As a sales guy joining a corporate HR team back in 2003, I remember how struck I was by how little my HR peers seemed to interact with their peers within the organization. Because I was a trained sales guy and I’m hardwired as an extrovert, I immediately got out and about to meet people within the organization. While I wish I could say that it was some brilliant strategic move on my part to treat HR like a sales job, but I just didn’t know any better. And, it didn’t take long before I started having an impact on the organization.
Human resources and sales share a lot in common. Like sales, HR is, at its foundation, about service. The price of admission for HR into the corporate game is the execution of our basic services like payroll, benefits, policy maintenance, and staffing. In order for the organization to embrace HR, these basic services must be delivered consistently and flawlessly. Not only do these services need to be executed perfectly, but the customer service surrounding their delivery must be responsive and friendly–the same expectations you’d project to any company who sells you something.
But, most HR professionals are on a quest for much more than just acceptance. We talk of becoming business partners and strategic leaders within our organizations. Within sales, professionals strive to become partners and trusted advisors to their customers. The path in both professions to achieving this type of status is very similar. It’s about intentionally and skillfully cultivating the right relationships over a period of time. The difference between HR and sales is that because most sales people are on commission and recognize the importance of forming these relationships to their livelihood, they study the skills and mindsets needed to successfully make them happen it happen. They commit to developing these relationship abilities. They read sales books. They attend sales seminars. They practice.
Human resources professionals, on the other hand, seem largely unaware of how important these relationships are to the achievement of strategic status, of earning a seat at the executive table. Instead, we focus on certifications and degrees, which are important, but clearly not nearly enough.
So, the fourth rule of transforming human resources is to study sales. If I had one wish for human resources as a profession, it would be that every human resources professional would get some sales training. The skills of influence, negotiation and relationship building that are commonplace in sales would truly transform the effectiveness of HR within our organizations.