Every business wants to grow their sales, and every businessperson has visions of an organization growing in size, profitability and influence. For most situations, it is the essential step to reaching their goals. The important question that most business leaders ask is this: “What’s the best way to do that?”
Even though there are proven principles, practice and processes that can be understood in general terms and applied specifically, the problem is more complex than it seems. All sorts of ‘solution providers’ have jumped into the space, proclaiming their solutions as the best way forward. I receive at least two or three unsolicited emails a day, for example, from people claiming their software/service/company is the answer to growing my sales.
Because the issue is fraught with uncertainty, business owners often resort to solutions which worked for someone else, some other business model, or some other time, and hold tenaciously to them out of fear of the unknown.
As a veteran sales consultant, I’ve worked personally and contractually with over 500 sales organizations, and interacted with thousands more in my seminars, webinars and speaking engagements. I think I’ve seen almost everything and observed that there are a number of ineffective approaches that are particularly common.
Here’s my list of the four most common mistakes sales leaders make in attempting to grow their sales.
Mistake Number One: Wishful Thinking (Delusion)
These folks take the approach that sales is just about hiring good people. So, let’s find the best people and let them do it.
It is easy to understand why this errant belief is so common. We have tons of consultants and authors who make their living helping people hire and manage good people. It’s a regular theme for business books. We’re all familiar with the idea of ‘putting the right people on the right seats on the bus.”
I’ve rarely seen this solution work over time. There are several reasons for that. First, finding and keeping good people is incredibly difficult, and, for many small businesses, practically impossible. If it were easy, why would we need the legions of consultants and ‘experts’ to help us?
While every businessperson dreams of finding that right person who has the right combination of drive, experience, temperament and skills, who will come into the company, approach the job as if he/she owns the business, and produce outstanding results. You dream of turning over the whole project of ‘growing sales’ to that person, freeing you up to do the things you like to do.
The unvarnished truth is this – there just aren’t that many superstars out there. You are far more likely to employ a continuous stream of average people, because average people make up 80 percent of the people you will interview.
While the superstars do exist, the likelihood that they will come to work for you is extremely remote. When it comes to salespeople, for example, that describes one out of twenty – whom I call the sales masters. As they become aware of their own value, they inevitably seek out companies and situations that will provide them greater income and freedom. These are the people who, should they work for you, last three years and then start a business competing with you.
As a seasoned sales consultant, I’ve noted that there is a great deal of self-delusion in this area. I’ll occasionally have this experience: Working with a client company, the CEO will claim to have ‘better people’ that the average company in the market. Some point later, I find myself talking to the CEO of a competitive company. He also claims to have ‘better people.”
From my perspective, both are deluding themselves. The reality is that you are probably going to find, hire and manage average people. If they were superstars, they would probably be competing with you. A far more effective approach is to create a sales system where average people can contribute disproportionately to the success of your sales efforts.
It’s not about hiring great people, it is about creating great systems.
Mistake Number Two: The Popcorn approach
People who make this mistake take the approach that the solution is likely in the latest technology, or loudest shouting solutions provider, and frantically react to frenetic demands for your attention.
Remember those old popcorn poppers? The kind with the hot plate on the bottom and a glass canister sitting on top of that. You would plug it in, pour oil onto the hot plate, spread the popcorn around the oil, put the top on, and wait for the action. The oil will bubble around the popcorn until one of the kernels went POP, exploded in a flash of energy, and caromed off the side of the glass canister. A moment or two later, another would follow. Soon the whole popcorn popper was a frenzy of popping and careening popcorn kernels.
That the picture of what this approach looks like. Forever searching for the one thing that will guarantee successful sales, the business leader chases after the latest thing, investing time, money and emotional power into it, until a short time later when another ‘latest thing’ appears on the horizon and grabs his time and attention. First, it was a webpage that was going to be the ultimate solution. Then, telemarketing. Next, email marketing. Then SEO, CRM, ERP, etc.
One after the other, the latest development in software and services keep popping to the surface and attracting the easily distracted sales leader. Unfortunately, all of these ‘latest things’ are only partial solutions at best, and often appropriate for a sales situation or business model that is different. The result? Lots of time, money and energy expanded and with little or nothing to show for it.
Mistake Number Three: Do it the way we always did it. Tradition.
People who make this mistake adhere to the approach that it used to work, it’s what we know how to do, so it must be the best choice going forward.
I see this most commonly in successful entrepreneurs who are approaching the end of their careers. They become invested in the successes of the past, and, instead of modifying their approach based on the new realities of customer expectations, competitive climate and technology changes, they mindlessly adhere to their comfort zones.
One of the most common examples of this is the compensation plan for salespeople. The business principals built their business on the idea of a geographically defined sales territory, designed for entrepreneurial-minded, money-motivated salespeople, and paid them a percentage of the gross profit as a compensation plan.
While all he reasons for that plan have changed, the plan itself remains. Sales territories were geographically defined because gas was expensive, email didn’t exist, video conferencing only happened in certain corporate board rooms, and there was no such thing as text messages. Obviously, that has all changed.
Salespeople were paid a percentage of the gross profit because the computer systems were not sophisticated enough to measure anything else, and most salespeople were entrepreneurial minded and money motivated. All that has changed. Computer systems can measure the results of sales behavior in ever more granular ways, and most salespeople would rather have a steady reliable income than the opportunity and risk for pay hinged to the value they bring. The quest for more money has been replaced, at least for a large segment of the sales force, with a desire for steady employment and more time off.
The bottom line for this approach is a steadily declining market share and confusion and frustration on the part of the sales leaders.
Mistake Number Four: Fairy tale approach
This mistake is characterized by the idea that if we just supply a good product or service, they will come to us.
That’s a fairy tale people! There was a time when that was true – sometime long, long ago. If you just provided a great value, sales would take care of themselves. But in today’s hyperkinetic competitive climate, you may have the absolute best quality product or service, but within six months are a year a competitor is going to have something better and cheaper.
The leading companies in every industry take the opposite approach. Sales is a discipline all to itself, and requires an investment of time, money and resources roughly equivalent to the investment in production or operations. Those companies who survive and thrive in the information age don’t ignore sales or pretend that it happens on its own. Instead they embrace the idea that an effective sales system is a company asset that is at least as valuable as the product it sells. They thoughtfully and methodically set about to do sales well – and that always means a systematic approach.
Regardless of which of these errant approaches you may see in your own organization, the solution is to create and forever enhance an effective sales system.
Organizing a sales system should be the goal of every selling organization. Creating and installing a sales management system is part of that solution as is developing and training all the salespeople in a selling system.
Our rapidly changing economic environment demands no less than a systems approach to this incredibly important aspect of our business.