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B2B Sales

Do not call me a sales person or else!

Why we must drop the word “sales” from all business dialogue.

The job titles that we typically give sales people are so "20th century" In fact, some of them are actually "19th century". It's time for an update on titles, behaviours and mindset. The the tech space where I have spent my career, buyers now often prefer to bypass the sales person and simply engage with the pre-sales team or the Delivery Manager because the perception is that the sales person is NOT able to educate then. 

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Seriously, no one likes to be sold to, and today’s buyers will no longer accept the ‘interruptive-push’ or 'hard sell' tactics that we sales folks have been trained to utilise in the past. As my new LinkedIn friend Bob Mosby commented recently: "buyers no longer want a pushy carpetbagger putting jedi-mojo-mind tricks on them to make a buying decision. The new methodology of creating a buying atmosphere instead of a sales environment is picking up steam, and here to stay". Couldn’t agree more Bob - the act of “selling” is quickly becoming a thing of the past as we move from "Always Be Closing' to 'Always Be Helping'.....remembering that a “sale” is just the result of helping a customer solve a problem - it’s what happens to you while you are immersed in serving your customer”. So, here’s a suggestion: lets just drop the word 'sales' completely from the entire business lexicon....what harm could that do? 

Think about it….the incontrovertible fact is that the word ‘sales’ is no longer congruent (if it ever was) with being customer-centric. Every single buyer on the planet knows that Territory Manager, Account Executive, Business Development Manager are all synonyms for the same thing – "sales". And every single buyer on the planet also knows that all of the people that perform these above-mentioned roles carry a QUOTA and get paid a COMMISSION and this is what fundamentally underpins the disconnect that still occurs to this day. As Derek Wyszynski has successfully argued recently, there has always been an “embedded conflict” in paying a sales person a commission because this centuries old practice often runs counter to putting the interests of the customer first.

So, why not simply call all sales people (and the many derivations) – Customer Journey Managers? Or Client Engagement Managers? Yes, yes, a change in job title is only a superficial thing, and it does nothing to address the underlying conflict. But it’s not a bad place to start to demonstrate to your customers that you are serious about putting their needs ahead of yours. I honestly believe that we will all eventually wake up and transform many other aspects of the traditional sales execution models (including getting rid of commissions) but for now, let’s make a start by simply ceasing to refer to those of us in customer facing (or quota carrying) roles as “sales people”.

Some savvy vendors are already moving down this path and changing the titles of ‘sales’ people to better reflect the new customer-led age. There are now more and more of the following:

  • Client Engagement Executive
  • Customer Experience Specialist
  • Customer Success Manager
  • Buying Journey Engineer
  • Solution Engineer

These are just some of the more popular examples of the new age titles now being applied to customer facing roles. I recently stumbled across a vendor whom employs: Customer Pleasure Managers. Now that’s novel.

As buyers, we all prefer to deal with a specialist in their field (not a sales person) that can help us solve our problems. Thus, wouldn’t it make sense give the sales person a title that is at least commensurate with their problem solving remit....rather than their revenue generating remit? My new marketing automation adviser Mr Jack Doran from HubSpot, whom I wrote about in my most recent post, carries the title of “Inbound Marketing Specialist”. No surprise to anyone, but this is exactly the title of the person that I want to be engaging with as a prospective buyer of marketing automation technologies.

Atlassian, the Australian software vendor, seems to have a deep understanding of what it is to be a customer-driven sales organization - “Customers don’t want to call a salesperson if they don’t have to,” says Scott Farquhar, Atlassian’s co-chief executive officer. And yet, the culture that they have created at Atlassian is that "everyone is in sales".....that is, everyone is focused ensuring that the customer is truly delighted with the full life-cycle experience. No hard sell. 

The ancillary benefit of removing “sales” from the business lexicon is that it will also provide a great trigger point for some much needed cultural change in many vendor organisations. Sadly too many businesses are still only paying lip service to being ‘customer-centric', and in my humble opinion, the biggest obstacle to genuine customer centricity is pushy and increasingly desperate ‘sales’ people. With more and more sales people under-performing the risk is that this "desperation" will sometimes drive the wrong behaviours. Can any of us afford to risk really bad customer experiences in today’s global, digital, connected economies?

In conclusion, the job titles that we give "sales" people simply reflect the old 20th century approach and that old approach is now making way for a new era of sales. Is it time to update the titles and remove the word 'sales?  

Does it matter? What do you think?