Can a Company Thrive if its Leaders Are Skeptical of Industrial Sales?

Ed Marsh | Sep 15, 2023

Tl;dr - If your company treats vendor sales reps poorly, the world will return the favor to your own. It's critical that your culture celebrate sales excellence in order to optimize your performance. 

Industrial Sales Condescension is a Cancer in Companies

"Send him to voice mail. I don't have time to talk to a salesman."

"I'm interested, but I don't want to be sold. Have her send me some information."

"I don't have time for someone to just pitch me."

Have you heard leaders in your company say things like this?

If you have, everyone else has too.

That's brutal.

Let's count the reasons.

  1. It signals that sales people and the sales function are to be disdained. There's no red flag identifying the truly inept individual rep, rather it conveys general contempt.
  2. That message is heard loud and clear and absorbed by all your employees, vendors, etc. That means your own sales team marinates in an environment in which they're told it's OK to view sales skeptically. That impacts their confidence and performance. It also conveys to their colleagues in every department that they're to be tolerated - not valued.
  3. It costs a company opportunities to improve because the culture evolves to generally reject and ignore insights provided by people with "sales" titles.
  4. It shows a company's culture to be deeply hypocritical when they treat industrial sales reps with disdain and then complain that their reps are unable to reach buyers, and that prospects insist on self-diagnosing without considering the legitimate knowledge and expertise that sales reps can bring.
  5. It stifles creativity and experimentation in sales. The company is blind and deaf to opportunities to observe and absorb effective sales techniques.

And yet this behavior and conduct is nearly ubiquitous.

I hear similar things from sales VPs and sales managers, from marketing leaders and managers, from GMs, company presidents, CEOs and board members.

Often they're not even aware of what they're saying.

Excellence is Rare, Time is Valuable

Behind the resistance to chatting with every rep who calls is a natural and legitimate concern. 

Nobody has enough time. Genuinely insightful sales reps are relatively rare - sales people are distributed across the same bell curve as everyone. And sales force automation and sales leads databases have increased the frequency of interruptions from sales outreach.

So people have less time, interruptions are more frequent, and many of them are inane.

So what's the solution?

Control What You Can First

Cultivate a culture of sales appreciation - you need to immediately declare that you won't tolerate derogatory comments about salespeople. That must apply to everyone, and everyone must police each other.

When you're in a meeting and an interruption occurs, it must be handled properly and respectfully. Stop sending contradictory messages.

When someone in tech service or engineering complains about a rep who gets the plaudits or makes the money while they're the ones that actually do the work, immediately schedule a meeting in which you confront them both. There may be condescension from sales to the others. That must stop. And there's likely resentment toward sales who are perceived as having it easy and rolling in benjamins.

Force the dialogue. Sales must understand how their actions impact others. And those who are envious must understand the grueling emotional rollercoaster, the grind of prospecting, the reality of 35% close rates (wasting 2/3 of your effort, time and energy!) You might consider the potential value of practicing radical transparency throughout the organization, but certainly start with sales.

Actively integrate marketing and sales - two departments that need to be on the same revenue growth team are often the first to squabble.

Four fundamentals should clarify the need to integrate departments. First, the buying journey needs to dictate the integration (not your old vestigial departments.) Second, accountability to each other must be enforced. Third, performance will be coached; poor behavior will not be tolerated. Fourth, everyone in the company relies on success in this effort. Socialize the tribulations, plans, and results.

Set the example with your sales team - You likely live in a proverbial glass house. Establish an explicit goal that your entire sales team will be at least 2nd standard deviation talent (measured by objective and accurate sales, sales management and sales leadership diagnostics.)

Set clear standards for coaching, mentoring, accountability, lead follow up, prospecting, deal qualification, forecast accuracy, team selling and other important disciplines. Then enforce them.

Provide industrial sales training and sales technology tools to boost effectiveness, and be uncompromising about the activities of your own team. If their prospecting is inane; if they piss away prospects' time with "About Us" pitches and decks; if they sell by quotes rather than helping buyers create value in their businesses - train them, coach them, and if it continues, replace them. Period.

Establish public goals of ideas sourced from sales reps - each department should be accountable to a certain number of innovative new ideas sourced each month (or quarter) from outside sales reps.

They should be publicly tracked by number, concept, qualitative remarks on how the vendor sales rep excelled, lessons learned, whether it's been implemented, how the decision was made, the size of investment, and what the quantitative and qualitative impacts were.

In other words, start to celebrate how other sales reps have helped your business.

Explain to vendor reps how to sell to you - publish a page on your website with instructions for sales people. Include a brief video from your CEO noting that you value and celebrate sales people and the insights they can bring. Further note that your company intentionally works to treat reps the way you hope other companies will treat yours, and caution them that the volume is unmanageable and that they'll have to excel.

Provide a form to solicit their ideas. It should include the department / function for which it applies, the problem they solve and value their solution creates, other similar companies they've had success with, what change is required to adopt it, why it fails to achieve the anticipated goals in some cases, and how companies normally purchase what they sell.

Route those to the correct department - not everything goes to the CEO.

But here's what's important. You've given them a roadmap by which they can optimize, and you can screen unsolicited outreach. If they elect not to use your form, but rather to reach the right person - that's to their credit as long as it's clear that they've researched and are following your guidelines.

Ensure that gatekeepers are clear on the questions and ask them (not just refer them back to the form.) If they're reasonably answered, they should receive a 7 minute scheduling link.

Set aside time explicitly for vendor calls - pick two hours/week that are available for vendor calls. It should be time that's convenient for you. Maybe that's 6-8am one morning, or one evening.

Create two scheduling links. First, a 7 minute meeting duration that gatekeepers can offer to prospectors who demonstrate they understand how you buy and make a compelling case during their outreach. Second, a 20 minute initial call. In both cases the scheduling confirmation should include instructions on what you expect to cover, an agenda they should prepare, the impact information you require to quickly decide whether you'll consider it further, and any other information you can use to efficiently screen.

Don't Compromise Your Revenue Growth Strategy with Corrosive Culture

You've heard that culture eats strategy for breakfast.

It's certainly true in this case. No matter how sophisticated your revenue growth strategy may be, a culture of disdain for sales will impair your team's execution.

So build great strategy, but build it on a culture that values sales.

A VP of sales who says "I don't want to be sold" is a caricature who can't command respect. A VP of engineering who avoids sales reps for fear of being sold positions their own for failure.

Sales is the lifeblood of industrial manufacturing firms. Celebrate excellence.