Why I Write About Sales
Some of you read this blog because it’s about selling. Most of you read it because it’s about trust—perhaps despite it also being about selling. Let me address the latter group on why the former is so important.
Sales is the new marketing.
Nearly 50 years ago, Ted Levitt (Marketing Mypia, Harvard Business Review) crystallized the shift from producer-oriented to customer-oriented. It put marketing front and center, and broadened strategy industry definitions.
We’re now on the cusp of a shift at least as big.
Companies started as safe havens for doing business. You couldn’t trust anyone out there, so you vertically and horizontally integrated. If you made cars, you made most of the things that went into them. That way you controlled budgets, salaries, cost accounting, promotions, quality, and processes. The corporate form made possible massive scale economies over the last hundred years.
What’s changing now—look to The World is Flat, or Wikinomics , or How We Compete —is that companies no longer must own the means of production in order to produce. Increasingly goods and services can be outsourced. This trend dates back to 1910, but the internet, high speed telecomm and other IT services have vastly accelerated it.
Further, those who can integrate services outsourced by others have access to greater scale economies in those services than did the original companies.
Fast forward to a world where transactions that used to happen within companies now happen between them. Outsource a few functions; all transactions that were internal become external. Spin off a supply business; more internal transactions become external. The new model for business is to focus on your world-class strengths, and buy everything else from those who are world-class in their own areas.
That increases sales events by orders of magnitude. Add to that increases in stock ownership volatility, job-hopping, strategic alliances, decentralization and empowerment and you have vastly more people involved in the “sales” function more broadly defined.
Let’s define sales: it is the activity of personally influencing other people or businesses in a direction that is mutually beneficial.
In the old world, this “personal influencing” was done disproportionately on a vertical employment basis—bosses and subordinates. We worried about things like span of control, giving and receiving feedback, and the secret sauce that separated “leaders” from, I guess, followers. Call that the vertical model.
Today, the world’s looking more horizontal. Transactions, and relationships, are tilting to those between equals, with no reporting relationships, if not working for other organizations then working in matrix organizations within a company.
The world of business is less about monolithic vertical companies competing against each other. It’s becoming far more a model of inter-company commerce—transactions between businesses, and people.
That looks like “selling.”
Selling is the point where one organization meets another—and where economic value is acknowledged. It’s getting more and more common.
To make a vertical world work, you need power and control.
To make a horizontal world work, you need trust.
Trusted relationships between those who transact business have always been the best form of sales. Now sales is becoming the paradigm model for inter-company relationships.
That’s why selling is so important for all of us.
G.B Shaw said that “the power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who haven’t got it”. Sort of like people looking down on selling because they can’t do it. Maybe it’s because I’m a salesman but I’ve pretty much always believed the adage that nothing happens until somebody sells something and I’ve always known that mutual trust is a requirement for building a business relationship. Without trust it’s just “one and done”.
I am always amazed at the way people look down on sales. Business schools don’t teach it, true professionals (some believe) don’t do it, and in movies it is scoffed at. Yet a sale is what defines the existence of a business. If you or someone in your organization doesn’t sell something, you really don’t have a business. What could be more important than that?
Both Phil and Ford make the powerful point that selling is what’s at the heart of business. In this day and age of focus on competition, we forget the essential commerce at the heart of business—the one place where buyer meets seller, the sale.
And a big welcome to Ford Harding. If you’re not aware of Ford, check out his blog (click through his address above). He’s written several books on rainmaking in professional services, and knows whereof he speaks. Go check him out.