1,000 Salespeople Called This CEO a Jerk

tale of two companies

I seem to have touched a nerve. When I wrote Why This CEO Will Never Hire Another Salesperson last week, I had no idea that it would create a firestorm. I have written hundreds of posts over the years, and this one got people more fired up than any other. I was flattered but also a bit concerned.

Over 440,000 people read that article and tons of folks had interesting things to say. Over 2,500 people shared their thoughts in three ways: by commenting on the post, by emailing me directly, and by asking to connect on LinkedIn. Here is a small sampling of what they said:

The angry

Are you purposely trying to put people who work in your industry out of a job? Do you have any idea how much damage you’ve just done? This is how we feed our families, you arrogant jerk.

The inspired

I have been having various Sales and Management positions in my 20-year career in IT. I have always felt that the way we do Sales is somehow fundamentally wrong, but I haven’t managed to formulate it so clearly as Brian.

The balanced

As a ‘salesperson’ and former VP of Sales, I cringed at the introduction, but as in all things that produce growth, pain is good! You nailed it!

Whatever you believe, I want to expand on some of my assertions and make a few clarifying points:

Customers are now in control
In the past, the job of a salesperson was to convince prospects to trade money in exchange for whatever they were selling. But we have moved from the age of the seller to the age of the customer. Customers have access to instant information, are empowered to share their opinions about products and services, and have more alternatives than ever before. Continue to ignore this and you may become irrelevant.

The function of sales is being transformed
One person commented and asked if a company had bad manufacturing, would they stop manufacturing altogether? Absolutely not — there would be no product. This question highlighted a misunderstanding of what I wrote. This is not about “bad” salespeople, and as I stated, “There will always be people who work with customers.” This is about what customers know, need, and how we can best interact with them. I do not believe that commission based selling creates the best outcomes for the customer or company.

Yes, I have hired and worked with some great salespeople
I think a lot of people with business development, account management, and sales in their job title felt threatened and did not try to think through the implications of what I was suggesting. I have worked with lots of talented salespeople. I firmly stand by the idea that informed prospects want to buy and not be sold to.

Our Aha! Customer Success team is not just another name for Sales

  • They do not have a quota.
  • They do not prospect.
  • They are not compensated when a customer signs up.
  • They manage all customer interactions (both before and after a customer has purchased our service).

The idea that commissioned-based approaches to sales is under threat applies to technology, but other industries are being transformed as well.

The auto industry is also backing away from commission models. Instead, billion-dollar brands like Tesla [NASDAQ: TSLA] are making the bold choice to position themselves as intentionally different. This means Tesla sales teams are not motivated by commission. It clearly states on the Telsa careers website that new hires will epitomize the no hassle, low-pressure Tesla sales experience.

I wrote the piece, so it is a reflection of what I believe. I am not alone in my thinking and I accept the various insults and appreciate the compliments. I know that contrarian ideas are often considered heretical before they are understood or become the norm.

What signs do you see that the nature of sales is changing?

About Brian and Aha!

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 roadmap software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the adventure of living a meaningful life.

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