Recently, I’ve been engaged in a number of discussions about how tough a job sales is. The issues usually involve: “We have the highest risk job in the company, if we don’t hit our numbers, we’re gone!” Or it is: “Our performance is visible to everyone in the company, they see whether we make our numbers or not, no one else has that visibility.” Or it is: “Without us, nothing happens, we are the most critical and criticized function in the organization?”
I worry about these claims–complaints. In the best case, they are ill-informed, in the worst they are arrogant and elitist. Make no mistake, sales is a tough job, it is critical to any organization. But is this posturing justified?
The conversations where these comments come up is always the same, it is a group of sales people feeling under appreciated and misunderstood. I never hear these comments when I talk to a bunch of manufacturing folks, nor when I talk to development engineers, or finance folks. Funny thing, when I talk to then, the issues are the same–but do a global replacement for the function. Manufacturing says, “We have the highest risk ob in the company, if we don’t make quality products, or miss shipments, we’re gone.” Engineering says, “Without us, nothing happens. Imagine if we didn’t develop these new products that customers want, no one would buy anything.” Finance says, “Our performance is visible to everyone in the company, everyone sees budgetary reports, everyone understands DSO, our performance is judged by the street every day!”
In reality, every job in an organization is tough and presents it’s own challenges (Even the show “Undercover Boss” showed this with the COO’s inability to pick up trash, sort recyclables, clean toilets). None of us can be successful without the others in our organization performing at their highest levels. We can’t perform at the highest levels unless each person is held accountable for their performance and has tough metrics against which their performance is measured, regardless of whether it is quota performance, on time delivery, meeting engineering milestones, reducing DSO.
Another complaint I hear from sales people is, “They just don’t understand what we do and how challenging it is.” But do we really understand what they do and their challenges? I really like this issue, it is a platform for understanding and real change. It can be a source for accelerating the success of sales professionals.
Imagine this case, we sell solutions manufacturing automation systems. We’ve been well trained in the products, their features and functions. We’re smart and we can speak intellectually about manufacturing productivity and effectiveness, but we don’t really understand who they are and the pressure of their jobs. Wouldn’t we be much more effective if we went to our own manufacturing people and learned more about them, the pressure of their jobs, and what worries them about performance? Couldn’t this be a fantastic conversation–we understand them better, they understand us, we learn to appreciate each other within the organization. PLUS the great added bonus is now we’ve seen manufacturing through their eyes—we can now better understand our manufacturing customers. They probably have a lot of the same issues our own people have—or at least that’s a great starting point for engaging them.
While I’ve held a lot of jobs in different functions, I basically consider myself a sales professional. Selling is a tough job, every deal stretches my capability and forces me to learn and perform at higher levels. But every other function in the organization is as important–without them performing at the highest levels, we have nothing to sell. Without understanding them–and appreciating them, our jobs are harder than they need be. Without understanding them, we cannot connect with our customers as effectively as we can.