Can anybody hear me?

Now I know what happens when you get a bunch of marketing executives together — they start to pick on the sales people.

I recently participated at the CMO Summit, a joint production of MediaLive, organizers of Comdex, and the IT Business Group.

One of the topics was: “”Will we (and

how will we) shake off the industry slump?”” What followed can only be described as a stinging indictment of IT sales people.

Among the stories:

One marketing professional told the group about his sales counterpart who was well into a PowerPoint presentation when the customer finally spoke. The customer then clearly articulated his problem and pinpointed where he wanted a solution. To the marketing person’s horror, the much more senior sales person wasn’t listening, cut the customer off and jumped right back into his presentation.

“”The sales model is broken,”” piped in another attendee, complaining about sales people who sell to banking executives but don’t know the first thing about banking. Whatever happened to the good old days, he lamented, when companies like IBM trained a sales person for at least a year before they made their first call?

The topper, however, may have been the CEO who said he recently fired his entire sales force. His solution was to go with consultants, who he says know the products and technology, are a lot better at listening and are able to solve a customer’s problems a lot faster because they are also in the trenches. Sales doesn’t work anymore, he declared, going as far to say that the last sales person who got canned even agreed with him.

My first thought: Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Is this the beginning of the end for the IT sales guy who I believe was last seen driving a BMW (or is it a Benz) into the parking lot at Angus Glen (or is it Glen Abbey.)?

At the end of it, though, I was really hoping somebody from the sales side would step up and respond to these allegations.

Nobody did. (There may not have been a sales person in the room, and if there was, who could fault them for remaining quiet?)

But really, is it fair to blame sales people alone for what ails the industry?

A slump is a slump is a slump. A few times during the day, we broke down into small discussion groups and this is just a partial list of the problems we came up with:

  • There is still too much product out there and the phenomenon of “”good enough computing”” has taken hold.
  • People are more confused than ever with more technology options available all the time.
  • We remain in the throes of the post dot-com meltdown and a lot of buyers still feel burned.
  • There’s been nothing like the PC Revolution or the arrival of the Internet to help kick-start a struggling industry.

In other words, the industry’s problems go far deeper than sales and no matter how great your sales force, you can’t get blood out of a stone.

Then I thought about the CEO who fired his entire sales force because of something outside their control. He may need to re-think his strategy when he notices that new business has stopped coming in.

I don’t care what some marketing people may think. You still need people to make cold calls, to collect leads, to make that initial contact, to pound the pavement, to knock on doors, to make connections at trade shows and to establish and nurture relationships. As a sidelight, it’s amazing how many marketing people consider these things rather trivial.

All these things I would argue take a lot of time and effort, and a certain kind of talent.

Sure enough, there are areas where sales people can improve. More than one CMO Summit participant chimed in with comments to this effect: The IT industry would be a lot better off if sales people learned to listen instead of just pitching the product. It’s a point well taken.

Martin Slofstra is the editorial director of the IT Business Group

[email protected]

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