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Sales People, We Have A PR Problem

by David Brock on January 23rd, 2015

Sales people, we have a PR problem, …..it’s Real,…… and we probably deserve it, ….  and we need to do something about it.

I just read this post by Brian de Haaff, CEO of Aha, This CEO Will Never Hire A Sales Person.  My initial reaction was, “This guy is clueless about professional sales.”

He spoke about displacing sales with a Customer Success team, people dedicated to making sure customers are successful.  People on a profit sharing plan, but with no quota, not prospecting, without commissions, dedicated to the customers’ success.

He went on to explain companies like his need to be driven by relationships, authenticity, collaboration, and information.

In reading his description, I thought—this is exactly what high performing sales people do, how they act, and how they behave.

The problem is, Brian is not alone in his perception, I (we all) encounter this every day.  We see customers who abhor sales people because their experience of sales people is horrible.  They see sales people who are poorly prepared, don’t understand what the customer is trying to achieve, don’t understand their own products, are not interested in the customer success, but only their own commissions, and on and on an on.

We’ve all been there, heard that, seen that.  We (most of this audience) know that’s not what high performing sales professionals do.

But perception is reality.  Brian’s experience has caused him to have a serious mis understanding of what sales professionals really do and how they perform.  Because of this misunderstanding, he is cheating himself and his company of developing a high performance sales team that can be devoted to customer success, while at the same time driving the growth and success of Aha.

Lashing out at Brian and others is the wrong thing to do.  Changing our image, demonstrating what top sales professionals do, how they create value, how they build trust, how they help customers achieve goals they may not have realized possible is the only way we can start to change opinions of what sales professionals truly do.

We have a huge uphill battle.  We have to overcome centuries of shoddy practice.  We have to overcome the bottom feeders that exist in every profession, but seem to multiply in sales–those hucksters and charlatans that pretend to be sales people, but actually are not.

But to be honest, the biggest thing we need to overcome is mediocrity.  Far worse, far more pervasive than the hucksters and charlatans, is the mediocrity we see in sales performance.  Managers and people who know what they should be doing, who’ve been involved in sales training, who are using the best tools, who know we can’t be pitching, that we have to understand our customer problems, that we have to be prepared, knowledgeable…..

But too many sales people are too busy or too lazy to do this.  They slip back into mediocre practice, they look for short cuts, they get sloppy.  Or they us the excuse of busyness to do things half heartedly.  We’ve all heard the excuses–some are legitimate for a moment of time, but never as a sustained issue.

CEO’s, sales executives, sales managers should demand the highest levels of performance–but must set that example themselves.  They have to coach, develop, and hold people accountable for doing what we know is right for professional selling, and performing at the highest levels.

We should not tolerate mediocrity in our own performance and in the performance of the people we work with.

Slowly, after demonstrating this, we will start to shift the perceptions of the many people, like Brian, who do not understand, and probably haven’t met a true sales high performing sales professional.

There are a lot of things Brian has wrong in his post, or at least I disagree with:

No prospecting….  unfortunately, I see this in too many of the SaaS companies.  Unwittingly product focused, thinking of a “field of dreams—build it and they will come” approach.  It’s interesting, that the largest, fastest growing, and most successful SaaS and SaaS like companies have large proactively focused sales organizations, aggressively looking to find and serve new customers.  But I’ll write more about this in a future post.

Then there’s that commission thing…..  Brian, and many like him are opposed to commission, but still revel in bonus programs.  Commission is just one form of “pay for performance,” compensation programs, as is any sort of bonus and profit sharing program.  The issue is not “pay for performance,” but the design of the program.  It’s actually very easy to design commission or other programs that achieve the goals Brian is trying to achieve, and drive business growth.

Finally, the quota thing and not tying compensation to deals–in other words, performance.  I suspect when Brian sits with his Board of Directors, they are interested in:  “How have you grown revenue?  Have you hit your plan?  How can you grow more?  How are your growing profits/margins?”  I suspect, each year, when the look at his bonus, it is impacted by his attainment of those and other goals.

Quota is nothing more than a goal we hold people accountable for.  Everyone in the organization has–or should have goals.  Whether it’s launching a product on time, with certain functionality, whether it’s manufacturing a product at certain costs, quality, cycle time, whether it’s reducing DSO and improving cash management, or acquiring new customers and new business.

People must be and expect to be accountable.  We achieve nothing for our organizations and people if we don’t hold them accountable–and give them the tools, systems, processes, coaching and development so they can perform.

So, while I disagree with Brian’s solution (and I suspect, much of his post was firing for effect), he along with hundreds of other customers continue to have an inaccurate perception of what professional selling is about.

It’s our job to change that perception, by changing the way we perform, by not accepting anything but the best in what we can do.

My friend, Anthony Iannarino, has another take on this, take a look at his post.

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7 Comments
  1. So, who asks for the money at Brian’s company?

    • “A rose by any other name is still a rose,” “A sales person by any other name is still……”

      Actually, I think this is a real challenge with a lot of the new SaaS and related companies. They have a field of dreams approach to introducing their products. They focus on SEO, Social Engagement, Freemium’s, etc to build utilization and enrollments. That may work for a period of time, but it is not sustainable. Usually our appetites for growth and revenue production outstrip the results from the build it and they will come strategy.

      It’s interesting to note that 100% of the high performing SaaS companies (e.g. Salesforce.com, Box, etc.) have very strong, very aggressive sales cultures. They are not waiting for the customer to find them and grow, they are finding customers and signing them. They are aggressively growing current customers.

      I’ll be writing about this more.

      Thanks for the comment Michael!

      • David;

        You are right about the SaaS companies.

        Many of them need to go back and take a close look at the IBM sales training manuals from the 50’s and 60’s.

        Because the SaaS solution is the same as mainframe/terminal solution.

  2. David,

    Great posts and a lot of excellent points. However, I do think it’s more than just a “PR issue.” I wrote a post in response to de Haaff’s and Iannarino’s posts To Sell or Not To Sell.

    While I fully support what you, Iannarino and others are saying that the professional sales role is as critical as ever, I also point out that sellers have to acknowledge that the way prospects/buyers engage, learn, process information, consider and buy has undergone a revolution and the vast majority of sales processes have at best changed incrementally.

    Consistently winning and scaling a business requires that we integrate the marketing, lead generation, management and sales processes into a highly aligned function. Sellers must adjust to consistently create value and navigate the new world. The frustrating thing about de Haaff’s rant and far too many of the negative responses is that they’re treating the issue as an “either/or one”, rather than an “and” one.

    • Doug: Thanks for the note. I had seen the post, agreeing with it and the comments here. There is huge misunderstanding of the 57-70-90% number, which drives just stupid thinking about how we (marketing and sales together) engage and create the greatest value for the customer.

      I think writers of these articles have a terrible misunderstanding of what modern professional selling is about—much driven by mediocre sales people.

      I think de Haaf’s post is simultaneously naïve, and he is firing for effect. (Stay tuned to my blog in a few days, I’ll be addressing this naivete which seems to permeate SaaS and related companies. I also addressed many of the flaws in his and others thinking in a post today.

      Would love your comments on them. Thanks for the great post and the comment here.

      • Thanks for the response. I agree with your points and I both look forward to and will be happy to share my comments on the posts you mention.

        I just shared my thoughts on the buyer engagement statistics. My hope is that I shared a much more balanced and appropriate viewpoint on them (i think it’s wrong to dismiss them). Would love your thoughts on it.

        Looking forward to continuing the conversation.

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