Does this sound familiar?
I can remember my first position in professional sales like it was yesterday. (That was a lot of yesterday’s ago.) I worked for a large IT systems integration firm. They were a good company with compelling service offerings and a recognizable brand name in the industry.
I actually had a good friend who recruited me to work there who told me how great the company was. It looked like an easy career decision, so I took the position. Then, I experienced my first day on the job with my new sales manager, who we’ll call Jim (not his real name).
Jim was a great guy. He knew the IT services industry well and understood the company’s services in depth because he came from a services delivery background (he was a former consultant) and not a sales background. And now, Jim was tasked with building and leading a professional sales team. We soon found out he had very little formal sales training or sales management experience.
Our sales training program consisted of “follow the leader” until we caught on. That was it. Jim was patient with us, and kind, spending a lot of time helping his very green team understand some sales basics as best as he knew how. Through sheer willpower, we cobbled together a few wins. If it was luck or skill, I’m not really sure. I do know I was excited to be in the role, and I was teachable, but the sales training consisted mostly of Jim’s street smarts. We didn’t set any sales records, but we did manage to hold things together. However, the sales team knew something was missing.
Sales as a Priority
Since those days, I’ve become a life-long student of sales and marketing. As an industry consultant, I’ve observed that my early career experience in sales and marketing is still far too common in many organizations. Many companies do invest heavily in sales leadership and sales personnel, train relentlessly and focus on sales excellence. But, as a profession, this is not the norm and we still have a long way to go.
If you compare the value of excellent organizational sales performance to average (or worse) sales performance, the actual revenue opportunity that is missed is staggering. There are many sales opportunities these organizations could be winning every day. Eliminating mediocre sales and marketing performance could be THE difference for many organizations.
If you’re struggling with your sales and marketing efforts, or just looking for the next opportunity for improvement, let me share some key observations on how small and mid-sized business can approach sales success.. This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it is comprised of some very common issues.
Five Keys to Creating a True Sales Culture
1. Leadership: “As the leader goes, so goes the organization.” In this case I am referring to senior company leadership. My encouragement is for C-level executives to make sales and marketing excellence an absolute priority. Invest in high quality sales leadership and sales personnel. Provide outstanding on-boarding and continuing education. Listen to your sales team’s feedback on your product or service. Give them the proper sales tools and systems to succeed. Understand their sales process, goals, metrics and set the proper expectations so you can hold them accountable. And, participate on actual sales calls when you can as a subject matter expert. You’ll love it and set a great example.
2. Hire professionals: If you’re hiring younger sales teams, be sure you know the qualities that make up a successful sales person. Then, hire only those candidates with the proper qualities, and don’t compromise. If you’re hiring mature sales professionals, look hard at their track record and experience as well as their personal qualities. Before hiring, test your candidates for those qualities and put them through a mock sales experience. And please don’t make the mistake of hiring “great personalities” or accepting internal transfers from other departments based on that one qualification. Experience says this very rarely works.
3. Invest in digital marketing to drive lead generation: In another blog post, I’ve written about the movement of buying audiences online. This has been true for consumers for some time, and it is now true for business-to-business (B2B) buyers as well. Your potential customers are educating themselves online, evaluating vendors and building short lists based on your digital presence. You must excel in digital marketing to drive lead flow to your marketing organization for qualification. This lead flow will be a huge contribution to your sales team’s efficiency and effectiveness.
4. Create enthusiastic evangelists: It’s far too common for sales people to have a rudimentary knowledge of their product or service. My suggestion is to embed sales folks in product or service teams (for a while) that help them gain Superman-like confidence in your offering. Let them feel, touch, experience and get very comfortable with what makes your offering so great. They are your evangelists, so make them believers!
5. Celebrate success organization-wide: Successful, and honest, salespeople will acknowledge that they are only as good as the organization they represent. The sales team may be out in front, but many people contribute to sales success. So, definitely celebrate wins across the organization. Get everyone involved in, and supporting, cross-functional teams that create sales success. Some organizations miss a glorious opportunity to acknowledge the contributions of many people in the sales effort. So bring the company together over sales success and create a sales culture.