If you’re like me, you have a love-hate relationship with certain groups or products.  I love my Mac suite of products – except when I don’t. When they hum along with all of their elegant simplicity, sync’ing my information beautifully while looking and feeling eerily stylish, I love them.  When I’m right in the middle of a really important document and they give me the Mac equivalent of the “blue screen of death” (which means it’s a nicer interface in more languages telling me that I’m still screwed) I hate them.

The same happens with how a lot of leaders feel about their sales team.  In my last post, I wrote about the tendency we have to credit or blame the sales organization for revenue performance.  When sales are up, we love the sales team. When sales dip, we loathe the sales team. Why? I think it’s more complicated than just the numbers. I think it’s often because non-sales leaders often put the sales team into one of three categories – heroes, goats, or magicians.

  • Heroes: I once worked for a company that glorified sales.  When sales were strong, salespeople were the heroes and could get virtually anything they wanted done in the company.  Need to spend a little unbudgeted money? Done.  Need to take a pass on some corporate initiative? No problem. Want a little extra vacation? Go for it.  The firm knew that revenue was its life-blood. While many other people worked hard to win and bill the revenue, those few who had figured out how to consistently get deals done were special. They won the awards. They got limos to the annual meeting. They had their own suites at the hotel. They were the royalty.
  • Goats: Here’s the irony. At the very same company I described above, salespeople were also seen as the goats. If sales numbers stumbled, they were the ones grilled by senior execs. (My personal favorite was an “Account Review” where a senior exec tossed his reading glasses on the table in disgust at the numbers delivered by one account exec.) While a lot of people should have been accountable for dropping sales numbers (and should have contributed directly to getting them to turn around), it felt really lonely on the sales team when the numbers tanked as others gladly let the accountability fall on the unlucky sales schlubs.
  • Magicians: In some organizations, most people honestly have no clue how salespeople actually do their jobs or what separates successful ones from stragglers.  They see sales as a magical art that a few special people have mastered through an apprenticeship with a mysterious master.  Ask them how salespeople do it and they’ll usually say, “Beats me! But I sure hope they keep doing it.”

All of these labels are really unhelpful.  Great leadership teams and great companies see the whole and own the whole. Revenue is everyone’s responsibility. Whether you work in operations, HR, marketing, customer service, IT, legal, or finance, you should have an impact on your organization’s ability to attract, win, and retain customers – and that’s what makes revenue really happen.

When we share responsibility for revenue and help every single person know how they contribute, a beautiful thing happens: Salespeople are seen as valuable members of a the company-wide revenue-generating team who all roll up their sleeves and lift revenue every day of  every month. No more heroes, goats, or magicians – just team-mates who make a difference like everyone else.