What if you went over your prospect list, and the only thing written next to each prospect’s name was a dollar figure and a projected close date? Would your prospects be happy if they saw that? Would they want to do business with you?
Probably not; it reduces them to nothing more than a number. Yet, that’s exactly how most organizations talk about their customers on a daily basis.
Think about the typical conversation a sales manager has with his or her sales rep. It usually goes something like this:
“When are you going to close this? How much revenue will it be? Are all the key decision makers involved? Who’s the competition? What do you need to close this deal?”
All of the questions are about when and how we’re going to collect revenue from the customer. Very few managers ask about the impact the sale will have on the customer’s business or life.
This is a big problem.
Imagine a salesperson walking into a customer’s office and opening the sales call by plopping a revenue forecast down on the customer’s desk, announcing, “I have you projected for $50,000 this month. Give me an order now!”
That rep would be thrown out in a second. Yet that’s the kind of language most organizations use when they talk about their customers internally. It’s like two different worlds.
We expect salespeople to focus on customers’ needs and goals when they’re in front of customers, but the majority of our internal conversations are about our own revenue quotas. Although it’s an unintended disconnect, it’s a fatal one.
Most organizations want to have a positive impact on their customers’ lives. It makes good business sense, and it appeals to our more noble instincts. Yet when managers are caught up inside the pressure cooker of daily business, their desire to improve the customer’s life is eclipsed by quotas, quarterly numbers, and daily sales reports.
This results in salespeople who don’t have any sense of a higher purpose, other than “making the numbers.” It sounds good in theory, but customers can tell the difference between the salespeople who care about them and those who care only about their bonuses.
The great disconnect between what we want salespeople to do when they’re in the field (focus on the customer) versus what we emphasize and reinforce internally (our own targets and quotas) results in mediocre sales performance.
Traditional sales management training does little to solve this problem.
Managers are taught to coach to the numbers or to the sales process. Instead of asking salespeople about how they are going to help the customer achieve their goals, most sales managers focus exclusively on their own goals, profit margin, close dates, and revenue targets. With no sense a larger purpose, and no discussion about how the salesperson is making life better for the customer, it all comes down to the numbers.
This is fatal.
What Lack of Purpose Costs a Sales Force
When the customer becomes nothing more than a number to you, you become nothing more than a number to the customer—and your entire organization suffers. When you overemphasize financial goals at the expense of how you make a difference to customers, you make it extremely difficult for your salespeople to differentiate themselves from the competition.
And the problem doesn’t stop there. It has a ripple effect on salespeople, who:
- Start thinking only about the short term.
- Fail to understand the customer’s business environment.
- Cannot connect the dots between your products and customers’ goals.
- Cannot gain access to senior levels within the customer.
- Then the problem escalates:
- Customers view you as a commodity.
- You have little or no collaboration with them.
- Customers place undue emphasis on minor problems.
- Customer churn increases.
- Contracts are constantly in jeopardy over small dollar amounts.
- Salespeople’s default response is to lower the price.
- Sales has a negative perception in the rest of the organization.
- There is little or no product innovation.
- Sales force turnover increases.
- Salespeople try to game the comp plan.
- Top performers become mid-level performers.
- Salespeople view their fellow salespeople as the competition.
- Sales force morale declines.
It’s not a pretty picture. When the internal conversation is all about money, the external conversation becomes about all money. And all of a sudden, that’s the last thing you’re making.
Companies have tried a variety of methods to solve this problem. Organizations spend millions on sales training programs that teach salespeople how to ask better questions and engage the customers. They spend even more millions on customer relationship management (CRM) systems to capture critical customer information. They host off-site retreats to create mission and vision statements. They hire expensive consultants to craft their value story.
But the results are short lived at best. Salespeople abandon the training. No one updates the CRM. The mission and vision are put on a meaningless placard in the lobby. And the value story is reduced a bunch of ho-hum slides that sound just like everyone else’s.
The reason these solutions don’t deliver sustained improvement is because they address only the symptoms. They don’t tackle the root cause: the lack of purpose.
Peter Drucker, widely considered the most influential management thinker in the second half of the twentieth century, once famously said, “Profit is not the purpose of a business but rather the test of its validity.”
I’ll take that a step further: driving revenue is not the purpose of a sales force; it’s the test of its effectiveness.
When targets and quotas become the primary organizing element of your business, the result is a mediocrity at best. Profit is critical, but it’s not the best starting point for driving sales revenue. To do that, you have to start with a noble sales purpose (NSP).
An NSP is a definitive statement about how you make a difference in the lives of your customers. It speaks to why you’re in business in the first place. Used correctly, your NSP drives every decision you make and every action you take. It becomes the underpinning for all your sales activities.
Why a Noble Sales Purpose Drive Revenue
One of our clients is a provider of information technology (IT) services for small businesses. Their NSP is simply, “We help small business be more successful.” It drives everything they do. Every decision, large or small, must pass through that filter, “Will this help us make small businesses more successful?” If the answer is no, they don’t do it.
Every new product and service they create—every sales call they’re on—is focused on how they can make their customers’ businesses more successful.
Since implementing their NSP strategy, their sales are up 35 percent. In a tough economy when customers are cutting back on outside IT services, their business is growing.
An NSP is a new way to think about your business. Doing business from an NSP perspective is counter to the way most corporations, entrepreneurs, and salespeople have been told to think—and that’s exactly why it works.
Instead of making profit your sole purpose, you emphasize the impact you have on customers. Profits are the result of your work, not the sole purpose of your efforts. It might sound like heresy, but purpose is the secret to driving more revenue.