Are your sales team lone wolves, operating independently, and bringing home the great deals? Or are they team players, calling on the rest of the company to help them close a deal? Which works best? For many organizations, that’s a more tricky question than it appears.
On the one hand, your sales guys run the risk of being told they’re out of touch with the rest of the company, putting impossible demands on the production and development teams. On the other hand, the rest of the company don’t always want to be involved in sales, and resent being dragged into sales meetings or deluged with progress reports and queries.
Since we’re looking at sales processes this week, let’s take a look at this critical issue of who needs to know what, and when.
Why Do Salespeople Not Share Information?
You might think that it’s obvious that your sales team should be sharing information as widely as possible. However, the culture in many companies, particularly among sales teams, often makes that harder than you realize.
Competitive Sales: Playing It Close To Your Chest
Many sales people are reluctant to share information with co-workers for one simple reason: their pay structure. They want to be the one who secures the deal, and they’re not going to say or do anything that might let another salesman or manager steal some of the glory – or the commission. In a competitive sales environment, it’s natural for salesmen to keep everything secret, even from their own managers, until it’s a done deal. They can hide their failures, and all that anyone else sees is their successes.
For many salesmen, their greatest asset is their contact list. As soon as they start officially tracking a prospect, their contact details become company property. As a result, it’s not unusual for salesmen to keep those contacts private for as long as possible. They can take those leads to another company if they leave, and there’s no risk of another salesman picking up a dormant lead and turning it into a lucrative success.
Control Freaks: Your Management Culture
The other reason sales guys don’t like sharing is if they feel they’re being interfered with. They want to be out there and making sales, not filing reports, having update meetings, and getting approval for every little thing.
They need to feel that they’re in control, and that they’re not being constantly monitored and evaluated. Sales is a high-pressure, stressful job, with a lot of failures. If management is adding to the stress by demanding information and constantly criticizing poor performance, salesmen will inevitably push back by simply not saying anything until it’s a done deal or they can’t go any further.
Lastly, don’t forget that sales teams often juggle hundreds of leads. If they’re not sharing everything with the rest of the team, that could easily be because you just don’t need to know every detail of every call, meeting, or email.
It’s easy to tell your team to copy you in on every email, but are you really going to read the several hundred emails a day that are now flooding your inbox? And are you going to remember what’s in them? Your guys are having a hard time keeping track of the 40 or 50 leads they’re each dealing with – there’s no way you’re going to stay abreast of the 200 or 300 leads your team is covering.
Maybe they’re doing you a favor by not telling you everything.
Sales Is A Company Issue
On the other hand, sales does affect the entire company. Without sales, you have no revenue. While that may be fine for an investor-backed start-up in the early years, that blissful period doesn’t last long. There are many strong reasons why more people should be involved.
The More They Know
Sales don’t just affect the individual salespeople. What about sales managers, account managers, product managers, developers, marketing, and even the CEO and CFO? All of those potentially have a stake in what’s going on. All of them may have a need to know what’s coming down the line, so they can prepare for it.
Most importantly, it’s a two-way street. The rest of the team may have the information the sales team needs to close a deal. Conversely, everyone benefits from knowing more about what actual customers want. Even leads that don’t result in a sale can be informative. If customers aren’t buying, then it’s not always the fault of the sales team: product managers and senior managers need to hear what they need to be competitive. Often, that feedback comes best directly from customers, not from a salesman trying to make excuses for not hitting their targets.
Can Your Team Deliver?
Where communication is most important is when it comes to delivery. Salesmen have a reputation for promising anything they have to in order to close a deal, and then dumping the rest of the company with the problem of how to actually make good on that promise. They’ll negotiate a price without any real understanding of the practical issues involved. Or they’ll commit resources with no idea of what else has already been planned. That so-called sweet deal could turn out to be a disaster for the company.
There’s no single right answer to the question of who should be involved and when. It depends on the size of your company, the volume of leads you’re handling, your success rate, and the effect of a successful (or unsuccessful) deal on the development and production side.
The important thing is to define a process that doesn’t overload people with information they don’t need, doesn’t overburden salesmen with administrative work and reports, but ensures that the right information reaches those who need to know. Most importantly, it involves defining a culture that gives salesmen the autonomy they need while at the same time emphasizing the need to be a team player.
In The Loop, Involved, Or Passing The Buck?
Information sharing and the collaborative sales process can take three forms, and it’s important to distinguish between them.
Keeping people in the loop can be seen as basic courtesy. However, it can very easily degenerate into information overload. Summary emails or verbal reports can often be quite sufficient and more effective than copying everyone on everything and notifying people of every little update to the sales database.
Getting people involved is something else entirely. If a salesperson needs help or information, they should be able to call for it. They may need to pull someone into a meeting, discuss a client, or request a document. However, they need to be mindful of the demands they’re putting on the rest of the team. Sales are critical, yes, but that doesn’t mean others can drop whatever they’re doing to support a sales effort.
The one to watch out for is when information sharing is just buck-passing. This can take two forms, either of which is insidious. In the best case, you have a salesperson who won’t take a decision, but is always going to a manager or co-worker to do it. In the worst case scenario, information sharing is simply a way to shift responsibility to others and bury it under a mountain of irrelevant detail. As soon as someone says in their defense, “but you were copied on the email,” you have a problem. If your company culture doesn’t give sales people the autonomy and authority they need, then you need to address that. If, on the other hand, you have a salesperson who simply won’t use the authority they’ve been given, then you need to replace them.
Calling In The Big Guns: The CEO
I’ve saved the biggest question for last – should the CEO be involved in sales?
It’s not clear-cut. Consultative Sales Academy makes a strong case for keeping the CEO out of sales. On the other hand, over at the Market Stronger blog, they argue that CEOs of startups should most definitely be involved. It’s a conflict between staying in touch and micro-managing.
The answer, I think, lies in between: Monika D’Agostino sums it up neatly by saying that “CEOs should be involved in the sales process, but they shouldn’t lead it.” Clearly, it depends on the size of your organization, but Monika makes a fair point: if your CEO is heading your sales effort, you look small. On the other hand, if you have a salesman who takes point, and then brings in the CEO at a later stage in the process, that gives a completely different impression. That says to the client that they are now getting VIP attention, and may be all it takes to close a deal.