Business Growth & Strategy

The REAL Death of a Salesman: Why the 20th-Century Revenue Model Is Dead

It’s 1949, and Willy Loman is ahead of his time, showing the rest of us that things are changing and we’d better take notice.

“The man who makes an appearance in the business world, the man who creates personal interest, is the man who gets ahead. Be liked and you will never want.”
— Arthur Miller,
Death of a Salesman, Act 1

Like many of us, Willy wanted to maintain that golden age of the golden-tongued salesperson who could “make an appearance,” tell a story, buy a lunch, make a promise — and sign a deal.

Too many sales and marketing people don’t want to be managed, measured, coached or taught. They know what they know and it has always worked, and if it fails now, they convince themselves that it’s the product, the boss, the times, other people, or an uneven playing field that’s at fault.

Historically, leadership was happy to believe that sales and marketing was a combination of art, the golden tongue and a robust rolodex. If they could hire the right artist, things would be great, since the product sells itself anyway.

Sometime between Willy’s day and today, it became clear to leadership that if there wasn’t enough sales growth, you could fix it with a new compensation model, a bigger marketing budget or better training. And if those didn’t work, it must be the wrong people, or the people just weren’t trying hard enough. Next, the solution was to tighten things up with software and process. A new marketing program backed up by a new CRM would make those people play golf less and sell more.

If you’re thinking it can’t be this hard to get the revenue process migrated from Willy’s world to something reflecting the sophistication of today’s business world, you would be right. The truth is that, until now, fixing the “Revenue Generation” process just wasn’t a high priority. Until the 21st Century, it was about fulfilling product demand, and if you could build more products at a reasonable price, the channel would take it, and the buyers would buy it.

The 21st century truly marks the “Death of a Salesman,” or at least the “Death of a Sales Process” — the mold of Willy Loman. No longer can sales and marketing functions be separated from the rest of the company. Shared goals, metrics, processes and execution must span the organization to compete. For every deal, there is someone in the world that can seriously compete, and with the Internet, the buyer can find everyone. The new competitors started with scarce resources and have maintained their focus on cost and go-to-market. To win, the businesses in North America who are organized to fulfill will have to learn how to reduce cost and grow revenue at the same time.

In the 21st century, the buyer is truly king! The buyer can easily use Google to almost instantly learn virtually everything about the competition, pricing, products, ethics, leadership, commitment to Green, and other experiences. To the dismay of many companies, new buyers want different experiences than the boomers did, and they vote with their money.

Today’s winners will still sell and market, but it may look like Amazon or an Apple Store or the salesperson who is an expert in applying the product to the customer’s business or personal life. In this century, what’s certain is that the “Revenue Generation” process is a company-wide go-to-market process focused on customer experience.

This new revenue process will be made up of a revenue strategy, metrics, constant feedback, go-to-market skills, transparency, and aligned execution to determine who wins. This science of “Revenue Generation” changes how companies plan and execute, just like Six Sigma and Lean changed manufacturing 30 years ago.

The discipline to execute this science requires three elements:

  1. An executable Revenue Strategy,
  2. An intentional investment in “Revenue Generation” structure, and
  3. Aligned sales and marketing execution.

As companies implement these three elements of revenue science, they will shed the “Cost of Chaos,” which releases the top line to grow effortlessly.

As the 20th century becomes a memory and the 21st century puts its brand on all of us, take these four steps:

  1. Say farewell to Willy and let him and the business model he embraced RIP.
  2. Change your focus from tactical sales and marketing to strategic “Revenue Generation” and the three elements of Revenue Science.
  3. Remove the “Cost of Chaos” and invest the (up to 20 percent) increased cash flow it gives you back in the business.
  4. Make cost management and growing profitable revenue ONE strategy — and don’t rest until you make that work.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is part of a series by Rick McPartlin exploring the challenges and realities of growing revenue and expanding sales in the new 21st-century economy. See also:

This topic and more are included in the Vistage Connect™ CEO peer advisory sessions. Learn more.

Rick McPartlin is the CEO of The Revenue Game and is a revenue generation consultant and Vistage speaker. McPartlin was a Vistage member development chair from 2002 to 2009.

Category: Business Growth & Strategy

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