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Death of THE Salesman

Oct 13, 2007
I left General Electric back in the mid-90's and went to work as a sales representative for a small software consulting business. Interestingly enough, my official title was that of "Marketing Representative"--or at least that's what was printed on my business cards.

A lot of companies try to distance themselves from the word "sales" because they know that for some people the word alone conjures up feelings of sitting in some pressure-cooker car dealership or time-share presentation.

So now, rather than having salespeople, we have important-sounding titles like Territory Manager, Client Liaison, and Account Manager (but not as creative as nail technician or sanitation engineer.) Maybe my manager thought that when I visited with a new prospect they would take one look at my card and breathe a sigh of relief: "Whew! I don't have to worry about any hard closes with this guy--he's a 'marketing rep'!"

It wasn't until after I left the company that I gave any further consideration as to why they chose "marketing representative" as the title for their salespeople . Was it merely some sort of associative bait and switch? Or something more troubling: maybe they actually thought that cold-calling random businesses day after day and begging for appointments was "marketing". It is, in fact, a form of marketing just like a stagecoach is a form of transportation and a loincloth is a form of clothing.

Having stayed in the industry long after I had moved on, Tim, a fellow "marketer" started his own technology consulting business back in '04 after his employer went bankrupt. He and a couple partners picked up right where they left off, continuing to service the same clients they had been working with at their old employer. They expect to generate around 1.7 million in revenue this year--not bad for a firm with 3 employees that didn't even exist 3 1/2 years ago.

"I'm getting ready to hire of couple of new sales reps and I'd like your opinion," he said when he called a while back. "I'm going to hire an inside sales rep to pound the phones and uncover new leads, and an outside rep to meet with companies face to face and close those leads. The only issue is my outside guy has been with a competitor for the last 5 years and has a non-compete agreement that locks him out of the state for 2 years. I can get him to call on companies outside of this territory, but he won't be able to sell to any of his old clients--he'll have to generate all new business."

"How many inbound leads are you getting?" I asked. "Do you have enough to keep him busy?"

"A ton!" he said. "I probably have 50 different opportunities I could be pursuing right now--to be honest, I can't even keep up with them all. But I'm not giving them to him--that would be like handing him free money."

"So let me go this straight: you expect a guy that's developed a base of business over the last 5 years to start from scratch calling on companies that have never heard of you, and you have no intentions of providing him with any existing clients or leads?" It was all coming back to me.

"Essentially 'yes'," he said sheepishly.

I'm not big on giving unsolicited advice, but he asked for my opinion, and over the next hour I explained to him why I thought the whole scenario was a bad idea. "Tim, you've got a highly successful business despite the fact you're not doing any marketing whatsoever. You're situation is unique because you guys were able to pick up highly profitable clients as a result of your old company's marketing efforts. Now you're in a situation where you need to start generating new clients and you're trying to do it the same boneheaded way we did it 15 years ago. From your years of experience in this industry, what do you think the ratio is of bad sales reps to those that are successful long-term?"

"Probably 20 to 1," he said without hesitation.

"Then look at it this way: you're going to have to go through 19 sales people before you find one that's going to be worth your time. I could name a half-dozen marketing ideas you could be doing right now to generate new opportunities: start with your website, which by the way, needs a complete overhaul. You're in the technology industry yet you don't invest a dime in online (or offline for that matter) advertising. You could be putting out a catalog, writing a blog, hosting technology forums, a million things. Why don't you take the same money you were going to pay the telemarketer and put it into some of these initiatives that put you in front of those people that are already looking for your services?"

Much has changed in the last 15 - 20 years, but a lot has stayed the same. As a rule of thumb: people do not like being pressured into buying stuff they don't need and when they DO need something they'll go find it themselves.

The Internet has dramatically changed the role of the salesperson, particularly when it comes to B2B sales. Buyers no longer have to rely solely on salespeople to educate and bring them up to speed on their products and services; they have all the information they need at their fingertips. Salespeople should be spending the majority of their time focused on those prospects that have already expressed in interest in your offerings, not courting those people naive enough to fall for "I'm going to be in your area next week and wanted to see if I could stop by for a few minutes. How does Tuesday at 10 a.m. sound?"

Oh, and in case you're wondering: that conversation with Tim took place over three months ago. He went ahead and hired both sales reps and to date, they have jointly delivered $9k worth of revenue verses a quota of $50k.

He called yesterday wanting to know what day of the week was best to fire salespeople.
About the Author
Thad Greer is an Executive Recruiter that specializes in identifying top sales, marketing, and operations talent nationwide. His website http://www.ExecutiveSearchSales.com, serves as a resource for employers and job seekers alike.
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