Everyone in Sales...Even Human Resources

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I have always been turned off by the concept of the "internal customer." In my business I tried to lead my people to understand and remember daily that we all have one, and only one, common customer—the one who writes the checks to pay for our services. Each of our efforts must be collectively focused on putting all the little pieces together, from each department, every day, to make customers have a "knock their socks off" experience.

But, my ideal world is not reality. There are internal relationships that must be treated at some level as customer relationships. In order to serve the customer, we must work together, support each other, help each other solve problems and collaborate based on our collective experience and training. We must bring value to each other, which in turn results in enhanced value for the true end user—the "real" customer—and raises our future value as a member of the team.

In essence, the section above describes what successful sales people know and do.

Unfortunately, in my experiences with the organizations I have been affiliated with, it is rare for human resources to take this approach. Most of the human resources professionals have been in one of two camps, either functional where they simply focused on the legacy core functions of human resources (payroll, benefits, policy…yawn…begging to be outsourced), or spastic, where they are constantly promoting program after program, initiative after initiative, blindly hoping something will stick but assuming little or no responsibility for aligning their proposed "solutions" with the objectives of the company. (The latter group is really easy to eliminate when financial times get tough.)

Today’s CEO needs human resources partners who are fully engaged in true solution-based selling. It starts with human resources leadership engaging in dialogue to clearly understand the strategic direction of the company, the critical milestones between current state and the desired end state, the resources available and allocated to the journey and where the gaps are between the objectives and the plans already in place. Like any good sales person, human resources leadership needs to understand that you can’t help the client solve the problem until you know what the problem is.

The next step is to really think through the alternatives and understand the impact of the various alternatives on the company, its people and the stated mission. As CEO, few things irritate me more than half-baked proposals that fall apart after five minutes of discussion because of obvious flaws. I don’t expect perfect solutions. They don’t exist. I don’t expect risk-free guarantees. There is no such thing. But I do expect a well-considered plan where the presenters have contemplated the obstacles and already have the work-arounds and subsequent plans for addressing the inevitable contingencies in place.

The rubber meets the road in implementation. No sales person worth his or her salt leaves the customer hanging when it’s time to take their solution from concept to action. Human resources professionals have to learn to shepherd their ideas through the company and stick by the concept until the results are delivered. This means having the right talent assigned to the project, appropriate resources secured in advance, senior human resources management engaged in the process and ongoing dialogue with all affected parties within the company, consistently reporting progress and success, proactively anticipating obstacles and working as a team to address any issue before it becomes a problem.

The final thing good sales people do, whether internal or external, is generously spread the glory for success. This is a bit of an anathema in our culture today but it is so very important in setting the stage for future successful projects. Each of us ultimately gains ongoing opportunity by helping those around us experience success. As the lead sales person in human resources for your company, make sure that those around you experience success and are recognized for the contribution they made to your thriving program or initiative. Trust me, the next time you won’t have to sell nearly as hard.

Ask yourself, "Am I the internal human resources sales leader in my company?" When is the last time you made a sales call on your most important "client"? Is the time now?