But not for the reasons you might think
Fraught with a myriad of excuses, a company finds itself unable to grow its business. They’re faced with unrelenting competition, a slowing market, the constant pressures from customers to lower costs, a selling organization too busy to focus on new business, a team without the requisite skills to compete in today’s competitive environment, not enough feet-on-the-street, the extensive time commitment and costs associated with on-boarding new hires, and so on. It can be overwhelming just thinking about growth, let alone doing something about it. For this reason, we too often allow ourselves to get caught up in the issues of the business day while working feverishly to fix problems that arose that morning. And then, we spend the rest of the day attempting to convince ourselves the work we chose to do that day was the most important thing we could have been doing.
In this way, we are routinely stuck in this viscous cycle of being too consumed by daily issues to meet the actual needs of the business.
In the rare instances when we get the chance to focus on the business, we grasp for answers from within our ‘if-only’ mindset: If only we could get customers to pay us what we’re worth; if only we could free up time for our sales professionals to focus on new business; if only we could invest into a sales enablement platform to accelerate our growth; if only we had more time to focus on training and supporting our team; if only we could recruit and hire those sales unicorns who will pay for themselves day one. Yet, this mindset does not often help to make the decisions and take the actions that are necessary. Then, quickly, our attention gets pulled to the next issue of the day, and we become distracted from the critical decisions about the business that we need to make. In this way, we are routinely stuck in this viscous cycle of being too consumed by daily issues to meet the actual needs of the business.
Then, we make a decision and do something. We hire a sales leader to stimulate growth and hold sales professionals accountable. Nope, that didn’t work. We bring on another line of products so we can sell more things to our customers. Nope, not that one either. We implement salesforce.com and finally hold our team accountable for growth. We then realize that it will take awhile before we see any results. We go on to work with a recruiter to find a superstar. Didn’t work. We finally give in and pay top dollar to bring on our competitors top-performing sales professional and his business. And just as predicted, he delivers on about 15% of what he committed he’d bring over to us. After hundreds of thousands of dollars of investment, we have nothing to show for it, and we learn to continue the cycle of many business leaders before us by becoming reluctant to make investments into our operations. We have learned that trying something is not the answer to growth. In fact, trying something can become very costly.
When I talk to business leaders about growth, I am not interested in telling them what they are doing wrong and what they need to be doing differently. Rather, I am interested in learning about their selling organization and how it functions. There is a treasure trove of information to be gained by asking questions like:
- What are the core products and services you sell?
- Who is the target customer for your products and services?
- What is your value proposition to these targeted customers and what makes your company different from others you compete against?
- Does your company have a defined sales process for identifying and targeting prospects, making connections, discovering customer needs, presenting solutions, implementing programs, accounts, and managing on-going relationships?
- Does your company have a preferred selling method or is it left up to the sales professional to decide?
- What selling tools are available to your team, e.g., capabilities brochure, supplier brochures, pre-call plans, audit forms, proposal templates, implementation checklists, or business review documents?
- What sales enablement tools does your team use for contact management, lead generation, and pipeline reporting?
- Are there clearly defined goals and expectations of your sales professionals?
- What behaviors does your compensation program incentivize?
- Is there a defined process for account and territory planning?
- How often are you in-field supporting your sales professionals?
- Do you have a performance review process?
- What does your recruiting, selection, and on-boarding process look like?
Absent a change in the way we think about growth, we will continue to find the prospects of such a task to be very expensive.
What we learn from questions like these have more to do with how the selling organization is functioning/operating and what may be required in terms of focus, resources and/or investment to improve functionality and effectiveness. We should begin by thinking about growth differently and focusing on improving the functionality of our selling operation rather than what’s missing from our selling organization. Absent a change in the way we think about growth, we will continue to find the prospects of such a task to be very expensive.
By Brian L’Heureux, Divisional Manager, Spartan Chemical Company