You start a business with a great idea and a lot of passion and excitement.
You package your idea into a product or service, create a proposition and join a networking group like BNI, 4N or a Chamber of Commerce.
You get a trickle of leads, and over time, the referrals grow.
You have established a business that, whilst not earth shattering, keeps the wolf from the door and has bags of potential.
You have many ideas about how to grow it, moving forward.
As the founder, sales happen largely as a result of your passion, enthusiasm, and developing your network.
Your business is starting to grow into something credible and you soon start thinking about scale, and who or what you need to add to ensure you work more on the business than in the business.
You are still the main sales person, but are starting to realise that at some point you will have to employ a sales person.
Before you do that, you find a good accountant/Finance Director, who sees more than the numbers, and an operator who is strong on efficiency and possibly a marketing person.
Eventually you employ a sales person, although there is not a great deal of thought around the functional and behavioural skills required to sell your product or service, other than employing someone with industry experience.
Nevertheless you have a sales person, they have a nice personality and they are good with people. You give them a day or two of product training and they are sent off to maintain the momentum that you have created, supported by a nice website and some shiny sales collateral.
Typically they are not put through any sales training, but they have read a few books and are a competent emerging resource or problem solver.
Your response to the crisis centres on cost management and you reduce the sales team, put marketing on hold and/or add to the responsibilities of the sales team so that they are not specialists, but generalists.
You may even get rid of sales team and go back to selling yourself, as the founder, until conditions become more favourable.
Just before the crisis, when sales plateau, you may even sack the sales person for their lack of performance. They are not pro-active enough, they don’t knock on enough doors, they aren’t closers, they can’t get into the senior level in your prospects. You have lots of good reasons.
That is when I come in... Over the last 6 years as a Sales Consultant, I have sat with many companies who want to increase sales, develop their sales executives, boost their conversion rates and reduce their sales cycles. They would like to sell more consistently and predictably at a more senior level.
I sit at the table with their MD, Head of Operations, Head of Finance, possibly Head of Marketing and HR, and a couple of hybrid sales executives and I ask where the Sales Director or Sales Manager is, and they tell me they do not have one.
I ask them to share their sales strategy with me. They tell me they do not have one. I ask them to share their value proposition with me. Alas, they do not have one.
How about CRM? Generally not. Sales Process? Nope!
I see this at least 90% of the time. Do you recognise it?
In my experience, sales is seldom taken seriously enough by SMEs. It is terribly misunderstood. Yet nothing happens in a business until someone sells something and when the sales dry up, so does the company.
In order to thrive at sales in this modern more complex business environment, SMEs must change the way they view and execute sales.
In order to sell consistently and predictably, there is a lot of heavy lifting to be done. Ignore it at your peril.
This environment contains so many things that did not exist 10 years ago. Smart buyers, a plethora of choice and options, complexity in business fit and much higher risk aversion, to name a few.
The modern business cannot depend on sales people with lots of charisma, energy and industry experience.
Whilst those attributes obviously help, the challenge is organisational not individual.
Deep customer and market understanding is essential. The smart sales organisation is expert at buying facilitation, true consulting and collaboration.
The sales person is a navigator and coordinator and brings valuable insights to his customers and prospects that give them competitive edge.
Sales people are backed by processes, systems and training that drives performance; it is a focused role that gathers customer and market knowledge that drives product development and revenue generation, and it is not to be underestimated.
The culture of the business supports the sales effort and the realisation that your product or service is almost irrelevant is entrenched. The question now is not what you sell, but why they buy.
Selling was never meant to be a struggle.
But the foundations must first be laid.