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Sales Force Ineffectiveness, Conjecture On The Future Of The Profession, Part 2 of 3 — Not Just A Sales Problem

by David Brock on May 8th, 2009
In the first part of this post, I focused primarily on the sales function and challenges we have created for ourselves. However, what we face is not just a sales problem.

There are some things that keep us from being as effective as possible that are not just the “fault” of sales people, but which do contribute to our inability to sustain high levels of effective performance. Some of it is “business culture”—in general, some of it is “regional culture”—that is North American, European, Asian, and so forth. Some of it is “industry culture.”

These represent attitudes, behaviors, practices, expectations by all business professionals, but which applied to selling, adversely impact our performance and effectiveness. I can’t review all of these, but will highlight a few of the issues that impact sales effectiveness.

The focus on the short term is one of the biggest issues impacting organizations, in general, and sales specifically. CEO’s and Boards are concerned about today’s stock performance. Decisions are biased to what impacts our stock now—not what will increase our market cap in 2-5 years. If the strategies, tactics, and actions we have adopted don’t impact stock price today, then tomorrow we will change them.

This has a terrible impact on all parts of the organization, but perhaps the biggest on sales. Strategies, tactics and actions are oriented around booking the order today. If we aren’t tracking at or above plan, then we will change our strategies and tactics. We confuse the sales people, we confuse our customers, and we don’t produce results. We push our customers to meet our schedule for booking orders rather than their schedule of producing results. In this environment, the “program du jour” rules—at least for today, who knows about tomorrow?

Sales people become numb to this, they often ignore everything and just keep doing what they have been doing in the past. They keep their heads down and stay out of trouble.

Speed of execution is favored over planning. We are too busy doing activities, to focus on doing things right. We always have time to do things over (after all, our programs and priorities will change tomorrow, anyway). Taking the time to plan, takes away from time we can spend doing stuff—regardless of whether it moves us forward. We have studies, as do others, which show tremendous improvements in productivity, results, and effectiveness by investing time in planning. Clearly, we can’t go overboard, but there is a mentality/culture in most of the business world that favors activity and speed—any motion/activity is good motion/activity over doing the right thing at the right time with the right people.

We live in a disposable society: Rather than fixing something, repairing it, tuning it, we get rid of it, replacing it with something new. As consumers, when something breaks, we throw it out and replace it with something new. As business people, when something “breaks,” we throw it out and replace it with something new. When our people don’t perform to our expectations, we replace them with someone new. When our managers don’t accomplish what we want, we replace them with something new. When our CRM system, Sales 2.0 tools, sales training don’t produce what we want, we get something new. We don’t look coach or develop people for improvement, we don’t look at processes and analyze what is wrong, correcting that, we don’t learn from our problems and look at how we can repair, tune, or fix them—even though the path to good results by doing this is probably faster and cheaper than a replacement strategy. We deal with symptoms and don’t address root problems. Fixing the symptom doesn’t eliminate the problem.

We forget the Lone Ranger really didn’t exist. We look for the silver bullet, we believe in the magic solution—whether it is weight loss, or the 10 techniques to get anybody to buy anything. We are susceptible to fads and move from fad to fad. There are no silver bullets. Business and sales is hard work. It requires passion, creativity, discipline, follow through, and learning from our mistakes. There are no shortcuts.

All that counts is results. I’m all for results—they represent the ultimate scorecard. But results are produced from strong processes, disciplined execution, and focused action. Just demanding results without looking at the root issues that impact the ability to deliver results doesn’t produce sustained improvement.

Managers aren’t leading. In all functions, managers are spending more time administering than leading. Managers get things done through their people. Their responsibility is to remove barriers to their people’s performance, coach and develop people to perform at the highest levels, developing and managing the process. Unfortunately, few managers—from the CEO down do a consistent job at doing this. Many don’t know it’s their job, many don’t have the skills to do their job. Without leadership, without management setting the expectations and the example, how can we expect sales people to raise their standard of performance. As my colleague, Christian Maurer, likes to say, the fish rots from the head.

It’s better to look good than do good. We seem to honor image more than true accomplishment. What better example than the cult of personalities led by people like Paris Hilton who have contributed nothing. By contrast, a person like Greg Mortenson is relatively unknown, yet he has had a deep impact on dozens of communities and thousands of people. This translates into our business world. Executives spend more time cultivating their personal image/brand—often hiring personal media consultant, than letting their work speak for itself. A fantastic presentation or elevator pitch, a great PowerPoint is more recognized than a simple whiteboard discussion with a customer.

We are time poor. Nobody is “fat” in business these days. To be competitive and to survive, companies must be lean (remember lean is different depending on where you are). In a world of cutbacks and layoffs, the funds and number of people available to do the work have been reduced significantly. Too few people, too few dollars, and 7/24 availability — thanks to our Blackberry’s, have given us no time to think, plan, organize. We can only react.

There have been too many breaches of Trust. All the items above, and others I haven’t suggested have created very low levels of trust—within the organization, and even lower levels of trust across different organization. We’ve heard and seen too much focus on your personal brand. We’ve seen too many commitments broken. We’ve seen too many of the top executives rewarded for destroying the organizations they were supposed to lead.

These are problems that pervade business. They are not just sales problems, we see these issues in virtually every part of every organization. They impact how we, as sales professionals, act within our organizations and with our customers. They impact how we are perceived by our own organizations and by our customers.

Sales Force Ineffectiveness, Conjecture On The Future Of The Profession, Part 1 of 3 (in case you came in on the middle of the story)

Sales Force Ineffectiveness, Conjecture On The Future Of The Profession, Part 3 of 3 – What Do We Do?

Book CoverFor a free peek at Sales Manager Survival Guide, click the picture or link.  You’ll get the Table of Contents, Foreword, and 2 free Chapters.  Free Sample

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