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To the sales people, you are just a chicken

In my first post on this blog, I mentioned that I had taken on a full-time sales role for the first time. Every one of you should consider a role in sales for a year or two ... it is a real education.

It's not as though I hadn't "done" sales before. In product management and corporate strategy, I participated in countless sales engagements starting at the first conversation and leading to the roll-out / deployment planning. I have trained dozens of sales people on my products, and after taking Customer Centric Selling myself, I have even been a coach in a CCS seminar put on by Philippe Lavie, a consumate sales person himself.

It is so easy to criticize a sales person, and how many times have I done that myself? Oh, we used to make truly geeky jokes that sales people are like Stateless Session Beans (thankfully the sales people didn't understand why this got such a laugh). They're so coin operated. Just order takers. They don't even understand the product.

I still do believe that the really good sales people are very rare, and I have strong opinions about what makes a good sales person. But I am beginning to understand, in my bones, the real difficulty of the sales job, and it gives me a lot more empathy for the coin operated people in sales. Every phone call matters. I am constantly negotiating. When people don't call me back, what do I do? (Next!) How do I set up this relationship so that I maintain my own power and not give it all away to the propsect? Will the deal close in time? Forgetting to log my activity in salesforce. Forgetting the status of an account when asked by my boss.

I really do enjoy selling and sales, and I will be doing this for some time to be sure. Personally I think I'm good at it and I've had some wins, along with some errors that led to failures. And certainly some failures that were not my fault, and wins for which I should take no credit. There is a certain Tao to it all.

But I caution you ... the next time you get upset with a sales person, think again. It's like the man said: When it comes to the breakfast, the chicken is interested, but the pig is committed. And when you are sitting in product management, the pigs in sales look at you and all they see is a chicken. Drop off your eggs and keep moving buddy, I'm making some bacon here.

I am personally glad that I started on the product side. But after sitting in sales for just about 9 months now, I can't recommend it strongly enough: At some point in your career, take a commissioned sales position, and not just an SE role. Be the seller, and stay there for a couple of years. Stay there until you get it right.

Come on, what are you? Chicken?

- Alan

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