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Would you Rather Have a Great Product or a Great Sales Force?

Jonathan Farrington interviews Etien D’Hollander, Founder & CEO of Front Row Solutions

During a recent conversation with Etien D’Hollander, that is the question he asked me, and before I had the opportunity to respond he said, “When that question was first asked of me, I answered without hesitation – a great sales force – and thought the answer was obvious. I have continued to ask that question thousands of times over the years and have become enlightened with the answers. I ask that question in every selling meeting, in every interview and in every reseller discussion. In fact, the answer has shaped the direction of my selling approach, my hiring decisions and my reseller contracts. What I have found is that sales oriented individuals, like myself, always select “a great sales team”. Technical, financial and operations people always select “a great product”.

Etien then shared a response he received to that very question during a sales meeting only that week: “Is this a trick question? Because it could work either way. If you have a great product, that’s great! But without a sales force to push it, you are dead! If you have a great sales force, even if the product is mediocre, they may still be able to make a good impact…But overall, if all things are in order, the first option, a great product – would obviously make more sense. “

Etien continued…
“If you were selling sales training services/sales management services/sales enablement systems/sales force automation or lead generation systems and you had gotten that answer, what’s your next step? I don’t mean to be a hard ass, but the right answer may be to walk away. You see, the person who gave you that answer has no empathy to a sales rep and, no matter what you say, will not understand the value in putting more money and effort into the sales rep or sales team when that money could be spent on product development and enhancement. Even though I got quite indignant the first time a company executive said to me, “sales reps are shite and they always will be shite!” or a school peer said to me “is sales all you could get?” – I now realize I have no empathy for them either.

Empathy is the capacity to understand what another person is experiencing from within the other person’s frame of reference – i.e. the capacity to place oneself in another’s shoes.

In over 30 years of selling, I always accepted that sales reporting was part of the job – not my favorite part, but a necessary evil at best. With the development of computers came automated sales reporting and, over the years, I have used several CRM systems including Siebel, Goldmine, Salesforce and Act. Not one of these systems was focused on me, the sales rep! They were difficult to learn, harder to use and did not offer anything to me to help me be more productive – in fact, they got in my way!

I now understand the problem with these systems and why sales rep compliance and adoption is so low – empathy. If you search the internet for any of the Legacy CRM systems, including the ones I have used in the past, and look at their executive teams, they are led by engineers, financial people, computer science grads – not a sales rep amongst them… no wonder they find it such a challenge to create a sales rep focused system!

At this point, Etien paused for breath, which is a rare occurrence for a man with so much passion about this particular topic, and I was able to give him my answer.

There is a misconception – commonly held by non-sales oriented C-Lounge residents – that great products sell themselves, which is of course complete nonsense. The only possible exception to that rule is a commodity.

The undeniable fact, which can never be challenged, is that our sales teams are our engine rooms, our offense, and our vanguard. As somebody once famously said, “Nothing happens until somebody sells something”. For all the investment a company may make in lavish offices, state of the art furniture and luxury company cars, they will not remain in business very long if they are not selling – and selling well.

I liked the fact that Etien placed such great emphasis on “empathy” because I know that is a characteristic he possesses in abundance – “when I see myself and my products through my customer’s eyes…”