Words matter. I work with a company where people say that all of the time. They’re right.
What matters even more is the meaning we give to certain words. There are certain words that, while innocuous enough on the surface, have become twisted or shrunken or blown out of all proportion.
Here’s one example: sales.
First, a confession: as a doctor’s kid, I saw sales as a dirty word. Sales meant getting your money from your pocket into mine for something you didn’t want or need. Thankfully, I met my first boss, John Grau. He showed me that sales could be helping people get what they truly wanted and needed in a way that respected their right to choose. That was a mind-bender and led me to having a surprisingly successful sales career of my own.
But as I have worked with organizations over the years, I’ve noticed that my own upbringing wasn’t the only thing that had twisted the meaning of the word “sales.” Organizations use the word in all sorts of ways, often in the shape of questions:
- Why are Sales up (or down) this month?
- Why does Sales want to discount and cut corners all of the time?
- How can we get Sales to sell the value of our company better to customers?
Here’s the rub: Sales = revenue and revenue is the life-blood of any organization. (It’s more precise to say that cash is the life-blood, but stay with me…) “Sales” appears on the Income Statement. “Sales” are reported to owners on a regular basis. You learn this in basic business classes or when you’re staring at your own P&L as an entrepreneur.
Sales is also, unfortunately, a department or an organization or the responsibility of a particular group. Whether a retail associate, a partner of a consulting firm, or a national account manager, usually someone carries the bag of dirt for getting the revenue numbers. (A friend of mine calls these people “quota carriers.”) And that’s where things can get really messy.
When they slow down and think for 3 seconds, most leaders would agree that their company’s revenue performance is everyone’s responsibility – because it represents the sum total of the whole team’s work whether they’re in R&D, Marketing, IT, HR, Legal, Operations, or whatever. But we have these departments called “sales” and it’s very easy to say that revenue is their issue. It’s not. It’s everybody’s issue.
So let’s re-frame those questions:
- Why is our revenue down this month?
- What’s happening in our organization that tempts us to discount or cut corners to win customers?
- How can we make what we all do so valuable to customers that they happily pay our fees and even tell their friends about us?
When we ask questions like that, we challenge ourselves to see the bigger picture. We all take ownership and we all get the – dare I say it – joy of making a serious contribution to our company’s success. Sales teams are just one part of the team – not heroes or goats – and we probably end up driving our whole organization to do its best work.
Ted Harro is Founder @ Noonday Ventures