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Salespeople are “boundary-spanners” in an organization. They may spend more time with customers then with co-workers and have divided loyalties to their customers and firm.
Since they see customers — in their setting or context — they have a view that no one else in the organization does. Why then doesn’t senior management and the marketing department elicit their opinions and knowledge?
Salespeople too often feel cut off from decision-making: like soldiers on the front following orders from commanders who steer clear of danger. (Pattons seem scarce in Corp. America…) Eliciting information from the force would improve their morale and loyalty to the company. Perhaps more importantly, important information might reach decision-makers.
According to an HBR post:
“Your best salespeople possess vast knowledge about how to connect with and motivate people – and perhaps take the company to the next level. But they rarely get to share their knowledge with senior managers. “
To read that post in full go to
I am enjoying my third career (#3) as a marketing professor, researching innovation and sales of service. I was a financial futures and bond salesperson and sales manager in career #1. For career #2 I was head of sales and marketing for a series of online startups to serve the needs of sophisticated online traders.
I enjoyed all three careers. The careers have definitely been complementary: my trading experience and contacts were valuable in the online startups; and my experience in selling and innovating service fuels my current research. But my jobs clearly line up in three distinct groupings.
Many of my former colleagues that I have discussed this with acknowledge 2-3 separate careers also. (More true of my business colleagues than my academic colleagues — maybe “path” retains some meaning in professions such as law, education and medicine.) There have been books written about this phenomena, such as “Life 2.0.”
Career path is so 1980…
I believe that this paradigm, “career portfolio”, has replaced the old model, “career path.” I am not even sure that “career path” existed even in the 1980′s. Whenever I heard someone recount their path, it sounded like an ad-hoc rationalization of what had occurred, not a planned and executed journey.
Everyone should have an answer to “what do you want to do in 5 years?”, but should not take it too seriously. As the yiddish proverb translates: Man plans – God laughs.
Keep building human capital – including skills such as sales skills — and your opportunity awareness.
I seek thoughts from my readership on this proposed paradigm! Please comment.
“Value proposition” is one of the leading buzz words of sales. We all want to sell value… Unfortunately many value propositions sound as real as corporate mission statements — or beauty contestants who all want world peace.
Why can’t a value proposition be measureable, e.g. this service will save you $x /year, add $y in profits, and produce a z% return on investment?
Selling Solutions makes a strong case for tangible, measurable, value propositions.
Selling services out of a call center — and managing such sales — has to be one of the most difficult sales roles. To make the effort even more difficult many of the sales are cross-cultural and have the handicap of an obvious foreign accent.
A study of success factors in such an extreme environment is interesting (but not necessarily generalizable). A consultant who focuses on call centers found four keys to call centers that had success in selling. The centers:
- Had a highly structured offer and clearly defined sales strategy
- Recruited staff that was “willing to sell”, through behavioral questions and role plays. (The consultant, Ms. Murcott, claimed that this was evidence that salespeople were born not made.)
- Intensified their training and coaching efforts, not only with their reps, but with their supervisory and management staff.
- Created incentives that changed lifestyles.
For more details, read the full posting here:
(I had the opportunity to attend the 2009 NCSM and PSE conference in Norfolk this past weekend. I will have multiple postings related to the conference the next couple weeks.)
Mary Shoemaker gave an overview of research on online social networks. Her summary confirmed my thoughts about the state of research on the networks — she said that there were three styles of articles to date:
- Wow they are millions of users of Facebook, Myspace, Linked-in and Plaxo!
- Wow the networks are growing!
- Wow, these networks are really going to be important to business!
She pointed out certain gaps in the literature: who in business is using the networks, how were they using them, and do business people benefit from using the networks?
As she pointed out, certain features in Linked-in seem ideal for salespersons–the ability to search for people, see if you have a common acquaintance, and get an introduction. It would be interested to know if anyone uses them.
I am on several networks and so far the major benefit has been keeping track of some updated email addresses. I would like to hear from anyone who has used any of the networks to advance their sales effort. Please comment or send me an email!!
Uncovering Latent Needs
Hamel and Prahalahad and others have pointed out the need for companies to uncover unarticulated customer needs. These needs may be called latent, tacit, sticky, contextual, or simply unarticulated needs. They may not be articulated because the client doesn’t know how to communicate them or has trouble knowing what an “outsider” needs to know.
Hence the importance of site visits, as advocated by McQuarrie or by Griffin in Voice of the Customer and the use of anthropological research methods at P&G under AG Lafley, replacing idea-killing focus groups. Real understanding is needed to uncover key needs.
In your organization there is a group of professions who frequently do site visits and know your products and services and how customer use them. They are boundary spanners “immersed” in the behavior of your customers. Do you make use of your in-house anthropologists when you consider product and service innovation?
Once again: listen to the sales force!
For more on listening to the force: http://sellingb2bservice.com/2009/09/06/listen-to-your-salespeople/
For more on idea-killing focus groups: http://servicecocreation.com/2009/07/23/brainstorming-groups-still-kill-ideas/