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.