In order to address the problem with underperformance in sales, we’ll have to challenge the assumption that autonomous sales agents should bear the primary responsibility of sales performance. This assumption, more than any other cause, is leading to significant underperformance in sales.
If we challenge this assumption then we can divide the labor of sales—prospecting, selling, administration, solution design and customer service—among members of a coordinated team. Salespeople will be responsible for selling, other people will specialize in the remaining tasks.
Production and engineering made this shift long ago and they experienced dramatic performance improvements. But these improvements did not come easily. Craftspeople opposed the division of labor in manufacturing every step of the way.
Similarly, salespeople today object to dividing the labor of sales among members of a coordinated team.
Justin Roff-Marsh says you are likely to hear two primary objections:
- Complexity. Sales is complex in most environments nowadays. You have multiple influencers and decision makers. You have numerous conversations with multiple parties spanning weeks or months. This complexity does not lend itself to division of labor.
- Personal relationships. People buy from people. No one likes to transact with a machine. The division of labor will destroy the critical personal relationship between the salesperson and the customer.
How does Roff-Marsh respond to these two objections?
To the first objection, Roff-Marsh concedes that selling today is complex. But is that alone a good reason to avoid the division of labor?
If this objection were valid, then we would expect to see the division of labor fail in the production of more complex products like jet aircraft. In fact, these products could not be built without a division of labor.
Now what about the critical relationship between the salesperson and the customer? Although it’s true that good relationships are an important part of business, Roff-Marsh asks, “which comes first—the sale or the relationship?”
Customers today do not want to initiate their buying cycle with a personal relationship. As they recognize their problem and investigate possible fixes, they search out information that can help them. However, most buyers do not want a relationship at this early stage. They read articles and educate themselves on the subject. Then later in the cycle they become ready to talk to a salesperson.
Roff-Marsh comments “The reality is, for the most part, that the salesperson’s relationships are the consequence of sales, not their first cause!”
Further, although sales makes an important contribution to the initial sale to a customer, subsequent transactions that retain customers are due more to product quality and ability of production to deliver on time.
So it turns out that the primary objections to the division of labor, sales complexity and personal relationships, are not good arguments to oppose the division of labor in sales and the dramatic increase in productivity that follows.