Death of a SaleSman 2.0
(2 OF A 2-PART SERIES ON BRANDING AND THE SALES-DRIVEN ORGANIZATION)
by Mar tin E. Thoma
any businesses I consult with share a common malady with Jim’s Industrial Pumps,
Inc. (see Death of a Salesman 1.0 for a discussion of Jim and his company).
This corporate disease is a cultural and organizational artifact of being quite successful (in
selling). Most small and medium-sized businesses start out this way, being quite successful
with sales. After all, they rarely survive long
without developing that skill.
The condition I’ve identified might be called
“sales-itis.” These companies essentially are
built and revolve around the sales function;
I call them “Sales-Driven Organizations”—
SDOs for short.
These companies approach their business
from a completely sales-oriented mindset.
Their philosophy is: “There are buyers out
there for anything we make. It’s just a matter
of finding them and selling them.”
And the way you find and sell is to launch an opportunity-seeking, revenue-guided missile:
a salesman. (By the way, I’m using salesman in the generic to refer to reps of either gender.
Please don’t be offended; it just works a lot better with my Willie Loman theme!)
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The answer to any revenue shortfall or growth goal is to increase sales staff, increase sales
incentives, and increase sales quotas. If you’re not making your targets, beat the hell out of
your sales force until they produce the results you want. If that doesn’t work, change their
The ingrained mindset—and the hidden danger—is that because everything in the SDO is
directly measurable—commissions, cost of sales, revenue per salesperson—other important
revenue-expansive activities are easily ignored. At least as long as sales are rising at an
So what’s wrong with sales driving the ship if it’s driving revenue growth, you ask. The SDO
develops quite a few habits and coping skills that serve the immediate needs but ultimately
undermine the sustainability of the company. A few examples I’ve witnessed:
SaleSmen CReate theIR oWn SaleS toolS
Because every salesman creates his own sales materials, you get dozens or hundreds
of different looks, presentations and sales arguments. We completed an audit of a large
regional bank’s trust department and inventoried more than 300 unique sales elements.
Hardly any appeared to come from the same company. We repackaged the sales system,
created a common thematic and visual identity, and boiled the whole system down into
roughly three dozen unique sales pieces, neatly organized into three selling phases. It was
still an SDO, but it had at least deployed a common message platform.
SaleSmen CReate the “BRanD StoRY”
The brand is everything known, thought, perceived and experienced about your company,
product or service. When the only significant communication channel to customers and
prospective customers is the sales team, every customer gets a different story. That story
may be colored by that sales rep’s particular bias, monthly sales quota or comfort zone
with the product categories he or she likes best or feels most confident with. The company
seeking to broaden its product line or delve into more technical or specialized services may
find itself locked out—essentially by a sales force that has told too narrow a brand story.
QUalIfIeD PRoSPeCtS Can’t fInD the ComPanY
The SDO focuses purely on finding customers versus helping qualified customers find it. It’s
the difference between a warm referral and a cold call. If psychic energy could be monetized,
there’d be a lot less cold-calling and much more referral development and marketing air-cover
provided to the sales organization.
Live Yo u r Brand.
A West Coast bottled water startup set the industry abuzz when it hired 40 sales reps and put
them on the street. They saw a rapid uptake in the first couple of years—until they picked
all the low-hanging fruit. But what happens when those customers who just said yes to get a
salesman off their doorstep tire of
the monthly invoice? Some sales
stick, but it’s a costly method for
securing customers who can easily
drop the service a few
Branding and marketing are
focused on helping qualified,
needy customers find you—with an
established predisposition to buy.
This is an expensive proposition. But anyone who says marketing is expensive hasn’t really
studied his total cost of customer acquisition, especially when selling to unfamiliar, aloof,
disinterested, disengaged prospects. When sales is focused on buyers with identified needs
and a favorable predisposition to your company, the cost of sales goes down.
You might say that sales moves individuals to buy while marketing moves whole groups of
individuals to buy. They need to work together in synergy.
SaleSmen WaSte effoRt
I’ve taken dozens of calls from salesmen who start with, “I don’t know if you’ve heard of
Voicetel, but I’d like to come by for 15 minutes and introduce our firm to you.”
No, I have not heard of you, I don’t have a need for you, I don’t want to be wasting my time on
the phone with you, much less give you 15 minutes of my day.
Not one of these reps has ever secured a meeting—and those are the ones who got through.
Our office manager screened out hundreds for every one that got through.
The sales-driven organization believes that with enough shoe-leather it can jump directly to
market share. It thinks it doesn’t need awareness, it doesn’t need positive associations, it
doesn’t need any predisposition to do business in order to win a new customer. Just bang on
enough doors, accumulate enough frequent flyer points, make enough calls and you can get
to the numbers needed to make your business work.
Live Yo u r Brand.
The biggest danger here is that it works just often enough to keep the SDO going. It’s like the
slots in Las Vegas. An occasional jackpot makes you forget all the lost quarters.
In the early days of VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol—or phoning via the Internet), we
consulted a Taiwanese manufacturer that wanted to establish a beachhead in the big, rich
U.S. market. Focusing primarily on public relations, we sought to get their name out in the
market and lay foundations for credibility. Our recommendation was to start six months prior
to opening their Dallas sales office/demo center to get awareness growing. “No, we have to
get our sales organization built, and when we get a few sales, we’ll announce and then start
ramping up. We want to get some positive cash flow in U.S. too, and we’ll fund PR from that.”
Meanwhile, Avaya, Lucent, Cisco, Nortel and all the other huge, entrenched telecom
manufacturers were buying pages of ads and flooding the trades with new product
announcements. This company never got traction in the U.S. and eventually retreated to
focus solely on Asia and Australia. A great example of trying to skirt marketing and jump
straight to sales.
SaleS RUleS the RooSt
In the SDO, sales rule—so sales leaders get promoted right out of the sales organization until
they’re running the entire company. For a number of years we worked for a large international
technology provider to the financial services industry. This was a billion-dollar company
owned by a medium-sized phone company. You might have thought the hyper-competitive
world of wireless would have taught
the value of building a brand and
marketing it. It had not. Or perhaps the
sales success to date had convinced
management it could continue to grow
by “selling harder.”
The salesmen ruled the roost. They
held many of the senior management
positions and ran their departments
like fiefdoms. An internally
The company invested one-fourth of one percent of its revenues in marketing. Much smaller,
younger competitors were outspending it by a factor of 5 or 10—not that hard with no more
Live Yo u r Brand.
than a commitment to reinvest in marketing at an industry-average rate. The sales team was
beginning to complain bitterly that they were not even getting invited to some pitches—
unheard of in the company’s earlier history—and that they were getting beaten regularly
About this time, management stopped buying smaller technology companies and sold the
whole thing to a financial conglomerate. Maybe the new owners will support their sales
efforts with stronger brand-building programs.
So What’S a SaleS-DRIVen oRGanIZatIon to Do?
It must be apparent that the SDO is most likely going to remain an SDO until it starts losing
at its own game. That’s human nature; a guy might not really be capable of changing his ways
until his wife walks out of the house. The regrettable thing in both cases is what’s been lost by
not reading the writing on the wall—tremendous momentum, years of relationship building,
immeasurable equity in the relationship bank account.
For the company and its market, that bank account is brand equity. It’s a complex bundle
of intangibles that raises barriers to competition, increases immunity to price-cutting and
predisposes customers and prospects to do business with you.
When the Sales-Driven Organization realizes that these intangibles cannot be earned solely
through selling, but must be reinforced and shaped with smart, focused brand development
strategies, marketing communications programs and effective public relations—then the SDO
is on its way to delivering its sales team the thing it needs more than anything else in the
world: an unfair competitive advantage in opening opportunities and closing deals.
martin thoma is a principal with thoma thoma, a brand growth consultancy serving
clients throughout the United States. he is co-creator of the Brand navigator System™, a
comprehensive program for discerning, defining and articulating brand power. Reach him at
email@example.com or Skype martinethoma.
Live Yo u r Brand.