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SALES AND MARKETING ORGANIZATIONS AND THE WILL TO WIN

John Byrne of Fast Company wrote a provocative letter from the editor last month titled Competing to Win. This is the Fast Company issue that featured George Stalk and Hardball. John started his letter with:

Competition. In business, we live and die by it. It sharpens elbows and brightens brain cells. It brings accountability to what we do. And it can also get out of control.

I like this. It's reality. John continues:

For the longest time, conventional wisdom held that we or our companies could succeed only if others failed.

Ok, this makes me a little nervous - I smell a set-up coming. John continues:

We believed that in order to win in business, you had to outsmart and outdo your rival, to exploit his miscues and blunders, to steal market share -- to pound your competitor into the ground.

We believed???? Who exactly is we and why is it in the past tense? As if it is a relic of the past? I for one, and I would guess that some of the Fast Company readership, most of American business, and, George Stalk still believe this. Here's John setting up the punch line:

In the 1990s, some of these old assumptions about strategy and competition gave way to something kinder and gentler. Business, we came to think, wasn't like chess or poker where someone has to lose in order for you to win.

So John's punch line is that this mysterious collective of WE got together and decided that business IS NOT like a game with a winner and a loser. And instead it was possible to consider a kinder and gentler scenario where you team up with your rivals, not crush them.

Certainly, nobody will disagree with John that there may be times when you can partner with a competitor. But these partnering opportunities (that don't fall under the legal definition or perception of collusion) tend to be rare, tricky to execute, and require strict adult supervision to make sure that the players don't give away the company store.

I don't think John is advocating that businesses stop competing. But what the kinder gentler folks misunderstand is that they do not control  the transaction. Implementing their little epiphany requires the cooperation of your competition who might be hell bent on your destruction. And have no desire to partner. What do you do then? Predictably, most of the kinder gentler crowd head for the exits.

I am amused by the war of words initiated by the kinder gentler crowd. If you happen to believe in capitalism, competition and profit you immediately get tagged with words and phrases like, old school, neanderthal, knuckle-dragging, testosterone-fueled, blood-thirsty, immoral, unethical, etc. etc. etc. This from the Fast Company article on George Stalk:

"[Stalk and Lachenauer] are on a brutal, macho trip," wrote one reviewer for the Financial Times .

OK. SO WHAT IS THE POINT OF THIS RANT?

The point is that since the early 90's, the kinder gentler crowd with their glut of squishy, culturally focused initiatives, have systematically gutted many sales and marketing organizations of competitive instincts. And in doing so have completely eliminated the will to win.

Selling is a competitive endeavor that requires a will to win. Every business, every day competes. Buyers make decisions that generate winners and losers. Whether you are buying a gallon of milk or a missile defense system your transaction results in a winner and loser(s). This is an inescapable, unavoidable result of a vibrant capitalistic system.

Selling at it's core is about asking for the order. About maximizing your profit (NOT YOUR CUSTOMERS!) About pushing through a price increase. Collecting deliquent accounts. Tough negotiations. Telling the customer NO. Most of the time selling is about selling marginal products and inferior service.

Most importantly selling is about winning and losing. Many folks dislike this game. Which is why they're attempting to replace it with something THEY do like. And in doing so, are rendering their organizations completely vulnerable and totally defenseless.

One of my mentors long ago claimed those who can't sell, market.

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