Sales Reps are More Important than CEOs

Last Updated May 20, 2011 2:44 PM EDT

I've said it before and I'll say it again: the real purpose of every corporate group is to provide service and support to the sales team.
The real purpose of engineering is to create products that are easy to sell. The real purpose of marketing is to reduce the cost of selling. The real purpose of manufacturing is to make high quality products that keep customers loyal and therefore easier to sell to.

And the only reason for top management to exist is to create and maintain an infrastructure that makes it possible for selling to take place.

It amazes me that some people don't understand this. If sales don't happen, you don't have a business, you've got a hobby. The entire structure of capitalism is based upon the concept of money and goods changing hands, which is selling. It's absolutely absurd to think otherwise.

Because of that, there simply is no group that is more important than the people who do the selling.

Even so, there are millions of people out there who buy into the total horse manure that the success of a company is the result of having a great CEO.

In my recent post "7 Vastly Overrated Business Books", I pointed out that it's vaguely disgusting when somebody like Jack Welch writes a book called "Winning", essentially taking credit for the efforts of thousands of employees.

In my view, great managers help the people who work for them to be successful, and then give them credit for it, rather than paste their own face on a book. But much of the business world thinks differently. Check out this typical comment:

Jack Welch provided his employees, throughout the company, with a pathway for their personal success. The success of GE under his guidance is well documented and not a fabrication. Employees who participated in employee pension and stock plans were rewarded with profits. He made this happen not the economy or the government. His legacy is that he made millions of dollars for thousands of people. You seem hung up on his pay, which was never in the top 10 of any CEO even though he was in charge of the largest market cap company in the world at the time. if you don't think he can teach you something, hang it up, you are not open minded enough to learn.
The operative phrase is "he made this happen." But was he really responsible. Seems to me that the actual work was done by everybody else. He may have orchestrated the strategy, but the actual work was done by other people. So why should he get the credit?

It's like the coach of a winning team standing up and saying "look what I did" after a championship season... as if the team didn't even matter. In fact, it's even worse, because CEOs at Welch's level don't really do all that much. Most of the operations of a huge company like GE takes place one or two levels down. The CEO position is largely a figurehead and PR role. (See Ken, Lay.)

Here's the simple truth of the matter. A company is only as good as the people who sell for it. Nothing and nobody is more important. Especially a CEO who awards himself absurd perks and makes a career out of claiming to be responsible for the company's success.