotten into this issue. It needs commentary from people lile you who are involved in sales and improvement of the sales process.

    Changing the title won’t do it. When I was in an executive role I receive the pitch from “Associates” or “Consultants.” Most were scripts presented by people who were recently trained to present “the business case.” The problem was, it was a business case that was general and not especially applicable to my situation. The “Associate” lack the acumen to make it applicable. I would like to emphasize that there are salespeople who have the business acumen to do so. However, they are few and far between and, often marginalized by their own companies.

    You touch on an issue that I think is very central. Companies must decide whether they are focused on selling products in the short-term or interested in building mutually benefical relationships with a long-term pay-off. Most traditional sales organizations are focused on the short-term. Making the switch is truely transformational. The question is how to foster the transformation.


    John I. Todor, Ph.D.
    Author of Addicted Customers: How to Get Them Hooked on Your Company.


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