Birth of a salesman

Every now and then a keynote speaker comes along who not only risks being honest but has the confidence to carry it off.

Mark Holleran, the turnaround expert who was brought in to help save Wavesat Wireless during one of the telecommunication sector’s worst years, is a case in point. Holleran showed up last week at the monthly meeting of the Toronto Venture Group to discuss survival strategies. These are pretty early events — they start at 7:30 a.m. — and their audiences are usually composed of startups and venture capital-types who want to talk financing. Holleran addressed that, but he also spent considerable time talking about how the downturn has changed his organization. Among his key principles was the need to keep the entire organization focused on the same goal.

“Everybody sells,” he said. “This has to become a culture. Our R&D guys will say that’s not their job, but no, that’s too bad. It’s everybody’s job.”

Holleran went on to tout the merits of downsizing, the death of the North American telco market and the importance of attaching dates to product roadmaps. But spreading a sales-oriented attitude across the company was clearly his first commandment. When no one’s buying, everyone’s selling.

Naturally we’re not to take this too literally — no one is sending the secretaries into the field. The idea is that there can be many other highly influential people in an organization who touch the customer on a regular basis other than the sales force. As Holleran pointed out, this includes R&D staff focused on the design and manufacture of products, who look at customer feedback and make improvements accordingly.

In the near future, no business relationship of any kind will be safe from possible exploitation. The pressure is on to turn casual industry friendships into leads and business partners into customers. This is the evolution of the trend that began a few years ago, when PCs and related products became commodity items that lacked the price point to earn sustainable revenues from sales margins alone. Resellers everywhere were encouraged to start selling services, which could include everything from after-sales support to providing an estimate on a job. For some channel partners, this meant introducing fees in areas where customers had never been billed.

Holleran’s speech implied that until now, there was no need for those not on the front lines to dirty their hands with the bottom line, but this was never really true. Great companies are staffed by a group of people who always keep the customer in mind in their way. They understand the organization’s mission and act as parts of a whole. No, not everybody sells, but everyone works to show that theirs is a firm worth buying from. If you’re an marketing manager, that means clearly articulating the corporate message. If you’re an IT manager, it means maintaining a network that improves the productivity and performance of every department.

The paradox here is that while experts like Holleran promote the sales commandment they simultaneously urge corporate enterprises to divest themselves of non-essential divisions. “We have to do fewer things better,” he said (and he’s far from the first to say it). That philosophy applies to individuals as well as companies. In an age of core competencies, we should all be sticking to what we know best.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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