I attended a computer history museum event earlier this week. Dixon Doll, a General Partner at DCM interviewed Sam Wyly — a pioneer in the computer industry – and then steakhouses, oil, crafts retailing and other investments. He is (or at least was until the market meltdown) a certified billionaire.
I just finished reading his book titled “1,000 Dollars & and Idea”, and a number of things interested me about his early days as an entrepreneur in Texas, especially the way he built his business by taking huge risks. Certainly, it was a different era when he launched his first start-up, and much has changed in the last 50 years, but there are also some universal themes that resonate, regardless of the intervening decades.
One particular section of his book caught my attention–his recollections about his early days as an IBM sales rep. In the 1950’s and early 1960’s, IBM sales reps had a strict dress and behavioral code. The excerpts below are paraphrased from the book:
• IBM salespeople were not allowed to drink alcohol, not even wine.
• The company dress code was a dark suit, white shirt, tie—always a tie—and a HAT.
• You were fired if you lost an account to a competitor, no matter how hard you’d worked or how good your effort had been.
Aside from these restrictions, IBM sales reps were treated like royalty. Tom Watson, Sr. invented the 100% Club, and he paid the successful salesmen (and they were all men) huge sales commissions.
IBM even had a song that reps sang at their sales meetings. You can see the words – http://www-03.ibm.com/ibm/history/multimedia/everonward_trans.html
So what’s changed from a sales management standpoint since then, and what’s stayed relatively constant?
• Many tools have evolved to increase sales productivity, most significantly – sales force automation applications like Salesforce.com.
• Techniques have also moved toward finer-grained specialization, with inside teams focused on lead gen that maximizes the effectiveness of the most senior sales-generating professionals.
• The Internet has reduced (but not eliminated) the need for travel to prospects with web and video conferencing, etc..
• Can you guess the one constant? The folks who reliably beat their quotas—the top performers—are still treated like royalty, and when they’re not, they quickly move to someplace where they will be!