The Sales Organization – Part 1

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Sales organizations and their processes and methodologies often evolve ad hoc without adequate study or planning or goals. They form out of the current business necessities and go through occasional re-organizations that reflect the demands of the moment, individual personalities, the resources available, or simply the way it has always been done.

They are set up for what is or for what has been, not for what could be.

This may be due to a simplistic view of sales held by management. There are those who believe “Them that can, do. Them that can’t, sell.” Or, that sales is black magic practiced by wizards who are best left alone. Or, by used car salesmen who can’t be trusted. For whatever reason, companies that will spend millions on product development won’t spend anything on sales organization or training or tools. Or, they won’t actively solicit and use feedback from the market because they don’t trust the source, the sales person.

But sales people are your market face. They are your customer’s advocate within your organization. More than your product or your brand, your sales staff impacts your relationships with your customers – past, present, and future.

Product vs. Sales

Many companies, especially technology companies, feel that the product is everything. Build the world’s best (fill in the blank), send out some leaflets, and wait by the phone for the orders to roll in. Now that might work except for two problems. The first is the competition. You see, even if yours is truly the best, the guy with the second best is out banging on doors telling the customers that his is the best. And they often believe him.

Which segues nicely to the second problem. The market is not as expert as you. Or your competitor. If he is good, they will believe him and all the impersonal test results, web sites, awards, or features in the world won’t help you. Someone with selling skills has to stand in front of the customer and give them the tools and information that they need to make an informed decision.

Sales trumps product every time.

The Company Personality

Companies have a personality. Usually it is the personality of the dominant figure. The smaller the company, the more that personality rules. If the dominant figure is an engineer, the company will be analytical and structured. If he or she is an accountant, the company will be process heavy. For the most part, successful, growing companies have a marketing or sales personality. This is clearly a simplification as capable and committed sales people and business success come in a variety of shapes and from a variety of disciplines, but marketing and sales are a dominant factor even if they are not the dominant factor.

This marketing and sales corporate personality reflects a customer orientation and places the needs of the customer first. Taken too far, this results in the “anything for a buck” company where it is sales’ role to discover the customer “purchase de jour” and spin the product to fit. In the balanced company, the customer is the focus, and your core competencies are the boundaries. The key here is to identify and match real customer needs for your product with your product. And to have a sales organization that promotes and optimizes this.

The Role of Technology

When people think technology and sales, they think laptop computers and handheld devices with contact lists and calendars. But technology applied to sales can and should be much more than lists of people and places and things and appointments.

To most people, sales is an art. But it is an art that is based on process and methodology and as such, it can be modeled and analyzed and monitored and improved. Using technology, best practices can be codified and available to all, helping raise the overall level of performance. Behaviors can be taught and monitored and measured and rewarded. Information and responsibility can be shared and handed off seamlessly and consistently. Knowledge can be accumulated and available and used.

Choosing sales technology, whether it is the tool or the content, must be done in the context of all the other sales organization issues. In other words, fit the technology to your business, not the reverse.

The Role of Training

Sales training is an effective and valuable tool. It must be accompanied by current product training and by up-to-date market knowledge to be most effective. And all of these must be an on-going commitment for optimum results.

The problem with sales training is that it is almost always tied to processes or gimmicks or tools that are taught and implemented and then forgotten. Little cards with personality types, or 10-step processes, or clever buzzwords might work for a while, but without reinforcement and results, use will diminish and eventually vanish.

Sales training is always built around processes and methodology. Pick the sales methodology and processes that fit your organization and train these. And then embed them into everything you do – reports, database fields and screens, calendars, communications – so that they are in front of the user every day, reinforcing the teaching.

And remember, sales training is not for your best sales people – they are already doing something right. Sales training should reflect what they are doing and diffuse it throughout the sales organization.

Next week we’ll complete these thoughts on the sales organization with some issues to consider when designing and implementing your sales organization.

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