Selling vs. Sales Reps

8 05 2012

We were at brunch the other morning, and I got to talking with a friend, who asked me what I was up to.  After listing out a few of my responsibilities, she said, “Oh, so you’re a sales rep.”  This threw me for a bit of a loop – no one had ever referred to my role in that way, and I didn’t consider myself a Sales Rep.  After thinking through it, I countered that while I work in sales, I don’t consider myself a sales rep.

Perhaps I’m splitting hairs, but allow me to expand on this a bit.  A sales rep’s job is to represent the company in a sales conversation.  Their job is to be focused on closing the prospect that has come down the pipe from marketing, and then once they become a customer, push them to an account rep.  

My experience with sales reps has mostly been in conversations where they cannot tell me about how the product works, or what the plan is for the product in the future.  They cannot answer use-case or support questions, their primary focus is on converting me to a customer (and the quicker the better).

In my opinion, a small startup is no place for sales reps. Sales reps (by my definition) requires a non-flat organizational structure: since sales involves much more than the act of conversion (ie. communication strategy, product dev feedback, pricing), having sales reps indicates there is a ‘sales manager’ who handles this work. This might make a lot of sense in some organizations, but not ours.

Every single person at a small company should be empowered to sell. Sell our product, sell our culture, sell our perspective on the world. Note the difference between that and ‘making a sale’.

We have some folks who spend more time in customer/prospect facing roles than others, but their primary job is to identify ‘rough’ and missing parts of the product that need to be solidified to gain traction and scale.  Customers make the end decision to buy, and while a great salesman can move product, a SaaS business has to take more of a long-term approach. If a customer signs up for the product because the salesman convinced them to, what happens when they get their first recurring bill…or their second, third, etc.?  They slowly forget the clever words the salesman used, and instead ask themselves “is this product valuable for myself and my business?”  Anytime the answer is no, the customer is gone – no matter how good the salesman was.

As I’m writing this, Chris (CEO) is having a sales conversation at his desk across from me. He’s walking someone through the product, and talking about how the analytics we provide make business video better and more effective.  He is not in the conversation looking to gain a customer right this moment.  He is testing language, listening to the feedback, and learning what key benefits/descriptors of what we provide lead to an interested lead.

Yup, I work in sales.  But I’m not a sales rep.

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