If you’re bringing something valuable to the market; something that will allow you to break away from your competition and sustain both growth and expanded marketing, then you need to realize that you’re in the change business.
This means that the primary focus of your sales and marketing efforts is to change the way your customers and prospects buy. At this point, a reasonable question to ask yourself is, “Why in the world would I want to change a customer’s approach to buying?” After all, it’s a tough, timely and complex thing to do.
There is only one reason to even think of taking on such an effort. That reason is that if the way your customers aren’t buying in a manner that drives your economic and business model, then you must embark on the effort. As marketing icon Geoffrey Moore once said, “To succeed with innovation, you must take your value proposition to such an extreme that competitors either cannot or will not follow.”
What you must understand is that changing your customer’s approach to buying takes time. You can’t expect to adequately influence your customers when your salespeople to show up near of the point that your customer is making a purchasing decision. While this is the default approach for businesses, it only results in increased operating and sales costs and increased pricing pressure.
You sales and marketing system must be designed for the long haul. In my experience, it takes a 12 – 18 month incubation period to effectively educate and influence target prospects. This is true regardless of what you perceive your typical sales cycle to be (and in reality, if you have a longer sales cycle, than the process takes even longer).
This incubation period is the primary reason the small and mid-market companies fail to implement effective sales and marketing systems. They fear that 12 – 18 months is simply too long to get a payoff. When I meet them, I always respond, “Well, sure it’s a long time. Where are you planning on being in a year or two?”
Companies that embrace the challenge, and develop the systems to support such a process enjoy disproportionate rewards. Will you be one of them?
Business owners and executives regularly ask me for advice on hiring salespeople. What’s interesting is that about 70% of the time, I end up recommending that they do something other than hire a salesperson.
It’s a myth that hiring salespeople means you’ll make more sales. What I want you to understand is that you are hiring a capability not a person. Hiring a salesperson should actually be your last option.
Here are three of the most common reasons that owners and executives tell me are why they want to hire salespeople:
- They need more opportunities in the pipeline.
- They want to “get more feet on the street.”
- They want a salesperson to set things up so that a senior person can “leverage their time.”
All three cases are ripe for a sales mis-hire. Why? Because all three are better served by marketing efforts than by hiring salespeople.
When you begin thinking about hiring a salesperson, it is critical that you ask, and answer, three questions:
- What is (are) the specific result(s) you want from this position? (Side note: It is not enough to say you want to increase sales, you must focus on the specific efforts that will be addressed that will allow sales to occur.)
- What options or alternatives could you use to achieve that result?
- Which option gives you the best chance for success?
As the saying goes … Hire slow.
This post originally appeared in our Weekly Fast Growth Tips. We got several comments on it and requests that we post it so others can link to it. To get insights like this every week please subscribe to our weekly tips. Also you can download our paper: The 10 Most Common Sales Hiring Mistakes.
This book review originally appeared in Baltimore, Washington and Philadelphia SmartCEO Magazine February 2012 issue.
Anyone whose followed my columns, blog or speeches, knows what a fan I am of Apple and it’s late-CEO Steve Jobs. So, it was with great interest that I downloaded Walter Isaacson’s biography of him.
Isaacson, author of several great biographies, is a fabulous writer and does a great job of providing an enticing narration of Jobs’ life in an historical context. Reading the book left me with three key insights that I hope to take into my business on a regular basis.
It’s About Execution
The myth about Steve Jobs is that the underlying causes of his success are his imagination and creativity. While Jobs certainly is strong in both areas, it was the ability to maniacally focus on execution that led to Apple becoming the most valuable company in the world.
Jobs, more than anything, was a managing editor. He could certainly conceive of technology that didn’t exist before; he wasn’t rare there. His ability to see what didn’t belong and to force his highly creative designers and engineers to stay focused on fewer projects and to bring out the essence of each product are what made Apple foundationally different.A great example is the myth that Jobs merely ripped off Xerox’s graphical interface in creating the Mac. While Jobs’ discovery at Xerox PARC did a lot to inspire the Mac, Isaacson does a great job chronicling how Apple’s execution is what enabled success.
The Goal Can’t Be Profit
When you look at companies like Starbucks (in their heyday), Apple and Facebook, you quickly realize that product is a byproduct, not a focus in itself. As Howard Schultz shares in his autobiography Pour Your Heart Into It, Starbucks’ aim was to make a great cup of coffee and provide a special experience to its customers. By staying focused on that, a great company (and tremendous wealth) was built.
I truly enjoyed reading about the genesis of the iPod, the product most responsible for launching Apple into the stratosphere as a consumer products company. Isaacson documents the inside story how Apple brought the iPod to life, and how Microsoft reacted.
Bill Gates, CEO of Microsoft at the time, realized what a game change the iPod could be, so he invested in what ultimately became one of Microsoft’s most high-profile failures – the Zune music player. One of my favorite quotes in the book is when Jobs says:
“The older I get, the more I see how much motivations matter. The Zune was crappy because the people at Microsoft don’t really love music or art the way we do. We won because we personally love music. We made the iPod for ourselves, and when you’re doing something for yourself, or your best friend or family, you’re not going to cheese out. If you don’t love something, you’re not going to go the extra mile, work the extra weekend, challenge the status quo as much.”
You Have to Break Rules
When I consult with companies who desire to accelerate their growth by breaking through their growth barriers; I caution them that the fundamental challenge is making the appropriate changes to the business without killing the unique dysfunction that makes them what they are. Too often consultants come in, apply their “rules” and take away the uniqueness that made the business effective.
Steve Jobs succeeded his way. He was control oriented, famous for berating employees (and friends), was aloof and moody. Apple, beloved by its customers, is not a particularly engaging firm. They don’t tweet and don’t really listen to the customers all that much.Simply put, if I made a list of the consensus rules for management and growing a company in an interconnected world – Apple and Steve Jobs would violate most of the rules. And it worked for them.
The biggest insight I gained from reading Steve Jobs is that his way worked for him. It probably wouldn’t work for anyone else. The key is to learn from what he did. Then make it work – our way.
It’s probably the great Jobs legacy – to succeed, we must leave our mark.
I often talk about how salespeople and companies can Move Beyond Price to put the focus on what your products/services are worth instead of what they will cost. As part of the process, I explain that price is really a signal, telling both buyer and seller how the other values of the proposition being put forth.
The implications of The Drought we find ourselves in as we continue to emerge from the deep recession puts more pressure on sellers to justify their prices and margins. Sellers must be able to answer a very simple, clear question: Why should a buying organization give your products/services a favored status, allowing you to earn higher prices and margins?
Increasingly sellers are failing to have compelling answers to this question. In my experience, the underlying reason for this is because sellers are either unwilling to put forth the effort to offer propositions that are truly different and better than others, or sellers are merely afraid to make a compelling promise.
Companies have a crucial decision they must make:
- Do they want to focus their profit formula on enhancing and growing margin? or
- Do they want to focus their profit formula on growing volume faster than anyone else?
Companies that choose the former must go further and ensure that their value proposition connects more deeply with their customer’s businesses. They must find and/or enhance their ability to make their customers more efficient and effective.
Companies that choose the latter must aggressively eliminate costs within their organizations so they can continue to deliver their products and services faster, cheaper and better than their competition.
Either road is difficult, but today, more than ever, you must make a choice. Straddling these two approaches is simply becoming too precarious and risky to sustain.
To get you started, here are two articles I just read that show how other companies are meeting this challenge.
- USAToday shares insights into how FedEx and UPS are deepening the value proposition and building adjacent business to drive their growth.
- In the recent filing for Facebook’s public offering, founder Mark Zuckerburg shares the Facebook philosophy with what he calls The Hacker’s Way. Every entrepreneur should read this (regardless of how you feel about Facebook or Zuckerburg). My favorite quote in the piece: We don’t build services to make money; we make money to build better services.
What choice are you going to make?