By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling® – The Sales Training Company
The naïve enthusiasm of youth fades as we age. No longer believing anything is possible, we accept problems more readily. “It is what it is” (IIWII) creeps into our vocabularies. It allows us to accept conditions we wish were different but have concluded can’t be changed. Saying IIWII keeps issues out of sight/out of mind. Unless depressed or mentally ill, people don’t obsess about problems they believe can’t be resolved.
How many CEO’s take IIWII attitudes toward their sales organizations?
When discussing their companies, they’ll say they want to:
Hire the best and the brightest
Develop the best offerings
Offer the best service
Deliver the highest quality
Have the most satisfied customers
Superlatives are rarely used when CEO’s discuss their sales organizations. Most have been told they don’t understand sales, superior sellers are born not made, selling is intuitive, etc. IIWII conclusions cause CEO’s to accept whatever results sales delivers.
I recently took my Mom to dinner. The meals were served. Mom said her steak was too rare. As I tried to hail the waiter, the steak was upgraded to “okay.” Rather than cause a fuss Mom decided IIWII for something that was easily remedied. It’s painful when people take IIWII positions with problems that can be addressed. Are some sales issues fixable?
Acceptance of sub-par sales deliverables cascades downward from the top. CFO’s accept forecasts with opportunities that didn’t close in previous months that they have to “massage.” So it is with silos that support getting offerings to market. If Product Development creates an offering that isn’t a good fit for buyers, Marketing dutifully creates collateral for the launch. If Marketing provides sub-par materials for a launch, Sales just goes about their business. Mediocrity begets mediocrity. Everyone accepts what’s put on the table. Bad meals are never sent back and company performance suffers.
Acceptance extends beyond organizations. After missing earnings, a CEO explaining revenue shortfall rather than failure to control expenses will find more understanding investors and analysts. Failure to stay within budget is far more egregious than sales missing its number.
Sales performance is precisely measured. CSO’s bear the brunt of top line shortages even though they often reflect organizational issues. Internal silos, politics, past interpersonal baggage, conflicting agendas and the lack of a common vocabulary to discuss issues all contribute to make achieving top line difficult. Sales organizations are blamed, but others contribute to the problem.
To save face, people within silos conclude they’re doing their best. Other departments need to get their acts together. Well-intentioned employees in silos take independent actions to improve deliverables. Because departments are interrelated, these random acts aren’t part of an overall plan. As a result intelligent, well-intentioned people can potentially make things worse.
Most people within silos are unaware of external forces that have and continue to make sales more challenging:
Buyers frustrated by seller attempts to manipulate them have taken matters into their own hands. By leveraging the Internet and social networking buyers are getting further into buying cycles without the influence of salespeople.
Buyers expect better buying experiences if and when they interact with sellers. Many sellers struggle to align with buyers that have done research, are familiar with offerings and think they know their requirements.
Product cycles are shrinking. Today long-term sustainable competitive product advantages are the exception rather than the rule.
If price and offerings are relatively equal, the better seller will win the lion’s share of the business. Unless best practices can be identified and shared it is difficult to have average sellers become more productive.
It’s becoming more important to have Marketing and Sales on the same page so they can make proactive attempts to start buying cycles with “ideal” customer profiles at executive levels. The alternative is waiting for inbound inquiries from mid to lower levels that have already researched offerings and vendors and have a good idea of their requirements. Such transactions are typically more competitive, smaller and less profitable.
Organizations struggle to identify internal barriers to driving top line. Companies that want to become more customer than product focused are often hamstrung by existing structures that inhibit fresh thinking and approaches. Original thoughts die of loneliness. Startups, your future competition, enjoy the luxury of beginning with clean sheets of paper.
Senior executives with IIWII attitudes toward sales are in a dark tunnel with a light rapidly approaching, yet taking little action to avoid the train. The elephant is in many conference rooms. Organizations without a common vocabulary to define issues and address them within an overarching framework are at risk.
Executives can continue to view Sales through IIWII lenses and passively accept results. An alternative is to have a hard look at your sales revenue engine by asking: “Is it what it is?” If the answer is “no” you have an opportunity to make changes to improve top line and bottom line results. Ultimately you may be able to deliver what most companies can’t: Superior buying experiences that provide a sustainable competitive advantage.