As a creator, writer, artist, or entrepreneur, that is probably the greatest struggle we face. It’s the greatest lesson I learned from focussing on pure sales for several years, it’s the greatest goal I pursued in my writing and in my work as both a business owner and an employee.
In writing, this is hard for several reasons. What moves people and how do you measure it? Can you be aware of it before placing the first word on the screen? The way we measure written value is by tracking eyeball metrics, but those can just as well be attracted to a catchy title or book cover, and not at all be affected by the writer’s content. On an individual level, it’s a great balance between this measured relevance and then the feelings of your own and perhaps a focus group of users’ perception of value. At times, I would imagine, these can be quite far apart from each other.
In sales, perception and reality are much more aligned. The bad reputation of sales based on “lying to customers to get a sale” is quite misconstrued. Lying to get a sale is not sustainable. It’s the simple difference between the effort of selling to new customers or to existing customers. A “liar” would never get a second sale and would hence have to keep finding new customers, which is very hard. An honest sales person would build up his or her reputation with existing customers and be able to come back for another sale, which is, relatively speaking, much easier. Their financial revenues will, over time, be much higher and predictable.
When looking at other business functions, we return to similar conflicts that writers have. An entrepreneur will have to do a lot of product development and business building before getting both positive feedback and sales results. He or she too will have to rely on focus groups, by which I mean lead users or experts, and on his or her own conviction, to see if their business will add value. In the end, if the business sells product, perhaps the discrepancies will dissappear. Even so, much of the effort that entrepreneurs make (9 out of 10 new businesses fail more than once~source: 2008 statistics) is often not appreciated in the sales figures.
Because of the simple broadness of scope, it’s harder to discuss every business function’s consequence on others. Generally, the more linked your work is to the goals of the business, as well as to the needs of customers, the more valuable it is. It’s hard to teach that, it’s harder to understand that. Books like Ram Charan’s “What the CEO Wants You to Know” can teach you a lot, moving across different functions and running a business of your own will teach you a lot more–neither of which is an experience many people have.
The lesson in all of this is that it pays to not just DO, but be aware of the WHY behind it, or rather the WHY for the people affected by what you do. This can be taught or be instinctive, and is hardly ever as you expect it. You can believe one thing, which can be perceived differently by your surroundings; vice versa your surroundings can need one thing, which you can’t quite make a reality. The entrepreneur’s or writer’s journey is the most telling: it takes a lot of effort to get to word 1 or product 1, effort that may never be recognised, especially if the work is out of sync with its environment. Balancing that understanding with the work is what we all should aspire to do.
if a writer sells, isn’t the feedback honest?
if a sales person helps rather than sell, isn’t there a misalignment?