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Most companies have an uneasy relationship between their sales effort and the rest of the company. It’s a long-running tension that pervades the entire operation. People make jokes about it, but the underlying tone isn’t helpful.

A simple corporate structure

Years ago, when I was a much younger consultant, I was asked to do an opportunity audit of a mid-size company — to see whether there might be undiscovered opportunities to be exploited without fundamentally changing the company.

It turned out that there were lots of opportunities, but there was a major issue standing in the way. I needed to get the CEO’s attention, so I decided to be colorful in expressing the difficulty. My report began:

“XYZ is an admirable company — facing a wide range of opportunities that are well within its grasp.

“The company has a very simple organizational structure. It has a Sales Department, and the entire remainder of the company seems to be organized as a Sales Prevention Department.

“Unless XYZ eliminates its Sales Prevention Department, all its opportunities will be for naught…”

Do you have a sales prevention department?

It’s easy to find a mission for your sales department: “Go out and find the kinds of customers we’re looking for.”

Some companies do a better job of this than others. They start by defining what kinds of customers they’re looking for, and set clear objectives for their salesforces to pursue.

But few companies do a good job of helping the rest of the company understand their connection to sales — that the entire company exists to meet customer needs profitably, which means that the entire company has to be organized to deliver exactly what customers need, in a manner that makes them feel good to be doing business with you.

That’s quite a mouthful.

So why is there a sales prevention department?

In many cases, the sales prevention department arises out of misplaced resentment. Salespeople are thought of as an unaccountable band of buccaneers. “What do they do all day? And why don’t they have a regular job like us?”

It’s true that most sales departments don’t help the situation. They seem to revel in the differences between them and other employees.

Usually, sales prevention departments emerge because they’re inward-looking:

“Don’t the salespeople understand how difficult our job is?”

“Why can’t customers understand the problems they create for us?”

“Don’t they know that we have other things to do? 

Finding your sales prevention department

How do we make it difficult for us to sell the things we want to sell?

How do we make it difficult for customers to do business with us? 

Time for a change

Whatever the causes, you’ll benefit from asking yourself:

“Is there anything we’re doing that makes it difficult for customers to do business with us, or makes it difficult for our sales force to sell the things we want to sell, to the customers we want to sell to?”

If you really search for answers, you’ll be surprised to find just how much of your company is organized as a sales prevention department. Of course, it’s not on purpose, but it might as well be.

You need to have your entire company support your sales effort, just as your sales effort has to support your broader company goals.

It’s time to get your company aligned — focusing everyone’s efforts on helping you to sell what you want to sell and selling to customers you want to sell to; giving those customers exactly what they want — while doing it all profitably.


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