The Unintentional Executive, Vol. VIII

We had a discussion the other day on what it means to be a sales-oriented culture. In our services business, while we have to create strong marketing practices to drive awareness and ample qualified and interested leads, we undoubtedly need have a strong sales orientation to secure the business we desire. But what exactly does it mean to be a sales-oriented culture? Is it short-sighted and potentially destructive to your business?

In my opinion, and since this is my blog that is what you get, the sales-oriented culture is part philosophy and part discipline. From a philosophical perspective, it means that most of the people in the organization are very aware of sales. They are constantly looking for opportunities in their extended and personal networks. They are aware sales engagements will naturally take priority over many other types of work. They recognize the key role that is played by the leader of the opportunity and offer their full support whenever possible.

But who exactly is the key role in a sales engagement? A sales-oriented culture recognizes that role as the person being held accountable for the opportunity, and everyone in the organization is deferential to that person for that engagement. For new business, that is likely a salesperson. For existing client expansion, that is likely an account manager or executive. Regardless of who it is, they should absolutely play the lead role, conducting or orchestrating the opportunity. If that is the person that will be held responsible for success or failure, then it must be the person who decides who is involved, who isn’t, what exactly they should say, and what they shouldn’t say. To really subscribe to this philosophy, you must have no ego about which situations are you called into, and which you are not. You have to recognize that each engagement should demand the exact best people for that situation. This simply won’t always include you.

From a sales or account management perspective, however, this can begin to feel like a pretty powerful position. In many ways it is, but always remember it is your responsibility is to engage the correct people in such a way as to engender support and enthusiasm. After all, it is you that will be held accountable, and you that understands the subtleties of each engagement well beyond what others in your organization will. Use that knowledge to create the appropriate situational context and coaching. It is you that is in the best position to guarantee each person you call in performs as well as they possibly can.

But is a sales-oriented culture automatically short-sighted and destructive? Absolutely not. While many companies mistakenly slip from a position of being a sales-oriented culture, to a position of being run by the salespeople, it isn’t a foregone conclusion. The salespeople should absolutely be in complete control of how the engagements are orchestrated and maneuvered. However, they must have clear boundaries of what can be sold to ensure alignment to the overall corporate goals. The winning combination is a culture that has a strong sense of where they want to be from a market perspective, and an engaged employee base all pulling in that same direction on individual sales engagements … that is a sales-oriented culture.

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