As soon as I turned the corner into the parking lot, I knew I’d made a big mistake. The first thing that gave it away was the presence of several news vans in front of the store. The second was the line of people being filmed by the folks who came out of those news vans. And the straw that broke my intention to enter the store was when I realized just how difficult it would be to actually park my car — picture the mall on the day before Christmas.
But I wasn’t at the mall on the day before Christmas, I was in front of the Apple Store on the day the iPhone 6 came out. I was actually going to receive my phone in the mail from Verizon a few days later and was just hoping to pop into the store for a case. I hadn’t realized this was THE day they hit the stores, and I foolishly drove to the epicenter of the storm. Luckily, I was able to turn around without much ado and hightail it back to saner parts.
And why was the Apple store so insane? Why does everyone want the latest iPhone? Well, I’ll simplify it down to two facets — great product and great marketing. What’s missing from this recipe? The factor many consider to be the third leg in a three-legged stool of success — great sales. But that all depends on how you define “sales.” If we are to define it as great customer service: deep product knowledge, sufficient staffing and rapid responsiveness, Apple has those things too. But if we are to go “old school,” to go “Glengarry Glen Ross” and define sales as you might see it defined in a snake oil seminar — “You need to get in front of a customer 11 times to make a sale!” — then Apple sales folks would probably be considered very lazy. Why? Because they don’t need to contact anyone 11 times. The combination of great product and great marketing has turned them into order takers, not seekers.
Now, as I said, you can screw that up if your salespeople fail to deliver on the “enlightened” criteria I defined above. But if they do deliver, they need not keep call logs, pester prospects, and spend time cutting price in an effort to close deals. The deals are already closed when they walk in.
I got to thinking about this dynamic and, with it, one of my pet peeves — blaming sales for a lack of sales — when reading the following comment on HISTalk the other day:
“From Sinking Ship: “Re: [consulting firm name omitted]. Earlier this week rumors were spreading that the company has over 50 percent of its consulting staff on the bench due to poor performance by the sales teams.” Unverified and likely not possible to verify, so I left the large company’s name out. Maybe the sales team is underperforming, but I believe we may be seeing a downturn in the healthcare IT consulting business in general …”
In my experience, blaming sales — though the easiest thing for managers to do because salespeople are used to getting flogged — is the path least likely to yield any positive changes to the sales trajectory. If you’ve got folks who are responsive, conscientious and efficient, lashing them to annoying clients and potential clients may feel good to the flogger, but will surely results in fewer sales. If you want to actually improve the situation, talk to your sales folks and find out why people aren’t buying, for they are on the front lines, they are the ones who often not only hear a “No,” but a “No, because … ” and grasping that answer, and actually acting on it, is the difference between success and failure.
But often, rather than having this conversation with sales folks, the knout comes out, a meeting is convened, spleen is spewed and the dispirited team sent back to their cubes, humbled, hunched, and not a whit more likely to make a sale than before their stern talking to. Of course, it’s just the opposite.
So rather than scapegoating one of your most valuable resources, talk to them, find out why things aren’t moving, and for God’s sakes, get the product development folks in the room.
Follow this advice, and though you may not have news vans covering your next product release, you almost certainly will have created a happier and more productive team. Eventually the media, and everyone else, will notice.