Sales not happening fast enough or in volume to suit you?  There were some things that worked brilliantly years ago that were abandoned for no good reason.

It’s a pretty smart manager who wants to reinstate things-that-worked—to hunt down the lost technology of workability and put it back in.  We do this instinctively in most other areas of life.  If it worked when mom said we’d get desert if we cleaned our room, well, we may resort to the same tactic with kids of our own. 

Up until the late 1990’s, the tech industry was like a teenager, still trying to prove itself. It spent a lot of money on its own professional image and staff development. The sales reps for companies like EDS were flown to some central headquarters and put through intense boot-camps of training (I dated one of these guys back in the day, who had to wear dark suits and only a red or blue tie). These people were highly skilled sales people, trained to a high caliber of etiquette and closing technique. 

Even in small tech companies, during this time of corporate shift in technology, the sales culture was up against industries that had used paper processes for practically forever. The new electronic typewriters, photo copiers and fax machines were tough sells. Selling personal computers?  Big giant mainframes?  That was like selling people the moon. You had to really know your stuff, help them see the efficiency equation and get their people over the hurdle of changing your mind and learning to use them and see how they made life and business easier. 

Does this sound familiar? Do we do a little of that today?  Well I can tell you with absolute certainty that today’s tech selling is nowhere near as difficult as the first shift for industry off of paper to using computers everywhere. It did happen, but the shift was certainly fraught with difficulty. For crying out loud it has only been in the last decade that dentist’s offices started to use digital records and not those giant walls of paper files for everyone. 

Back to those tech sales people of old – they were highly trained to figure out what exactly the problem was that needed to be overcome for clients, the “brick overcoat” worn by any prospect, and how to pull off every brick.  This is actual terminology used in old sales books by Les Dane in “Big League Sales Techniques,” required reading in a job I once had. 

The skill of sales reps at the time, though, was primarily focused on once the prospect arrived.  It was all hand-to-hand combat technique.  Why?  Because marketing ranked as the air-cover for the sales war, it had very few “field marketing” functions. Not like today’s companies. The marketing departments of old crafted messages that would be mailed and advertised, it fed stories to the media and put fliers under windshields in parking lots.  It held and created hoopla around live events.  It was all about appeal and driving interest on a macro level to pull in the prey for sales reps to pounce on.  It was born out of the great traditions of Madison Avenue in Manhattan, the land of the original and all-powerful advertising men, just like the ones on MadMen

Philosophers have touted their skills at creating want for any consumer product, making the average person desire something they may not need or even know existed, as so high an art that it pretty much single-handedly pulled the U.S. out of the Great Depression. Oh, you could say it was FDR’s government hand-outs and programs to reign in Wall Street (familiar?), but in the middle of that came Madison Avenue advertising growth at rates never before seen in history in tons of new newspapers and magazines – and Boom went the economy.  People suddenly wanted things.  Want drove curiosity and reach. Reach turned into discussion. Discussion into sales.  Sales into production.  Boom!

With something as dark as the Great Depression hanging like black clouds over every thought, it’s fascinating that those Ad Men at that time were rather cheeky and direct. They pushed cheerful and artistic images and were pretty verbose and salesy about it.  How dare they not be depressed?  It was so wonderfully hopeful, people just fell into line with it. 

So what happened to make it so that the definition of sales and marketing today are so squishy?  It seems they are run together into a frame of mind where sales=marketing and vice-versa.  Everyone prospects broadly and everyone pushes for the individual close, sales people working online through social media and marketing people going out on account calls?  What’s the deal here? 

Here’s the truth about what happened from an eye-witness.

The Dotcom Bubble and bust of the late 1990’s-2000 wrecked the fantastical could-sell-an-eskimo-a-refigerator-super-race of sales people.  Those totally scrappy sales people that learned how to make sales happen through sheer grit and jovial business criticisms that guilted big buys into existence were promoted and promoted until they ruled the top of those big tech companies.  The great boom years caused such tech growth that those top sales VPs were hiring young whipper-snapper untrained staff as fast as possible to sit at desks and take orders.  Marketing was doing such a fantastic job, that sales was simply sitting and taking orders.  This is why we still talk about Steve Job’s and the original genius of his TV ad today. 

Ah, but then those poor young souls, being managed by some of the most skilled sales people ever trained, thought that they, too, were actual sales people.  Really they were just administrative order-takers.  Sorry.

Then the dotcom bust happened, and those senior guys jumped out on golden parachutes to become CEOs of other start-ups, leaving behind them real marketers and not-so-trained sales staff. 

Along with the bust came a mentality of fear, and companies cut marketing.  Companies do this because they think it is an expense, when really if it is done right it is the energy creator that sparks and then flows an unseen line of interest, upon which all money rides, back to the company. Bean-counter managers who want tangible benefits they can see—and none of that old advertising and general public relations junk that no one can rightly measure—have a tendency to kill off marketing budgets quicker than you can blink with the slightest whiff of economic trouble.   Therefore with the bust came a time when volumes of incoming interest dwindled.

With interest down, sales staff started to riot.  “Where are the leads?” they cried.  “Why aren’t people calling me up out of the blue of their own volition?” Marketing retorted with “Well, go and cold call.  Prospect like sales people are supposed to do.” 

“But that’s not what sales people do,” said the untrained ones.  It is not what they had ever done.  What they did was call already existing lines of interest.  You know, existing account lists.  Still failing, the sales staff, who outnumbered the marketing staff, then got the marketing department fired. 

New marketing staffs from then on out were more timid, totally agreeing to ideas like just doing “field marketing” and forget about advertising and PR and custom content creation to drive general interest.  Basically marketing wimped out.

You might want to check to see if your sales flaw is really a marketing flaw.  Are you giving them big budgets and letting them market to create interest, do big audacious witty things like ads and social media campaigns, and a whitepaper or funky mailing once in a while?

You should. 

Back in the day spending for marketing was always 30-50% of the sales and marketing percentage of a company’s total budget, which itself was 20-30% of the total expenses.  It worked! I bet you’re spending nearly 90% on sales salaries and only 10% on air cover with marketing, sending those troops out to fight with almost no ammunition or back-up.  They go in raw, cold-calling alongside 7,000 other ed-tech companies.  What a total buzz kill.  Frankly if I wasn’t a CEO and had to work for another company I would demand sizeable back-up in marketing or I wouldn’t work there.  Nope, too easy to fail entirely while working super-hero hard to sell.  Been there, done that.  Better to have fewer reps and more marketing.  I’d rather see a company succeed than fail through a slow wilting from a lack of marketing, killing otherwise good reps along the way.  For shame.

Hmmm, you may say, nothin’ to do with ol’ me. Really? Let me just tell you there is something actually worse than marketing misdirected into really doing sales lackey work—skittering around just booking out events and shuttling booths and crates around.  Its non-pro marketing mildly executed, without great ingenuity, without depth or without entwining all available media players into fits of adoration.  A.k.a. Apple, who does it gloriously while yawning to add the aura of effortlessness. Just one of their secrets? They buy enough advertising and PR placements to wow the media publishers, and from that they gain all they’ll ever need in momentum.  When you don’t play hard you’re just leaving “money on the table” as the old pro sales reps used to say. 

I challenge you to get your marketing on for real. Put out something extremely interesting and fragrant with buyer appeals. 

Image Source:  The Advertising Archives