How right should the customer be?

If your salespeople aren't sure who their boss is - the district manager? the regional manager? the customer? - it could be a sign that your company's sales force controls are working at cross-purposes and that your sales function is in trouble.

by Harvard Business Review

Sales force controls are the policies and practices that govern the way you train, supervise, motivate, and evaluate your sales staff. They include the types of compensation you offer your people and the criteria your sales managers use to evaluate the reps' performance.

These controls let salespeople know which trade-offs the company would prefer them to make when the inevitable conflicts arise between what they want to do (spend lots of time and money to get a sale) and what they actually can do (use limited resources and still get the sale).

When sales force controls aren't aligned - when, say, the system simultaneously encourages reps to be entrepreneurial but also to file detailed call reports and check in frequently with their bosses - individuals become discouraged and unproductive, and they eventually leave the company.

The authors' research suggests there are significant differences between the control systems of companies that encourage salespeople to put the customer first - outcome control (OC) systems - and those that encourage reps to put their managers first - behavior control (BC) systems.

In this article, they list the characteristics of OC and BC systems, describe the potential fallout from conflicts within these systems, and explain how you can tell which control system is appropriate for your firm. In most cases, the right choice will be a consistent system somewhere in the middle of the OC-BC continuum. 

How Right Should the Customer Be?
Erin Anderson, Vincent Onyemah
Harvard Business Review, July 2006

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