Steve Jobs was widely considered one of the best salespeople ever. Who else could have sold the music industry on iTunes? However, he also recognized the downside of too much dependence on salespeople: Here he describes it to Walter Isaacson:
…The company does a great job, innovates and becomes a monopoly or close to it in some field, and then the quality of the product becomes less important. The company starts valuing the great salesmen, because they’re the ones who can move the needle on revenues, not the product engineers and designers. So the salespeople end up running the company. John Akers at IBM was a smart, eloquent, fantastic salesperson, but he didn’t know anything about product. The same thing happened at Xerox. When the sales guys run the company, the product guys don’t matter so much, and a lot of them just turn off.
Google also does salespeople differently. Here is a great post from Charlie Warner describing the differences. Like Apple, Google seems to recognize that salespeople are important, but all companies have to work to ensure that the salespeople do not steal all of the oxygen at the company.
Salesforce.com spends half of its revenue on sales and marketing. They also spend very little on R&D. Here is a post I did comparing sales to R&D spending at the leading technology firms.
I think all customers are in one of two states. They either believe that the product or service they are getting is unbelievably great, or they believe there must be something better out there. Every company should employ this measure of customer satisfaction. The danger is to think that the customer is happy because they are still paying the invoice. There are many customers who do not complain, but are still looking for an insanely great solution. When they find it, they will not go to their current vendor and say: do you want to compete to keep my business? They just leave.
Products must be insanely great to compete in the marketplace.