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Silly Me, I Thought Selling Was Supposed To Generate Revenue!

by David Brock on August 8th, 2012

I’ve always been under the impression that revenue generation (quota) was the key objective for sales people.  One of my own key metrics and that of the teams I’ve managed is Revenue–sometimes orders, sometimes revenue growth.  But always, it’s somehow been tied to money coming in the door as a result of my work with prospects and customers.

I’ve always focused my time on finding customers that are interested in my solutions, who want to make a change, and who are willing to invest money in achieving the results they expect.  That’s a fundamental principle in qualifying.  It’s always seemed to be very important–I don’t want to waste the customer’s time and, greedily, I don’t want to waste my time.  Of course, there are prospects that I nurture over time, but even those are always in my sweet spot and are those I think may be interested at some point in our solutions.  But my qualifying calls are critical, I want to know how to invest my time and our company’s resources in the right opportunities–ultimately winning a deal and generating revenue.

Recently, however, I think I’ve been badly mistaken–at least based on the vast majority of sales calls I get.  I always thought the goal was to find and qualify opportunities that could ultimately generate revenue, but that no longer seems to be the priority.  I have to admit to being a little embarrassed.  I try to keep at the forefront of best practices and emerging trends in sales effectiveness.  However, I ‘ve missed this major new trend.

It seems the key goals for sales people are:  1.  Getting a customer to accept a piece of literature–a case study, a brochure, a catalog.  2.  Getting a meeting, even if the prospect is not a fit in any possible scenario where they might buy a product.

I’ve been off the road for a couple of days, as usual fielding a lot of prospecting calls from hopeful sales people. They astound me, I don’t know if every bad sales person in the world suddenly decided to call me, or if there are just that many really bad sales people. Unfortunately, I think the latter is true.

The calls are interesting. It seems the sales people must be on quota to send me a piece of literature. I’ve gotten calls from small businesses in my community, from very large (Fortune 500) technology sales people, from various large professional services organizations, and others. The sales people are singular in their focus—“Can I send you [insert the right word–a cases study, a catalog, our brochure, etc.]?”

Most of the sales people don’t even ask questions. They have a well rehearsed opening sentence (most of which have little meaning to me) culminating in “Can I send you some information?” My response is, “Why would I even be interested in that?” Most are not able to handle the objection. Their usual response is, “Well, it’s free!”

A few ask me a few questions about me and my business, then somehow, based on the conversation, it gets to, “Can I send you some information?” I struggle in these conversations. I try to connect the dots. I think to myself, “We were talking about this and that, how did that get to ‘Can I send you some information?'”  I can never figure it out, I don’t know how my responses to the questions led to needing a piece of literature.  In fact a few times, the next action might have been a meeting–I was more than casually interested in what they were offering, but rather than picking up on the “buying signal,” they wanted to send me a piece of literature.

Then there are the others, “We’re going to be in the neighborhood and would like to meet.”  When I respond, “We don’t buy that stuff–that’s never a requirement in our business,”  they come back, “Well we’d just like the opportunity to meet.”  I always go back with, “If I never intend to buy anything you sell, why do you want to meet?  What’s the purpose?”  They can never answer this, but they persist, “Are you available next Monday or Tuesday?”

I think I’ve figured it out. I’m a little ashamed. I’ve missed the trend.  Apparently, revenue is no longer a key metric for sales people.  The emerging trend must be to measure people on tons or pages of literature sent, or numbers of meetings–regardless of whether they are purposeful.  I can just imagine the commission plans based on “You have a quota of 1 million pages of literature.”  That’s why people really want to send me these meaningless catalogs–usually they are a few hundred pages, brochures are usually only a few pages.

I can see the leaderboard in an office:  “Bill’s in the lead at 957K pages, Debbie is closing in with 935K pages, …..sadly, Dave’s only done 23K pages.”

Or the sales training sessions, “Ignore buying signals, ignore whether the customer is qualified, ignore whether they are even in our sweet spot–get the meeting!  The more meetings you have, the more successful you will be!  Make sure you find some excuse to get a meeting, everything will work out once you get the meeting!”

Call me old fashioned, but somehow I think revenue still plays a role in driving sales activity.  It’s hard for me to connect literature or number of meetings with success in driving revenue.

I have always been of the impression that we are most effective when our activites are purposeful and create value for the customer.  I’ve thought it better to reduce the number of calls required to close–not increase them.  I’ve thought it not good to waste the customer’s time or my time on things that are meaningless.

Have I missed something?

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  1. Dave, you haven’t missed a thing – this kind of behavior is a disease, and not a new one at that. The culprit is (I’m sure I’m not telling you anything you don’t know) the lack of systematic sales process that results in orders. One of the first things I need to do in almost every consulting engagement with the small companies I work with is to convince them to stop trying to sell every contact on a presentation or demo as the first step – basically buying their way into a meeting by promising a demo – and start them using real discovery as the first step. I don’t think there’s any shortcut on this.

    • Andy, it’s good to hear from you! I agree with you, the sales process is the foundation for all organizations. It’s design premise is, “How do we find the right customers and how do we help them navigate their buying process === to a decision, as efficiently and effectively as possible?” When we have a process and when we find customers that we can create real value for—they and we focus on the real issues, not the excuses we try to create. Thanks for the great comment.

  2. Natalie Brown permalink

    Hi Dave,
    I enjoy your blog always and today I am compelled to comment.
    The problem you outline is very real and I believe it stems from weak management. When the economy slows or an industry hits a down cycle, weak management tends to rage toward “more throughput” and “more analysis” driving their teams to busy work filling in trip reports of clients visited and reporting on the potential based on those visits because the management has to report up the chain “what is going on?” and “what are you and your team doing to address our weak market?”

    Solid management will stand the ground up the chain and explain in an articulate way “It’s the economy stupid…” Focusing their team on the most efficient and effective way to home in on the opportunities. When the economy turns down it is most critical to position yourself for the eventual up tick in the cycle. Solid management will invest time coaching their teams in research, prospecting, looking for the buy signals, tweaking the sales process, working with marketing to align the corporate story. The challenge for those solid managers is how to articulate what result this coaching is driving. When the sales manager can articulate the expected results up the food chain, the whole organization will benefit.

    Organizations need to understand that sales management’s roll is to articulate to the executives of the organization not just what has happened (reporting the numbers) and what will happen (forecast) but to stand by their methods and process as the roadmap and directions to achieve the results.

    • Natalie, it’s great to hear from you, it’s been far too long!

      I couldn’t agree with you more, it is really a question of leadership–not just upward within the organization, but with sales people, making sure they are investing their time in creating value for the customer and being as productive, effective, and impactful as possible. Almost everything we see, good and bad, in the practice of sales can be traced back to management. Those who coach and develope their people to execute sharply or those who are simply administrators, unconcerned about sales except for reporting what’s not happening.

      Thanks so much for your comment! It’s good to “see” you again.

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