The End of the Individual Contributor! Goodbye, and Good Riddance!

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Every day, lots of sales professionals vanquish mighty revenue goals. What’s remarkable are the persistent references to salespeople as individual contributors. For me, year after year, a not-insignificant chunk of my revenue has had as much to do with the efforts of others as it has had to do with mine.

“I Achieved X% increase in product sales each year in my territory . . .” Similar stories are told through LinkedIn profiles, biographical thumbnails, and personal resumes. But if we unpack these claims, we’d find deeper, more socially-networked, collaborative heroism. We’d uncover back stories that include a gamut of reseller sales, revenue “splits” for systems engineered and sold out of territory but installed locally, reliable run-rate revenue, and bluebird sales that flittered in from out of nowhere, and landed in a lucky salesperson’s territory. Thank you.Thank you.Thank you.

“. . . And in accepting this Top Producer sales achievement award, I’d like to recognize my order administrator who unfailingly entered my Rep ID in the CRM system, my pre-sales engineer who stepped in so many times during demos and handled some tough moments, our proposal-writing staff who toiled tirelessly over weekends to make sure our bids were professionally written and submitted on time, our support team who tidied up after my optimistic product performance claims, and last but not least, my manager, without whose kind coaching, patience, confidence and support I would not be here to receive this honor.” Full disclosure: I just made up this snippet, because I’ve never actually heard it, or anything similar. When a salesperson’s annual performance is summarized as “above goal,” there are simply too many involved people to mention, and it’s rare for others to get recognized at all.

So what’s wrong with promoting the venerable individual contributor archetype? A lot. It’s a mythology that’s not a true reflection of how sales are done, and the lore gets in our way. The proverbial sales hunter who ventures solo into his territory to bag big deals is a relic from a bygone sales culture. It leads to myopic thinking. Try selling anything these days without a hefty dose of collaboration, and the magnanimity of others. Let me know how it goes.

“It takes a village to raise some revenue.” Good salespeople know that truth, and they give credit where credit is due.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Ok, you’re right it takes a village. But we in sales can’t use the “hire & fire” stick to get the village to help us. We need to use the art of “please help me”. The proposal team, admin., accounting, etc. will do the bare minimum for you unless you make them part of your team. You will do this as an individual not as part of company management. Thus my semi-agreement that individual contributor is not accurate but self-managed contributor is a more accurate description.

  2. Michael: thanks for taking the time to post your comment. What gets lost in the ‘Individual Contributor’ concept is the fact that for many B2B salespeople, a proportion of sales time must be devoted to orchestrating the efforts of others, without which, sales are not made.

    As you point out, what makes this even more challenging is the fact salespeople don’t manage by fiat, one reason why ‘self-managed contributor’ is a better description for what salespeople do. They must create internal relationships that make it so that others like working with them. That might sound a tad corny, but I’ve seen some pretty decent sales opportunities languish because support staff had compelling reasons to focus their priorities on other stuff (read: work with the salespeople they’d rather work with).

    Those outside the sales realm often don’t recognize this. They look at sales achievement, and want to know what an individual did to post stellar performance increases. “I’m really, really good at rallying others in my company around helping me to achieve my sales goals.” That might not be the answer people are looking for, but it’s much closer to the truth.

    This is not to take away from recognizing the personal efforts that salespeople make. They are important and often significant. But individual? I don’t think so. “There’s no ‘I’ in Team . . . .’ Yeah, yeah, yeah. So why are ‘Individual Contributors’ still staffing the departments that raise revenue for companies?

  3. No “I” in Team, but there is an M&E, just kidding. To answer your last question, you are correct “individual contributors” will not last. As companies get leaner the “individual” will quickly find themselves afloat without an engine.

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