Opinions play an all-important role in our personal and professional lives. When you think about it, we rarely make a significant move without soliciting other people’s opinions. At the same time, when we want help in making important decisions, most of us are pretty selective about the people we’re going to listen to.
When organizations need to make important decisions, most hire experts to become familiar with their situation and make recommendations. A case can be made that CEOs receive huge compensation packages because of their ability to evaluate situations and formulate opinions—informed guesses that ultimately shape the strategic direction of their company.
Not everyone’s opinion is valued equally, of course. As we proceed down an organization chart, the power of individual opinions to shape company policy decisions drops off sharply. In fact, most organizations have structures in place to ensure that decisions will be made based only on opinions that have been arrived at (or least blessed) by higher-level people. In a manufacturing company, for example, employees on the shop floor execute procedures—act on opinions—that have been developed by others. Few, if any, policy decisions are made on the shop floor.
But there is a major exception to this rule: the sales function. Yes, in most cases a business plan is finalized, and specific marketing plans are put into place to execute it. And yes, for most companies with a sales organization, the revenue plan is broken down into revenue objectives (quotas) for each territory. And yet, while salespeople may be given very specific targets to achieve, they are also given enormous latitude in arriving at opinions, and making decisions, that not only affect the organization’s performance, but also ultimately shape the customer’s experience. In how many organizations are salespeople given the latitude to decide
How to position their offerings to buyers?
Which accounts and titles to call on?
Which accounts to include in their pipelines?
Which accounts to close and when?
How to interpret lost opportunities?
Which changes in offerings are needed to improve competitive positioning?
Without necessarily understanding that they’re doing so, companies rely on the opinions of traditional salespeople to build a pipeline, create a forecast, and deliver top-line revenue. Depending on the specific circumstances, this may be exactly the right thing to do—or it may be an out-and-out disaster. The most common reason that new companies fail is that Sales does not deliver according to plan (although, of course, the reasons for that failure to deliver may be complex). So let’s peel the onion and take a closer look at how salespeople form opinions, and how those opinions come to bear on their company’s success or failure.