Does Your Company Culture Respect the Sales Force?

If we asked this question to most company CEOs and their direct reports, we would expect a resounding yes followed by concrete examples of how their organization respects and supports the field sales force. Perception, however is not always reality. All too often, we hear the following comments being uttered about the sales force by company insiders:

Finance: “The sales force is over-paid; we need to change the comp plan”

“There is too much discounting going on. We need to stop it and now.”

“Doesn’t the customer understand our terms are net 30!”

Engineering: “We designed the product why can’t the sales force sell it?”

“Tell us why that feature is necessary on the product and we’ll consider adding it”

“The sales force doesn’t need that capability to sell the product”

Marketing: “They never follow-up on the leads we give them.”

“Don’t they know we are in meetings and can’t get back to them right away!”

“We know what the customer wants and needs…..listen to us!”

Customer Service: “Were sorry that we are not available right now but if you’ll leave your name and number someone will get back to you within 24 hours.”

“It’s out of my hands, I have given your request to X and they are working on it”

“I will try and get the order booked tomorrow”

Field Service: “We have other customers ahead of them. We will get to them when we can.”

“It’s probably a user error but we will call them.”

“I am sorry but the part we need for the repair is on back order”

None of these comments are particularly helpful and when tolerated we would suggest they create a negative culture towards the sales force. A result that doesn’t help reduce sales force turn-over, bolster customer intimacy and retention or increase shareholder value.

A Day in the Life of a Sales Professional

Sales is a rewarding but often lonely profession. There are emotional highs when selling professionals earn a sale and long periods of fear and anxiety when the well is dry. Rejection is a way of life. Here is a typical day in the life of a sales professional.

  1. Start Early-Work Late: Show me a successful sales professional and I will show you a hard worker. Typically, they start work early so they are at their first appointment on time. In the evenings, they are finishing their paperwork and planning for the next day. They don’t know what a 40-hour work week looks like.
  2. Problem Solver: Often before they start selling they must handle back-order issues, repair status, billing discrepancies and a myriad of other customer issues that must be completed promptly and delicately. Although they didn’t create these issues sales professionals are the customer conduit to the company and they bear the responsibility to get the problems rectified expeditiously.
  3. Customer Requests: It is not unusual for a customer to make a request for a special price, an expedited product delivery or a product sample. Savvy sellers ensure that these requests get handled promptly. They know that customer satisfaction must be earned with each interaction.
  4. Work with Difficult People: Not all customers are rational and seek win-win relationships. Some are curt, abrupt, stubborn, demanding and condescending. They let every supplier know they can be replaced easily. Sales professionals are experts at working with difficult people. They hold their temper and don’t let emotion cloud their judgment and actions. They get results for all their customers even the most difficult ones.
  5. Company Requests: It’s our opinion that nothing should be sent to the sales force from any company department or individual without it going through the sales leader. This eliminates the sales force from being bombarded by requests from sales operations, marketing, human resources, finance and others. Every company request no matter how valid or important takes time to complete. These requests need to be carefully managed so the sales force isn’t distracted from seeing and servicing customers.
  6. Juggler: Every sales professional has a plan for their day. This plan often goes awry as soon as the work day starts because of customer or company requests, problems that must be resolved or the environment.
  7. Selling & Meetings: Ideally this is where most of the sales professional’s time is allotted. Being face-to-face or phone-to-phone is where customer interaction takes place and the selling work gets performed. This is called selling time. It’s hard to make quota if you don’t have a healthy amount of time allocated to selling activities.
  8. The Environment: One thing company personnel should understand and acknowledge is that outside of field service every employee works in a cozy, employee friendly environment. Once they get to work they don’t deal with traffic, accidents, road construction, snow, rain, sleet, cold or heat, parking lots, lack of parking spaces, vendor credentialing (varies by industry), wait times and last minute cancelations. Sales professionals take breaks when possible and often eat lunch in their car to save time. They don’t have an employee cafeteria, motivational posters and amenities o make their work environment more friendly.

Advice for CEOs

Show your sales force some love in the following ways:

  1. Don’t tolerate any derogatory comments about the sales force from anyone in the organization. Its counter-productive to revenue growth and net profit.
  2. Don’t change the compensation plan unless it’s to improve it. Instead pay the sales force a lot. If they get rich so does the company and you.
  3. Embrace continuous learning for the sales force in the areas of business acumen, financial literacy, industry knowledge and sales methodology and skill development in addition to product knowledge. There are very few college programs with a sales major so spend money on training.
  4. Measure the amount of selling time and find ways to improve it. If you have good people and good products, then the more time they are in front of customers the more you will sell. This will improve productivity markedly.
  5. Thank them! Every sales professional knows who the CEO is in their company. Very few CEOs even in small organizations know their sales professionals by face and by name. A hand-written note, E-Mail, short video or telephone call goes a long way to showing appreciation for the individual and the sales team. Handing out an award at the annual sales banquet is not enough.

Parting Thoughts

For a company to survive it must sell its products, services and solutions. There is no bottom line until there is a top line. The sales organization drives both. Make it easy for them to succeed. They have enough obstacles in the marketplace. They don’t need any internal company generated obstacles to slow-down or derail their efforts.

As always, we welcome your thoughts and input. Let’s start a discussion and elevate the sales profession with a thoughtful and informative discourse.