Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Sales has its own culture--is this a bad thing?

I was recently part of a sales meeting where the salespeople from each region of the company descended onto headquarters, gave presentations to the senior management team, got direction, feedback, etc., then went back home to continue selling.

It struck me while I was there that I have seen this very same meeting in each company where I've had close contact, or been part of, the sales team.

And one observation I'd make is that quarterly sales meetings show how the culture of the sales team significantly differs from that of the company at large. Another way of saying this is that the sales team is not very well integrated with the company as a whole.

For example, when the salespeople emerged from the meeting and went onto the floor where everyone else works, they were clearly visitors. There was loud talking, laughter, as people came up and greeted them. Small meetings broke out, at which they discussed proposals, customer meetings, the state of the product collateral.

And then they were gone, and the office returned to its quiet buzz of activity.

That evening, the sales team went out to dinner. Just them, without other team members. And they talked about their concerns about the product, the level of support they got from marketing, operations, etc. Their feeling of being separate, on the margins.

The scene was eerily consistent with what I'd seen at several other companies, which makes me wonder if it's something that could be changed if a company wanted to.

But to me it meant that the sales team wasn't part of the overall team. And that has all sorts of negative ramifications. Thinking of it from a social networking perspective, these salespeople have strong external networks and weak internal networks--which reduces their ability to get things done in the company and therefore makes it more difficult to create strong solutions for customers. Which reduces sales. And contributes to sales turnover.

Or perhaps it would be just as bad if they had strong internal networks. Their external networks would suffer, they would have less distance from their colleagues, which would reduce their ability to lobby on the customer's behalf and demand more from their company.

What do you think?

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Anonymous said...

Yes, a separate sales culture is a negative thing...It creates difficult sales cycles with significant lack of openness - where the internal folks don't understand the sales tactics or challenges and the external folks are never exposed to the most creative solutions. It also creates endless finger-pointing and impossible contracts, if the sales are made at all. The harder everone tries to keep the two networks separate - sales folks hoarding their external network and organizations doling out their internal resources in ineffective quantities - the worse it gets.

From my experience, the most successful sales people establish equally effective internal and external relationships and are incredibly effective matchmakers. They successfully merge their internal and external networks - at the appropriate levels (techies with techies, execs with execs - and everything in between). The atmosphere they orchestrate is electric - great ideas emerge, unique solutions are presented to the customer and strong bonds develop between client and provider. The momentum that grows is hard to beat...setting the stage not only for successful sales, but for succesful working relationships, as well.

Of course this requires a significant amount of support from the overall organization. But, it also requires a supremely confident sales person - one who is comfortable opening up the entire sales cycle for everyone to see - and possibly criticize.