Read this before you hire a sales expert

As someone who has been employed to help people grow their businesses, I have learnt a lot about the hopes, dreams, worries, and fears that lead people to hiring a sales consultant or employing new sales director. At the heart of it is the realisation that they cannot grow their business fast enough themselves; either because of a lack of time, knowledge, willingness, or capability.

Does any of the following ring true to you?

· You have just started out and do not really know how to grow your revenue.

· You have a great product or service and are just about to hire senior sales resource to help you increase your rate of growth.

· You want to grow faster but do not know how to overcome the things that are limiting you.

· You urgently need to transform your business as growth has stalled.

Whilst there is a lot of truth in the phrase “sales solve everything”, the answer is probably not to pay your way out of the issue. Too many companies waste money on sales resource. In hindsight, there are times when I have even been that waste of money myself. I have learnt much from my successes and failures, as well as those of others. I want to share some thoughts on what do to when you find yourself in this situation.

Who cares most about your business?

You can feel it when someone is passionate about what they do, and there is no-one that cares more about your product or service than you. If there is, then you are probably doing the wrong thing, but that is a separate issue all together. Your passion will shine through. Hiring a consultant or a permanent sales leader is basically asking someone to fake what you have naturally got. It is unlikely to work as well. Ask yourself who is most likely to inspire people about your business?

Who is the best person to sell your product?

It is you. It always has been you, and until your business is much bigger, it will continue to be you. Even if you do not think so, it is still you. Sure, you might be a bit rough round the edges, but guess what? No-one will be able to do your business justice the way you can. Who can tell your story better than you? The answer – no one.

Selling has changed.

Selling is not a battle. It is a dance. You should be working with the people, not against them. The traditional view of selling is dead. The old-fashioned skills of trying to persuade people to buy what you have is long gone. You need high levels of self-awareness and brilliant listening and questioning skills. Understand the customer’s problem before you start talking about your solution. Of course, there are many skills to learn, and sales folk have spent a lot of time honing them You will almost certainly be playing catch-up here. However, competence should be coupled with authenticity. It’s much easier to learn and improve the skills that to develop the underlying desire for what your business does.

Successful salespeople are made, not born.

“This is all good and well” you say, ”but I’m not cut out for selling. It’s just not what I’m good at, and it’s not what I want to do.” I hear that often, but what does that really mean? I think it is either lack of confidence in your ability to be yourself, or a pre-conception of what makes a good salesperson. The reality is that you don’t need to be an extroverted, gift-of-the-gab, Wolf Of Wall Street type. You just need to be yourself. Add to that some process, determination, curiosity, and creativity. A thick skin helps, but I think you can apply those traits to any job function. Sure, you are going to hear No a few times, but who doesn’t? Just like anything, it is nerve-wracking at first, but you’ll get better as you learn from each interaction.

Selling is a learnable skill.

The more deliberate practice you do, the better you will get. Yes, it is a lot of hard work, but anyone can learn it, and everyone needs to. It doesn’t matter what ‘job’ you do, everyone is selling all the time. Remember, anyone can do it, I promise, and that means you too. Learn the skills, understand the process, take the feedback, get back on your feet, constantly improve, but never stop. Selling is an iterative process, no-one is ever the finished article, and no-one is a hopeless case either.

Stop trying so hard to sell.

You might be thinking “I get that, but it’s just not me. I’m better getting someone else to do it.” Then do not think of what you are doing as selling. Because you are not. You are a storyteller. You are looking for customer problems, matching their needs to your solution, and making their world a better place. Yes, there is some process to follow that will make it more effective (we will come to that later) but just think of yourself as a storyteller. It will all come back to your passion – if you care about what you do, you should want to solve that problem for as many people as possible. Telling that story isn’t so hard, is it?

Understand that no one really cares about your business.

People might ask you what you do, but few people actually care. They have enough on their own plate. So, shut up and listen. Seriously. They will be ready to take in your story once they’ve told you theirs. By that stage, you know what is going to push their buttons and your story will make them warm and fuzzy. But don’t jump to it too quickly.

No-one wants to meet your salespeople.

I often hear “I’m the CEO, I shouldn’t be the one selling. It reduces our credibility.” Wrong. Who would you rather meet – the boss, or someone you know is only there to sell to you? “It makes us look small if I’m selling.” Yes, it does, and small is beautiful. Who are you more likely to trust: someone in a quota driven sales team, or someone who can demonstrate understanding, empathy, and flexibility?

Businesses with a good product offer should not need a sales team.

I think any small business that needs to have a sales function does not have a good enough offer. Your specialised sales resource and effort are papering over bigger cracks. Those cracks are typically that right now you are not solving an important enough problem, your solution is not clear or compelling enough, or you have not found the right market. My ambition is to encourage every small business to do away with sales teams all together. Keep the process, remove the team. You should not need it. If you think you do, I urge you to get rid of it and invest your energy, time and money in improving your product or service.

Mercenaries are in it for themselves.

You are thinking of hiring someone to find and then close deals. Who are they really doing it for? What is most important to them? Do they want to find you the ideal client that you can grow with over time, or is it the commission you are going to give them on Year 1 revenue? Are they going to make the best long term decision for you, or are they going to maximise what they get out of the interaction? The reality is that hiring someone else to do this work puts your business at greater risk of making bad decisions.

How realistic are your expectations?

How long is it going to take you to get them up and running, for them to really understand what problems you solve, how you do it, and then to start building relationships? Typically, how long is your sales cycle. In most sectors, I seriously doubt you are getting an return on new sales investment within 12 months. How long are you prepared to wait? I have not met many people who give it longer than 6 months, and it is not long enough. Often, you have changed course before any results were ever going to come in. Your great hope has been ditched in favour of a new ‘better’ person or approach because you thought they weren’t up to the job. It is a vicious cycle of failure because your expectations are too high, and you think success is going to happen too quickly. Be patient.

Who should manage the process?

It probably shouldn’t be you, but don’t overinvest in people, structure and systems. Of course, there are amazing CRM systems, and multiple other sparkly software solutions, but they are only enablers, and can be costly. Yes, they should improve your processes, but they are only ever as good as what your input. No system can compensate for poor quality data. They can tell you who to contact and when, but they cannot tell you what to say and they are not going to pick up the phone for you. They cannot build a genuine relationship. Not yet, at least! Be well organised, and use system if you need, but in themselves, they will change nothing.

Balance strategy and action.

I have come across many people who think they need a phone basher, a door opener, a negotiator, or a closer. The reality is that until you have built a robust and evidence-based go-to-market plan that is grounded in reality, investing in the management of process, or ill-directed action will not get you far. Understand the dynamics of the situation you are in and why you are in it, then design a plan and test it out. It does not need to take months, but it needs to happen.

What should I do?

It may not seem like it, but I believe great salespeople, both consultants and permanent hires, are worth their weight in gold. They command high salaries for a reason. But they need to be in the right type of business and at the right time. Often, they have the deck stacked against them before they even start; partly out of their own desire to land that contract and partly by your misguided expectations. Most business owners sabotage their salespeople’s ability to succeed. That means they limit their own success too. If this rings true, and you would like some thoughts on how you can rethink how to deliver long-term sustainable growth, let us know.