The Corrosive Impact of Hypocrisy on a Company's Sales Effectiveness

Ed Marsh | May 3, 2023

Does Your Company Do the Same Things to Other Sales Reps that You Hate Having Done to Yours?

Introduction to SignalsFromTheOP

Guide to Episode

  1. Often companies complain about prospect behaviors and then do the same things themselves
  2. Certain sales training can help to improve sales competencies and boost sales effectiveness, but....
  3. Every time a company does the same thing to other sales reps, they send a strong and inadvertent message to their own sales team
  4. Maybe there are two Golden Rules of Sales - First, buy from other vendors the way you hope your prospects buy from you. Second, consistently train, coach and improve sales to deliver valuable and helpful buyer experiences.

Transcript follows:

Hello. I’m Ed Marsh. Welcome to SignalsFromTheOP, by bi-weekly video blog on which I highlight potentially controversial ideas to provoke some thinking by executives and board directors of mid-size manufacturing firms. Please share it with any business leaders who you think might find value.

Buy From Others as You'd Have Them Buy From You!

It’s often said that the attributes we find most offensive in others are those we find objectionable in ourselves. It’s a kind of projection. I’d say it’s also a form of hypocrisy, and it’s a type of hypocrisy that I commonly find among manufacturing companies these days.

I’m calling it out because it compromises their sales effectiveness.

With that assertion, I’ve probably immediately gotten sideways with anyone watching; let’s dive in.

At one level, it’s simply self-delusion. I often hear from manufacturers that their buyers are different. Their industry is different. They don’t search online. They don’t use chatbots. They don’t watch video. They won’t download helpful information. Etc. Etc. Etc.

Put aside the question of a rising generation of managers and leaders for whom those behaviors are quite common (compared to the generation often making these assertions) and let’s just look at the industrial sales facts.

The same people who tell me those things then turn around and use the internet and consume information.

Sure, they may prefer to turn to trusted peers for recommendations rather than read online reviews, and they might not opt for a chatbot, but their behavior is designed to find the easiest path to the best answer possible.

That’s no different than their prospects – each an individual with preferences, biases, distractions, priorities and immense time pressure.

But at a different level, it’s really disturbing. In this context, I want to contrast what I hear executives and sales organizations complain about, and then what I see them actually do. Then I’ll tie it to their sales force effectiveness (or not!)

Barriers to Sales Force Effectiveness

Common complaints I hear as a B2B sales consultant about prospects and buyers include things like:

  • Nobody answers their phone, and it’s really hard to get our reps to the table for meetings.
  • People often want a quote for something to solve a problem that they’ve incorrectly self-diagnosed, and we try to educate them, but they’re not interested.
  • We have to discount too much.
  • Everyone’s hesitant to make a decision because they want proof a solution will work before they try
  • We’ve got many deals on hold because prospects have capital spending freezes because they’re worried about the economy.
  • We can’t get to the real decision-makers

All those make sense.

Each is indicative of weakness and therefore represents training opportunities in various sales competencies. Prospecting, consultative sales, value selling, uncovering compelling reasons to buy, establishing the value gap, and reaching decision-makers are all skills that can be trained to improve sales effectiveness…with a big caveat.

Every sales rep has a firmware – certain mindsets that may limit their ability to benefit from training. If that’s intriguing, by all means, please reach out and we’ll dive deeper.

But for now, the point is that discounting, for instance, is a function of breakdowns much earlier in the sales process. It’s a symptom of low sales force effectiveness.

A Culture of Hypocrisy - Complaining About Your Attitudes in Others

It's also often a reflection of your company culture. And that’s incredibly corrosive. Here’s what I mean.

One of the basic lessons of leadership is that the behavior you model is far more powerful than the behavior you discuss. Pitter-patter trumps chitter-chatter.

Regrettably, many companies routinely model buying behavior that both costs them credibility and sends a clear and deleterious message to the sales team.

For example, any time a president, CEO or VP comments on the steps they take to avoid sales outreach, and the disdain they have for sales people trying to reach them, they send a message to their team that sales people aren’t worthy of speaking to the CSuite decision makers.

Every time someone in the company copies others on an email, or speaks into the phone within earshot of others and says “pleases stop trying to sell me something else. I know what I want”, they tell their sales team that they must respond to buyer inquiries to avoid annoying them.

Every time they send someone back to a vendor to ask for a discount or ask procurement in a staff meeting how they’re doing on their KPI of grinding down vendors, they reinforce that businesses should discount to get business.

Those all degrade sales effectiveness.

Similarly, whenever someone brings them an idea internally and senior management shoots them down because they’re just not sure it will work, they confirm that it’s OK to defer to the fear of messing up – letting risk aversion guide decisions.

Just as every time the company announces that they’re pausing investment, scaling back on revenue growth (marketing and sales investments) and recasting the forecast, they confirm that it’s only reasonable that smart companies stop investing preemptively for fear the economy might sour.

By doing these things, they teach their team that strong and effective sales competencies don’t matter because they have to defer to the market and buyers.

Prudent Business vs. Two Faced

For sure, there are poor salespeople and others selling crap who don’t deserve a busy CEO’s time. There may be situations where some form of discount (like a rebate against larger future orders) make business sense. And if your revenue is in a freefall, you have to preserve cash.

But how often do companies put themselves in difficult sales positions by conditioning their reps and tolerating mediocrity? They inadvertently affirm every lame, ineffective and excuse-making sales rep by manifesting precisely the behaviors they then complain about in prospects! If we’re honest with each other, this happens way, way, way too often. We hurt our own sales effectiveness.

So here’s my recommendation to you. Just as you may work to be on your best behavior before young, impressionable kids at home, as a leader of a company that MUST SELL in order to say vibrant, you’ve got to be on your best behavior all the time at work.

Of course, it’s not just Not Saying something. You must actively reject this hypocrisy as part of your company culture, reiterate it all the time, and call it out when you hear people reverting to old habits. Otherwise, you’re just a hypocritical company that sounds pretty silly complaining about the same frustrating behavior in prospects that your team practices in its own buying.

I’m Ed Marsh. Thank you for joining me for this episode of Signals from the OP. If you enjoyed it, please share it and subscribe – either to my YouTube channel EdMarshSpeaks.TV or at the related blog