A Plea for the Underperforming Salesperson to Stay Out of Operations

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Warning: If you are in Sales and not making your numbers or not bringing in new business, and you spend a lot of time and mental energy “helping” out the Operations people, you are not going to like what I am about to say. And there is a good chance you will be offended, angry and will likely accuse me of not understanding your situation. So be it.

I don’t think I’ve ever started a post with a warning, but I have seen enough, and this needs to be said – and said bluntly:  If you are in Sales, your job is to sell. Your primary responsibility is to grow the top-line. In the vast majority of situations, we accomplish that by picking up new business. New business can come from existing customers, or it can come by acquiring new customers. Either way, it’s new business which is what every company wants/needs and is the lifeblood of a growing, healthy business.

Everyday I see salespeople who fail when it comes to developing new business. Many are good people, talented people, who even excel at many aspects of selling (relationships, customer service, problem-solving, industry expertise, etc.). But consistently, they fail to deliver new business. I share what I’ve come to call “The Not-So-Sweet 16 Common Reasons Salespeople Fail at New Business Development” in Chapter 2 of New Sales. Simplified. That entire chapter is available to download for FREE on my Book page.

Two of the most insidious and widespread causes of new business sales failure are when well-intentioned salespeople  a) over-serve (babysit) their existing customers, and b) spend too much time playing good corporate citizen and are overly involved in operations. These causes of failure are sneaky because the salesperson thinks he is doing the right thing. What could be bad about caring for a customer or helping out operations to ensure the company doesn’t drop the ball internally? A lot!

The problem in a nutshell: Salesperson, you are the front line of attack. You are the only one who can do what needs to be done to acquire new pieces of business. You! Everyone else’s livelihood in your company depends on you doing your job. Your job. Your primary job. The one you were hired to do. Selling. Growing revenue falls to you. It’s on your shoulders. We need you to sell. More than we need you shepherding projects through production, more than going out of your way to deliver samples to customers, more than over-zealous follow-up with the inside support people, more than your brilliant suggestions about how to run the operation, we need you to sell. We need new business. And from looking at your sales results, so do you.

Please stop telling us that you sold it and you are responsible to make sure it gets done. You are not. I consistently hear salespeople who feel the need to be overly involved in operations saying things like: “I sold it. The customer trusts me,” or, “I am responsible for this. If I don’t take care of it, who will?”  Yes, on the surface you are correct. You sold it. We get that. And the work does need to get done. We get that, too. But the reality is that most salespeople who spend the majority of their time worrying about and talking about operational issues are the very same ones failing to hit their new business goals. Coincidence? I think not.

Underperforming salesperson, I am pleading with you to listen: Your job is not to help operations. Your job is to bury them! Instead of trying to help cover for what you perceive is weak, do the opposite. Bury the operations team with so much new work that they begin to cry “Uncle.” That’s what top-performers do, and I encourage you to do the same. Frankly, it’s what your company wants you to do; it needs new business more than it requires you involved in operations.

Trust me on this: The world works much better when everyone does their own job. You would have a lot more credibility critiquing the operations folks if you were blowing out your numbers. But the evidence suggests that you are not. I am sorry if that is offensive. I will say it one more time: Your job is to sell new business and grow the top-line. Go do it well because everyone is counting on you, including yourself.


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