Is Sales The Engine Of Your Business?

We are continually asking managers if sales is ‘the engine of their business’, but are often surprised by the replies that we get.   That is because only one in four sales managers, or directors will say without hesitation that it is.  Alarmingly the rest will either answer ‘no’, or ‘not really’.   They universally believe that sales should be the engine of their business, but the reality is that it is not.

So, what do managers mean when they say that sales is not the engine of their business and what are the implications?  Well, in this article we will discuss both of these issues arriving at the surprising yet clear conclusion that it is time to move sales up the corporate agenda.

The Concept of the Sales Engine

Sales as ‘the engine of the business’ is, one would imagine, not too much of a stretch of the imagination for most managers.  After all, without sales revenues the business could not survive.  But can the term sales engine relevant to most sales managers and their organisations.  We asked hundreds of them.  Their answers revealed much about the role and potential of sales in the B2B marketplace today and in particular its key opportunities and challenges.

Is Sales the Engine of Your Business? – The Answers

Three out of four managers answer no to the question ‘is sales the engine of your business?’  Almost universally they wished it was and they felt it should be, but the reality was different.

So, most sales managers conceded that sales is not the engine of their business.  But what does this mean?  Well, there were two reasons:

  • Sales is not as ‘engine-like’ or systematic as it could, or should be
  • Sales is not seen to be at the very core of the organisation and its success

Often the two views are held by managers, which is not surprising given that as we will discuss shortly they are inter-related.  The notion of sales as the engine of the business is something that although very logical and appealing to the sales manager would seem to be a long way off for many organisations.  It strike to the core of how sales and marketing are run and the role that they must play.

Sales is not as ‘engine-like’ as it could, or should be

One of the reasons why managers don’t see sales as the engine of their organization is because their organisation’s approach to sales is not as systematic, organised, or structured as they would wish.  In other words sales and marketing is not very engine-like, with managers in particular pointing to a deficit in terms of sales; process, system, skills, or structures.

Indeed, most managers would use the words sporadic, reactive and ad-hoc to describe at least some aspects of their organisation’s approach to how its products and services are marketed, or sold.  The words shown on the left below are more reflective of their marketing, than those on the right.

Sales Effort Sales Engine
Capability of Person(s) Organisational Capability
Ad hoc Systematic
Unplanned Planned
Reactive Proactive
Unstructured Structured
Sales Person / Personality Driven Process Driven
Sporadic (start-stop) Once-off Consistent (ongoing)
Stand-alone Integrated
Hit and miss Scientific
Highly measureable
Effective & Efficient

Before you continue reading, here is a test: which of the word’s in the two columns above best describe your organisation’ sales and marketing?

To put it another way sales and marketing are more art, than science, they are also more effort, than engine. However there are clear signs that a change of emphasis is taking place.  Managers are looking beyond the efforts of the sales person, or sales team and the occasional sales campaign to the systems, structures and science of selling.  As a result, sales is inevitably becoming more engine-like.

Sales is not at the very core of the organisation

The second reason why managers say that sales is not the engine of their business is because it is not sufficiently high up the organisational agenda – it is not at the key priority of the organisation and is not recognised, or at least treated, as being the key driver of success.

The fact that sales is not the number one priority in many organisations is particularly surprising in the context of the global economic slowdown – a time when one would expect ‘all hands to be at the pumps’ in respect of sales.  Clearly as far as sales managers are concerned there has been a lot of lip-talk regarding sales.  It also perhaps reflects the reality that for many organisations who forgot during 10 years of unbroken growth what it was like to search for new customers, becoming sales-led is a real challenge, akin to changing the organisational DNA.

Why do managers feel that sales is not the top priority?  Well first because sales is the responsibility of too few people in the organisation – the focus of a particular department (individual or team) that is often isolated in terms of organisation wide support and does not receive the senior management attention that it deserves.  Of course, given the reality of how most organisations are run, a feeling by the sales director or manager of being undervalued and more to the point under supported is typically a reflection of the CEO role in respect of sales.  Bottom line it means that sales is not getting the organisation wide focus, or support that it needs and results are likely to suffer as a result.

If sales is not the engine of the business, then what is?  Well, in some companies the product, or technology is the driver, in others it is seen as the delivery, or the management of customer relationships.  Clearly, in these organisations sales has an internal selling job to complete – it has to sell the organisation on the paramount role of sales.

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