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(Most) Salespeople Aren’t Stupid

When people see rampant discounting and unprofitable pricing behaviors in the field, it’s all too easy to conclude that their salespeople either don’t care or they’re just stupid. Talk to enough product managers, marketing people, and pricing practitioners, and you’ll eventually hear some common refrains:

  • “My salespeople are coin-operated. They only care about their wallets.”
  • “My salespeople are order-takers. They don’t have a clue how to actually sell.”
  • “My salespeople are not very bright. They went into sales as a last resort.”

Yeah, that’s some pretty ugly stuff.

But is it true?

In any group—not just sales—you’ll find individuals who fit these descriptions. You’ll find product managers who only care about their personal compensation and bonuses. You’ll find marketing people who don’t have a clue about real, results-oriented marketing. And, you’ll find pricing people who just couldn’t get hired doing anything else.

But beyond those individual cases, salespeople are just like everyone else. They’re human. They strive to balance their personal needs with those of the company they’re working for. And at the end of the day—just like everyone else—they want to feel like they’ve done something worthwhile and they’ve done it well.

While they may indeed be exacerbating the symptoms, salespeople are rarely the root cause. In most cases, poor discounting practices in the field are far more likely to be the result of poor systems and processes elsewhere:

  • New product development processes that yield me-too products with little or no differential value in the marketplace.
  • Marketing communications processes that fail to educate prospects about meaningful differences in compelling and credible ways.
  • Pricing systems and models that don’t reflect the structure of the marketplace and the realities of the competitive landscape.

So, while blaming salespeople for poor pricing practices might be easy, it’s a cop-out.

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