Mistruths, salespeople’s personal relationships and crashing the schedule

Sales is not about personal relationships

Salespeople (and other folks who should know better) accept it as a given that sales is all about personal relationships.

The problem with this position is that:

  1. It’s not generally true.
  2. It’s a default assumption that informs the design of most sales environments.

However, because it sounds reasonable enough, this assumption rarely gets questioned.

So let’s question it now.

It’s easy to identify a scenario where the personal relationship between a salesperson and a prospect does add value. In a major-account-sales environment, it’s often not possible for the prospect to make a purely objective purchasing decision. They lack the knowledge required to do so (or a trading history with the potential vendor). So, in this environment, a prospect will (understandably) use their personal relationship with the salesperson as a proxy for the commercial relationship they expect to have with the vendor.

Fair enough.

However, in most organizations, only a small percentage of revenue comes from such transactions. Most revenue originates from existing accounts and, even where new accounts are concerned, must transactions do not fall into the major-account-sales category.

So, when we examine the assumption that sales is all about personal relationships, let’s consider the ordinary transactions that generate 80% of an organization’s revenue, not the extraordinary 20%.

Operational dysfunction enables salespeople’s personal relationships

Where ordinary transactions are concerned, the truth is that salespeople’s personal relationships add value to the extent that the organization is operationally dysfunctional.

Think about why customers make contact with your organization. Is it because they are in need of personal relationships? Unless you’re a dating agency (or similar), obviously not. They want whatever it is you’re selling. Legal advice, hydraulic componentry, custom point-of-purchase displays, or whatever. And they want a high-quality product (or service), delivered fast, for a reasonable price.

If you discover that your customers’ transactions are contingent on personal relationships you should be very concerned.

If you are operationally efficient, personal relationships will actually detract from most transactions—meaning that your prospects will avoid them. The reason is those personal relationships with salespeople will add friction (or lag) to transactions. In a healthy business, customers will naturally gravitate to the most efficient purchasing channel. Meaning, if they can, they’ll purchase online and, if they can’t, they’ll transact via customer service, inside sales or field sales (in that order of preference).

I’m sure you won’t be surprised if I suggest (humbly) that, if your organization is operationally dysfunctional, it makes more sense to identify and fix the root cause of the dysfunction than it does to deploy salespeople to treat the symptoms!

Operational dysfunction is just a simple way of stating that an organization doesn’t keep its promises. Or, to be more blunt, that it tells lies. It doesn’t deliver on time or it delivers defective products (or services)—which is the same as failing to deliver on time.

The root cause is simple to identify (but harder to fix). The root cause is that the schedule is not sacrosanct. An organization’s schedule is a log of activities that must be performed as planned for the organization to deliver orders on time. It might take the form of a job board in a production environment or a set of project plans in a project environment.

Most organizations know how to build an effective schedule. How to identify the sequence of activities that must be performed to produce the required product. And how to estimate both the duration of these activities and the safety that must be added to provide a high level of confidence that each order will be delivered on time.

Your schedule is valuable for as long as it is representative of reality. However, if you allow your schedule to misrepresent the nature of reality then your organization will quickly become chaotic. And it will become more chaotic faster if salespeople are involved in ordinary transactions. (more…)

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