The Last Thing a Fish Discovers is Water

Last week’s blog post “Why People Are NOT Your Most Important Asset” created some strong reaction.

Here is an example:


I was recently fired from my sales job, because I wasn’t on the road “cold calling” enough …

Instead, I had been working to set up Google alerts for research as well as trigger events that Jill Konrath ( refers to. I was trying to set up an automated way of attracting and nurturing contacts through email, phone follow up, etc. They told me I was being fired for not doing the sales.

It is frustrating enough to be told to do things you know don’t work anymore. But, to get fired for trying something you know could work! It is just incredible.

Your article touched all those things that companies still either don’t understand or don’t want to do…Do the research, create the value … all they want is more cold calls or send that proposal out …

You pointed out the reasons why the sales process is messed up and how it needs to improve … that the whole company must organize around researching the market, creating value, etc. It must deal with the “whole process,” not just what salespeople do.

It really gave me hope that maybe some of the old ways will be flushed out with this recession.

By the way, I got lucky: I start a new job in two weeks.

But I’ll be careful not to bring these new ideas to my new employer too soon…I need a job…

Bob Smith (not his real name)

The exact same thing has happened to me, Bob. More than once, actually.

Many employers today are stamping their feet, unwittingly trying to get their salespeople to do more of what does not work.

My employers assumed the problem was me. They felt that way for a bunch of reasons:

For one thing, they succeeded when they were in the field! (They didn’t realize how much things had changed.)

For another, everywhere they turn they are told “People are the most important thing. Get the right people and everything will be alright. If the numbers aren’t coming in, there must be a problem with the people.”


The greatest people in the world cannot overcome a broken system. And most management today are not even aware that they are part of a system. Instead they assume the solution to their problems is for the marketing department to market better, the sales department to sell better, and the service department to service better.

It has been said that “The last thing a fish discovers is water.”

Bob’s message is evidence that these managements are unwittingly damaging their companies. They are running off talented salespeople like him: people with the initiative to create new approaches that respond to today’s environment and technologies.

These management teams need to come up for air. They need to take a look at the world from a broader, more accurate perspective.

There is a widely held belief that an organization would have few problems if only their employees would do their jobs correctly. As Dr. Joseph Juran pointed out years ago, this belief is incorrect.

As Bob and I can attest, most of the problems companies have in sales and marketing can be resolved only by improving the sales and marketing “system” (which is largely determined by management). Few of the problems are under the employee’s control.

Only when a management team understands this can they can begin to leverage the people they do have to their best advantage.

Michael Webb

Michael Webb

Michael Webb founded Sales Performance Consultants to create a data-driven alternative to the slogans and shallow impact offered by typical sales training, sales consulting, and CRM companies. Michael helped organize and delivered the keynote speeches for the first conferences ever held on applying Six Sigma to marketing and sales. Connect with me on LinkedIn.

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