Death of a Salesman
My wife and I are movie buffs, and this past week we decided to watch the old classic film, “Death of a Salesman.” I can tell you, the homemade popcorn was the only highlight of watching such a depressing story. It did, however, spark an idea for this week’s blog.
I’ve heard of many a salesperson dying a slow death while working for a company that has poor quality standards, making it hard—if not impossible—to keep customers happy.
Like that old film, a salesperson’s bad experience trying to sell for such a chaotic company has a predictable and sad ending. Yet, both failings seem entirely preventable.
One of the worst things I can imagine an owner or sales manager hearing from a top salesperson is, “I quit!” In many cases, this is also entirely preventable. A wise business owner knows that providing the best possible quality and service tends to guarantee happy customers—not to mention motivated salespeople.
What are the coffin nails for a salesperson?
- Poor quality
- Llate deliveries
- Orders being shorted
- Billing errors
- Poor customer service
- And, owners who don’t seem to care.
How many times have you heard of a salesperson quitting and taking his/her book of business to another company, having lost trust in the first company’s ability to satisfactorily handle a clients’ work due to the poor quality mentioned above?
Look at it from a salesperson’s point of view...
Imagine a new salesperson spending the better part of a year prospecting and finally winning the perfect client. The rep tells the buyer how great it’s going to be working with the printer since, “Quality is our middle name!”
Imagine how ecstatic the salesperson is, getting that first big order from this “perfect” client. He/she can hardly wait to turn the new job over to production, and even brags a little at the sales meeting on Monday morning.
But, take a closer inspection of the production department, with its loose grasp on quality assurance, and you can understand the salesperson being a little nervous about this new order making it through production error-free. He or she might decide to babysit the job through the process, asking production personnel lots of questions—to the point of annoyance—until the job is delivered.
The rep is just trying to ensure everything will turn out right for the client. Everyone should understand that, right?
Now, imagine the job has been delivered; all is quiet for a few days and then comes…THE CALL. You know, the one everyone fears—especially the salesperson, who has to FACE the client’s wrath, because its very important job has been ruined by some stupid, preventable error.
It’s the SALESPERSON, NOT PRODUCTION PERSONNEL, who has to say, “I’m sorry!” or “It’s a rare occurrence here, and it won’t happen again at Quality is Our Middle Name.”
It’s the SALESPERSON who is embarrassed, and has to inform his/her boss of the situation.
But, it’s the BOSS, many times, who hasn’t put much stock in quality-control systems, and doesn’t seem to understand or care what the salesperson faces, trying to please his/her—and, by extension, the BOSS’—customers.
So why is that? The owner is dealing with his/her own problems and other production issues, while trying to keep things afloat in a less-than-perfect economy, and can’t seem to see that the implementation of quality systems could diminish everyone’s problems and issues greatly; helping to sustain the company even in down times.
True story…I remember an incident when a new salesperson confronted an owner about the lack of good systems in production, and the owner’s response was, “We don’t need good systems, we need good people.” The owner wasn’t providing his staff with the proper tools or direction, yet he blamed any failure in quality on the staff members that he apparently thought were NOT “good people.”
This owner told the salesperson, “Part of your job is to make us look good, regardless!” In other words, the salesperson was to COVER UP for the company, even when the product was less than acceptable quality. Talk about death of a salesman! That salesperson resigned immediately, knowing he was working for an unethical owner who didn’t know the meaning of customer service and really didn’t care.
So, what can sales people do when they have NO control over production quality?
They do what anyone would do in order to hold on to an important customer…they keep apologizing and hoping the situation will change with the company. They win a few and lose a few customers, while they’re just running in place. Their book of business is not growing and, in a bad economy, they will likely continue to lose ground.
If the DEATH of a salesman’s initiative is the result of poor quality, late deliveries, orders being shorted, billing errors, miscommunication, poor customer service, and owners not seeming to care, etc., then it stands to reason that LIFE, to a salesman, would include systems of controls for quality and service, which would ensure their being able to satisfy and keep their customers.
Did I mention? Great systems work!
Philip Beyer, founder/president of Ebiz Products LLC and founder of Beyer Printing Inc. in Nashville Tenn., is a chronic entrepreneur, business systems analyst and consultant. Author of "System Busters: How to Stop Them in Your Business" and recipient of an InterTech Technology Award for the design and development of System100 business process management software. Beyer speaks to business owners across the country on how to bring lean, sustainable order to their businesses. Contact him at (615) 425-2652.