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Sales Driven Organizations

Postby skyarrow » January 11th, 2016, 11:20 am

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Pretty much every place I've ever worked has been a self-described "sales-driven" organization. For the longest time I thought that term was nothing more than a buzz phrase to explain that we as a company rely on gaining sales in order to survive and thrive. My reaction was always "Yeah no kidding, EVERY company is a sales-driven company! Thats what business IS!"

Now at my older and (arguably wiser) age, I understand that "sales-driven" is very much a distinct philosophy and corporate/cultural mindset. Some variations of how its defined depend on which Google search result you click on, but for the most part all the same basic idea of what it means.

My question for you all is for those of you who work or have worked at such a company, what do you see as the pros and cons of the "sales-driven" culture, both generally and also how it relates to designers.
"See, how it works is, the train leaves and not the station"

Re: Sales Driven Organizations

Postby yo » January 11th, 2016, 12:58 pm

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My interpretation is Sales Driven + Reactionary with no real roadmap or brand positioning

It is very difficult to break a company of this, but many companies are not sales driven.

One thing is if you look at the companies that most aspire to be, they tend not to be sales driven.

Nike is an obvious example of a brand driven company
Apple is an example of of an design/engineering driven company
Sonos is a technology driven company

Re: Sales Driven Organizations

Postby skyarrow » January 11th, 2016, 2:01 pm

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Sales Driven + Reactionary with no real roadmap or brand positioning


Well put Yo = that is definitely one of the Cons for me (and I think for designers in general). I love to hear about life inside companies that are not just reactionary to whatever their salespeople think the client wants.

I happen to work in an industry that is populated exclusively by companies that operate as sales-driven organizations, but I don't know that it HAS to be that way. A different model would be tough to implement, but if it could be done I think it would really shake things up in an otherwise stagnant industry.
"See, how it works is, the train leaves and not the station"

Re: Sales Driven Organizations

Postby engio » January 11th, 2016, 2:07 pm


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One of our sales guys told me over lunch that he didn't understand what the hell our department - R&D - were doing. We didn't NEED to do product development. All we needed to do was to do the same things our competitors did, only cheaper. I take it he wasn't happy at work, he moved on. I hope he landed in a sales driven company. I'm glad I didn't.

edit: some time ago there was a great article linked here detailing the Adidas/Puma history. Dig into that for examples of what Design driven VS Sales driven entails.

Re: Sales Driven Organizations

Postby skyarrow » January 11th, 2016, 2:17 pm

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engio -

I'll piggyback off of your post by saying that the sales guy you had that lunch with is a pretty classic example of what is found in my industry. Pretty much every company I've ever worked at or come into contact with in the POP Display business considers its salespeople to be the actual "talent". All other creative professionals in the organization merely serve as support for that "talent".

And yes I intentionally put the word "talent" in quotes when its in reference to salespeople - rarely are they the people that should be leading the charge, yet they usually are.
"See, how it works is, the train leaves and not the station"

Re: Sales Driven Organizations

Postby yo » January 11th, 2016, 6:29 pm

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engio wrote:All we needed to do was to do the same things our competitors did, only cheaper.


That strategy = going out of business. If each competitor does that, the price goes to zero.

Look at Starbucks. They took a $.50 beverage most Americans got at a gas station nd made it $4.50. They didn't do that with sales, they did that with design (say what you want about their burnt coffee)

Usually when a sales guy says something like that to me my response is "great idea, I came up with an awesome way to reduce our price and costs, fire the entire sales department. Turns out you can place orders on our website." Usually ends the conversation.

Most companies only see spikes in sales around product launches. So suggesting cutting product development in most cases should be akin to a fireable offense from the point of view of an investor.

Re: Sales Driven Organizations

Postby KenoLeon » January 11th, 2016, 8:00 pm

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As an economist/designer I've thought about this a lot, why not go full R&D,full Sales etc ?

As a company I think you want and are obligated to maximize profits for your shareholders with what you have under the current market conditions, the risk is that some short term maximizers are long term loosing strategies, because of course the environment will change.

A corporate debt refinancing will generate more revenue than a new product line under a certain economic climate, a new product might give you an edge, but at a cost in marketing or R&D, so you better have cash reserves, and if there's no demand well you painted yourself into a corner. I think designers can more easily understand that you can design your business strategy since they are usually in contact with everyone and know how to come up with novel ideas, the thing is that to this day very few want to assume this job.

I still think the company as a Team, a competitive one is the best long term strategy, marketing,sales,r&d should work under the common goal of maximizing present and future profits, so having the best sales department or R&D or whatever even if you are not using it right this moment makes sense, it makes you resilient.

As for examples,not design but very similar, I used to work for the biggest bank in the world at the time, just after they bought the second oldest one, Sales & Trading shared the same physical space and importance,Corporate Finance ( another type of Sales but with bigger commissions) amounted to roughly the same combined weight, Research (Corporate & Economic) was a commodity at the time, but still employed the best and was given an equal stake at the corporate table,each one fought tooth and nail to outperform the other one, but were also interconnected as to make cooperation not only possible but higher in priority, the director saw to that. Other departments like IT,Operations,Legal,Accounting etc, were lower on the ranks, but still top in the industry, it was all very horizontal and a lowly secretary could suggest changes to the director and rise in the ranks in a matter of months. Within this micro organization there was yet a bigger hierarchy that responded to local market variations and global trends, the logic being that the local director was too close to the problems,lacked global insights. So in more than one occasion they would let go or drastically change whole departments overnight, and just leave a skeleton crew to later make rebuilding it easier, it was a soulless thing which I hated, but it worked, is working perfectly.

The design & software companies ( 10-50 people ) I've encountered in comparison tend to rely ( and give importance to) sales because that's the perceived fastest route to growth, but most are not in business anymore...

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Re: Sales Driven Organizations

Postby Mr-914 » January 12th, 2016, 8:22 am

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Interesting thread.

I would say that I've worked in 3 different organizations: design as art, inertial and sales-driven. Here are my definitions:

design as art: the company has a small commodity market cornered which financed the owner to do some designs regardless of sales and profitability.

Inertial: the company is the biggest in their very small industry. Shear inertia mantains sales as no one in the industry is coming out with new product, nor flooding the market with sales people or ads. It helps that this industry is sheltered from international competition (by its small size and geographically compact area) and it would be destroyed within months if it were exposed.

Sales driven: Sell whatever you got. The sale part is so important that I joke that it is speed to PO instead of speed to market.

The thing I like most about the sales driven organization is that you get a lot of different designs into the market and you get a lot of sales data back about what works and what doesn't. The difficult part is that no one is researching or looking far ahead. NPD decisions come down to personal preference and seem random. Brand building and quality take a back seat. Ironically, some products that would likely succeed at a higher price point (because they have an enormous value, but a small potential market) fail because they are sold at a lower price.

As for changing these organizations...I don't think it's possible. Some of them are resilient. They will face a limit to growth, but if they are privately held, that may not be a problem.
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Re: Sales Driven Organizations

Postby iab » January 12th, 2016, 9:21 am


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I think it the definition will depend on the type of sales too.

Sure, anyone can argue that Apple is a innovation-driven company, but I can make a case that it is sales-driven. I'll use my current location as an example.

There is no doubt that we are a sales-driven company. It is said by the board, CEO and all management. The VP of NPD makes no bones about it. And the salesforce is well compensated. We differ from Apple in that sense as our salesforce does direct sales whereas Apple is going through the distribution chain.

So back to us. We are focused on organic growth. While we will milk the cash cow, that is no way to create growth in a mature market. I'd say most companies in a mature market will get 2-3% growth being focused purely on sales. But where we differ is the sales generated by NPD. That is where we are able to maintain double-digit growth for over a decade (probably jinxed 2016 with that comment). We are committed to innovation (new and has impact, blue water, whatever you want to call it). We are a sales-driven company driven by innovation.

Sure, you can argue that is possibly the tail wagging the dog, but our culture is still sales. As a matter of fact, the VP of NPD came from sales. And it shows why I don't think I'd ever be a great VP or CEO, I don't have that natural sales ability to build the necessary relationships to sell innovation to those who don't think it "matters". Selling innovation to the company is sales. Jobs had the ability to sell innovation to the company, making Apple a sales driven company. If he didn't have that sales-ability, Apple would be a small niche player and not the juggernaut it is.

Re: Sales Driven Organizations

Postby Mr-914 » January 12th, 2016, 10:13 am

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iab: I think the difference for me is that a sales driven organization will never put anything ahead of sales. It sounds like your company might be that way with the cash cows, but the NPD is focused on longer term bets. Sales driven companies will prioritize their projects based on speed to revenue versus other goals like long term growth, building proprietary technology or the brand.
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Re: Sales Driven Organizations

Postby Mr-914 » January 12th, 2016, 10:18 am

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iab: as for being a great manager, I think any personality can become one. I don't think Jony Ive is a great sales person. He comes across as an introverted geek who is detail oriented. That made him a great design director because he was actually focused on product. Many sales people make horrible directors because they want to spend 90% of the day chasing leads and selling. They don't focus on research, communicating that research to the dev. team, ensuring that the design work is at a high level.

Mind you, I'm talking in generalities. I think everyone has the capacity to adapt. However, that requires time which managers don't often have.
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Re: Sales Driven Organizations

Postby iab » January 12th, 2016, 10:20 am


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Back to what I was saying, it depends on the type of sales. Our NPD group also works on quick-hits, but long-term growth are still sales. So you can be a sales-driven org on the short-term and you can be a sales-driven org on the long-term too.

I would agree that most companies focus on the short, we happen to be a sales-driven org with a focus on the long game.

Re: Sales Driven Organizations

Postby iab » January 12th, 2016, 10:31 am


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Mr-914 wrote: I don't think Jony Ive is a great sales person. He comes across as an introverted geek who is detail oriented. That made him a great design director because he was actually focused on product.


I'd agree.

But he'd make a bad CEO. I also think if he were in a culture outside of Apple, he'd be a bad VP. He does not need to get buy in from sales, marketing, RA/QA, accounting, customer service, manufacturing and any other group to what he is selling at Apple. Apples culture has that built in. That is not the case in 99% of the other organizations out there.

So yes, I think my ability to direct NPD within the group is fine. The ability to do the same outside of NPD requires a different skill set. That is where I know I am lacking.

I'm a manager who believes to lift a person's strengths and avoid their weaknesses.

Re: Sales Driven Organizations

Postby Mr-914 » January 12th, 2016, 12:07 pm

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iab wrote:So yes, I think my ability to direct NPD within the group is fine. The ability to do the same outside of NPD requires a different skill set. That is where I know I am lacking.


I feel the same way!
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Re: Sales Driven Organizations

Postby yo » January 12th, 2016, 1:36 pm

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Having to do the directing outside of the group, it is a harsh transition. I have to state things in non design, non product terms. But it has been a great learning.

iab, your sales driven organization sounds very different from other sales driven organizations I've worked with/for. For example, when I transitioned from Nike to Converse. Converse was a company pulling itself out of bankruptcy when Nike bought it and a few of us came over to help with the reset. It was very much a sales driven organization out of necessity to survive. It was hard to ween off that behavior though that was whatever the retailer says goes. The retailer was coming from a sense of what worked the last 6 months and we were pushing out toward what WILL happen in the next 6 months and what cane we MAKE happen in the next 24. Very different thinking that in my experience a sales team struggles with. And I totally understand why, they are focused on selling things we have now in the warehouse. That is where they are needed. By the time they want the product NPD is developing, the window to make it on time has already passed, so we have to take calculated risks and extrapolate from the known data points.

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