Silly Me, I Thought Selling Was Supposed To Generate Revenue!


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I’ve always been under the impression that revenue generation (quota) was the key objective for sales people. One of my own key metrics and that of the teams I’ve managed is Revenue–sometimes orders, sometimes revenue growth. But always, it’s somehow been tied to money coming in the door as a result of my work with prospects and customers.

I’ve always focused my time on finding customers that are interested in my solutions, who want to make a change, and who are willing to invest money in achieving the results they expect. That’s a fundamental principle in qualifying. It’s always seemed to be very important–I don’t want to waste the customer’s time and, greedily, I don’t want to waste my time. Of course, there are prospects that I nurture over time, but even those are always in my sweet spot and are those I think may be interested at some point in our solutions. But my qualifying calls are critical, I want to know how to invest my time and our company’s resources in the right opportunities–ultimately winning a deal and generating revenue.

Recently, however, I think I’ve been badly mistaken–at least based on the vast majority of sales calls I get. I always thought the goal was to find and qualify opportunities that could ultimately generate revenue, but that no longer seems to be the priority. I have to admit to being a little embarrassed. I try to keep at the forefront of best practices and emerging trends in sales effectiveness. However, I ‘ve missed this major new trend.

It seems the key goals for sales people are: 1. Getting a customer to accept a piece of literature–a case study, a brochure, a catalog. 2. Getting a meeting, even if the prospect is not a fit in any possible scenario where they might buy a product.

I’ve been off the road for a couple of days, as usual fielding a lot of prospecting calls from hopeful sales people. They astound me, I don’t know if every bad sales person in the world suddenly decided to call me, or if there are just that many really bad sales people. Unfortunately, I think the latter is true.

The calls are interesting. It seems the sales people must be on quota to send me a piece of literature. I’ve gotten calls from small businesses in my community, from very large (Fortune 500) technology sales people, from various large professional services organizations, and others. The sales people are singular in their focus—”Can I send you [insert the right word–a cases study, a catalog, our brochure, etc.]?”

Most of the sales people don’t even ask questions. They have a well rehearsed opening sentence (most of which have little meaning to me) culminating in “Can I send you some information?” My response is, “Why would I even be interested in that?” Most are not able to handle the objection. Their usual response is, “Well, it’s free!”

A few ask me a few questions about me and my business, then somehow, based on the conversation, it gets to, “Can I send you some information?” I struggle in these conversations. I try to connect the dots. I think to myself, “We were talking about this and that, how did that get to ‘Can I send you some information?'” I can never figure it out, I don’t know how my responses to the questions led to needing a piece of literature. In fact a few times, the next action might have been a meeting–I was more than casually interested in what they were offering, but rather than picking up on the “buying signal,” they wanted to send me a piece of literature.

Then there are the others, “We’re going to be in the neighborhood and would like to meet.” When I respond, “We don’t buy that stuff–that’s never a requirement in our business,” they come back, “Well we’d just like the opportunity to meet.” I always go back with, “If I never intend to buy anything you sell, why do you want to meet? What’s the purpose?” They can never answer this, but they persist, “Are you available next Monday or Tuesday?”

I think I’ve figured it out. I’m a little ashamed. I’ve missed the trend. Apparently, revenue is no longer a key metric for sales people. The emerging trend must be to measure people on tons or pages of literature sent, or numbers of meetings–regardless of whether they are purposeful. I can just imagine the commission plans based on “You have a quota of 1 million pages of literature.” That’s why people really want to send me these meaningless catalogs–usually they are a few hundred pages, brochures are usually only a few pages.

I can see the leaderboard in an office: “Bill’s in the lead at 957K pages, Debbie is closing in with 935K pages, …..sadly, Dave’s only done 23K pages.”

Or the sales training sessions, “Ignore buying signals, ignore whether the customer is qualified, ignore whether they are even in our sweet spot–get the meeting! The more meetings you have, the more successful you will be! Make sure you find some excuse to get a meeting, everything will work out once you get the meeting!”

Call me old fashion, but somehow I think revenue still play a role in driving sales activity. It’s hard for me to connect literature or number of meetings with success in driving revenue.

I have always been of the impression that we are most effective when our activites are purposeful and create value for the customer. I’ve thought it better to reduce the number of calls required to close–not increase them. I’ve thought it not good to waste the customer’s time or my time on things that are meaningless.

Have I missed something?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Dave Brock
Dave has spent his career developing high performance organizations. He worked in sales, marketing, and executive management capacities with IBM, Tektronix and Keithley Instruments. His consulting clients include companies in the semiconductor, aerospace, electronics, consumer products, computer, telecommunications, retailing, internet, software, professional and financial services industries.


  1. Of course, in the sales quest for revenue, there are lots of sub-goals, as all of us know. Set up a meeting, start a conversation, meet with the boss or boss’s boss, get a commitment to try out an offer or sample.

    In the cube-farm sales sweatshops I’ve worked in, such conversational “wins” are few and far between. So from a sales perspective, it’s totally understandable that when a prospect accepts an offer from a salesperson to email them a dowdy brochure, it’s cause for celebration–even when the prospect’s reply is as tepid as “Sure. OK. Why not?” And from the prospect’s point of view, there’s little risk. It’s so easy to hit “delete” when the email eventually arrives. We all do it.

    Much of this is not the salesperson’s fault. They’re often bound to such conversational patterns because they’re required to conform to steps or milestones in their company’s sales process. We don’t buy that way (or sell that way, either, for that matter), but that doesn’t stop others.

    I’ve seen the “leaderboard” you described, and when they’re used the wrong way, the same disconnected scenario you described takes form. Thanks for exposing how this comes across to the outside.

  2. Great comment Andrew. Lot’s of this problem is more attributable to management than the sales people themselves. We see these behaviors so consistently, it’s impossible that it’s the result of independent action by sales people, but more the direction given by management.

    Activities–meetings, even collateral may be appropriate interim goals, but too often the emphasis seems to be these goals as an end, not as an indicator that we are on the path to generating revenue.

    Thanks for starting the discussion!


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