Many organizations want to be sales-centric when they “grow up”.
They believe it’s a bold culture; one that embodies the competitive spirit; one that carries the innovation DNA; one that will standout and win on energy alone.
Sales is considered by many as “sexy” in contrast to for example, an organization with engineering as its core competency. Sales would be considered by many as an extroverted and fun place to work; engineering might be viewed as a meticulous and precise world of formulae and studies.
The truth of the matter, however, is a sales culture is often characterized by these traits.
Sales pushes the wares of the organization at people. This “flogging what you supply mentality” represents the honoured value of the organization and is the essence of the customer engagement process. The emphasis is to force product and service solutions into the customer’s business as opposed to designing them to solve critical business problems.
A focus on achieving short term results
The focus of customer transactions is on the short term; getting immediate results is all that’s important. Sales compensation is based on achieving annual results; the consistent winners get recognized by exotic travel reward events; the underachievers generally are cast aside by the organization.
Little to no priority is given to seeking medium to long term solutions for the customer which would enhance customer relationships at the expense of sales in the moment.
The dynamic of aggressive pushing pervades the workplace and interpersonal behaviour is characterized by a zero-sum outcome; one person wins and the other loses. It’s a winner take all attitude where teamwork to achieve an outcome that benefits all is sacrificed by more individual initiatives that may not be in the best interests of others.
Polish rather than substance
An emphasis on polish rather than messiness and substance pervades the environment. Sales in some quarters is perceived to be all about “the spin” that is represented by immaculately groomed individuals without a hair out of place. The importance of “what something looks like” rather than its practical effectiveness dominates their intentions.
It’s all about me
Narcissism is an acceptable attitude and style. It’s a natural expression of the salesperson who is more interested in hearing themselves speak than engaging in meaningful dialogue with customers to understand their problems and develop a solution that works for THEM.
The instinct to win and survive produces a sales profile dominated by individual strength, resilience, aggressiveness and intolerance.
Extrapolating these sales behaviours into the employee population could produce a culture that: is individual-centric (no teamwork), focuses on the short term (little vision and priority on the medium to long term), pushes solutions on others (without concern for the problems) and prioritizes slickness as a core competency (inelegance is unacceptable).
This type of culture could be described as dysfunctional and destructive in terms of creating long term value for an organization.
Healthy cultures aren’t built on the backs of any discipline be it marketing, sales, customer service or business development, they are created to support the overall strategy of the organization.
In fact, selecting behaviours that tend to reflect any single function in an organization is bound to cause internal dissension as the rest of the organization feels somehow left out and less important.
I recall that when the telecommunications business was about to lose its monopoly position, the company created a new sales driven terminal equipment division to compete, and established the new entity as the basis of the culture it wanted to build.
This created immense internal problems as those not chosen to be in the new division felt they were left behind and not part of the new exciting future the company was facing.
This approach failed. It was replaced by a company-wide effort to build competitive capabilities across the organization recognizing that everyone needed to exhibit the same behaviours.
Successful cultures define how people work together to achieve the goals of the organization. They are nurtured on a system of common values such as the spirit to innovate, trusted teamwork, relentless focus on growth, willingness to take risks or unleashing the power of technology to serve customers.
Highlighting sales as the cultural lynchpin might make salespeople and their close friends and associates feel important, but it would likely alienate everyone else in the organization on whom they depend to do their job.
Make culture about everyone not a perceived selected few.
Roy Osing is a former President and CMO with over 33 years of leadership experience covering all the major business functions including business strategy, marketing, sales, customer service and people development. He is a blogger, content marketer, educator, coach, adviser and the author of the book series Be Different or Be Dead.
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