We're All So "Cutting-Edge" But Have a 19th Century Attitude Towards Sales

sales180"The only hard working sales rep* is a hungry sales rep. And the only way to ensure they stay hungry is to make them work for their paycheck". Or, "if you pay a rep a base with a small commission, he/she will get too comfortable. No, the only way to compensate sales people is to make them earn every dollar". As a general observation, I have heard the above statements more times than I care to remember. And I resist them today as much as I did the first time I heard them. What is glaringly wrong with this type of an attitude towards sales people that is still prevalent today?

How's this for starters: "Without sales you've got nothing"!No sales, no customers, no business". That is a basic and proven fact - no one would argue that would they? So why, I ask, are so many people in your organization resistant to anything with the word "sales" attached to it?  From the business owner that "hates to pay commissions" to everyone else in the company  that "blame sales for everything"?

Despite all of the negative attitude about sales, you should be very lucky to have a rep that has set-the-world-on-fire, blew the roof on quotas and has made a lot of money on commissions, right? Wrong! The American way is to cut that rep's territory and give him a much higher goal next year just to make sure he doesn't earn as much. Now, how does this make sense? "Well, you know, now that he made so much money, he'll just get lazy and not work as hard"!But wait, you say, what about all the flying around, miles, nice hotels, meals and golf outings? Clearly they are not suffering, "I wish I could wine-and-dine my friends as much as they do with so-called clients".

I am not saying that all sales reps are great. Neither are all engineers, accountants or lawyers. But the good ones, the high performers and those who "get-it", are hard-working and keep a grueling schedule and a level of constant stress that is rare for other professions. You ask any sales rep if he/she would trade "Platinum Status" on American Airlines for a good night sleep and they'll respond with a resounding "Yes".

What is wrong with sales?  

  1. More often than not, those that complain about sales have never done sales.
  2. Everyone likes to point fingers at sales in order to hide their own incompetence or lack of performance.
  3. Sales generates a great deal of  "corporate politics" : The sales manager blames his reps for non-performance, the rep blames operations for screwing it all up, operations blames sales for signing up the wrong customers and the  V.P of Sales is so worried about his/her job that they have to fire someone to make it appear that they are "on top of it".
  4. Mostly wrong attitude towards sales coupled with incompetent leadership cause high turnover that seems to perpetuate bad attitudes.

What Can and Should We Do to Improve Our Attitude  & Sales Performance?

  1. Ensure that you have the right sales management in place. If your sales manager or executive does not have a significant amount of field sales experience, replace them and watch your sales numbers improve. 
  2. Sales is not a reality T.V show like "The Amazing Race". You must have a recruiting process that identifies the right candidates for a sales position. We're not looking for one winner at the end of the year. We need everyone to perform.
  3. Now that you have the right person, you must have a solid training and mentoring system in place in order to maximize their potential.
  4. I am personally opposed to a commission-only compensation system for sales reps. It is a cop-out! If you truly believe in what sales can do for your business, then you must invest in the right people in order to realize a return. No one likes to work for nothing.
  5. Your sales goals must be in-sync with your marketing plan. Do you have one? You simply can't just pull numbers out of you know what and expect results.
  6. Your sales team must be included in short and long term sales goals and discussions. If you shove quotas down their throats, they'll choke.
  7. You win some and...yes, you lose some. It is a highly competitive world we live in and when you lose a sale, spend time objectively analyzing all the factors and never start by blaming the sales rep. Too often, sales reps are sent to fight a war with blind folds and blanks. You must give them all of the training and support, listen to their feedback and work collectively to win business.
  8. If you've done all of the above and you still have poor performers out there, let them go. A bad rep can do a lot more damage than a non-performing one. The latter can be "converted", the former must be eliminated.
  9.  I highly recommend a "sales shrink". Hire an outside consultant that can help you objectively evaluate your sales management, team and your (Owner, President) attitude towards both.
  10. I also recommend a company-wide incentive rather than just sales incentives. The process of acquiring and retaining customers involves everyone in the company. A bad attitude by an accounts receivable clerk can lose a customer, just as much as missed delivery, bad product or over-promising sales rep. Everyone must have a personal stake in growing the business and their paycheck must reflect that commitment.
*(Note: This discussion focuses on direct salespersons, not independent reps/contractors).