The sales role in every organization is the one that has the clearest accountability. You generate revenue, you keep your job, you generate a lot of revenue, you give yourself a raise. The setup of the sales function actually makes both the company and the sales person value their time (which is great). There is always some thought given to “taking sales people out of the field” for anything that isn’t revenue generating. Time is the most precious resource all of us have, yet unfortunately we only apply this to the sales function. As a former salaried employee at several different large companies, I spent endless hours in useless meetings and even more wasted hours being a slave to my email inbox, while the sales team was left alone to do their job because their time was valued appropriately.

So we value sales people’s time, therefore we leave them out of a lot of decisions/projects that have a direct impact on them and more importantly where they have a UNIQUE perspective. Nowhere is this more evident than in web-to-print projects (customer facing, self-service online access for your customers). My first question when entering into any stage of a web-to-print project is; where is sales?

When sales teams are completely absent, I know exactly where this project is heading; no matter how good the technology, no matter how smart the team, no matter how much time and effort they have put into the project, it will fail. Sales is your voice to the customer. Web-to-print is your new online front door to the customer. When you leave sales out of the project, you set yourself up for failure. Your sales team has to believe in the new front door, know how it works, be able to demonstrate it, and most importantly uncover the challenges it solves and then sell the solutions. They have a HUGE role in the success of your overall web-to-print project. If they see web-to-print as a threat, you’re in real trouble because web-to-print is a phenomenal scaling tool for your sales team. It is a powerful way to extend their reach deep into existing customers and to win new ones. Seeing web-to-print technology as a threat means they don’t get it and you will fail until they do.

There are other reasons companies leave sale resources out of projects. Most organizations are afraid to tell sales anything, because they fear anything mentioned while sales resources are present will be sold to their next prospect. Basically, you don’t trust sales to sell only what you can currently deliver so you keep a lot of things from them. Sales can be opinionated and strong willed, so involving them in a project can disrupt the calm committee, group think, herd mentality. So you justify leaving sales out by saying, “we did customer research, we asked the customer directly so we have the voice of the customer represented in the project already.” The problem with that justification is that surveys don’t work, as Seth Godin puts it way more elegantly that I could “You Can’t Ask Customers What They Want”.

You should be more interested in the challenges customers are having, not the solutions you are proposing. Surveys almost always ask about solutions. FALL IN LOVE WITH THE PROBLEM For example, do you need multi-level approvals (this is a solution), instead of a sales person sitting with a customer while they tell them a story about this jerk in the Pacific Northwest who is constantly overspending on marketing materials and destroying their branding in the process. That is a challenge, that is what you want to know about, that is what good sales people do, they LISTEN for customer challenges. Sales needs to be in the room for web-to-print projects otherwise you’ll invest a lot time and money on solutions that aren’t relevant to your customer’s challenges!

How about if all stop thinking, talking, and organizing our web-to-print projects around solutions (aka features) and start organizing them around customer challenges? What customer challenges are you solving for? This will drag you and your team out of the feature weeds and force you to justify your efforts in alignment with the only stakeholder that matters – your customer.