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Confessions of a Salesman

Have you ever wondered (or complained) about salespeople? I started by asking the group of product managers, “What is the biggest frustration you have with sales?” I got a laundry list of the ills, character flaws and foibles of the sales team. Let’s face it; we are not the easiest people in the world. But we do a hard job and we keep the lights on. Here are the top four sales issues that were mentioned:

  • Salespeople are only concerned with commissions.
  • Salespeople think that they own the customers.
  • Salespeople always want what the product doesn’t have.
  • Salespeople have short attention spans.

This is a small subset of the overall rant I got from that group of product professionals. Frankly, as a sales guy, I think they are fair. But why are we sales guys (and ladies) like this? Let me explain the reality of being a salesperson.

Driven by Commissions

We are intensely concerned with our commissions, because it makes up between 50 percent and 100 percent of our income on a monthly basis. Any given month could be great or lousy, depending on how we do. We also live under the constant threat of losing our jobs. Believe me, as sales professionals, we are generally no more than one or two quarters away from losing our jobs if we do not perform. So if salespeople can sell a bunch of product A, and it is not hard to get installed and has a shorter sales cycle, then that is the product that moves.

Customer Relationship Owners

Yes, sales own the customer relationship. Maybe we don’t own the actual customer, but the salesperson is the face of the company. That customer may even have come over from a competitor, simply because the salesperson joined your     company. In some cases, they are more loyal to the salesperson than the product. It is that relationship that is the “value” that got the salesperson hired.

Features that Aren’t There

In many cases, customers would buy more or buy now—if only the product had that one single feature that isn’t there. Sometimes that is smoke being blown, but it is a real customer response. Customers want everything, and they want it at half the price. Look at any request for proposal. The customer has taken your specs and those of your four biggest competitors and put all of those features into the “required” column. We are then expected to “sell around” that. That is what we deal with.

We are working numerous deals at any one time, and these deals may have vastly different values, products, services and product managers involved. We have to keep all of this in our heads, and try to make sure that we are as expert at what we do as possible. We go to meetings, learn new products, attend training and update our customer relationship management tools.

You see our relationship building with clients as “schmoozing,” but it also is a critical part of our job. We work many more nights and weekends than you think and play a lot less golf than you imagine. We spend more time in airports and traffic than any human should have to.

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