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Are Our Customer Conversations Substantively Different Than Internal Discussions?

by David Brock on November 29th, 2018

The other day, I published a post, “Are Traditional Selling Skills Even Relevant Anymore?”  It’s generated a lot of great ideas and good discussion on both sides of the topic.

One of the premises I had in the article is that the skills/challenges we face in driving change within our own organizations, and  that those customers have within their organizations are not much different than the conversations/engagement that sales people and buyers have.

They are human to human discussions, with all the same characteristics–disagreements, disinterest, differing points of view, alternative views on potential solutions, fear, confusion, confusion, convincing, negotiation, reaching consensus, trust building, and so forth.  These discussions also have many of the negative aspects that people associate with selling, including feelings of manipulation, politics, self interest over organizational interest, exercise of power and influence, betrayals of trust, and so forth..

Similar pressures exist within organizations.  People driven to achieve their personal goals/objectives, their department’s, their organization’s.  They are driven to do it as efficiently and effectively as possible.  People are measured. compensated, promoted, and terminated based on their effectiveness in achieving their goals.  In many cases, these people have a bonus element, such as achieving certain new product goals, manufacturing deadlines, and so forth.  (Hmmm, this isn’t sounding much different than sales…..)

In fact the phrase, “everyone in the organization is selling…”  The concept has several contexts.  If you take the quality/continuous/agile principles, everyone in the organization has customers they need to support.  Most are internal, some may be external.  Another concept is around change management–sales people are basically change agents and help customers understand and implement change.  But within our own organizations, we have similar needs to drive change and many others act as change agents–only internally.

It seems to me, the skills to effectively/efficiently drive change, learning, innovation and progress within an organization are the same that great sales people leverage in working with customers.

Somehow, it seems there are more similarities in driving internal changes/organizational performance, than differences.  Yet for some reason, we have always treated skills that sales people need as very different than those that are required for success within our own organizations.

It has been argued, the difference in context–that is we are dealing with colleagues internally, versus, sales people dealing with people external to the organization.  But increasingly, that seems less relevant.  Every function in modern organizations have people/organizations external to the company they must deal with and manage.  Procurement, customer service, HR are all easily understood.  But finance has to deal within the financial community, with investors/shareholders, bankers, auditors and others.  Engineering/design/development rely, increasingly, on partnerships and alliances with other organizations.  Manufacturing has complex supply chain management, outsourcing and other relationships.  The more organizations leverage subcontractors and contract employees, the more all functions in the organization leverage social channels in doing their work, the inside/outside differentiation become meaningless.

Perhaps a better approach to skills development for sales people is to focus less on the differences in sales people’s jobs/roles, and look at the similarities with leaders who drive change initiatives, projects within our organizations.  Perhaps, training them together, having them learn from each other can create huge benefit.

Many of the skills critical to sales people are just as critical to our internal leaders.  Skills critical to internal people are just as critical to sales people.

There’s another important side benefit.  By doing integrating much of the skills development we conduct internally with sales skills development, sales people will be learning side by side with the same type of people they will be working with in their customers.  Understanding them, their perspectives, how they get things done, can provide huge understanding for sales people as they work to apply those same skills with customers.

Let me be clear, there will be some programs that need to be very specific for sales, just like there are some that are finance, engineering, manufacturing specific.  But I suspect there are more similarities in skills than differences.

I, also, recognize that internal change/problem solving discussions might be a little easier to initiate  because everyone is in the same organization, there is greater access/visibility, understanding within the organization.  There may be better alignment in goals, culture, values (at least in theory); so there are some important differences with working with customers.

Almost since the inception of sales training and skills development, we have treated it as something different from all the other skills development programs in the organization.  It’s time to look at the similarities and develop the skill sales people need to help customers become more successful.

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