Understanding Sales and its many misconceptions

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What companies should care about from an early stage of its making

Sales — a word often misunderstood and underrated by most. And when it comes to nerds, they often have no respect for anything and anyone related to sales! It is so underrated at times, that companies be it small or large simply fail, as they miss out on the scale the term ‘sales’ can be measured.

This piece is inspired by the book Zero to One by Peter Thiel. And while reading the chapter ‘if you build it, will they come?’ from his book, I couldn’t think but to share some of my personal experiences and thoughts on this.

I’ve had quite a diverse professional career so far. From the leading Bengali newspaper to an NGO that teaches leadership, to a WiMAX multinational to a local Ad Tech startup, and now at the largest telecom company in the country, I had the privilege to experience a variety of roles and learn to understand and appreciate the differences. It also taught me from inside the organizations and meeting the stakeholders on the outside, that people tend to put almost everything into a perspective instead of going deeper into what things really are.

The annual advertising spends in Bangladesh is around USD 320 million. And there’s no data in my short research on how many people are directly and indirectly involved in selling this USD 320 million worth of ads. However, from my little experience of the advertising industry, even if I make a random, overestimated guess of 15,000 people in advertising sales, then each person will be selling on average USD 21,000 a year, or BDT 1,680,000 annually. So, given that the average per capita income (nominal) in Bangladesh is around USD 1,100, this makes every person in advertising sales almost 16 times more than their worth. This is quite a good number from a business perspective considering the majority of these sales are manual and direct sales.

Now the problem is not in these numbers, it’s in the perception of the people who are not in sales, or in most cases are the nerds! Nerds are skeptical of advertising, marketing, and sales as these seem superficial and irrational to them.

As Peter Thiel wrote, “nerds are used to transparency. They add value by becoming an expert at a technical skill like computer programming. For example, in engineering disciplines, a solution either works or it fails. You can evaluate someone else’s work with relative ease, as surface appearances don’t matter much. Sales are opposite; an orchestrated campaign to change surface appearances without changing the underlying reality.”

Nerds think their own work is hard, while they see salespeople are always out for meetings, they hear them talking on the phone and laughing with the client, or going to two-hour-long lunch meetings, which they suspect as no work being done.

While most people in sales will agree with me and most nerds will find it difficult to accept, but my point here is not to make anyone feel little, but to raise awareness of the core function of any for profit, or even non-profit organization. If you cannot sell what you have created or have as a service to offer, your business will die.

While working closely with different cross-functional departments in various industries over the last decade, I have seen a common gap among people at understanding distribution. Whether you’re selling vegetables at the grocery market, or soft drinks at the remotest districts, or you have academic research that may have a medical breakthrough or tech product for the consumers online, the fundamental mistake is to think that just because you have to build a product, a service or even a company for that matter people will come and buy from you.

Sales are so important for any consumer product or service company, that it literally validates the need of the item made and whether at all it will have a business case to sustain.

Recently, among the young startup entrepreneurs, one thing I have noticed is the lack of experience in the real world workplace. They are mostly fresh out of university or still studying, and they think they can build a cool product that will just sell automatically. They spend days and months building a website, making social media pages and presentations, with no focus or idea if their product will at all sell. What they don’t realize is that if you cannot sell an egg, you can’t sell a hundred eggs whether through Facebook, an eCommerce site or going door to door. So, as a result, their dreams get shattered, and their company never sees the light of the world.

Salespeople are like artists. They are not only good at convincing people to believe in their product, but they are also equally good at understanding it from the perspective of the engineers, programmers, scientists, manufacturers, designers you name it.

It’s a job where it requires you to wear a blazer even when it’s the hot summer, and stay stuck on the road for messed up traffic for hours while commuting between meetings, and always keeping a composed self regardless of a poor meeting that you just finished, or the sudden rain on the road that got you drenched, or the painful waiting for hours for the client to show up at the meeting room, even though you reached on time. Even worse, you can get a request for a meeting from the other end of the city, traveling more than an hour only to find out that the content of the meeting was only 5 mins long.

Sales are at the heart of anything an organization does. Sales revenue is the reason a company can reinvest, recruit, give out dividends to the stakeholders. It’s the nucleus of an organization for its survival and everyone should pay sincere attention to it. Not only do sales bring money into the company, but it also brings market insight and valuable customer feedback that is critical to pivoting a business process and innovating on the future iteration.

As Peter Thiel puts it,

“if anything, people overestimate the relative difficulty of science and engineering, because the challenges of those fields are obvious. What nerds miss is that it takes hard work to make sales look easy”

So it all comes down to changing our perspectives. We can all be more interested in the flashy stuff and the things that are more popular among the world of jargon for our persuasion, but it comes down to the golden question, ‘if you build something, will it sell??’

The opinions shared in this article are absolutely my own and has nothing to do with where I work or the places where I influence in my daily life.

This article was originally published on Medium.com

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