The senior sales executive at a client asked to meet with me not too long ago to discuss how to improve his sales force’s execution in the field. His complaint was that his direct reports were not performing at the level required to meet the aggressive quota established by senior management and the board of directors. Over a sandwich and a watered down fountain drink, he alternated between telling me how aggressive management was about meeting Wall Street’s expectations, willing to do just about anything short of bending the law; and the failure of the sales force to bring in the numbers as consistently and quickly as required to (as he put it in reference to management’s demands), “feed the beast.”
Like, but not the Same
As I listened to the executive describe the situation, it occurred to me that he had been using certain words that indicated the very problem the company was experiencing – only he was perhaps too close to it to see it objectively. The words he used were:
- Value (he referred to value-based selling often)
- True (as in being fact-based and verifiable by data)
- Food (well, this was about our meal, but it linked back to our discussion).
Value vs. Values
The company was putting emphasis on profit, sales performance, costs, etc. In short, they understood the financial worth of value of their actions. They were driving hard on maximizing the value of their behavior, and falling short of their targets in spite of how hard they were working (and they were working hard and operating at their peak level).
What was being missed by the firm, but not by their customers, was that the firm’s values were not at all focused on them! For instance, rolling back prices to drive end of quarter volume or end of year performance communicated that the rest of the year was focused on gouging the customer and not on providing an equitable price. Claiming to stand behind the products sold, but then making it very difficult to get technical support was clearly a “believe what we tell you, not what we do” mentality.
True vs. Truth
Very much related to the value vs. values distinction, the company’s sales and marketing efforts were focused on product performance (product feature comparison, lab tests, durability, etc.) – and other facts that can be substantiated by tests, data, independent verifiers, etc. The sales and matketing efforts relied on presentations that extolled the virtues of so-called “facts” that are measurable and quantitative.
What was in short supply in the sales communication or marketing collateral was what might be called, “truths” about the company, the sales person, or the brand/product. The legacy, mission, core of the culture of the organization/sales person/brand were rarely mentioned. So, the customer was able to discern the cold and passion-less “facts” about what was being sold – but not have a sense or feeling for who was selling it and what made that company different than any other company.
Think of the grocery industry – the talk is of prices, assortment, merchandising, etc. The facts. But there is the rare company that is known for being different (whether talking about Stew Leonard’s, Wegmans, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, etc.) and leveraging the “truths” of their c0mpany.
Food vs. Fuel
Lastly, as the last bites of our meal were consumed, I pointed out that there is a difference between food and fuel. Food is what we consume and then become. Add toxic practices, negativity, or non-beneficial aspects to be digested by the company and the corporate body will suffer. In contrast, fuel is what we use to motivate, transport, and galvanize action. It does not become a part of the corporate body, but it serves to add the energy to create action, sustain performance, and maintain result.
As we concluded our meal and left the restaurant, the sales executive seemed to better understand that there is more to managing the sales force than simply demanding more of them. He, and his senior management colleagues also needed to create a different environment and allow the sales and marketing teams to communicate those unique components of the organization to prospects and clients/customers very differently.