The best business leaders recognize that their product or service will never be good enough to sell itself. Early stage firms that invest more in sales and marketing typically grow faster than companies that primarily focus on the development of their products.
These statements will agitate CEOs and founders of small businesses who are focused on delivering the next iteration of their product, convinced that improved features and functionality will open the door to previously unattainable sources of revenue and success. So if you are convinced that your business's growth hinges primarily on the features and price-to-value ratio of your product or service, then you may want to stop reading now.
However, if you recognize that the growth of your business will largely depend on the quality of your sales and marketing strategy, choice of sales methodology, and the value of the insights that your sales team delivers to your customers, then the following questions and observations will be of value.
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The ancient Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu observed that "Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat." When faced with aggressive growth targets, a majority of business leaders will instinctively hire more sales people. Unfortunately, all too often this action puts the proverbial cart before the horse, and the expected return on investment does not materialize.
Just as a quality home builder would not start to frame walls before a foundation had been laid, a sales team should not be scaled unless there is organizational alignment around a strategic sales playbook that is relevant to the year 2016. In the absence of this, the performance of two salespeople in the same role, working the same hours, will often vary by many factors. Like professional athletes, sales people must be coached, supported and provided with a clear vision of how to invest their time. Would Usain Bolt be the fastest man alive if his coaches had done nothing but provide him with running shoes, a track and a verbal directive to run as fast as possible?
When building a sales playbook, it is vital that you craft a succinct and impactful "elevator pitch" that becomes the foundation of all your sales and marketing messaging. Unfortunately, most businesses either overlook this important task or get it wrong. Ask members of your existing sales team to share their elevator pitches, and, nine times out of 10, they will describe the key features and benefits of your product and maybe the competitive differentiators.
This is not acceptable in an increasingly competitive business-to-business landscape where customers can research entire markets and conduct their own competitive analysis at the touch of a few buttons. If your sales team is not instantly delivering value in the form of insights, it will gain no traction with prospective customers. A simple but powerful maxim is "sell the problem you solve, not your product."
The primary job of your sales and marketing team should be to deliver new, powerful and relevant insights that will reframe your customers' thinking and create a sense of urgency to change the status quo. Your sales team should be focused on educating the customer on the ramifications of previously unforeseen problems, and why the customer needs to adapt to a changing world. It is imperative that all your sales and marketing collateral, including sales-prospecting scripts, e-mail templates and presentation material, reflect this important principal.
Have you identified the profile of your ideal customer? If the answer is no, you can be sure that the sales people you hire will spend much of their time prospecting customers who have a very low probability of ever buying your product or service. Have you developed a clear set of activity targets that will help your sales team and management remain focused on the details that will yield the results that you require?
All too often the end goal is the only point of focus, and everything that happens before that is essentially a 'black box.' Micro-management is certainly not the answer, but providing a clear set of activity targets that are recorded in a first-rate customer relationship management (CRM) tool, will keep your sales team on track. There is no such thing as a B2B sales organization that is too small to warrant a CRM system.
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Do you have quality onboarding and sales-training programs in place? Statistically, your top sales performers will deliver twice the value of your average performers, and 10 times the value of your lowest performers. The question should not be "can we afford sales training" but rather "can we afford not to deliver sales training." Too many organizations confuse product training with sales training, and commit the cardinal sin of assuming that the success of a sales person is dependent on natural ability that cannot be taught. Your sales training should be inextricably linked to your sales playbook.
A key factor in the success of your sales organization will be the commission, bonus and incentive plans that you offer your sales team. A good commission plan is clear, sustainable and creates optimal motivation. Top sales people should be the highest earners in a business, and with the right commission plan, this should represent a great outcome for the business and its shareholders. Incentives should not be purely economic. Members of my sales team can work a four-day week as long as they are achieving the metrics that have been set.
Before you pull the trigger and hire sales people, ensure that you have laid the strategic foundations for success. The alternative represents costly noise before inevitable defeat.
Ben Firman is Managing Director, Revenue at 80-20 Growth Corporation, a sales generation, consulting and training business.