Clash of the Titles – Sales Controlling vs. Sales Execution

If you are in the game of B2B selling you probably have been in one of the following situations. The management is setting up the framework of rules, which influences your daily sales life. Who is a good customer, what vertical- or what customer size has proven to have best retention, what you shouldn’t promise to prospects and the total of discounts you are allowed to give out. Analytics people and those working in the operational side of sales, the sales controller, are obviously not selling. However they are setting standards for everyone who is. As sales success has no direct effect on their salary, they are seeking the long term best for the business.

People in the management roles of sales execution, your sales director, and anyone who directly profits from you making sales, have a much simpler take on things. You are measured by revenue or number of deals. You are getting paid based on your KPIs. If sales were easy, it wouldn’t be paid as well as it does. The reason for you staying in the job is to perform as everyone is expecting from you. The only goal is to sell. Of course you should stay within the pre-set frame, but here the problem already starts to unfold: You „should“. The word „should“ diminishes all set rules and turn them into a guideline, which can be bended or broken if necessary. All of a sudden, the standard has become a goal, no longer a requirement set in stone. As it has been set by someone who is not directly selling, it’s priority is lower than the goals set by yourself. Getting the deal at any cost.

The outcome is easy to predict. Sales Operations and Sales Execution are becoming opponents. And unlike healthy competition between sales executives, this one is getting serious. The clash of the titles has just begun.

As a warrior, you know you want to fight the battles you have best chances of winning. As a seller, you go for the opportunities, you have better chances of closing. Sell at all costs. First sell to your prospect, then sell the deal to the management. While the sales director maybe is still giving out a pad on the back for also securing part of his quota, the sales controller will battle any not met requirements of the deal. If you win, you may rise up in the leaderboard, but everyone in your sales organization will regard it as cheating, and will hate you for that.

An example: A good seller in one of our teams often sold below minimum conditions. Sometimes the trial period got extended, sometimes minimum on-boarding fees were waived, and sometimes he was selling to those we could not deliver an exceptional service to. The sales manager often took the side of his valuable seller, and signed off on those deals, to make his quota. Within days other seller copied selling below minimum requirements, and revenue declined across the team. Like a self fulfilling prophecy, the average order value declined and client churn started to increase. All of a sudden the reduced price seemed what the market would accept as new maximum value for our service. The other teams in other offices did not get infected by this disease, as the distance was a natural barrier. We lost half of the team, and almost a third of our clients, and paid dearly to recover reputation as well.

When those situations occur the CEO must need to take immediate action. If not or when too late, the virus of negativity will bring down morale; performance will suffer. Staff retention will drop, clients will churn, even the deals sold according to the standard may churn (as former seller now working for the competition will attack them first).

Make sure of the following setup within your sales organization, to avoid the scenario above:

  • Agree on the minimum terms across the entire team. Not just between operations and management, but include every seller and account manager as well.
  • Set realistic goals and expectations. Inflated goals, even stretch goals are making you vulnerable to get hit by dirty selling. Often those goals are meant to project higher earning potentials to attract money driven candidates (here the dirty selling starts).
  • Reward both-, sales activity and sales success.
  • Don’t be cheap on the fixed part of the seller’s salary. Seller are risk takers, because their income does not just depend on quantity activity but also on the results. Any change in the market affects the sales person first, before anyone else gets hurt in the business.
  • Say no to deals which haven’t met the minimum requirements. Don’t get too greedy and do not let this behavior weaken your rules and reputation as a leader.