November 28, 2011

Why Are the Precious Few Sales Fisherman (Hunters) Cleaning, Cooking & Doing Dishes?

There are a lot of companies not making their sales numbers. Often, senior executives will suggest a lack of sales talent, specifically sales hunters, as a common reason for the shortfall. I understand that line of thinking and would concur that while we have an abundance of account managers in sales roles today, there is a severe shortage of proven hunters.

But here is something I don’t understand:  Let’s say we run a seafood business that is dependent on catching, preparing and serving fish. Reality is that while we have a team of six fisherman, only one of them reliably catches fish. The other members of the team are good employees, nice people and generally do a solid job with the other aspects of our business (detail work, prepping the dining room, serving, etc.)  But we have one dude who is a lights-out fish-catching rock star. Consistently, he figures out what areas of the water to target and he brings home the big fish. We count on him to deliver and would be in serious trouble without him.

However, our company structure and policy dictates that all fisherman do their fair share of non-fishing and service activity. So, like the other five members of the team who aren’t so good at reeling in big ones, our rock star, after returning to home base with his catch, must clean, prepare, cook and serve the fish. And after the meal, he is also required to help do the dishes. All in all, our rock star fisherman gets to spend about a quarter of his time actually fishing.

What is wrong with this picture? Uh…everything? How is this very different from the way most sales teams at midsize companies are structured? I hear all the time that we are short on proven rainmakers, yet we task the precious few sales hunters we have with all kinds of non-hunting activity. Listen, I know there is not a simple answer to this complex situation. If there was, we would have it by now. But this I do know: most businesses have an abundance of qualified service people and account managers and very few true hunters. And these same companies are struggling to acquire new sales at the desired rate. It sure seems like this challenge is worthy of some fresh discussion and approaching from new angles.

Back at our little fishing business, what might happen if we freed up our rock star fisherman so he could spend three-quarters of his time actually fishing instead of the one-quarter he does now? What could a little restructuring do? Could you imagine how effective our rock star might really be if he wasn’t exhausted from all the service work he was doing? Service work that is extra-draining because he is naturally gifted at fishing, but not necessarily the detail work that comes after catching the fish. What if our rock star actually had time to read a few fishing blogs and compare notes with other top-performers? Or if he had more time to think and strategize about better lures and techniques for catching various types of fish we want to sell?

Something to think about. Just wondering what would happen to the new business development results of midsize companies if they were able to triple the hunting time of their precious few sales hunters.