Mark McDonald

A member of the Gartner Blog Network

Mark P. McDonald
GVP EXP
8 years at Gartner
24 years IT industry

Mark McDonald, Ph.D., is a former group vice president and head of research in Gartner Executive Programs. He is the co-author of The Social Organization with Anthony Bradley. Read Full Bio

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Blaming sales or has sales technology outpaced sales management?

by Mark P. McDonald  |  April 22, 2013  |  2 Comments

There is much to talk about in last week’s news of the Free Fall in PC sales, IBM’s results and potential sale of its server business.  Coupled with prior misses at Oracle, Dell’s dilemma and HP, it is easy to describe these events as evidence of a fundamental and tectonic shift in technology. (Link to Michael Hickins post on CIO Journal) It is and that is another post.

What is interesting about these events is blaming the sales force for these results.  I recall that sales force lack of execution was specifically mentioned in at least two of the companies mentioned above.  It is interesting, because for years Sales has been sacrosanct, a protected class, a group that was held accountable in private but rarely chastised in public.  That got me thinking, has something changed?

Yes, yes, yes and no.

Yes, instrumenting the sales force creates the information needed to assign blame for poor results.  It is now possible and ‘good management’ to actively manage sales as a process, just like any other function thanks to significant investments in sales force, marketing analytics and other ‘generate demand’ technologies.  Execs now have the data to prove that Sales is not doing its job.  Managing all of that information at the center and running the blame storming processes only drives up the cost of sales. Too bad that these announcements illustrate giving executives data does not mean that they know how to use it effectively.

Yes, weak management will use the ‘data-fication’ of sales to assume they can remove customers and choice out of the sales process or equation.  Making sales a formula: number of calls, persistence of calls, adherence to processes = sales.  If others can make the equation work, and they will because of the nature of data, then the problem must be you. That works if your running a repeatable and predictable process in a supply chain where there is no room for people to refuse to go along with the process.  Last time I looked customers have more choice than ever as the lines between B2B and B2C smear.

Yes, weak management will use sales execution as a reason to ignore or postpone tough decisions around products, services, pricing and the inevitable evolution of the market, what it wants and values.  Simply saying sales did not get the job done works as a legitimate reason if suddenly a pack of wild dogs starts eating all the purchase orders, not if customers do not want to buy your products or have already bought all they need.

No, I am not saying that sales is not to blame and we all have met some rather interesting sales people who we would rather not buy from.  But technology is changing the nature of sales, the information around it and ultimately the way you manage demand generation and revenue recognition.  It is a sign of weak management when one applies new technologies and instrumentations to old management practices and axioms and expects a different result.  A common problem whenever big data gets into the picture.

Sales management and sales leadership processes, most developed in the 1960’s to 1980’s, must evolve from current underpowered approaches that do not to make efficient use of the tools and information technology now provides.  Blaming the sales force is a symptom of that gap and a sign of weak management and a call for a revolution in sales management to match the revolution in sales technology.

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