A: They're Hunting Caribou.
I am such a hypocrite.
I spent the first 15 years of my career being annoyed by sales people -- until I became one. Back then, I was young and had an inflated sense of my own importance. I was annoyed by the sales people who tried to sell me and then there were the ones that worked for my company; I gnashed my teeth while watching them jet off to sales meetings in Vegas or scoot out of the office at 5 p.m., squash racquet in hand. To my mind, sales people were slick, oily and unpleasant. They traveled with an overnight bag filled with Hermès ties and carried a slight odor of sulfur.
These days, I can give you thousand reasons why I love sales people, and why you should too. But for now I'll give you five things to love and a few things to ponder.
1. Sales people are hunters. They are the people who bring home the caribou (money) so that the rest of the villagers (company) eat. If there's no caribou, no one eats. The village dies.
2. Every day your sales force climbs a mountain. The same mountain. That's perseverance. That's determination. That's feeding the village at all cost. There's caribou over the next mountain and your sales people know it and want to get it. They're calling potential customers too busy to listen, cheerfully leaving messages that won't be returned, crafting witty but compelling email requests, and trying to slip past admins trained better than NHL goalies. Every day.
3. Sales people are masters of human (and caribou) behavior. Often we believe that if we present our organizations with a perfectly logical reason to change that's enough. It's not. Sales people understand the power of motivation. That's why they spend time and effort on sales meetings and incentive trips and recognition programs -- things that people (like me, once upon a time) often mis-characterize as boondoggles.
4. No matter how sophisticated the measurement systems your company has in place -- customer satisfaction, product quality, net promoter scores, delivery stats, etc -- your sales force is the first place to go for feedback. If something isn't working as well as it should, your sales force knows it first. They're an invaluable resource and the first people you should tap for information. If your sales people tell you something is wrong (these new snowballs are not taking down the caribou), listen to them.
5. Face it. Sales people are fun to be with. (Hey, they hunt caribou!) Who'd you rather go to dinner with tonight, the head of sales for your company or the head of Risk? Or Operations, or the General Counsel? Sales people are never boring, even when the product or service is. They have great stories, know the best restaurants, work outside in the real world and, just maybe, know more about your business than you give them credit for.
How to Love your Sales People (increase your caribou takedown rate)
1. Spend a week with a sales person. No one should be at a senior management level in a company if they haven't had to sell. Knock on a door, make a pitch and then actually ask for the sale. Everyone in the company should be thinking about how to make these folks successful and that starts with listening to what they are saying and walking in their shoes.
2. If the sales force is missing numbers, now is not the time to beat them up. It's the time to support them. Trust me, they know they're not performing, but you want them "up" when they are in the field, not licking their wounds. They face huge adversity in the market and they need their own company to have their backs.
3. Don't try to make sales people great corporate citizens. Research has shown that the lower a salesperson scores on "cooperation," the more they sell. Repeat: the lower a salesperson scores on a 'cooperation' measure, the more they sell. Be thrilled to trade buttoned-up sales reporting for a maniacal focus on the sale.
4. Here's the big secret. Do you know what motivates sales people? It's not the money. Not even close. It's acceptance. What happens when a client says 'yes.' The customer is not buying the product--they're buying the salesperson. They want you to accept them too and appreciate what they do. Next time you see one of yours, thank them and tell them you appreciate what they do.
Remember, as Andy Rooney once said: Vegetarian is an old Indian word for 'lousy hunter.' Or, put another way: the village that respects its hunters thrives.
Respect your hunters!