I Hate It When HR Pros Think They’re Equal to Sales Pros…

Editors Note – Tim Sackett and Kris Dunn did a FOT session in Omaha yesterday at HRAMsee the preso here, session titled “How to Raise Your HR Game by Thinking Like a Money-Hungry VP of Sales“. While we’re in that train of thought, we’re rebroadcasting this joint by KD since we promised some folks in Omaha that we would – enjoy…

True Fact – Too few HR pros get the fact that when it comes down to it, the sales reps for your organization – who come in many flavors – are the backbone of any company.

This rant is brought to you by… me listening to whining from HR pros at different companies over the past
month… about salespeople . . . their compensation, their moral code, yadda, yadda, yadda…

Let’s face it – Sales Pros are the ones who bring home the bacon, so everyone else can fry it up in the pan.  They’re the hunters, you’re the farmer.  They start from a scoreboard that says “0” every month, while we’re still trying to figure out what a scoreboard looks like for most positions in the organization.

You’re an administrator, they book revenue.  Get it yet?

Meanwhile, the smart money ponders the mystic skill of the sales pro, like this clip from Ben Stein at the New York Times:

“Sales — when done right — is more than a job. It is an art. It is a high-wire act. It is, as Arthur Miller immortally said, being out there “on a smile and a shoe shine.” It is learning the product you are selling, learning it so well that you can describe it while doing a pirouette of smiles for the customer and talking about the latest football scores. It is knowing human nature so well that you can align the attributes of your product or service cleanly with the needs and wants of your customers.

At its best, selling is taking a doubt and turning it, jujitsu style, into a powerful push. Selling is making the customer feel better about spending money — or investing it — than he would have felt by keeping his wallet zipped.

I have special memories of people who have sold brilliantly.

In 1976, when I moved to Los Angeles, I desperately wanted a Mercedes 450 SLC, a car that was — even in used form — far more than I deserved or could afford at my entry-level, highly tenuous work as a scriptwriter. My salesman at Mercedes-Benz of Beverly Hills, Larry Anish, listened to my objections and simply asked, “Don’t you believe in your own future?” Of course, I bought the car.”

Here’s the reason for my rant: Many HR pros I know wonder a little bit about the motivation of sales professionals in their organization.  “Their only motivation is money” is a common refrain, spoken like the person has an open canker sore on their mouth and they may have touched it inadvertently or put the pen of said sales pro in their mouth…

If you’ve ever felt that way about the sales pros in your organization, repeat after me:  You need them to want to make hundreds of thousands of dollars.  You want them to be that good.  You have no right as an HR Pro to feel poorly about your compensation compared to a high end sales pro.  If you were wired to do that job, you’d be there. You’re not there.  That’s not you.

Guess what?  The market pays for those who drag the carcass home to the tribe.

Now, the next refrain from the “we’re all created equal” HR crowd is that sales can sometimes act unethically to close the deal.  Without question, we need our sales pros to be ethical.  But don’t EVER (EVER!) think the art of sales described by Stein above is unethical.  You’ve got the customer at the decision point.  You appeal to emotion, to comfort, to get the sale done.

You call it manipulation.  I call it the art of sales – dealing with objections.

Remember, like Nicholson in “A Few Good Men” – you want them on that wall.  You need them on that wall…

So, stop whining and start treating them (the good ones who can close) like the rockstars they are.

FOT Background Check

Kris Dunn
 Kris Dunn is Chief Human Resources Officer at Kinetix and a blogger at The HR Capitalist and the Founder and Executive Editor of Fistful of Talent. That makes him a career VP of HR, a blogger, a dad and a hoops junkie, the order of which changes based on his mood. Tweet him @kris_dunn. Oh, and in case you hadn't heard the good word, he's also jumped into the RPO game as part owner of a rising shop out of ATL, Kinetix. Not your mama's recruiting process outsourcing, that's for sure... check 'em out.


  1. Aaron says:

    Great post Kris. I would say this is why top talent ALWAYS makes more than their counterparts in the same industry. You can make sales money in many roles…but you have to get out from behind the desk and in the end its all sales.

  2. HR Pro for a sales org says:

    May I print this and post it on my office door? Except I’d love to change HR Pros to ‘everyone BUT sales and HR’. It would be great if there was a special tribe of support staff that understood sales people.
    ~ HR Pro for a sales org

  3. Tim Sackett says:

    KD –
    If I had to start a HR University from scratch – having a sales internship would be a must for graduation! Having worked sales for years – then moving into HR – I’ve seen it in every company I’ve worked with.
    Unfortunately, I don’t see HR Pros getting better with this realization – if anything – they are trying to hide behind professional development in attempts to set themselves up as lawyers, CPA’s, etc. To even more emphasize their value over their “less” professional Sales Pros. How many times have you heard “you don’t even need an education to get into sales!” Yeah, you know, you might be right – but you have to Produce! (unlike most HR Pros…)

  4. Sean Conrad says:

    I help train and support sales people.
    One thing to keep in mind… nobody else takes an instant 50% slash in their salary when the economy takes a turn like it did last year except the sales people. Nobody else gets told EVERY quarter “Great Job on hitting X! Your new goal is X=5!” And if they don’t hit the new goals they make less money.
    Great closers deserve those rewards, but always remember that the $$$ rewards come with the downsides I mentioned above.

  5. Barry Thomason says:

    As a career sales guy of course I love your post KD. Here are a couple of other things to keep in mind about salespeople. One, while most top performers have mastered the “art” they also provide a heavy dose of service to their prospects. They help prospects through the buying process so now as customers they are able to meet their objectives vis `a vis their purchase. Two, money is importnat but most top sales pros are driven by more than just money. Some love beating the competition, others are motivated by seeing their customers succeed and by being recognized by those customers as contributors to that success. Money is just a way of keeping score – much like it is with professional athletes.

  6. Jan Watson says:

    Right on, Barry. I’m a career sales gal and the comment about an HR sales internship is essential. A good sales person has intangible characteristics that can’t be captured on a resume or during a 20-min. interview. Thinking styles, learning indexes, energy levels, assertiveness are among the few elements that distinguish the top sales performers from the bottom.
    There are high risks and high benefits with a sales position; if everybody was good at it, everybody would be a salesperson.

  7. Rockstars? No, they are not rockstars. Sales people may be more important than an simple accountant or clerk, but they are not the most important employees in a company.
    In the end, the quality of your products and services attracts and keeps customers. As a customer, what i expect from a company is to give me what i’m looking for and this should be their first priority, not money. You know why? Because they will probably have my money the first time, but this will not happen a second time if they don’t deliver what the sales person promised.
    Finally, this phrase surprises me: “The market pays for those who drag the carcass home to the tribe.” I thought we evolved since we left the caves and moved to houses, build highways, internet, etc.

  8. Bill Roman says:

    If sales pros are the only ones that matter then why not just get rid of every other position in an organization except for the sales pros?
    The simple truth of the matter is that every pro in the organization has an important role in the success of that organization. Sales pros might be the ones that go out to find new customers and convince them to buy the product (or service) their company makes but without the manufacturing pros they wouldn’t have anything to sell. Without the supply chain pros and operations pros the manufacturing pros couldn’t make the product. Without HR pros there wouldn’t be anyone to find and hire the right talent for the organization. Without Accounting pros the bills wouldn’t get paid, etc.
    How about instead of every department acting like they’re the only ones that matter and everyone else is just there to serve their needs each pro takes the time to realize that without the other professionals doing their job there wouldn’t be a company to work for in the first place. Nobody is an island and nobody’s job is more important than everyone else. Drop the silos and work together as a team to make the company successful, then everyone can get paid.

  9. Kris, I think you and several responders offering comments here are hanging around the wrong kind of HR pros. Time to blog about the ones who get it and stop giving the whiners ink.
    In my first promotion at J&J to head up HR for a small diagnostic division [at the ripe old age of 25], I simply walked into the VP and told him I wanted to spend 1 week in the field shadowing his best sales rep…and another week shadowing his worst…on my own time…before my first day of work.
    I can’t overstate how critical [and correct] your thesis about the importance of sales is nor can I overstate how wrong it is to rant about HR whiners when there are so many positive stories worth noting.
    You can do better than slam idiots in HR who don’t value their colleagues- ignore them. Unless of course you want to continue the half empty theme with Marketing folks who book next year’s sales this year, CFO’s backdating options, etc. etc. Every function has its warriors and its functionaries.
    Oh, and what I learned during those two weeks changed the way we hired, trained and measured sales professionals and sales leaders- eventually to more profit for the company… better bonuses for everybody in the division…HR included.

  10. Kris–Generally speaking, people in sales have the POTENTIAL to make a higher income than other people within an organization for one very good reason. Many times people who work in sales are paid on a salary/commission or strictly commission structure. What this translates to is that someone working in sales has chosen to base his/her income on work performance and accept the risks and responsibilities that go along with the job. Why would someone whine about a salesperson’s income if they’re good at the job? Let’s face it, most companies do not set up salary structures for sales people in a way that will exceed the value of the sales they bring in as business.

  11. Anton says:

    EVERY for-profit business starts with a good salesperson. End of EVERY failed for-profit business starts with neglect of the customer’s need. Line HR is always an administrator.

  12. Laura Mc says:

    Businesses are rightly concerned with the bottom line. How do you affect the bottom line? Sales people can answer that quickly. It takes much longer for most HR people to answer it. My advice to my HR colleagues is: Learn how to answer it quickly and accurately. Model your behavior on that of a sales person. Remember who your clients are. Service them. Meet their needs. Allow them to do their job. You are a support position. Embrace it and thank goodness for it.

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