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Whose Problem is Sales Quality?

by Michael Webb | * Comments (3)
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Question: "How do we make the people in the sales function realize that Quality is an important factor for them?"

The question above was submitted by a visitor to this site. It reeks of frustration, doesn’t it? It is an important issue; yet, as you’ll see, it is the wrong question.

The salespeople this writer works with seem to be causing lots of pain. What could the writer mean that they are in so much pain they want to make salespeople realize “Quality is an important factor?”

I can think of a couple of possibilities:

  • The output from their sales department is of poor quality: Could this mean mistakes in orders, incomplete information, pricing errors, poor or untimely communication, or orders that can’t be fulfilled in the time or manner requested?
  • Or is the writer referring to the general performance of the sales department: inconsistency in order flow, lack of predictability, low margin, or just plain not enough business?

Perhaps their sales departments resist the principles of quality: value to the customer, looking for evidence and data, being scrupulous about analyzing things?

What Happens When You Ask “Why” a Lot

When companies grapple with these kinds of issues, they tend to run into similar root causes. The “quality factor” generally refers to something like:

Why doesn’t the company have a means of identifying what is working and not working in the field to improve performance? (That is another way of saying, “Why don’t we have a sales process?” which has the advantage of getting around the problem of “lip-service” to the process.)

The answer isn’t simple, but it usually boils down to:

  • Management never needed to be systematic and analytical about winning customers, because they always managed to find enough business before.
  • It’s the way things have always been done. Salespeople have always “rolled their own.” If things went wrong, replacing people seemed to fix it.
  • None of the sales and marketing leaders have experience with the idea of “standard work,” or how it could possibly apply to wild and wooly sales and marketing people. They don’t know what is possible.

Salespeople obviously have lots of frustrations themselves, especially these days. Do they feel the pain caused by poor sales quality?

You bet they do: poor-quality prospects, poor-quality service departments, product quality problems that shouldn’t happen but do anyway.

They probably don’t use the quality vocabulary, they have no training around it. Yet salespeople definitely realize that quality is an important factor when you apply it to the factors that matter to them.

Sales Quality: Whose Problem Is It?
The fact is, lots of really talented people end up feeling trapped in their sales jobs because of this: They can’t get ahead or make quota because of quality problems whose root causes are way above their pay grade.

In a world where marketers are supposed to do “marketing,” sellers are supposed to make quota, and servicers are supposed to stay within budget, talented salespeople often become renegades.

The good ones must challenge their managers to help the company be more systematic and analytical about winning customers. They point out that new hires are having the same problems as everyone else. If these salespeople had training in lean and process vocabulary, they would ask why the company does not devise “standard work” to alleviate systemic issues that suck valuable selling time over and over again, like non existent lead generation, non-value-added administrative work, and products no one wants to buy.

In short, solving the sales department’s problems (increasing the quality factor) ends up going against the grain of the company, challenging the status quo.

Perhaps that is why people in the sales function have a bit of a tough time with it. The real question is, “How do we get senior executives to realize how important quality is to the sales function?”

The solution to the problem of sales quality is deeply rooted in how company executives think. Salespeople are creatures of their environment, just like everybody else. They are usually not the problem. The environment salespeople live in, what is expected of salespeople, that is the problem.

Until next week,

Michael Webb
Dec 1, 2009

3 Responses to “Whose Problem is Sales Quality?”

  1. Ben Rust says:

    David,

    Great post. As a sales person, I am right there with you. I have been at organizations where the downstream quality was so poor that it was a nightmare when a deal did close. There were a lot of late nights on the phone calming clients. But, I do think a lot of the responsibility falls on sales to recognize the problems before the deal is closed. If there are going to be potential issues in production, raise the issue with management right away. If customer service will be an issue, bring it up. Too often, sales turns off once the sale is made. If it is a product issue, then either you need to believe in the offering or find another company.

    If we want recurrent revenue or references, we simply cannot put the fate of our companies to chance. Get in there and be the voice of reason and change.

    Thanks for the interesting post.

    Be well,

    Ben

  2. Rolan Moodley says:

    My two cents worth. I think the first challenge is to stop seeing quality as the responsibility of any one individual or department. Quality should be the responsibility of every single individual in the organization from the salesperson to the packer to the delivery boy.
    The 2nd challenge is to stop seeing quality as a problem but as an oppurtunity to constantly improve the way you operate. Basically change your thinking and you will change your outcome.

  3. Jim Mac, conveying the message of "quality" is the responsibility of all, but most importantly the leader. The problem is, that motivating people to maintain quality can be a challenge in some organizations. I have seen first hand how poor leadership transmits itself into low quality results - a trickle down effect, if you will.

    Michael - this was a good read.

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