What Companies Don’t Know About Sales

The Analogy

We heard the “Sound of Freedom” was a good movie and we loved it, but we were moved even more by the closing messages displayed on the screen.  The statistics showed that as a result of human trafficking, more children are enslaved today than when slavery was legal!  We didn’t know what we didn’t know.  And “We don’t know what we don’t know about sales” is a true statement in most companies.

The Example

Salespeople (anyone, with any title, whose primary role is selling) don’t know about their own skill gaps and blind spots. As a result, they can’t anticipate when in a sales cycle or sales process they will be impacted, and don’t have the awareness to take steps to work around it and improve.

Sales Managers (salespeople report to them) are not only unaware of their own shortcomings, but have no clue about the sales-specific weaknesses of their salespeople. They can look at lagging indicators and identify non-performers, but that doesn’t help them understand the reasons behind underperformance. Coaching their salespeople becomes a scenario of the blind leading the blind.

Sales Leaders (sales managers report to them) are usually the least aware of their sales leadership weaknesses and similarly lack insights into their sales managers and salespeople.  When this lack of awareness is prevalent at the top of a sales organization, it is challenging to grow it or scale it.  It’s no wonder the average tenure of a Sales Leader is only 18 months.

CEOs trust Sales Leaders to set and follow the strategy to achieve the company’s growth goals and CEOs get frustrated when Sales Leaders fail to meet forecasts.  Most do not become CEOs via a career in sales, and as a result, don’t know what they don’t know about sales and the sales organization. They believe that the sales organization is some mysterious group of overpaid characters that don’t fit into a neat, controllable box.

A lot of people don’t know what they don’t know about sales.

Beyond Sales

I don’t know enough about corporate taxes so we have an accounting firm for that.

Contracts, agreements, and IP law? We have a law firm for that.

Investments? We use an investment firm for that.

Within the sales function, and from among sales operations, sales process, sales methodology, sales strategy, sales compensation, sales talent evaluations, sales recruiting and selection, sales pipeline, sales forecasts, sales metrics, sales training, sales culture, sales incentives, sales enablement, sales coaching and sales leadership, there is a LOT to know and not many people in the company who know what they don’t know.

Most of us don’t have the time and/or expertise to maintain our properties so we hire landscapers, snow plowers, painters, gutter cleaners, tree companies, turf companies, etc.

The Question

Why doesn’t EVERY company take advantage of a full service sales consultancy to get their sales organization firing on all cylinders?  I can think of five reasons:

  1. Unrealistic expectations.  CEOs hire Sales Leaders believing they know how to do all of these things.
  2. Ego. Sales Leaders believe that asking for or bringing in outside sales experts would make them look incompetent.
  3. Fear.  Everyone is afraid of change and most find it difficult to change.
  4. Exposure.  Nobody wants their lack of knowledge, experience and competence exposed.
  5. Money.  Funding doesn’t really belong on the list because anything that improves revenue generation is a good investment. However, instead of considering ROI, people tend to look at short-term costs and their impact on the current budget.

The Solution

Where to begin?

A transformation of the sales organization must begin in the C Suite because most Sales Leaders are not comfortable enough or strong enough to initiate one and see it through to the end.  CEOs may be in a better position to start a sales transformation, but they tend to think their work is done after approving the payment. Then, they delegate the sales transformation initiative to their Sales Leader where it dies a not so slow death.

It should be obvious that this article is a call-to-action for CEOs and a cattle prod to awaken Sales Leaders.  Companies don’t know what they don’t know.  Wake up!


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