Thinking Managers

Robert Heller believes believes that the perennial battling between sales and marketing reflects a grave failure to manage effectively.

Sales & Marketing: Get it Together

Frequently, managers need reminding that while the bottom line is the end-all of business activity, the top line should come first – literally. Unless there is someone making the crucial decision to purchase from you, there won't be any profit – only expense.

But the vital process of sales has long taken a back seat to the younger business discipline of marketing.
It might be true that some people are born sellers who are uncomfortable with ‘soft’ issues like strategy, planning and branding, but it is equally true that the strategists, planners and brand managers are some way back from the front line.

The customer is outside the company’s control, so that means the sales person is a crucial contact in a critical activity – and quite worthy of the recent double issue that the Harvard Business Review devoted to the discipline.
The standout contribution was ‘The World’s Greatest Salesman’ who, it turns out, is Joe Girard, a car salesman who won his title back in 1973.

His place in the Guinness Book of Records is still unchallenged. His feat was to sell 1,425 cars in one year, including 174 in a single month. (The norm for the car sales industry, says HBR, is four or five cars a month.)

Girard had a lasting gratitude for those who bought his cars – he called it ‘love’.  He would see customers regularly and have their problem corrected immediately, often without charge, as well as sending them cards each month with the words ‘I like you’.

Girard also used to treat every fellow employee who helped him with a meal at his home or local restaurant.  Several studies endorse the value of this; showing overall performance is improved by including supporting staff in productivity bonus schemes.

You might think that a retail car salesman, operating in a business that has no production, design or new product functions, isn’t a relevant model for the typical operation.  However, note the way Girard integrated his sales activity with the dealership’s after-sales service; how he negotiated the barriers that usually divide the two processes; how he accepted his customers as true partners in the operation.

Also compare Girard’s fine example with the ‘biggest mistakes’ attributed to American sales reps by two HBR contributors from the Forum Corporation.  A study of 138 business-to-business buyers showed that the largest number (26%) failed to follow the customers’ buying process, while a further 18% ‘don’t listen to needs’, and 17% ‘don’t follow up’.

This all goes to show that sales and marketing must get it together to make a successful business, or the bottom line will be devastated by the mistakes at the top.

About the author
Robert Heller is one of the world’s best selling authors on business management.