Who can sell?

I crossed paths with a chap who’s company I enjoyed a few years back called Tom Hannon.  He was the MD (having been promoted from Sales Director no less, that rare, but heartwarming scenario for us mere reps) of a large British-founded erp software vendor (the financials, order processing and stock type stuff) in those days known as JBA.  The founder (Chairman I think was his title) sold out not long after I first met Tom, pocketing £15m ish and went out to buy a Rolls straight away.  Anyway, Tom was a shrewd cookie (I later heard one of those 1999-era tales of him investing a few grand in a dotcom start-up, to see his profits run into six figures on the first day of the IPO) and being of sales bent, he often (always, even) got involved in sales management meetings.

At one such forum, I presented my wares.  I made a quip about what MD would ever slate his salesforce when chuckles turned into roars with Tom moaning about his charges.  It was all light-hearted, but after I did feel, that perhaps every MD does indeed moan about their sales team because, whatever their numbers, surely they can always do more?

And then today I met a fella I first met over 5 years ago.  He had a gripe that they had a high-margin product (wine) and yet only 25% of customers taking it, were also taking an obviously associated one (champagne).  Now, every single firm selling lots of products across loads of customers can share a similar story.  Yet how difficult is it for reps to ask, in this example, “how about champagne as well wine now”?

I asked whether an 80/20 principle was at play.  Pareto devotees would no doubt argue that one-fifth of all reps would make four-fifths of the sales.  His opinion was that his sales team was split, 70/30.  With the 30% being the good ones.  That’s still a huge number of, as he described them, “poor to awful” (expletive removed!) and does beg the question, who can actually sell…..? 

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