Sympathy for the salesman: A valuable asset to any organization
Sometimes I feel sorry for sales people. They get so little love. They are often underappreciated and unsupported, especially considering the importance of their jobs. They are held more accountable to expectations than pretty much everybody else in the organization. They have very visible and easily measured objectives – their sales quotas – and the level of their remuneration is often directly tied to that.
Their success (or lack of success) has an almost immediate impact in the company’s well being, but they often remain islands in their companies, enigmas at best, thought of as cowboys, lone wolves or one-man bands.
From my experience, the engineering department sometimes dislikes them because (in their opinion) the sales person overpromises the product’s performance; the production department has disagreements with them because the delivery dates are too aggressive; management wants higher margins; and the administration department is frustrated by the paperwork, or lack thereof.
The bottom line is that the sales person comes into every meeting within the company as the sole voice of the customer, advocating for them for the performance they expect, the price they want to pay, and the delivery date they require.
A couple of years ago, this all became clear to me. I had been trying to soothe a number of mounting stresses between one of my company’s best sales people and the engineering, production and administration departments. It seemed (to them) that he was bringing in nothing but problems that they had to sort out: The product in its current state couldn’t do what he promised it could do; the delivery date couldn’t be met without great difficulty; and the paperwork was not in the order they expected. I could sense the sales person’s frustration and waning enthusiasm, and called an impromptu meeting of all the various department leaders.
I knew the sales person was bringing in an order for a big and exciting new job. There were stresses, challenges and uncertainties that came with it, but there were significant growth opportunities, too. Engineering would be challenged, production would be stressed, and administration would be forced to find ways to make the paperwork work. But I recall that my "guidance" to them in that meeting was very simple and very direct: "When he comes in today with that order, I want you all to meet him at the door and shake his hand, because until somebody walks in with a purchase order, nothing important here happens."
The truth is that there is no need to design something or produce something unless somebody wants to buy something. Until somebody brings in an order, there’s no need for any administrative effort; there’s no need for anybody else at all.
I have come to conclude that there are two definite indicators of a "true" sales person: The first is that they are the people who bring the purchase orders into your building, and the second is that they are the people who most stress your engineering, production and administration people.
It is very difficult to find true sales people. If you are fortunate enough to have any of them in your organization, cheer them on and greet them at the door with a handshake and a smile, because until someone walks in with a purchase order, nothing else meaningful happens.
Paul Hogendoorn is president of OES, Inc. of London, Ont., and past chair of the London Region Manufacturing Council. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.