It is often said that everyone who works at a company is in sales, and there is some truth in that. Every time you interact with someone outside of your company you represent your company. You are being evaluated, and by proxy, the company you work for is being evaluated.
It’s great to have a friendly, caring sales team who really understand the needs of their customers, but if the person installing or supporting your product is grumpy or rude, then all that good is gone and that customer will think twice about purchasing from your company again. It can be very useful to remind the whole business of this fact, and a shorthand way is to say “we’re all in sales”. But just because you say “we’re all in sales”, doesn’t mean you need to treat everyone as a sales person!
Sales teams have targets and each member of that team usually has their own target. Performance and compensation is heavily linked to those targets. Whilst that can mean some great bonus payments when things go well, if someone fails to meet those targets they could end up losing their job! Sales teams usually enjoy a bit of competition – who’s sold the most, who’s won the biggest deal etc. This combination of visible, measurable targets with competition is seen as a formula for great performance (or an easy way of getting rid of the weakest members). The success of the team is driven directly from the success of individuals, i.e. if everyone meets their target, the team meets its target.
Teams of knowledge workers are not the same. The performance of the whole team is what is important, not individual performance. Team members often need to work together to achieve results, and the more interaction they have, the more the value of each individual and their actions becomes harder to determine. If the product doesn’t release on time, then the whole team fails. The reason for the release being late could be any number of different issues, some of which many not even be under the control of the team!
Treating knowledge workers as sales teams creates many issues. Firstly, competition amongst people who need to work together to succeed is going to destroy the team (see this article on Business Week that talks about the Hidden Cost of Internal Competition). If individuals are measured on individual performance then they will optimise for their own performance, even at the detriment of the team. DeMarco and Lister considered competition one of seven items that could destroy a team – they called this effect Teamicide in their classic Peopleware book:
“Here are some managerial actions that tend to produce teamicidal side effects:
- Annual salary or merit reviews
- Management by objectives (MBO)
- Praise of certain workers for extraordinary accomplishment
- Awards, prizes, bonuses tied to performance
- Performance measurement in almost any form”
So, whilst the catchy phrase “We’re All in Sales” is important when considering your customers, it is definitely not the way to create a highly effective team!