Why Do We Hate (our own) Sales People (Part III)

I received the following comment from David Field about my last post: “Another good article, but with so much feedback on part 1 in relation to ‘some of it is deserved’ it would be great to see some pointers on why the top ten things that make delivery hate sales have to be done, or how they could be done differently.

My corporate career spanned 27 years at IBM and PeopleSoft, with my tenure split evenly between roles in sales or leading sales teams and roles as a software consultant or leading large professional services organisations. For the past 10 years at The Meaford Group, I have been an adviser, coach and mentor primarily to CEO’s or their direct reports of software or professional services companies ranging from early stage start-ups to $100MM enterprises. Having walked between the dark side and with the forces of good for 37 years (and I will let the reader decide which side is which), I have definitely seen this conflict from both sides.

My background and field of expertise is software. Selling software is about selling to your client a vision of what the solution will do for their business over the next ten to twenty years (because this is generally how long companies use a software product before replacing it). Translating a ten to twenty-year vision into what the software does today (and how much of it the customer can implement and adopt to their advantage in the near future) is often the seed of the conflict between the sales team, the delivery team and the product development team. But without selling this long-term vision, the sale would never be made. This is also often at the root cause of accusations of sales overselling and delivery being stuck holding the bag to deliver. These conflicts are exasperated by breakdowns in communications; lack of relationships and trust; and internal misalignment of goals.

That said, I think there are things every sales person should be doing to be more successful in how they are regarded within their company. To try and answer David’s question, here is my take on what sales could do differently:

1.    Listen better internally

A piece of advice that I would give any sales rep is to work less deals, but make sure the deals you work have a higher close rate and bigger sale price. Unfortunately, (and fortunately) our nature as sales people is too be greedy and believe we can do it all.

The reality check is that we can’t.

Sometimes we try to have too many balls (deals) up in the air and we end up doing a half-ass job on most of them. When doing so, we expect all the support people around us to try and keep up with our demands but they think we are crazy because they can see all the balls that are going to drop and end in lost deals.

Listen to the feedback from your team. Some of it will be incredibly insightful and increase your win rate. Some of it will be wrong, because they are working from a different set of assumptions that are incorrect. Take the time to correct their assumptions or educate them on the deal so that everyone is rowing in the same direction.

2.    Explain, don’t assume

Strong sales professionals have a high level of business acumen. Their knowledge of their industry, issues and products allows them to have business conversations about the costs, benefits and implications of their solution with their clients. Sometimes, less experienced or more specialised support functions within the salesperson’s company do not share this level of business acumen or understanding of the bigger picture. Take the time to explain the “why’s” of what you are asking for, don’t just assume it is apparent to everyone.

On a related note, often the sales person and the customer buyer (often an executive) understand the solution that has been sold but that doesn’t necessarily translate to customer’s project team understanding from their executive the nuances what they bought. Make sure your team knows what you sold. Don’t let the customer’s team tell them what they think they bought. It may not be accurate.

3.    Give the glory away, take the commission cheque

The best sales people are willing to recognize the contribution of others. In fact, many of the best take their gratification from the size of the commission cheque and willingly give away the accolades to the people who they feel were essential to their success. In Good to Great, Jim Collins says that a “Level 5 leader” looks in a mirror when assessing failure, but looks out a window when recognizing success. This is a good motto for any sales person to follow.

4.    Take the time to say “thank you”

Don’t assume that the people who support you know how much you appreciate them and what they do. Show it. Be visible in how you do it.

Recognize the key people who wouldn’t otherwise have the light shone on their contributions. But don’t fake it. People will see through a fraud in a second. Be genuine about saying thank you to the people who you think contributed to your success.

5.    Be honest and candid.

Giving candid constructive feedback is a difficult skill to develop, but essential to building relationships. If you haven’t learned this art yet, you need to develop it.

I was once in the office of the CEO of a major client with my CEO. The client’s CEO asked a difficult question about why a project at another company failed. The true answer would have looked like I was throwing the other company’s team and a Systems Integrator involved in the project under the bus. Instead of doing this, I danced around the question with an answer that I thought sounded good. As we were taking the elevator down after the meeting, my CEO asked for the real answer. I gave it to him. His reply was “Why didn’t you just say that. You looked like an ass in the meeting”. I have never hesitated from being candid and honest since. Being honest does not mean be hurtful or mean. Find the balance.

6.    Be Humble

We are all human. We all make mistakes and screw up. Admit yours. Be first to talk about what you could have done better, what you have learned and what you will do differently next time. You will be amazed how others will follow your lead and do the same.

7.    Be Vulnerable

No one likes someone who is perfect and especially someone who pretends to be but isn’t.

The best sales people are not perfect and admit it. They show vulnerability. Sound risky? Amazingly, their teams step up to protect them from their vulnerabilities by providing a shield in their defence.

8.    Kick someone in the butt if they need it.

There are times when one of your team members doesn’t live up to what they are capable of.

Kick them in the butt, but do it one-on-one, behind closed doors and in a constructive way. Make sure they understand they were the weak link in the chain that busted and the consequences of the failure, but then pick them up and give them the confidence so that they can move forward and be successful. Sales people are leaders in a business and need to act like it.

9.    Give someone the opportunity to grow

Often, a sales organization will stretch the boundaries, more than any part of a company. Find the people in your company who will view working as part of your team as a growth opportunity for their personal skill set or experience portfolio. Take the time to understand your team members’ aspirations and goals so you can see opportunities for them. Tap into the people who will get a personal benefit from being stretched.

10. Be a leader

Back to sales people being leaders in the company. Don’t accept mediocrity in yourself or others, but also don’t abdicate your responsibility. Do it by leading from the front. If you expect your support team to pull an all-nighter to get a proposal done on time, be there (even if your only contribution to the effort is to get coffee and make the 2 a.m. pizza run). If you have an irate client, be at the front at the meeting where they take a strip off you and your team. Provide air cover when the team is under stress. Don’t be invisible.

David, for what it is worth, that’s my 2 cents worth…

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