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Is It Better to Beg Forgiveness or Ask Permission?

In my office, I have a framed cartoon about “sales.” It’s made up of a lot of smaller cartoons about our profession. I noticed one of them this morning and it got me thinking.

It’s a salesperson who’s got a typical attitude about new product development. He says, “If you folks in engineering could just invent something even close to what I’ve already sold to customers, we’d be in fat city.”

How many times has this happened inside an organization? Here's a typical story...

Salespeople in the field make a sale. They return to the home office, hat in hand, explaining what they sold. They beg forgiveness because it's not something that can be built, designed, or delivered.

Where's the disconnect? Unfortunately, it's probably sales management (or sales leadership). Why? Because it's up to them to hold salespeople accountable. A truly gifted salesperson has the skills to sell something that doesn't even exist (an intangible, non-demand service, for example). Naturally, there's a sales ethics component to consider, but there's also accountability.

Salespeople need to understand the consequences for such action. Unfortunately, selling something that doesn't exist will almost always end up with a disappointed customer. But it's up to sales leadership to ensure accountability for actions.

Granted, it's a cartoon (in a potentially common situation), but what steps can this guy's sales manager take to ensure compliance?