Sales Culture Rule 2: Segment to the Sector or Account Level, and Align Titles Accordingly.

“The achievements of an organization are the results of the combined effort of each individual.”

If Vince Lombardi ran an airline, I sure as hell wouldn’t work for it.

After all, if winning really isn’t everything, but the only thing, then there would be, well, one adequate airline in the world. And out of Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Asiana, Etihad and Qatar Airways–the five “5-Star” airlines by Skytrax–Mr. Lombardi would find four losers. I don’t think I’d want to play those odds, on a daily basis anyway. It’s just a job–who needs that kind of stress?

However, on a serious note, Lombardi would surely rally his staff to make a run for that top spot every year, because he did know a thing or two about management. Creating an effective sales culture requires the ability to recognize individual achievements, contributions and talents while still motivating each player to work towards the greater good of the organization. Lombardi himself may not even acknowledge that need for the individual recognition, but since there’s no Super Bowl trophy in the airline industry (and the subsequent individual lauding that comes with winning it), we’ll make sure that stays a part of our culture. At any rate, it is important (and challenging) to find the optimal balance between individual accomplishments and team goals, and this certainly cannot happen when incentive structures are built from sales processes that were developed decades ago.

I am still seeing cases, even in 2009, of incentives being tied to a particular geographic territory. The issue of ticketing for one agency’s accounts taking place in a different region from the actual business development and negotiations process is not a new one. Allowing one region to take credit for another’s work causes division and resentment inside what is supposed to be a cohesive sales organization, and that should be reason enough to segment performance results to the sector–if not individual account–level.

Sales in the past decade has trended from “inside out” to “outside in,” so why shouldn’t titles and divisions of responsibility follow suit? Titling individuals by region and rank doesn’t mean anything to anyone outside of an airline’s HR department. By aligning titles with sectors, which is how the majority of businesses (outside of local businesses that wouldn’t provide travel spend anyway) view themselves, this “outside in” concept is built into the fabric of a sales culture. Do you think ExxonMobil considers its relevant identifier to be “oil and gas industry,” or “greater Dallas/Fort Worth business?” (Bet you didn’t even know that their global HQ is there, now did you?). It seems to me that, as a travel manager or any other procurement decision-maker, knowing a sales rep is versed and knowledgeable in my particular business sector would be much more important than what grade level and/or rank (i.e. “Sales Executive” vs. “Senior Sales Executive”) that individual has been deemed by an HR department. Doing this effectively could even take some of the politics out of the hiring and promotion process.

In my view, each member of the sales organization should be assigned a role when he or she is hired, more detailed than simply “Southern California,” or “Northeast USA.” Besides eliminating the pitfall outlined above about where an actual ticketing office happens to sit physically, assigning reps by sector, or even individual accounts, also allows them to develop more targeted knowledge (by reading industry newsletters, etc.) to truly differentiate themselves in terms of understanding the customer and its needs. Does it take time to do? Certainly, but managing effectively takes time. That’s why people are paid full-time to be managers. Of course, this model does create a risk in instances where a sales person has an opportunity fall into his or her lap just by going about daily business, only to ignore the opportunity simply because it is not part of his or her scope. To avert this, a referral system should be built into the compensation structure, which would reward that individual for passing the opportunity along to the subject expert.

This concept seems somewhat elementary, but it really does represent a deviation from the norms today. Think about it–do you know of more “Corporate Senior Sales Executive, Eastern USA”s or “Sales Executive, Oil & Gas Sector”s? And which title do you think means more to the customer?


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Customer Engagement Strategy for the Airline Industry