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Sales = Management Scapegoat

Sales as a ScapegoatAccording to some of the comments that have surfaced in this blog recently, sales professionals are:

  • Shortsighted.
  • Only interesting in making a sale.
  • Focused on wining and dining.
  • Unconcerned with long-term relationships.
  • Incapable of seeing a larger strategy.
  • Only interested in their commission.
  • Etc., etc., etc.
Needless to say, the people posting these comments have never sold anything in their lives. In fact, you'd be ill-advised assigning these complainers to sell lemonade on a suburban street corner. Because they are clearly clueless.

What's silly about these complaints is that Sales, unlike every other corporate group, does exactly what you tell it to do, when you tell them to do it. Because Sales is compensated based upon whatever results you wish to achieve, there is a DIRECT AND IMMEDIATE CONNECTION between your strategy and the day-to-day behaviors that the salesforce exhibits.

Want goose up the financials for this quarter? Offer bonuses to the sales force so that they close business quickly -- even if that business isn't profitable. Want long-term profitability? Tie commissions to the long-term profit generated inside their accounts. Want new business? Offer big commissions for acquiring new customers. Want to expand your share inside your primary target industry? Add some extra compensation for developing business inside existing accounts.

I could go on, but you get the point.

Frankly, I find it offensive when people blame sales professionals for behaving exactly the way that management has goaled them. If sales reps do things that don't makes strategic sense, it's because that's how they were goaled. Blaming them is scapegoating. The real culprits are the dolts in top management who goaled Sales in a non-strategic way.

This scapegoating goes on in the real world, big time. I had a good friend (best man at my wedding, in fact) who was selling an advertising service to radio stations. The management goaled him on getting as many accounts as possible, so he went out and literally booked hundreds of accounts. Unfortunately, none of them were profitable, so his management refused to pay his commissions. Even though he was doing exactly what they asked him to do. True story.

Even when bonehead management isn't blaming its problems on "shortsighted" sales pros, it's no picnic being in Sales.

When you're in Sales, you MUST deliver the goods. You MUST be able to change directions and sales approaches. You MUST be able to do your job and (often) the jobs of those other groups in the company spend their day gassing about "market strategy." And if you fail while in the sales group, you can't deflect blame by pretending it was somebody else's fault. Sales reps who can't sell, don't eat.

There's no other job in the modern corporation that has the same kind of pressure to perform or the same penalties for failing. I've known "engineers" and "marketers" and "vice presidents" who have drawn BIG salaries for DECADES without doing ANY productive work. Worse, most of these idiots were actively torpedoing the people actually doing productive work.

And while layoffs DO happen if a company does poorly, with the exception of the sales group (where you get canned as soon as it's clear you can't perform), there's often little connection between who gets laid off and who actually does productive work. In my experience, most layoffs hit the people who work the hardest, simply because they're the ones who don't have time to play the politics required to keep their jobs.

The closest parallel to the way Sales is compensated is when CEOs are paid based upon corporate performance. Except that in the case of CEOs, bad performance is rewarded with absurdly high compensation, while good performance is rewarded with obscenely high compensation.

Which is not exactly the same thing.

If CEOs were paid like top sales professionals, when the company failed to make money, the CEO's salary (including stock options and bonuses) would be exactly zero. Nada. Zilch. And if the company ran in the red for more than a couple of quarters, the CEO would get the boot. Without a golden parachute.

Anybody want to tell me why this isn't a great idea?

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