Sales Culture Rule 4: Shift the Deck Chairs Around.

“If you ain’t the lead dog, the scenery never changes.”

Sales is a relationship business. That much I’m sure we can agree on. However, the less dependent an organization is on the individual relationships of its sales force, the healthier that sales team will be. In other words, the best sales organizations have the “Four P’s” correct (Product, Place, Promotion, Price), and are able to consistently hire innovative sales talent. Talent that isn’t dependent on a particular set of relationships it has built over years of attending the same events, but talent that is dependent on itsability to build those strong relationships consistently. And, sure enough, when your sales staff is full of this caliber of people, it doesn’t matter who is in charge of a particular account or negotiation, because you know you’re in good hands in any case. As it is human nature to fall into lazy habits when too deeply entrenched into a comfort zone, I strongly believe that airlines should shake up their sales organization by shifting people’s roles around every few years.

This idea would surely be met with a lot of resistance in this industry, but why? Because one feels threatened? Or because someone just doesn’t want to have to actually work to build relationships, make sales, or make sales more profitable? If your sales and relationship management skills are where they need to be, there’s no need to feel threatened by a new structure or new assignment. And an organization would probably be better off without the people who do feel that way anyway.

Stagnation breeds laziness. I have been to several National (now Global) Business Travel Association (NBTA/GBTA) conventions, and I’ve seen this in action. When someone has been going to these same events for years, it turns into the Good Ol’ Boy network. There is no legitimate new business development or networking going on. It’s more like a high school reunion that happens every year, seeing the friends you’ve made over the past few decades, having some beers in the corner, maybe catching a quick 18 holes. And local sales habits can work the same way. When the accounts you’re calling on have turned into friendships over the years, it makes it a lot harder to try to engage in a legitimate, dollar-focused negotiation. Having spent years reviewing sales contracts, it really does seem that nobody really negotiates anymore, but seem to just ask for approvals on whatever concessions a particular account/friend is requesting.

Besides the obvious bottom-line benefit of reintroducing shrewd negotiation skills into the fold, this would also make sure that sales staff at all levels are sharpening their skills consistently, and encourage a more collaborative and less territorial environment (no more “hey, step off, that’s my account because I’ve known Joe for 10 years!”).

Would this approach make people uncomfortable temporarily through the transitions between roles? Absolutely. Would it also ensure that they are challenged and consistently maintaining diligent sales habits? Absolutely. Sales skills are sales skills–it’s not just about who you’re in bed with.


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Customer Engagement Strategy for the Airline Industry