Surprise! Selling is important

“People in business are clueless about selling, and snobbish too. They view it as a grubby activity, though it is vital to revenue.”

This is the subheading to an article in today’s Wall St. J. (subscription required)

I mean, WTF? People who read the WSJ need to be reminded that selling is “vital to revenue”?

Talk about orientation lock. I guess that so many companies today fall into a couple of categories (occasionally, both):  They are either public with a focus on creative bean counting, or they are still controlled by the founders and harbor a “better mousetrap” mindset. Neither of these see sales as anything other than an unfortunate cost.

You can easily spot such companies. When they decide it’s time for shrinking down, they cut the sales staff by the same percentage as other departments because “everybody has to do their fair share”.

Probably the most stressful position I ever held was in a professional services company (read: beltway bandit) in the DC area. But I will say this for it: It was a boot camp in selling — how to do it and how to train people to do it. I even learned to do it a little myself (a claim that would astonish my former bosses).

In the company right after that one, I watched an incompetent sales campaign blow a $350 million sale. One of the managers of the effort explained that it was no big deal: We’re the only ones making XYZs. Well, 20 years later, they’re still waiting. One of the lessons I learned back in sales boot camp was that you are never essential.  Customers always have something else to spend money on.

In Boyd’s framework, the emphasis is on keeping the initiative, never assuming that your opponent will take any particular action. In business, selling is a large part of taking the initiative. You’re not assuming that your better mousetrap will sell itself because potential customers can always get a free cat from the pound or just decide to live with the little rodents. Instead, you take the initiative and try to direct the money flow in your direction.

Why this isn’t a part of the orientation of everybody in business is beyond me.

The WSJ article is a review of a book, The Art of the Sale by Delves Broughton. One point the book makes is that if you can sell, you can achieve Boyd’s classic injunction, to increase your capacity for independent action. And you don’t have to be H. Ross Perot, who famously left IBM because he was routinely making quota by around the first of February.  I’ve been independent for the last 13 years, and believe me, if I can do it, so can you. Although a stretch in sales boot camp might not be a bad idea.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.