There is an episode of Seinfeld in which the main protagonists encounter characters & a lifestyle that are the polar opposites of their own. In a cultural nod to comic book convention, they call it Bizarro World.
I was reminded of this recently when a colleague shared some archive material that suggested that sales roles were becoming increasingly harder to fill. First off, The Wall Street Journal reported on the difficulties US Companies are having as they try to sell sales as a career generally and fill sales positions in particular. Apparently today’s job hunters are put off by roles that are perceived as ‘risky, hard-charged & competitive’.
We have long lamented the flawed but conventional wisdom this side of the Atlantic is that ‘sales isn’t really a career’. But to see that sentiment expressed Stateside – the home of professional selling (& buying!) – in a Wall Street Journal post is as astonishing as it is disappointing.
No sooner had I checked that the world wasn’t flat & the Sun hadn’t started rising in the West, a Brian de Haaff post is rather proudly announcing that he will ‘never hire another salesperson’ in an intriguing and somewhat provocative post on Linked In.
Have we entered a Bizarro World of our own?
Both posts highlight – in very different ways – how people (from CEOs to employees and even parents) just don’t get sales. We’ll come to semantics in a minute but let’s get to the point: Businesses need revenue – on time. This month. Next Month. And the month after that. Salespeople make sure they get it – on time. And it is that dimension of Time that is so, so important: Take out the salespeople and you dramatically increase the risk of missing both your number & your deadline. Most tech businesses simply cannot afford those delays.There may be businesses out there who don’t have to do this. They have no public markets to placate, no investors to sate or so much money that survival is not an issue for them. But they are in a minority and they are certainly in Bizarro World.
Arguably most disconcerting of all is the (now transatlantic) perception that sales requires little or no skills. The hackneyed stereotypes cited by the Journal are prehistoric. Anyone who has actually sold anything in the last 20 years will testify to how broad and deft a skillset is required to close a deal: focus, communication, creativity, problem solving, people management, negotiation & empathy. That’s a decent list to start with.
Part of the problem is the euphemistic and somewhat self-indulgent new lexicon of the Cloud generation. SaaS? Subscription business models have been around for decades. LTV-CAC? That used to be called Profitability.
So perhaps the word ‘Sales’ is the problem. How ironic that, as we cultivate economies based on entrepreneurship around the world, we need to take things like risk, competitiveness & numbers out of a job spec. For what it’s worth, give me a business that is focused on delivering its numbers. And to do so, it recognises that it needs a highly skilled team of people who will deliver their own targets month after month, year after year. You can call them ‘Lead & Prospect Cultivation Engineer Specialists’ if you want. They will always be sales people to me. And – here at Versari anyway – we can’t have too many of them.