My hope in putting this discussion in the open is that you will take a hard look in the mirror and be honest about what you are, or are not, doing to support the sales side of your operation. As times have sped up and in a society where getting more done faster is the game, we are often overlooking the activities that are vital to our success both as companies and individuals. I have had these thoughts for quite some time but it really materialized after repeatedly having the same conversations with different people in completely different situations/industries over and over and over again.
So I am here to call you on the bullshit. The way I see it is that, in regards to our sales operations, we as companies and individuals are flat out lying to ourselves in a lot of cases about our readiness to actually sell and support those that do it. I have heard way too many stories now of how sales efforts are failing organizations with very little to no explanation of how those efforts are being supported or executed.
From the Company Sales Angle
If we as companies are not prepared to support our sales people, then we f&^$%ing deserve what we get. The conversation usually starts with “I’m ready to fire everyone, no one is selling anything!” to which (in my head) I reply “What the f&^% are you doing to help?”, however it comes out of my mouth much nicer but the answer I inevitably get back still sucks. It is something along the lines of putting their sales person on a probationary period, adjusting their target numbers, or more product specific training. At this point you might as well tell someone to start looking for another job because you’re telling them you don’t care and that isn’t a way to build a successful sales division for the long haul. There are 2 questions that should serve as the look in the mirror moment for all of us that try to build our companies and sell products or services:
1 – What resources do we have as a company (or leader of said company) in place to support the sales team?
This is exactly where we need to stop bullshitting ourselves because this goes way beyond the initial on-boarding process you “think” you have. You need to look at this question in terms of the long game. Probably better stated, “What do I do if a sales person is struggling 18 months from now?”. How do you get them back on the proverbial horse and make them want to be successful for you and your company? Great leaders will figure this out but I urge you to take a hard look at this and really understand what you offer to your team in times of difficulty. People will follow those that they feel really care about them, how do you show them you care while they struggle?
2 – What is YOUR sales process?
I couldn’t figure out if I should make this number 1 but if I hear someone tell me that they give their sales people their numbers and tell them good luck one more time, I’m going to lose it. In my opinion, we as companies should, at the very least, set the foundation of the process used to sell our products. I’m not saying set it in stone, but give your sales team a base to operate from or a set of methods to evolve as they find success. If you don’t understand a process of selling your products, then you can’t expect someone else to.
Flat out, if you can’t answer either of these two questions without some form of certainty then you aren’t ready and have no one to blame but yourself if sales efforts fall flat.
From the Individual Angle
1 – What is YOUR sales process?
As if there should be any other question. If you sell products or services and you don’t have some sort of semblance of a sales process, from cold call to post-close support, then you are outmanned and outgunned on all fronts. There are people out in the wild that have these things figured out and that is why they are successful at their craft. You owe it to yourself and your valued time to figure out your process and live by it. If you don’t then you should have zero qualms when the axe falls from whatever company you work for. Your sales process is your cornerstone. It should be something that you are constantly tweaking and adjusting to achieve the best results possible. If you think showing up like you are Ben Affleck in Boiler Room is your best course of action, then your days are sadly numbered.
If you don’t have one, start now. Just write down what you think it takes from cold call to closed business and list every step you take. How many phone calls on average? How many emails? etc. and lay it out in a timeline. Now you have something you can follow. A “Pipeline” you can fill with purposeful actions and measurable results. Let live and breath as your business does though. Don’t constrict it to a certain set of tasks. All customers have different needs but they all have similar needs so be adaptive and execute.
What Influenced this article?
As I mentioned there were a few conversations that finally pushed me to put these thoughts out in the open. Let it be very well known though, that these conversations are just the most recent and that I have heard these exact same arguments for the last 10 years of my professional life in some capacity or another.
Convo #1 – Good Luck!
A company adding new sales people in new territories. No formal on-boarding process or training, just “here is your numbers and good luck, go get’em tiger”. This is so common it’s insane.
Convo #2 – But they were really successful at XYZ company so we hired them away!
A company hires a person because they killed it at another company in the same industry. Love this one because in most case the new employer COMPLETELY disregards where that person came from and the environment that allowed them to be successful. To me that is a HUGE mistake as more often than not, that person comes over to the new company and totally bombs. Now you have someones livelihood in your hands, you’re out a bunch of money because you overpaid, and have to make vital decisions to your organizational health. I’m not saying don’t go after the person but I am saying be damn sure you know how to put that person in the best position for success for both of your sakes.
Convo #3 – The niche sales person is the only way to success.
I don’t totally disagree here that if you are in a certain industry you need someone with industry knowledge to achieve some success. The part I strongly dislike is you are turning away from hustlers and scrappy folks that will fight for every inch because they may not have the industry pedigree you are looking for. Be honest, can you teach the industry knowledge you are looking for? If the answer is yes then find a sales person you believe in, set some bench marks and recourse actions up front so all expectations are out in the open. If expectations aren’t met then there is now question of what should happen.
Obviously this article doesn’t apply to everyone but if anything I hope it just inspires another look at your sales operations. It’s to easy to get complacent with the other distractions we have but it’s vital that we ensure that the part of organizations that allow us to have the budgets we do or produce the numbers we need for the companies we run aren’t overlooked because things are smooth sailing in the moment. Prepare for the bad times and the good will last longer.
Next time we talk about “Intent”.
– Leon McIntosh