Victor Hugo, the French poet, dramatist, and novelist, once said, “Initiative is doing the right thing without being told.” With this thought in mind, I would like to assert that HR needs to take the initiative in this difficult economic time. It must rise up to the level of greatness it possesses and set its sights on supporting and partnering with the sales organization. The reason for this is simple: sales is the function that generates the revenue that pays the bills as well as the paychecks. If that’s not a good reason for support, I am at a loss for finding a better one. Furthermore, the results will confirm what is clearly one of your CEO’s primary objectives: to create an organization that has greater value today than it did yesterday (if your CEO doesn’t share this value, he or she needs to find another job). Our economy is having significant problems. You could look at the statistics provided by the Fed and argue that it doesn’t look too bad, but you would be fooling yourself for reasons far too complex and numerous to list. On the other hand, if you look at personal and business bankruptcies, friends who are unemployed, consultants who are underemployed, deals that are not happening, and endless technologists who are out on the street, the picture gets a bit more realistic. Furthermore, if you believe all business is personal, then the reality does not get anymore stark than seeing, first hand, the ravaged lives of those caught in this economic morass. People always count far more than data. Companies represented in their most simplistic form can be broken down into two distinct parts:
- The functions that support the development of the product or service sold by the organization
- The function that actually sells the product or service
Unfortunately ó not through design but by default ó those on the development side of the business have always enjoyed the status of favorite child, where as those on the sales side tend to be relegated to the rank of second-class citizens. In fact, according to Ralph Jordan, President of The Productivity Factor, Inc., “Most high-tech salespeople cite ‘difficulties with the internal environment’ as the number-one reason why good salespeople leave their jobs.” Few companies, if any, can afford to lose good salespeople. Retention of the best and brightest is necessary for either function to be successful. With the exception of creatively designed strategic partnerships, sales are most often generated by feet on the street. As a result, these individuals who live on planes or behind the wheel of a car can become, out of necessity, a freewheeling gang of gunslingers. They have numbers to make and, as a result, will do whatever is necessary to close a deal. Most of us know salespeople are motivated by money and recognition. On the other hand, HR can be process oriented and procedurally driven in a way that makes salespeople absolutely crazy. These diametrically opposed mindsets create less-than-optimal conditions for both parties ó and as a result, both parties lose. HR is often ill-equipped to deal with the problems associated with the revenue-generating side of the house, and HR professionals tend to shy away from significant partnerships with sales. This is very unfortunate. I have seen this situation quite often and can understand it for what it is: a total lack of comprehension and respect on both sides, as sales looks askance at HR and HR sees sales as the last vestige of the Wild West. This causes the revenue-generating end of the house to suffer because they don’t make effective use of HR (which really does have a great deal to offer). HR also suffers; they can’t fulfill the promise of demonstrable hard number value to management in an area that is so easy to benchmark and measure. Something in this tenuous relationship needs to change. HR must take the initiative to create sweeping actions that effect immediate change and calculable results. There is not a moment to spare for HR organizations to demonstrate value and set the standard for others to follow ó not to mention the opportunity to make an impact on revenue generation. With this in mind, if you want to improve sales, I strongly suggest you look to implementing change by doing the following:
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- The HR community must extend an olive branch and begin the painful process of building relationships based on commitment and results. There are many ways to begin, but a good start would be for HR to make a public commitment to senior management to become the difference maker in the day-to-day lives of everyone involved in selling, marketing, business development, and any other function that generates cash. Make it clear that you are there not to get in the way but to help, and do not shrink from the initial resistance. HR needs to understand the special problems associated with being a member of the team that is under the very harsh pressure of knowing they must generate the revenue necessary to assure the survival of the organization.
- Recruiting must be well into the loop of this new partnership! No organization can afford anything but the best sales organization they can hire. Recruiting can use this newfound relationship to sell the company to perspective salespeople and show them how that relationship will give them greater job satisfaction and more income.
- HR must develop a sincere understanding of the different pressures and anxieties under which the sales force functions. HR must demonstrate empathy for the sales team, because there is a unique angst that comes with waking each morning knowing that your paycheck can be very inconsistent but your mortgage payments are not ó and the bank cares little to none if you happen to have a bad quarter.
- HR should become the express train to sales success. They can do this by removing all obstacles that interfere with the way salespeople do their jobs (unnecessary paperwork, complex expense reports, arcane procedures, etc.). Every moment a salesperson is working on this type of activity they are not working to generate revenue.
- Keeping in mind that compensation drives behavior, HR must look for new, creative, best-of-breed compensation programs that will excite and motivate the sales force. This activity will help salespeople to function effectively so they do not have to sandbag, sell bad business, “stuff” the channel, set unrealistic terms or employ, any of the other devices salespeople utilize in order to make it through the quarter.
- HR should develop a methodology for communicating problems they cannot solve to the highest levels of the organization at breakneck speed, and remain on them until the problems are resolved. Unless your company is on fire, few problems are in greater need of being solved immediately than those that stand in the way of generating revenue. If you can support sales by running interference and addressing critical issues with senior management, you will be making a big difference in the life and effectiveness of the people that create the revenue.
The above mentioned ideas are by no means the entire solution, but they are a great place to begin. Partnering with sales to support their efforts in being successful is a courageous and valiant response to a clear and present need. The opportunity to make a major difference and be seen for taking the initiative is at hand. I urge you grab it by the throat, step up to the plate and redefine the value proposition that HR is so very capable of demonstrating. I once knew a sales VP who told me that “none of us were worth a damn.” (Rumors of him sporting a black eye for the next few days are simply untrue.) In a perception-equals-reality world, we can ill-afford to be assessed in this manner.