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IT as a Sales Function

In college, I was assigned to read The Goal by Dr. Eliyahu M. Goldratt.  It is a novel that tells the story of a plant manager trying to improve operational efficiency in his plant.  I know that this does not sound like a thrilling joyride of a story.  But surprisingly, it is a great read.  In fact, for some people it changes their entire view of business.  It is primarily a book about operations improvement, but its broader message resonates with everybody in the company.

The bold thing about this book is not that it states the obvious, that every task in the business should be connected to a goal, but that it tells you exactly what that goal is for everybody in every company.  That single goal is to make profit.  This may not sound groundbreaking, but the implications are.  Despite the appearance of inter-department debates and arguments, everybody’s goal should be exactly the same.  When this is pointed out, it makes decision-making and consensus much easier.  It causes many people to drop their political fights and turn their eyes to the big picture.  Of course, not everybody shakes hands and sings Kumbayah, some people still put their own self-interest ahead of their company’s, but it does make clear that we’re all on the same team and we should all be running in the same direction.

How does this relate to IT?  Well, one of the strange things about the book is that even though it is targeted on fixing operations, it keeps talking about sales.  Why is that?  It’s because in most companies, increasing sales is the best way to increase profit.  Certainly decreasing costs is valuable, however there is a limit to how low costs can go and often continually investing in lowering costs brings diminishing returns.  With sales, there is no limit!  It is theoretically possible to double, quadruple, or even duodecuple (increase twelvefold, which I clearly had to look up when writing this) sales.

Most IT projects set their sights on reducing costs.  Almost all the IT projects I’ve ever worked on had this as a primary goal.  But consider that often, an even greater opportunity may exist on the sales side of the business.  What market advantages could your project give to your company’s product or service?  Could a fast turnaround time for orders give you a competitive advantage?  Would sales increase if you had better product information available for the marketing and sales departments?

Once you start thinking of IT as a sales function, it opens up many possibilities for features and functionalities that may have not been previously considered.  It also makes prioritization of features easier:  which features will give the biggest opportunity for a sales increase.  Every feature needs to be connected to the company’s single goal, making profit.  If you can’t find a direct connection, that is a feature that can be cut from your scope.  Invest your time in the areas that will increase profit the most and more likely than not many of them will on the sales side of the business.

Are you a Product Manager or Business Analyst? How have you thought about IT as a sales function? How does it fit in with your software requirements?

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