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Posted by Ellen Carney on October 2, 2009
Last month, the Wall Street Journal featured an article about America’s obsession with the latest style icon, the long-dead movie actor, Steve McQueen. Apparently, he's become the latest fashion icon, thanks to his ". . . stint as a U.S. Marine, rugged athleticism, less-is-more acting style and real-life love of car racing and motorcycles."
The article goes on to acknowledge one of my personal convictions — Steve McQueen was the "guy's guy" (which I'm thinking means he wouldn't own, never mind wear, anything with Lycra in it).
For me, his best movie was The Great Escape. The movie, based on a true story, is about an escape by Allied prisoners of war from a German POW camp during World War II. But these weren't ordinary prisoners and this wasn't the typical POW camp. These Allied prisoners were serial escape artists, so this prison was built to be escape-proof.
But when the guy who orchestrated most of the Allied escapes arrives at the camp, he plots what will be his "greatest escape" — a 250-foot tunnel that would enable a mass breakout of POWs, not just one or two. He assembles an ace team of specialists: James Garner was the guy who scrounged up stuff like fake ID cards they'd need on the outside; James Coburn acted was the resourceful "tool maker", manufacturing the implements they'd need to dig the tunnel; Charles Bronson was the lead guy directing tunnel operations; and Steve McQueen was the "distraction", essentially creating enough complications and disruptions to throw the attention of the guards off the tunnel-ers. The rest of the prisoners supported the effort by singing in the prison choir to drown out some of the tunnel noise or subtly disbursing the excavated tunnel dirt throughout the camp from pockets sewn into their pants. While there are lot of twists and turns in the story, the tunnel gets completed and the escape more or less happens, albeit not entirely successfully.
So what does The Great Escape have to do with what makes for a great sale? We recently talked to about 40 quota-carrying sales executives and sales directors, and we wanted to know all the ingredients that made them successful in their jobs. Well, we laughed, but we also cried, especially when heard things like "my company does absolutely nothing for me" or another case where it took the pricing desk a week and half to turn around a price quote.
Our take-away from these very enlightening conversations? We learned that the successful sales organizations develop when everyone in the company knows that they play a role in supporting the sale, with roles being flexible and organizational and functional boundaries highly permeable. When it works, it delivers big sales impact. As one wise sales veteran told us a few years ago, "sales is a function, not a person, so for a company to be successful, there is a recognition that everyone sells."