When I was a very young girl, barely thirteen in fact, I read a line from ‘Gone with the Wind’ that was to stay with me for a long time after.
Rhett says to Scarlett, “I told you once before that there were two times for making big money, one in the up-building of a country and the other in its destruction. Slow money on the up-building, fast money in the crack-up. Remember my words. Perhaps they may be of use to you some day”.
I have seen this happening over and over in the course of my career as a sales person. These insightful words (maybe slightly modified to suit different scenarios) apply to any major upheaval - the arrival of a new technology, a major downturn or any event that makes everything up to that point obsolete. These are all situations in which someone is running a successful business. Yes, even during a recession or war.
If this is accepted as fact, then, a business can be set up and can also thrive successfully in any kind of economy, provided a few things are done correctly and diligently.
One of those things, and I would even go so far as to call it the second most important thing after ensuring the timing and relevance of the product/service in the prevailing market, is the sales team. A sales team that functions optimally is a force to be reckoned with, often providing information about existing customers and their behavior, spotting potential for business growth and identifying new trends and patterns as they arise and evolve.
There are three important things an entrepreneur or business leader needs to do in order to build a successful sales team.
Recruitment & Training | Inbound vs Outbound balance | Sales Management
Often, in start-ups as well as mid-sized organisations, I have seen that an inside sales representative (a ubiquitous hire in most B2B scenarios) is a fresher with very little inclination for sales, and even lesser reason for interviewing for a sales job. Companies are frequently penny wise and pound foolish when it comes to their sales hires. The idea that a generic X/Y/Z graduate with, at the most one year of sales experience, can be hired and trained to sell well is old-fashioned (dating back to the scripted tele-marketing days) and flawed, especially considering that most entrepreneurs are not sales people themselves.
The other aspect of making the right sales hire is to identify that exceptional sales person who can walk the talk. Look for competitiveness, optimism, passion, self-motivation and integrity during the interview, and ask specific questions about their experience that will answer these questions for you. It is extremely important to do this right, because these people are essentially the face and the voice of your company.
Inside sales has evolved greatly, from pushy tele-marketing in the 1950s and 60s to a transformational business tool that uses data and analytics to understand customer needs and address them accurately. So, today’s Inside sales rep should be trained, not just with a script for calling and an email template, but also extensively on the product/service and in the art of probing and asking relevant questions. Insight selling is extremely important to an inside sales rep. Sorry, I couldn’t resist that. :)
That said, many sales reps are never trained beyond a basic script and have limited product knowledge, the assumption being that detailed discussions will happen with someone more senior on another call. This approach is a two-fold mistake. Greater knowledge about the product/solution and an ability to understand and assess need at the first touch-point actually provides more relevant and qualified leads (about 20% more) and allows for a more meaningful discussion with the prospect. Greater product knowledge has also been identified by customers as one of the key deciding factors in their buying process.
In addition, answers to questions at the first touch-point will throw light on several things;
- What is the current market trend?
- How good is the product to market fit?
- How much do customers feel a certain pain?
- Is your product/service relevant, or do customers feel that there is a better solution out there?
Your inside sales strategy can effectively double-up as a branding tool and a valuable source of market information if executed properly.
The second aspect of building a good sales team – The right balance of Inbound Vs Outbound efforts, and focusing on Hunting and Farming instead of gravitating towards Farming – THIS, I think is the fatal flaw in the sales strategy of most start-ups and mid-sized businesses.
Here is part 2 in this series: How to Set Up Your Outbound Sales Team for Success!