Sunday, December 19, 2010

Sales Matter

This is the sixth blog post regarding the 10 Things I Accidentally Learned on the Path to Growth. There is little question that many small business owners really dislike the whole sales process or anything that is related to it - particularly in the IT industry. But sales is not a four letter word - well it is - but it isn't a bad one. And there is little question that sales really do matter. That could be the understatement of the century actually.

Why is there such an aversion to sales by so many IT firms? Well for many of us, we came up to leading our company via the technical side of the business. We were engineers that were good at what we did and then decided to hire a few more like us and form a company. That works for a while but soon we hit the wall because we don't sell - we can fix anything under the sun - but we don't sell. I use don't rather than can't here intentionally. Anyone can sell - maybe not equally well - but it isn't that IT owners can't sell - it is because they almost despise the idea and certainly the notion of what being a salesperson is all about. Time to get over it!

Nothing happens until something gets sold. Let me say it again - nothing happens until something gets sold. OK - I have admitted it in public. We need to sell if we want to have a business. And sales is not a matter of luck. It happens when we build a sales process and system that makes sales happen regularly. We have to make the investment to put the right system and tools in place to make it happen. It can't be a hope and a prayer. That is not a sales strategy. Sales happen when we build the right foundation, hire the right people and execute the plan consistently. It really is not magic - it just takes consistent hard work doing the right things every day.

Most sales people fail because of a lack of support and management. It is common in the IT small business space to have a revolving door of sales people. We hire a person, let them flounder around on their own for 3-4 months and then fire them because they haven't sold much or anything at all. We blame them. Here is a newsflash - they likely are NOT the problem. You are. We set most new sales hires up for failure. We don't give them the right tools. We don't have a system in place. We don't manage or support them. We wish them well and sit back waiting to count the money. It just doesn't work like that. Owner attitude and support will make or break the sales engine in any company. Take a good look in the mirror and you will likely find the problem with your sales people.

When we do find that super human who is able to defy the odds of our lack of support and systems and actually sell something - it only lasts for a while. That is because without marketing support - every sales person will eventually run out of opportunities and people they know to sell to. It is our job to create leads for our sales people to follow up on. That is called marketing. It is hard work. It costs lots of money. It is somewhat luck - often more magic than science from my experience. But without marketing support - without aircover and other supporting tools to help drive leads and open doors - even a veteran sales person with many years of success will stub their toe. It is necessary to spend money on marketing to have consistent sales performance.

The pendulum is rapidly swinging toward sales. I see some major changes that are already in motion and will change the landscape as we know it for IT for many years to come. The cloud will force us to become sales organizations. You can resist, hide you head in the sand, and wake up one day wondering what has happened to your customer base. Or you can accept the fact that change is coming and make some changes. Some of these changes have been in motion for a while. Others are more a result of the current market and the move toward the cloud. But no matter the reason - they are coming. Here are some observations:

•From technical to sales focus
•From answering the phone to creating demand
•From selling products to selling solutions
•From T&E to flat rate services
•From on premise to the cloud

No longer will the company with the most technical genius necessarily win. I predict that those with most mature sales approach will actually come out on top. This new reality is that the IT business is moving toward a transactional relationship and those who can sell will win in that landscape. The reality is that companies must become sales organizations. We have to deal with these realities:

•Sales people are not the enemy
•It requires new thinking and management
•It requires new compensation models

Along with that we must become marketing organizations:

•Referrals are great but go only so far
•Most companies have just continued to sell new solutions to their current base
•We must become lead generators for the sales team
• Lead generation is not the vendors responsibility

Here is the reality as I see it. If you don’t embrace sales, growth will be stagnant and you will be frustrated. That is - if you survive. There will be plenty of companies that fail completely because they refuse to adopt the notion of becoming sales organizations. You don't have to like it - but it does work better if you do. You do have to do it and the time to begin is immediately. You can't afford to wait on this one. Begin now to learn to sell. Put the right systems in place. Hire someone and invest in them. Manage them closely and carefully. And begin to see the results - the sooner you begin - the sooner you will reap some of the goodness that comes with selling something. Remember - nothing happens until you sell something. Get after that today!

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