Just a little history repeating... I fully respect a CEO's prerogative to never hire sales people again and go fully automated. I will say, in thirty years I've candidly never met a CEO who said this before much less pulled the trigger on it; only hundreds with an intention to improve or expand their sales team who desperately needed my counsel. It made for a phenomenal LinkedIn publicity stunt which rapidly drove an egregious amount of traffic self-servingly to his website, the most obvious manipulative sales tactic of all by which he employed - in diametric opposition to his customer-centric message. Notwithstanding the hypocrisy, my question is, does this leave a favorable brand impression for the 500,000 viewers? Unlikely. It was the first time many readers, including myself had ever heard of his company. The best part is rather than show some class and apologize for insulting 18 million people's livelihoods (as I advised for brand reputation) he nailed in the coffin with this megalomaniacal self-aggrandizement:
"Your main question would have been akin to asking software development teams to quantify the impact of 'agile' methodologies when 99.9% of teams followed a traditional, waterfall approach. There was no data, just early pioneers who thought that there had to be a better way and were willing to try a new approach themselves. New ideas are often considered ludicrous because they break the norm. That also makes them frightening for many people too."
My pithy retort: "The erasure of the human element of an entire industry isn't really akin to Galileo's heliocentric theory for which he was locked in a tower. Equating agile development to the elimination of salespeople globally is a stretch."
Even salesperson-less Amazon has superb customer service when wires get crossed, which they rarely do. My issue is the sweeping generality that salespeople are unnecessary, superfluous or scum. The future will not be televised. No matter how much advanced technology gets unleashed, the future of our global economy will always rest within the hearts and minds of the greatest salespeople in the world. Salespeople are some of the finest people I've ever had the pleasure of working with and here's why:
- Sales people are the greatest single engine of the global economy. One name for a salesperson is: entrepreneur. Without successful sales people a business goes broke and all those wonderful employees who design, build, service, support, account, manage and lead... just would not have jobs. Nothing good happens in business until someone sells something. In a recent post to CEOs, I make the point that revenue is airspeed and it's created by sales people.
- Sales people feed their families feast or famine even in times of economic uncertainty and keep a positive attitude when the chips are down, pay plans change moving the goal posts or the product itself doesn't work and they have to eat the claw-back commission on the deal.
- Sales people are resilient, optimistic, humorous and caring. The best ones love people and love to help them solve extremely challenging problems with their acumen. They actually provide a public service which goes beyond money. Humble altruism is their secret true intent and that's how they become trusted advisors and inspire enough confidence to liaise the flow of hundreds of millions of dollars in sales across a constellation of vertical industries.
- Sales people are CEOs, Founders, CTOs and have often worn every hat in the company to build something great that generates thousands of jobs and stimulates a stronger country and GDP despite brutal taxation, unfavorable government policy toward small business, over-regulation headwinds and every other challenge imaginable.
- Sales people are genuinely invested in their companies' doing well. There is a camaraderie, a fellowship and bond that builds with a team going out to create a marketplace that fundamentally disrupts the status quo challenging monolithic legacy incumbents.
- Sales people are helping world leaders navigate the near infinite complexity of technology acceleration. There are so many solutions cropping up every day, it's almost impossible to navigate those waters via the web alone when it comes to enterprise solutions.
- Sales people actually interact with the customers and are able to provide unique feedback to the business in order to improve it. Thereby, sales people impact product development and innovation itself. Without sales people, many of the greatest technologies would never have proliferated, even the supercomputer you're reading this on right now in the palm of your hand.
- Sales people love what they do, are self-actualized and highly motivated to interact and engage with stakeholders within every department of their own company as well as the customer's. Sales leaders create cultures that inspire, delight and retain customers. They add to the happiness and quality of life of the engineers, managers and staff.
- Sales people are fearless, courageous and push sticktoitiveness to the nth degree.Winston Churchill sold his vision of a tyrant free Europe to the people and many believe he single-handedly saved the world. Martin Luther King did the same thing for racial equality and we must never give-up.
- Sales people are relentlessly focused on self-improvement, bettering themselves beyond a degree through life-long learning, the pursuit of real world knowledge and enablement of new skill-sets. They even make their countries more competitive in a fierce global marketplace, preventing commoditization by delivering tangible value day after day.
And in addition to all of this, here is something controversial. Free enterprise selling makes the world a safer and more tolerant place. It was the sellers and traders who risked their lives crossing dangerous seas, selling their spices and wares. Obviously slave traders were evil but even some of them saved their own souls. Did you know that the most recorded and performed song in the history of the world was written by a slave trader... Amazing Grace by John Newton.
Selling connects people, exchanges ideas and improves the way everything is done in the world. Selling causes us to understand other people and their cultures, values and beliefs, but in a way where we have empathy rather than judgment. An idea on its own is a waste unless someone finds it a market and convinces others to try a better way. Selling is commercial evangelism - not the nutty religious type where prospects are beheaded unless they buy. But America was founded on religious freedom and prospered on an ethos of free enterprise and salesmanship - like John Newton, she also must not lose Her soul.
Sell proudly because you're making the lives of people better if you do it with integrity. Sell proudly because you're providing employment for those who scoff at what you do. Sell proudly because you're a true believer in what you do. Treat selling as the highest of all professions - deliver exceptional value for customer and employer alike.
I'll close with an inspiring quote from the sage Doug Davidoff, "The world our customers live in is simply too complex for even the best salesperson to attack on their own. We need to be relevant earlier in the process - and marketing has a critical role in that area. When both functions are aligned and functioning - it's a triple win; for the customer, the organization and the salesperson."
It's our national day, Australia Day, here as I write but now it's your turn no matter where you are in the world: Do you really think there will ever be a day that sales people aren't necessary? What would you say to a CEO who is on the fence about staffing up a talented salesforce to rely solely on customer service and marketing? What inspires you daily as a sales person to reach your level best? What is the impact you think that great sales people have on your country's economy?
Tony Hughes is ranked as the #1 influencer on professional selling in Asia-Pacific and is a keynote speaker and best selling author. This article was originally published in LinkedIn where you can also follow Tony's award winning blog. Also visit Tony's keynote speaker website at www.TonyHughes.com.au or his sales methodology website at http://www.rsvpselling.com/.
Main image photo by Flickr: Andrew Fysh
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