Posted by Dave Kurlan
The classic, "build it and he will come" from the movie Field of Dreams, applies to business too. Every day, companies invest so much of their funding into making their products better under the belief that if their product is the best, people will come.
While that approach has worked with iPhones and iPads, you'll be hard pressed to find another product that people literally line up to buy.
I see technology companies especially making this mistake; where they achieve very good growth for the first several years until they hit the wall. Then they raise money, invest it in bettering their product, market to show how much better their product is compared to their competition, and then don't understand why the growth doesn't start up again.
Early on, their salespeople succeeded at selling to the low hanging fruit - the people that raised their hands because they needed or wanted the product. When the salespeople run out of low hanging fruit, sales stall as they struggle to convert prospects who see the product as nice to have, but not must have. That's when most companies change gears and begin to innovate and invest in their product when in fact, they really need to innovate and invest in their sales force.
I can speak from experience. At Objective Management Group (OMG), we work on improving our own product every single day in order to maintain our huge advantage over every other assessment that could be utilized for assessing salespeople. Our assessment is cutting edge, worlds beyond what any other assessment company can provide, and literally the most accurate and predictive sales assessment in the world.
Unfortunately, we are well aware of the fact that our new features and enhancements won't sell a single additional sales force evaluation or candidate assessment. There is a benefit to continued innovation and development. It makes our partners feel more confident about what they provide to their clients and it makes us proud, but we know that those enhancements won't be the reason for a single additional client to use it.
Why? If they really have a problem that only we can solve they would have bought the product we had 35 versions ago. And if for them, it's only nice to have, our version 2 years from now won't be any more desirable than today's version.
So why don't companies get this?
In my opinion, it is because they can have a sense of control when they invest in their product. In other words, they know that if they invest x amount of time, y amount of money, z amount of research, and n amount of testing, their next product iteration will be exponentially better than the current version and that will attract additional investor money, make it easier to recruit, and get better product reviews in the trade publications and blogs.
On the other hand, investing in the sales force is either a complete unknown to them, or if they had a bad previous experience, a potential waste of time and money.
Of course they can do both but companies tend to focus on one significant initiative at a time. Consider the fact that most tech company founders and CEO's are technical themselves and you can easily understand why they usually choose to put their resources into product development. That's why their choice of Sales Leader is so crucial. Tech companies need sales leaders who will fight for resources, fight for the best training, fight for the best coaching, fight for the best tools, fight to hire the best salespeople, fight for more money, and fight for time. Nice sales leaders are nice to have but demanding sales leaders are essential.