As Published on Forbes.com
I was speaking at a conference, and as is often the case, someone approached me later to discuss their business. I’ll call him “Tom…” mostly because that was his name. Tom said “We’ve have a great company, but we just can’t seem to grow. I’m the person responsible for most of our growth. The problem is that our clients see us as a commodity – they think we do the same thing as many other companies. On top of that, I’ve struggled to add a salesforce. We’ve spent a small fortune over the years hiring salespeople or sales managers. It never ends well.” I asked Tom a bunch of questions and then offered some advice to help him achieve greater success. Hopefully, the same concepts with resonate with you.
1. Engage Non-Salespeople
Tom cannot grow his business by doing all of the selling himself. Customers don’t want to meet with salespeople, they want to meet with subject matter experts. In order to grow, Tom needed to engage his non-salespeople. I’ve helped many organizations grow without a single person who is solely responsible for selling. The challenge is that most professionals see themselves as trusted advisors. They don’t see “selling” as very honorable. In her book Selling with Noble Purpose, Lisa Earle McLeod illustrates how important it is for your team to “sell with a noble purpose.”
2. Establish a Consistent Process and Language
If Tom is going to engage non-salespeople, then he needs to create a simple, integrity-based process for his team to follow. This meant taking his gut-feeling and on-the-fly approach and create a repeatable, teachable process. In my previous companies, I realized that I had to define the criteria to uncover the right opportunities. I mistakenly felt I had to create a process to get others to “be like me.” The reality is, I didn’t need them to “be like me.” Rather, I needed to empower them to be themselves. They needed to use their own style to uncover WHY customers needed what we offered. In a meeting with a client, each team member would collect four key pieces of information: 1) The Issue the client was facing; 2) The Impact of NOT solving that Issue and its’ relative importance; 3) The Results you and the customer could jointly use to measure success; and 4) Who else is impacted by the Issue and Solution. This gave us incredible value. We could quickly see which opportunities were real, and which were pursuit of a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. (I’ve since defined the roadmap for engaging non-salespeople in my original book, Upside Down Selling).
3. Agree To NOT Pursue Weak Opportunities
The hardest piece to implement is the discipline to walk away from weak opportunities. Sales managers and executives often embrace narrowed-focus in principle. Once they struggle to hit their numbers, some will make excuses about why they want to keep weak opportunities as active pursuits. Once you define a process to narrow your focus, I explained to Tom that he has to follow that process and agree to not waste time chasing opportunities that are not compelling for the client. This same approach has led to companies (including ones I mention in both of my books) sharply increasing their growth rate while pursuing fewer opportunities.
Avoid Founder Syndrome
One unique element for Tom is that he is a founder of his company. In my prior businesses, I took great pride in the fact that I played a major role “making rain.” For years, almost every major deal was successful based on my direct involvement. My business partner used to jokingly say “Ian makes it rain, and we mop up the puddles.” Occasionally, he would say “Next quarter is not trending too well. Why don’t you get out there and bring in some new deals.” I could generate revenue on demand. My ego and I would hit the road and deliver results. The problem was, I had not built a business to scale. Our growth was entirely dependent on me. I was a great asset for growth, and a huge bottleneck at the same time. If we wanted to accelerate growth, I had to turn what I was doing into a process. The three components above ended up helping us achieve extraordinary success.
When you struggle to grow, remember to engage your non-salespeople by collecting simple, integrity-based information that helps you determine which opportunities are real. Once you create that process, trust it. Don’t get caught chasing flawed deals. Finally, if you are a founder, be sure to recognize that your greatest strength could also be holding back your business from attaining its potential.
It’s Your Turn
What’s been your experience trying to engage non-salespeople.