The New ABCs for Your Career: “Like It or Not, We’re All in Sales Now”

It’s one of the classic monologues in modern cinema, and yet it comes from a 1992 movie that few saw and even fewer can name. A very young, very thin Alec Baldwin, taking command of a sales meeting of middle-aged men who were pros at selling questionable land deals, famously delivered the David Mamet lines:

We're adding a little something to this month's sales contest.

As you all know first prize is a Cadillac El Dorado.

Anyone wanna see second prize?

Second prize is a set of steak knives.

Third prize is you're fired.

Get the picture?

The monologue is a classic and a must-watch for anyone whose job involves sales, and in the words of Daniel Pink, “Like it or not, we're all in sales now.” Yet, if you would like to listen to this monologue, well, don’t watch it at work—or use headphones if liberal use of four-letter words is frowned upon at your office.

And so if we are all in sales, we all have quotas. Yes, they may not be performance measures that directly equate to actual sales, but all work today is done in an environment where systems help deliver performance metrics in nice charts and graphs with the click of a mouse and make items measurable that were formerly immeasurable. This data presents a world of opportunity for self-improvement - and for managerial attention to make sure that improvement occurs. Indeed, today we can find our job performance evaluated in far more precise ways than ever before. Whatever side of the supply chain we find ourselves, from those in the businesses of procuring, delivering, warehousing, paying for, or selling the trillions of dollars of “stuff” that makes the world go ‘round, we should be aware of the measurable world we all work in. And so, it should be of interest to those on the buying side of the desk to better understand the pressures on the salespeople calling on and working with them.

Recently, the sales-oriented solutions provider Qvidian issued their report Sales Execution Trends 2014, which surveyed 220 sales executives in the U.S. and abroad. One of the major takeaways from their survey’s findings was that leaders of sales organizations were frustrated with the abilities of their salespeople from a performance standpoint. In fact, just 63 percent of salespeople actually fulfill their annual quotas. Approximately nine in 10 sales executives expressed that their top priorities are to help salespeople meet or exceed their sales quotas by increasing their “win rates” and the sizes of their deals. That’s an easy equation for success for the salesperson in the field to understand. The greater percentage of sales efforts that convert prospects into customers (representing a “win” in the sales world) and the greater the value each of those wins are, the easier it is for those sales to add up and meet a weekly, monthly, quarterly, or annual sales target. And as a sales manager, the more successful my salespeople are, the more successful - and secure - I would be in my own job, based on the cumulative performance of my sales team. So it’s a simple equation for success for individual salespeople and sales executives alike today, right?

The Qvidian survey revealed this not to be the case. In fact, just over a third of the sales managers they surveyed (36 percent) were confident in the ability of those in their sales force to attain their targets. Why? Their research revealed that sales executives were surprisingly in touch with today’s longer sales cycles and more complex selling environments. When asked why their salespeople were not achieving their quotas, the survey participants replied that it was because their salespeople:

  • 54 percent - Too often see opportunities end up as no decisions
  • 41 percent - Are unable to effectively communicate value
  • 33 percent - Are burdened with tasks and spend less time selling
  • 26 percent - Have selling content and resources that are not aligned with the buyer
  • 25 percent - Have selling content not tailored to the specific selling situation
  • 20 percent – Are unable to find necessary content or resources for selling.

The surveyed sales managers thus were found to be putting a high priority on enabling their salespeople - with better tools for understanding their customers, tailoring offerings to customer needs, and gaining better and quicker access to decision makers. This is all in an effort to shorten sales cycles and make sales efforts more productive. If successful, this works to the benefit of both managers and their charges.

Personally, I don’t believe that the priority on quotas is a negative development at all. Quite to the contrary, if you take a look at the sales and marketing literature, what you will find is a real emphasis on customer intimacy and delivering value to the buying organization. The push today is not for the “hard-driving” sales philosophy espoused by Alec Baldwin’s fictional character: “A-B-C. A-always, B-be, C-closing. Always be closing!” This approach has been used - and will still persist to a lesser degree - by sales managers near and far for decades (particularly amongst car salespeople, but that’s a whole different story!). Rather, today there is a call for a new “ABCs” of selling. Daniel Pink outlined these as:

  • Attunement: Being able to see things from the other person’s perspective
  • Buoyancy: Being able to bounce back and learn from the rejections
  • Clarity: Being able to identify a customer’s problem and then explain how you can help solve it.

Pink’s advice is thus sound not just for those engaged in actual sales jobs, but for anyone working today. And for those employed on the buyer’s side of the sales equation, sales is an integral part of your career. For procurement professionals, using this sales philosophy when dealing with your internal customers, as well as with supply chain partners, will simply help you be better in your own role and help the acquisition function work better for the organization.

Whatever the metrics may show in the short term in regards to meeting quotas and performance targets, long-term success in one’s job and career will be facilitated by mastering these new ABCs. The quotas for success, while more precise and specific than ever in the short term, really become more wide and qualitative over the long run. And whatever industry you work in and whether you believe your job has a sales component or not, understanding the reality that we are in fact all in sales today is vital to succeeding in your career. If nothing else, understand that you are the sales manager of your career, and the better you can manage the brand that is you with these new ABCs of selling philosophy, the farther and higher you will go.

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