Monday, I discussed two grave mistakes made when small and mid-market companies hire sales and marketing people. If The Wall Street Journal is to be believed, more small businesses are planning to hire in the next six months than those that aren’t; and the sales and marketing is the focus for 50% of those firms.
Given the size of firms that were surveyed (under $5 million) I’m certain that many of these firms will attempting to do the single, toughest thing in business – hiring the first salesperson. As I shared Monday, hiring any salesperson is difficult, but hiring the first salesperson in a company borders on the impossible.
Going from an entrepreneur/leader led sales effort to a salesperson led effort is a HUGE shift for any company, and it is ALWAYS underestimated. I often advise clients hiring a first salesperson that they may need to expect to go through 3 hires to get it right.
The reason hiring a first salesperson is so difficult is actually quite simple. Solving the problem is a bit more complicated.
When you hire a salesperson, the sales process paradoxically fails to create value. When led by a principle or services provider (a la accounting, law, engineering, etc.) the “seller” is constantly creating value. They’re not “selling” in the traditional sense. They’re probing, solving problems, enlightening the customer about what is possible. Sure, they violate 90% of the rules of selling, but they create value.
When a salesperson is hired, they stop creating value and instead communicate value. The process becomes a series of “we-do’s.”
The problem is that even when the salesperson is saying the exact same things that the non-salesperson was saying – they’re not saying the same thing. The non-salesperson was constantly diagnosing and designing, while the salesperson is constantly telling. The non-salesperson (accidentally or on-purpose) was problem focused, the salesperson is solutions focused.
Now you can’t blame the salesperson most of the time, because the only training the salesperson gets from a company is about the solution. They’re told stories, talk to successful customers and study all of the wonderful things the company does. Little to know time is spent on understanding the customers problems better than the customer understand their own problems. There’s no diagnostic sales training teaching and supporting the salesperson’s ability to dig deeper with the customer.
A successful salesperson brings a critical capability and focus to a company. They don’t have the expertise of the founder, the leaders or the subject matter experts. So they need a process that ensures they create value throughout the entire sales process. They must be trained to understand – diagnose – the critical few problems that your company solves. They must be supported by a marketing effort that supports that message and provokes the customer.
Merely hiring a salesperson and sending them into the field is not a recipe for growth. Hiring a salesperson is a defining moment for any company – and it must be treated as such.
If you are hiring salespeople in the near future, you can download Avoiding The 10 Critical Hiring Mistakes When Hiring Salespeople.
Potentially good news for the economy. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal, reports that “More small businesses plan to hire in the next six months than those that won’t, with demand strongest in sales and marketing, a new survey shows.” Interestingly, 48% of those planning to hire are focusing on sales and marketing jobs.
My hope is that these businesses hiring realize that people are one (critical) part of a successful growth effort. My fear is that these businesses will overestimate the importance of the people decision and underestimate the other components of success; and will fail to achieve the growth they desire. My experience would indicate the latter is the most probably outcome.
I’ve said it before, the key to successful, sustainable growth is the implementation of an effective system that supports people. Like it, or not, the system comes before the people. Hiring someone before the system is in place is a recipe for disaster.
There are two grave mistakes that small and mid-market companies (SME) make time and again when hiring sales and marketing people. If you’re one of those companies that is looking to hire in the next six months I implore you to avoid these common mistakes.
Hiring Someone to “Develop The System”
This mistake is especially common when the founder or the CEO is not the sales and marketing expert. It’s such a dangerous mistake because it seems logical and just makes a lot of sense. It was Bill Parcels who said, “If you want me to cook the dinner, you’ve got to let me shop for the groceries.” Let’s hire someone who has the experience and let them build the system.
So the business goes out, hires someone who sold for (fill in name of major company). Six months later the company is still dealing with the same basic issues they were dealing with before. “It’s okay,” the CEO rationalizes, “these things take time.” One year later, the only thing that has measurably changed is that the SME has higher sales costs. They’re still commoditzed, still fighting for share and price, and still wondering why salespeople just don’t work.
The reason that this fails is that hiring someone to develop and implement a system is a very different hire than a hire to lead, which in turn is a very different hire than one to sell. Just because someone has worked in an effective sales or marketing system does not mean they have the ability to build one.
Confusing Delegation with Abdication
One of the things I’ve learned working with SME’s is that many heads of these companies don’t enjoy the sales or marketing function. They would prefer to do the work or to serve clients than to deal with the insanity called sales and marketing. When they hire on the sales and marketing side, they use “delegation” as an excuse to abdicate.
I’ve got news for the owners/CEOs of 98% of companies with less than $100 million. Like it or not, you are the chief sales officer and the chief marketing officer. You can hire someone to execute. You can even hire someone to lead the effort. But, until the company is truly and totally independent of you, you are the chief there. You must be invested and involved in the process. While this approach can appear to be more painful, it will save you tremendous aggravation in the long run.
I’m excited to share a new initiative with you. Starting Monday, September 26, we will be introducing Your Weekly Fast Growth Tips for those looking for insights to fast growth. While, we can’t give you a roadmap to fast business growth success – we can provide some markers.
Our weekly tips complement this blog, and in no way replace it. The insights we share there will be different than the content you’ll get on this blog. With Weekly Tips we’ll be focusing on specific areas that are important to your go-to-market efforts. Typically, we’ll spend 6 – 8 weeks on a subject. Here are some of the areas we’ll be focusing on:
- Successful Lead Generation
- Making Marketing Work
- Shortening The Sales Cycle
- Building Effective Sales Processes
- Building a High Performing, Quota Busting Sales Team
And much more.
Every week, you’ll get a short (100- 200 words) insight to making your efforts more effective.
The news today is dominated by the challenges and tribulations of our economy. Slow growth, debt ceiling debate, record unemployment, consumers slashing spending and so on. Then you read this headline:
What can small and mid-market B2B companies learn from this? It’s easy to dismiss Apple’s success to the fact that they’re, well, Apple. That would be a mistake. While CEO after CEO has used the recession as an excuse for failed initiatives, Apple just grows.
While the headlines are all about the problems and pitfalls of the economy; quietly, select small and mid-market companies continue to grow, exploit their competitive advantage and drive increased profits and company equity value.
Make The Adjustment
I want to share five critical adjustments that the best small, mid-market B2B sales organizations are making to bypass the economy, take control of their destiny and shorten the sales cycle.
I don’t know about y ou, but I’ve gotten sick and tired of the confusion, frustration and wasted effort inherent in the sales process. As a salesperson and business owner, I simply got tired of living on “the treadmill of life.” Every day I felt like I needed to run faster and faster, just to keep up.
What’s exciting is I’ve learned how to get off that treadmill. How to make the reward I and my company received greater than the sales efforts I put forth.
In this article, I’m going to share with you five, extraordinarily simple actions you can take immediately that will begin to get your company off that treadmill. By embracing these simple secrets will allow you to get off the treadmill, bypass the recession and see your sale and profits grow.
There is a tremendous difference in strategies, tactics and the overall approach used by companies defending a market position versus those that are attacking a market.
Very few small and mid-market (SME) companies are in a position to defend a market position. Yet, I constantly see SME’s implement sales and marketing programs designed to defend, when they need to be attacking.
Inherently, the underlying position for a firm defending a market is safety – they’re the safe choice. Think about IBM in its heyday. The battle cry was, “No one ever got fired buying from IBM.” This is the default position for large firms. While they make a bunch of promises, firms like GE Finance, Pacific Life, Wells Fargo, UPS, etc. all promise that if you hire them you won’t look stupid.
When you’re defending a market position popular marketing terms like brand, awareness and top of mind are key. This is large companies advertise during football games. By simply being there, they reaffirming their position. This is true of most traditional marketing approaches.
Implementing “defense tactics” when you are not in a position to defend, not only fails to drive growth, it puts additional pressure on price and margins. Small and mid-maket B2B companies must use attack strategies. Their message must provoke the customer to become aware of issues they’re not currently paying attention to. It must demonstrate that the cost of the problem is far greater than the risk and effort required to solve the problem, and that the status quo is no longer viable. It must open the customer up to take new approaches.
Here are three key attributes about this type of marketing that are far different from traditional marketing:
- The message is about the problem and is anchored in the customers world. At ABC Company we do this, that and the other thing is out.
- The message shares knowledge rather than protects it. Read your next ad, your next marketing piece or prospect letter and ask yourself, if you were the reader, how would you be better off for just having viewed it. If the prospect needs to contact you to gain any real value, it’s not going to work.
- It must be consistent. One message, one email, one paper doesn’t cut it. The effort builds over time.
In my experience, applying these three rules will get you well on your way to growing your markets and expanding your margins. If you have any other rules that work – I’d love to know about them.