Is Everyone Selling? Then You’re in Trouble.

Dave Kinnear 1-On Leadership

The Comcast saga (by now you’ve heard the story a bazillion times, right?) won’t go away. It infuriates me. When will we learn that what gets measured gets done and that we get what we pay for? It’s not rocket science, yet we seem not to learn the lessons. Comcast measured and incentivized people to retain customers and upsell. They are getting the black eye they invited.

Don’t get me wrong on this. If Comcast was authentically curious about why customers want to cancel their subscriptions, then there really wouldn’t be an issue. Sadly, that isn’t the case. And their real goal, retaining customers, was not achieved because they focused on reaction rather than root causes. They are, in effect, applying the tourniquet and not bothering to find out where or why the patient is bleeding. Malpractice.

I like the idea of having a customer retention program. It should be focused on learning from customers what they want and need and making sure the organization is delivering that product or service. Then, any action that needs to be taken will be internal and not focused on stopping a customer from returning product, stopping service or canceling subscriptions. If your customers are asking to leave you, you are too late and the best you can do is make them as happy with the exit as possible. Certainly you should not fight them or annoy them further.

What havoc are we wreaking on customer relationships when we pay commissions to salespeople? Is that incentive focused on the customer’s interests or our own interests? I maintain that a mature sales executive or salesperson will understand the long term trade-offs between “taking the order off the desk” and building a lasting relationship. Experience teaches me that most salespeople do not think about the long term. They have quotas to make, bills to pay and want the commission — the customer needs/wants/service are second to the salesperson’s own goals.

Before you “jump in my in-basket” on this sales program heresy, I want to share that I spent many years as a salesperson and sales manager. We paid commissions. We largely got what we paid for and it wasn’t long term customer relationships. It was making the quarterly revenue goals. It has taken me almost a decade, but I have firmly changed my mindset on this topic. We of course need to keep a focus on maintaining and growing revenue. Of course we need to find ways to get our message out to potential customers and clients. The big question is how.

As I’ve said so many times in this blog and in presentations, things have changed greatly. The economy isn’t going to go back to the “old normal.” Now consumers and businesses do not need salespeople “calling on” them. In fact, indications are they do not want to see or hear from salespeople — period. Instead, when they need a product or service, the will find the vendors and begin the discovery and/or buying process. So our task is not to sell, it is to be found and to build long term relationships.

My message is as simple as it is controversial. Stop selling. Stop training people to sell. Stop paying people bonuses/commissions to sell. Start training ALL your people to build long term relationships by being truly curious about what delights customers in the long run. Begin by treating your own people like they are customers because that’s how they in turn will treat customers – customers that are internal (other departments) as well as outside customers. Customers don’t come first, your employees come first. Treat them with dignity and respect and they will make sure customers are treated in kind. In short, employees will treat your customers the way you treat your employees.

I always get push back when I recommend this approach. So I keep testing it. The theory is sound in practice. The reason for the push back is that to implement this model requires hard work to define and communicate the larger vision of “Why” (Simon Sinek’s work), and building leadership at every level of the organization (David Marquet’s work) as well as figuring out what really causes employee engagement/motivation (Daniel Pink’s work). It’s easier to simply stick with the old way of doing things and complaining that the economy is broken.

The economy isn’t broken, it has moved on. Unless you are making major changes to your own business model and how you “go to market,” you will be left behind. The only thing that will save Comcast is that they are a monopoly. Apparently, many of their customers “hate” them. Other telecom companies are in the same boat. Are you a monopoly? Do you have the luxury of thumbing your nose at your customers? If not, what are you doing to make sure your organization is building for the long term?