Sales-Centric or Bust
What is Your Organization Like?
“The preoccupation with themselves to the exclusion of everything else.”
Definition of Omphaloskepsis
A few years back, I was part of a startup that had more than 40% of its headcount working in Sales. Add Marketing and Customer Service, and more than half the company was directly customer facing. This centricity was necessary because of the product, the market, and the growth ambition. And beyond those directly involved in sales, the entire organization was sales-centric to support those efforts.
Then we were acquired by a company that had less than 10% of their headcount in Sales. Their products and their position in the market simply did not require more intense sales efforts. The post-acquisition culture shock was not only size and corporate structure, but for me as a Sales Leader, the complete lack of sales-centricity.
So, what is the opposite of sales-centric: sales-ignoring or sales-oblivious? Or is the opposite of sales-centric being customer-centric? Lior Arussy seems to think so as he states: “ Sales-centric organizations put all their emphasis on the sales process and provide salespeople with explicit or implicit permission to do “whatever it takes” to make a sale. This attitude is what leads salespeople to treat customers as wallets or human ATM … “
The terminology around centricity is used to describe the fundamental orientation of an organization. And as such, I think that sales-centric and customer-centric are inherently the same. In today’s transparent markets, one cannot sell without putting the customer front and center. Simply put, salespeople work to understand customer needs or problems and then sell solutions that address those. And that thinking needs to apply to the entire organization; otherwise, you end up with salespeople fighting internal windmills.
Mission Statements from companies do reflect this. Almost all of them refer to the customer or client as a stakeholder the company aims to serve / do good for / make a difference.
To have customers to serve or do good for in the first place, a company does need to be sales-centric! Very few products or services sell themselves. There are a few scenarios where it is seemingly the case: government regulations prescribing the use or products hyped by social media. In each case, though, sales are the result of extensive work to generate those demand drivers.
Khaleb Naim seems to look at this differently as he states: “ Every startup makes a decision early in its life, conscious or not, to be either product-driven or sales-driven. Product-driven organizations look to solve a problem, which requires investigating and even anticipating potential market needs. A sales-driven organization’s primary goal is to generate a lot of revenue in a short amount of time.”
I don’t see the two as a contradiction, an either/or decision. Being product-driven requires having a proven product-market fit and solving a real problem for customers. At that point, they still need a sales focus to create awareness in the market, educate potential clients, and generate the desired growth.
So, consequently, in my playbook, sales-centricity is the best and only orientation a successful company can have. Winning new customers results in the growth companies aspire to, and the entire organization (not just Sales) works towards that goal. And it is the responsibility of leadership to ensure that it does not become a free-for-all: hire the right people, put the right incentives in place, and set the right guardrails.
For me, the opposite of sales-centric is company-centric. Rob Wint correctly states that “ although organizations have long touted the idea that ‘the customer comes first,’ the number of enterprises that can truly be described as customer-centric is smaller than most people would think. Many companies have a view of how customers perceive them, but that view may not be in alignment with how customers really see the company.”
Company-centric organizations suffer from omphaloskepsis, the preoccupation with themselves to the exclusion of everything else. Every internally oriented department — Finance, HR, Engineering, Operations — outweighs Sales. Way more time and energy are spent internally than with customers. While the commercial staff is reduced, corporate functions staff up.
What is your organization like?
Khaled Naim — Becoming A Product-Driven, Not A Sales-Driven, Company
Photo by Anne Gosewehr
Originally published at https://www.vendux.org on August 5, 2022.