Why Sales Deserves a Seat on the Board

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A company’s sales team is crucial to its success. That’s because Marketing initiatives can whet an individual’s appetite for a product or service, but it’s the sales rep that makes sure the potential customer’s initial ‘want’ becomes that all-important ‘need.’ In doing so he or she manages to bridge that all-important gap between customer and company.

So, with such a crucial role to play, why does the Sales Manager frequently find her or himself relegated to a lower position in the company pecking order than say the Finance, Marketing, HR or Operations Director? Why doesn’t he or she get to sit in on important board room meetings and help make the decisions which will inevitably affect their team too? A recent study of 25 companies in a particular area in Georgia, USA, showed that of 25 companies, all had a Chief Finance Officer, 16 employed a Chief Marketing Officer yet only two had a Chief Sales Officer.

The reasons given for a distinct lack of sales presence in the boardroom are numerous, but are they particularly convincing – or even justified? See what you think…

Sales isn’t as important as other company functions

Many C-level executives would suggest that one of the reasons sales is regarded in such a lowly fashion in the company pecking order is because, unlike Accountancy or Marketing, there is very little formal education in the discipline. How many university or college courses specialising in solely Sales, for instance, have you spotted recently?

And it’s not just the lack of degrees and HNC qualifications that causes Sales to fall short in management’s eyes; neither is there any accredited qualifications to aim for – unlike in Marketing where the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) Certificate is the holy grail of the profession, or a similar piece of paper from the Institute of Chartered Accountants England and Wales (ICAEW) for their Finance colleagues.

Part of its ‘lowly’ standing and lack of respect in the company hierarchy then is perhaps due to the fact that Sales isn’t formally recognised in an academic sense. In some cases it’s even ‘tolerated’ and viewed by others in the company (including those in the upper echelons of management) as almost a necessary evil. This seems extremely unfair given the importance of Sales ‘bonding’ and the frontline function that sales delivers between customer and company.

Sales people think differently from colleagues in other sections

Many Sales staff haven’t been to university or other academic institutions simply because they went in to the sector straight from school and trained ‘on the job.’ In the world of Sales, experience and ability speaks far higher than academic achievement. But because of the lack of formal higher education, the individual leading the company’s Sales team may have missed out on the leadership and presentation skills taught to those with a more academic background.

There is also a general perception about salesmen and women that they were ‘born with the gift of the gab’ and that their charm and sales ability is somehow innate rather than gleaned through years of hard work and experience.

Then again, the company can often unwittingly encourage in the Sales team what directors from other sectors might regard as ‘bad behaviour.’ This is where sales reps are offered huge bonuses for the number of sales achieved rather than customer satisfaction.

Sales people sometimes don’t have a great reputation

Like journalists or lawyers, salespeople are sometimes described as sneaky, self-serving and lacking integrity. Sure, there are some Sales staff who would fit that description, just as there are individuals in other jobs, such as policemen and teachers who would also tick that box. But there are many salesmen and women who take a huge amount of pride in what they do, and bring high levels of professionalism to every situation.

Sales reps, however, must take some of the blame here too. Often the Sales culture in an organisation can prove to be rather maverick, encouraging ‘reckless’ behaviour and giving the department a ‘bad name.’

Then there is a self-esteem issue in that some Sales staff themselves don’t believe they deserve to be regarded as highly as their Finance or Marketing colleagues for some of the reasons mentioned above, such as the lack of academic qualifications and how they are currently regarded by the company, ie as ranking ‘lower’ than other departments.

And yet, Sales is just as important for a company’s bottom line as other sectors – and perhaps even more so. Just ask top decision-makers at IBM, HP and SAP who have all established focused Sales Academies, having recognised the pivotal role their Sales teams play in their own success. Undoubtedly other companies will shortly follow suit.

Conclusion

Increasingly in these post-Brexit days where uncertainty over the UK economy is having a dampening effect on consumer spending, improving company revenue and adding to sales figures is crucial in order for a business to survive. And Sales, with its important opportunity to bond with the customer, is absolutely central to this. They alone can build trust and loyalty, and in doing so, enhance a company’s reputation and ensure that customers don’t switch to a competitor.

After all, the Sales rep may be the only individual from a company that the customer will ever communicate directly with – whether face-to-face or via telephone. So, isn’t it worth ensuring this ‘company lifeline’ is guaranteed to work? You can today, by investing more in sales training and general business awareness skills. This will foster professionalism and ensure Sales finally gets that long-deserved seat in the company board room.

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