What's Your Number?

Revenue accountability can be a double-edged sword

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More people I meet now have a number. No, not the number they had in the '90s when they thought they were going to get rich working at a place with free lattes and on-site pet-grooming services. (That was a "walk-away" number and usually totaled around $7 million, though most people I know would be out the door today for an order of magnitude less and a $20 Starbucks card.)

No, the number I am talking about is the one people see when they look in the mirror, a number burning so hot in their minds that they can see it through their skulls. That number is the portion of revenue they are responsible for at their companies.

Salespeople have always lived with these numbers. They call them goals, quotas, forecasts, whatever. The good ones are blase about the weighty burdens that come with having such numbers. But those who have struggled have been broken by these obligations. One salesman I know crumbled when his territory collapsed. Ironically, he wound up doing numbers as an Elvis impersonator in San Francisco's East Bay. Really.

Something has changed, however, and now everybody seems to have a number--or, at least, a piece of one. That includes workers outside of sales or marketing. Think engineering, support, legal and even R&D. Many executives simply believe that everyone should carry some level of responsibility for sales.

Consider CompuCom CEO Jim Dixon. Before he rejoined his former employer this past fall, he spent time helping smaller solution providers overhaul their companies. In addition to persuading business owners to crank up their services businesses, Dixon pushed executives to try to convince their engineers that they, too, had some level of responsibility when it came to sales. Those who got his message usually saw their companies' sales climb afterward. Today, many have bonuses attached to their salaries that pay them extra for helping to turn new business. So like everyone else, they now have a number.

There are many positive benefits likely to flow from the trend of putting more numbers on more people in our industry. For starters, people are likely to dress better, which is a good thing in the post-casual Friday era. That's because it is a proven fact that people sell more when they are dressed better. Just ask the guy who sells me my clothes. He dresses very sharp and always hits his number. Hmmm.

Anyway, there's another benefit from having more people with numbers. If and when revenues at solution-provider companies climb--which they inevitably will as soon as everyone starts dressing better--then more employers are bound to start paying their people more. That could lead to an increase in the purchase of larger automobiles, prompting companies to increase the size of their parking spaces, and hopefully at the companies that I visit. If that leads Cisco to restripe its parking lots, I win.

Now the downsides. If and when everybody in this business lives by a number, that will inevitably lead to one thing: everyone selling everything to everybody, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Why is that so bad? Well, for starters, sometimes you just need a break from a pitch. Trust me--I live in Utah, home to the country's highest per-capita participation in multilevel marketing schemes. Out here, more people are selling one another toothpaste, lotion and fruit juice than in any other place in the U.S.A. It's the reason why we have five national parks. (Sometimes, you just have to get away from a pitch, even if it's to a cliff several thousand feet above a stream that ran dry about the time dinosaurs began noticing temperatures starting to drop.)

The real impact on total sales-oriented companies is that they start doing things that benefit the majority of employees with numbers tattooed on their foreheads instead of doing things that attract faithful, happy customers. Ironically, that can lead to a sales slowdown. Think I'm kidding? Just ask any person if they ever returned to a salon for a haircut where "products" were foisted upon them. No matter the quality of the cut, they never go back.

There's another reason why the number phenomenon may run its course, and it's not that some people just hate math: Not everyone is motivated by money. Some people like to wear clothes they can buy in stores that stay open until 10 p.m. and boast big parking lots with very big parking spaces already. Rather than sticking a number on their foreheads, try understanding what makes them show up every day on time.

Have a number on you? Let me know: tcdoyle@cmp.com.

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