Selling – The Last Bastion of Amateur Practice?

Over the last 20 years business organisations have transformed themselves. This has been done through the application of a much more disciplined, systemic approach to each functional area. These functions have become professional.


Production is now a lean form, quality orientated practice with engaged workforces managing their own continuous improvement.

Distribution or logistics through the application of technology systems have reduced finished goods in the supply chain to the minimum through the adoption of just-in time techniques.

Finance have become the custodians of high performance metrics covering a much wider brief than just the numbers. Balanced Scorecards have now placed finance at the heart of organisational effectiveness. They are also leading the way on corporate governance.

HR are using advanced people metrics around 360° feedback, Succession Planning, Employee Opinion Surveys (EOS). They are involved in organisation design, learning and development, reward, wellness programmes and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). They are developing the Employer Brand.

Marketing are running loyalty programmes, internet strategies (including new techniques like viral marketing through social networking sites, data mining initiatives, and customer research. They are developing the Customer Value Proposition.

IT are now the custodians of the businesses heart and brain. Without technology the business can’t move or think. The interlacing of different systems, platforms and applications has placed IT in ever strategic decision.

What has happened to sales? For every one sales organisation that has successfully implemented CRM there are ten that have failed. For every ten that talk key account management only one actually has a robust, differentiated key account process, where potential is as important as current sales volume.  Many sales people are still rewarded for sales volume when life-time account profitability is a much more relevant measure. The ends justifies the means is still heard in the sales directors office. As long as the target is being exceeded I’m not bothered they’re playing golf on a Friday (we’ll leave the sexism of that comment for another article). Salespeople are still picked for their interpersonal skills and fired for their lack of cultural fit. Sales Directors are given latitude that no other director would get away with.


Of course this article is stuffed full of generalisations but don’t let that blind you to an important truth; many sales organisations need to professionalise to a much higher degree than they currently operate at. Big personalities and strong personal relationships with customers are not enough for sustained success. It’s time to apply thought, analysis, and insight to designing the optimised sales organisation.

Hiring Like a Human

As the labour market picks up we’re increasingly hearing from our customers that it’s getting harder to recruit the right kind of people for their business.  In the UK this is especially true of engineers, scientists and technically qualified people.  There’s too few to go around and those who are doing a great job are rarely in the job market looking for something new.


The great thing about scientists, engineers and technicians is that they are bright, they can do the maths on any job offer you make and will have factored in all the financial costs and benefits.   They’ll know how long the commute is, they’ll know what they want as a package and they’re usually pretty clear about what they want in terms of the type of work they will be doing and the management style they prefer.

It’s not hard for bright and motivated people to get a job, a good job, just like the one you might be offering.  Yet when we look at how people are going about their recruitment and selection processes we often find that this fact doesn’t feature.  The process, and the human interactions within it, sometimes more closely resemble the “X-Factor” or “[Insert your country’s name]”s Got Talent” than an attempt to win the hearts and minds of great potential employees.  They are designed to minimise the effort of the hiring business and maximise the opportunities to turn people away, as though there were an infinite pool of candidates to choose from.  This approach is neither efficient nor effective.  Anyone getting through is likely to be desperate for the role, rather than intrigued, enthused and motivated by the opportunity.

When talking to people about recruiting we hear “it’s OK for people like Google, Microsoft and Apple“, after all they have big names and benefits packages that are trumpeted by star struck HR and business journalists, yet there are far better employers out there, and we’ve met plenty of people who have left those tech giants for better careers elsewhere.  Coursera compete directly with Facebook and Google for employees and they do it very well, not by offering driverless buses, more exotic fruit or bigger pool tables, but by treating potential new employees as humans, humans who could be great for the company.

Even people who you choose not to employ can be a great asset to your organisation if they feel they’ve been treated well in the recruitment process.  We have clients who have made brilliant hires of people who have been recommended by applicants they have previously rejected, as well as people they’ve hired 18 months after first meeting them as they’ve made a great connection, but the timing wasn’t right.  For help with your recruitment and onboarding process, talk to us.