Management: Obstruction of sales success

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“I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”

Those are the nine most terrifying words in the English language, according to Ronald Reagan.

That’s because they’re normally spoken just before being unburdened with concerns about what to do with your money. As Mark Twain’s Pap Finn put it in “Big River” (the musical) “Well, you dadgum guv’ment, you sorry so and sos. You got your damn hands in every pocket of my clothes.”

Generally speaking, the government’s answer to solving any problem is to take more of our money, an interesting approach that is much like having a rattlesnake bite you in order to cure a rattlesnake bite.

And that same species of slippery serpent of sophistry slithers among us daily in sales offices all across the business landscape, cleverly disguised as “sales management.”

“I’m your sales manager and my job is to help you” can be a knee-shaking, terrifying sentiment of debilitating proportion in the roller coaster, keep-your-head-down world of being a professional punching bag.

[Obligatory disclaimer: Not all companies and sales managers are like that. Some companies and sales managers support and encourage their sales people. … We now return you to our regularly scheduled program.]

Many sales organizations are dysfunctional. They’re dysfunctional because they run their sales force on a model developed in the early part of the 20th century, a time when abuse and indignities were accepted tools of motivation.

The good old days.

That Attila-the-Hun style of management operates on the premise that no matter how hard the job is, we can, and will, make it harder, all in the name of directed supervision. The central idea is, if a sales group is not performing up to expectation, give them more responsibilities and make it even more difficult to perform up to expectation.

An associate of mine had a client tell him, straight-faced, that he uses 17 indicators to monitor and judge the performance of his sales people.

Seventeen!

And here I thought there was only one true indictor of sales success: sales.

My first sales job was selling yellow pages advertising. I worked for a company that had all kinds of reports, lists, analytics, comparisons, charts and graphs to track sales.

At one point in my short but illustrious career in the salt mines of the abnormal world of creative maladjustment, a young man from our group was given a low-level management position. He was a smart, popular guy who saw all the inequities and absurdities of the job and understood the tremendous and counter-productive pressure placed on us daily by management run amok.

We had high hopes.

However, and to our disbelief, within a couple of months in his new job, he came up with an inventive way of further tracking the success and failure among we few, we battered and beaten few.

It was called an Over & Under Report, and it showed the monthly average of the entire sales force in our division of about 30 people. We were told it would help identify those of us performing at an above-average level, while assisting sales management in identifying less productive areas and making adjustments.

Uh–huh.

I never once saw it used for anything other than to club us over the head if we were under the division average. You could be in the top 10 and have a string of six great months, but there’d be hell to pay on that seventh month when you fell below the line.

That story reminds me of the latest craze in today’s sales forces: Customer Relationship Management software. A CRM is, ostensibly, a program to help manage customer relationships in an organized manner.

As it was once described to me, a CRM helps a business use technology and human resources to gain insight into the behavior and value of customers. With an effective CRM strategy, a business can increase revenues by providing services and products that are exactly what a customer wants, offer better customer service, cross sell products more effectively, help sales staff close deals faster and better retain existing customers and discover new ones.

Doesn’t that sound marvelous?

Unfortunately, reality rears its ugly head and salespeople all across the land are being harassed and tormented with this latest weapon of mass diversion. Whereas the idea is to help salespeople by better organizing information they can use to work more effectively, it’s more commonly used to help management keep an even closer eye on the sales process and the salesperson.

And worse, salespeople are now required to spend hours every day entering data, time taken away from the real sales process. It’s no wonder the more common definition of CRM is “can’t run from management.”

CRM programs should be embraced by salespeople, but instead they are usually disliked and distrusted. They are usually disliked and distrusted because salespeople are not, by nature, data entry clerks.

As a matter of fact, the great majority of salespeople have little aptitude and almost no inclination for paperwork of any kind. Couple that with the omniscient eye of Big Brother breathing down their backs 24/7, and CRMs have become one small step for sales inefficiency, one giant leap for sales force animosity and alienation.

There are ways to solve these problems, of course, and use CRMs properly, but that would take creative thinking and insights that don’t come easy, an entire other course of study.

In the meanwhile, next time you’re trying to sell a sow’s ear as a silk purse, please remember Abraham Lincoln’s observation on the subject: “How many legs does a dog have if you call the tail a leg? Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg.”

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