Sales and Power: Keeping the sales “force” where it belongs.

My wife has a book on her office shelf called Sex and Power. Big disappointment. No sex in it.

On sales, I do have some hot advice — the best advice. And that is: Sell. Sell. Sell. Not your business; your product. I am always surprised at the number of very sophisticated executives who think that they are managing an enterprise without, in fact, leading its most important function.

Sales managers do not do what company presidents do. They do not speak for the company. They don’t typically have the life experience or the strategic sense that someone at the top of the company has. Your customers and clients need to see that coming from the top.

Sales people and sales managers also can bring market, personality, technology and pricing information back to the chief executives — I say “can” because they may or may not — but the quality of the information of what is going on out there is never as good when reported as it is when experienced. (Hence my misplaced disappointment in the Sex and Power book.)

And there is the pleasure of my number one rule: make friends while making business. My clients are people that I have become friendly with, confer with often on business matters and all else, and are also now valuable guides to me and my family on matters in their area of expertise.

If you are sitting in a comfortable office, not selling, you are missing all that.

And then there is the question of power. The power in the organization comes from the people who control the revenue stream. (Sorry, CFOs.)

If you are managing the sales force, and they have exclusive relationships with the source of the company’s lifeblood, at some point your will feel a change in the tenor of the relationships. The subtle salespeople will advocate so forcefully for the client that pricing, delivery, features benefits (all of which affect your margins) are in their hands and not yours.

The not-so-subtle guys and gals will walk in to your office, close the door and suggest that they need some improvements in their personal situation. Failure to comply can mean that they leave, they cause havoc in the market and they make you feel bad.

It is much better for all concerned that you work with the sales people to foster relationships, close deals and understand the market for mutual long-term prosperity. Toward that end, here’s a piece of advice that clients seldom take: never cut commissions. If you hire someone with the understanding that they will help you grow/build/capture market share for a percentage of the upside, you do not have the right to determine some time down the road that they are making too much money.

One day, the salesperson drives in with a better car than you drive, and you decide to unwind a verbal contract? Please. I see a lot of needless bad blood over broken compensation promises — needless, because the compensation is being paid for by the revenue of the client. It is variable (I hope) and not fixed.

Salespeople often feel that they have the potential to run the business. This business, or their own, or someone else’s. Often they are right, and a broken compensation promise leads them to take the step to go off on their own.

Which leaves you — if you have not been out selling yourself — in a position of “managing” a declining revenue stream.

You think the guy or gal who leaves you to set up their own operation is going to make that mistake?

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