Roil (verb)

‘To cause something to stop working in the usual or expected way’

(Cambridge Dictionary)

Boy George is on The Voice, but the only Culture Club in focus right now is sales culture after the revelations in the Banking Royal Commission.

It’s important to distinguish between allegedly illegal behaviour such as filling out the CRM with the weekly obituaries or charging people for services they didn’t actually receive or lying to the regulator, from behaviour that simply does not put the client’s interests first.

Any illegal behaviour should have a whole library of books thrown at it followed by a reality TV show called ‘Wentworth: The Fiscal Years’.

As for selling products and services that may or may not be demonstrably beneficial to clients, the whispering now is about a blood sucking villain apparently seen creeping around in the dead of night – Count de Commission.

There is some merit in avoiding the pitfalls of unfettered commissions driving the wrong behaviour. I wrote about end of quarter shenanigans in 2015 here in my article ‘I Know We Shouldn’t But It’s End of Quarter’ and more recently Ken Krogue’s excellent piece delivered more evidence of poor incentives and behaviour on end of quarter strategies.

Whilst we should be open to a world without commissions or bonuses, whether or not we adopt that approach, there are some realities to face.

1.      Most companies who continue to do the wrong thing by their clients end up losing and in today’s socially connected world, it will be even faster.

2.      Sales or Consulting is a competitive world and we need people who are prepared to compete.

3.      Rewards for performance nearly always involve financial gain in a corporaate environment.

4.      Good, sustainable revenue and margins are the backbone of corporate results.

5.      Retaining and attracting talent is critical to success.

Whether or not sales people, consultants or pre-sales experts receive commissions or bonuses or not is less interesting than the culture in which they are managed and led.

You could dispense with commissions tomorrow and pay people a flat increase in their salary instead but you’d have to be even more skilful in hiring, firing, training and deploying.

Commission shouldn’t inexorably lead to poor sales behaviour such as selling things that deliver negative outcomes to clients. Authentic leadership that has integrity and a finger on the pulse would never allow inferior solutions to be delivered.

I’ve worked with numerous IT companies, manufacturers and consulting firms, for example, which require solution sign off by three or four layers of people to prove its veracity and worth before it’s allowed to be sold.

It’s not a shock that companies make different margins on similar solutions to different clients and commissions can be a player in that.

However, it’s not illegal or even unconscionable. It’s called negotiation.

This debate around commissions, whilst still a worthy one, should be more about sales culture and executive leadership.

If you have a team focused on client results that you can afford to manage, retain and train without commissions, go for it.

Equally, if you have a team that relishes commissions, is focused on client results and you have the skill to manage with integrity, then that works too.

Just because heroin is illegal causing untold human suffering, doesn’t mean Morphine is a bad thing when used correctly to ease someone’s pain.

I’m off now to watch the next instalment of Master Chef: Legal, the new high rating show where two Barristers team up to fillet a whole tray of executives, sauté their careers in their own juices and plate up on a bed of finely shredded documents.

Elliot Epstein is a leading Pitch Consultant, Keynote Speaker, Corporate Sales, Negotiation and Presentation trainer who gets sales results rapidly. He has coached and trained high profile corporates globally in presenting, selling, negotiating and pitching. He has spoken at over 1500 conferences and workshops for leading companies such as HP, SEEK, Avaya, Hitachi , Asciano, Samsung and Lend Lease.

He is the author of # 1 International Best Seller ‘ Confessions of a Pitch Consultant‘ and is internationally renowned for ensuring sessions are engaging, interactive and relevant to winning business in competitive markets.

Elliot is based in Melbourne where he lives with his wife and two negotiators.