Working with businesses and their owners is an exciting aspect of my job. I admire the accomplishments of this group of entrepreneurs who have the vision and drive to pursue their dreams. They create entities that form the backbone of our economy. I also recognize the daily struggles they face and the never-ending challenges they must overcome to succeed.
Unfortunately, many of these business owners fuel the very problems they struggle to overcome. One major problem is when they focus more on their product or service than their sales team and selling approach. Naturally a business owner will direct a good deal of their energy and resources towards the product or service that got the business started in the first place. However, creating quality products and services is only half the battle; the other half is the development of a high-performing sales team to prospect, close sales, provide revenue predictability and grow the business.
Most likely, these businesses face competition when approaching a new prospect. Or minimally, the prospect might need their service, but is complacent with the status quo of doing nothing. Even though the business owner sees their product or service as clearly differentiated from the competition, their prospects typically tend to view companies that sell like products and services as “all the same”, essentially like a commodity. How does the sales team react to either of these scenarios? When the sales person lacks the skills to change this image and provide a reason to buy or change this causes major problems. Instead of thinking about it as a lack of skills, they resort to the belief that price is what sells…and the business struggles with both the top and bottom lines. But is that really the problem?
I had an interesting conversation with a business owner recently about the current state of his business. We discussed the options he was exploring to reverse the downward trend of sales so that they could continue to grow. I asked, "How many of your company problems would disappear if your sales staff could sell more of your products?" "All of them," he said, "but there's nothing I can do about that right now. My sales team is telling me that we have lots of competition, the market is tough, and we have to price aggressively.”
My first thought was that his sales force was doing a better job selling him on this idea than they were at selling their prospects on a reason to do business with them. Unfortunately, this dialogue happens all too frequently due to the complexity of our new business environment and the lack of skills of some salespeople.
The disturbing fact was that the business owner felt helpless to do anything to remedy the situation and was willing to accept what the salespeople were telling him. The prospect had indicated to the salesperson that price was the issue, and the salesperson believed them. Truthfully, they didn’t know what else they could do because they have no other selling skills. Under-performing sales people try to keep their jobs by convincing their bosses that it's not them. The real problem is that both the sales person and the boss don’t know what they don’t know.
Here are some specific actions that can be taken to guide sales teams to greater success:
1. Sales is a learned skill. And requires practice, but not in-front of the prospect! Sure, there are some naturally gifted sales people…about 1 in 100. Developing a sales team that knows how to sell effectively and efficiently is a learned craft that requires training.
2. Owners place too much emphasis on hitting sales numbers at the expense of putting emphasis on the behaviors that bring in the numbers. Numbers are a lagging indicator. Creating a roadmap of sales behaviors is a leading indicator of how strong the business really is.
3. Pre-brief and de-brief all key sales calls. Take the time to meet with salespeople to review the objectives for key sales calls, key questions to ask, etc. After the call, review what actually happened. Without a clearly understood “sales playbook” to get the sales team on the same page, this task is nearly impossible. How easy would it be for Bill Belichick to coach his team without a playbook? Creating a sales playbook is critical to effectively train sales people, to give owners/management the tools to project revenue and to measure progress.
4. Make prospecting for new business the number one priority for the sales force. Train them to practice, develop and utilize skills and strategies to effectively prospect for new business, including cross-selling and up-selling, where applicable, to make sure each customer discovers the advantages of your full line of products and services. This is the lifeblood of your future growth.
5. As an owner/manager, invest in leadership training for yourself, to effectively motivate, hold accountable, hire, sell, lead, set goals, and bring out the best in people.
If your sales force is holding you hostage and you want to reinvigorate and grow like you truly think is possible, contact Joe Ippolito, Sandler Training.