This blog originally published in Printing Impressions.
The effectiveness of the sales team remains an ongoing concern for most sales leaders and CEO’s in the Graphic Communications industry. How many of your reps made budget last year or increased their sales from the year before? Recently, several CEO’s I’ve spoken with have given up on having a sales team, at least one that is focused on new business, and have moved their business development efforts towards marketing, lead generation, and inside sales or account managers. What’s the best approach for you?
Where we are Today
For many businesses, there are no absolutes. But let’s explore where we are and how we got here, and then perhaps you’ll have a clearer view of your options. As I meet with companies that do have a sales team, many if not most of the reps are in their late 40’s to mid 60’s in age and the majority have been in a sales role most of their career. So it’s fair to say that most of them have been selling since their mid to late 20’s and early 30’s – they’ve been at it for a while and many have strong relationships and powerful networks that go along with being in the game that long. The other observation is that there are very few companies that have reps in their 20’s and late 30’s, only beginning their sales career. Or, if the companies were successful in hiring younger sales reps, they didn’t make it past a year or two, for a variety of reasons.
What has Changed?
There has been much research done about to sell, and how buyers want to buy. We often talk about having a sales process that is repeatable and scalable yet we don’t talk that much about how buyers buy, or why they actually selected you as a new supplier? We assume it’s because we built trust, we were competent, understood what problem they were trying to solve and provided a reliable solution at a fair price. Maybe so. Next time you get the chance, ask a new customer why they chose you? The segment that intrigues me the most though, is how did we get up to bat in the first place? The seasoned veterans often count on referrals from existing clients, or existing buyers moving to a new company to grow their business. Nothing wrong with that, as long as it’s working – how’s that working for your team? So what about someone who doesn’t have that strong network to draw referrals from, what are they to do?
Getting at-bats and When to Sell
I’m still convinced that most reps, once they get in front of a buyer, can do a good job as long as they take their cues and quickly understand where that buyer is in their process. Has that buyer, like the research suggests, already narrowed down their search, do they understand the problem they have, and have they invited you in because their research suggests that you are a good fit for them? If so, it’s important that the rep quickly confirms and acts accordingly. If one of the arguments is that there’s a chance the buyer will seek you out, based on their research of your company, how does that further determine the role and the skills that a sales rep should have to make it easy for that buyer to buy from you? And further, should it be a full time outside sales rep, a closer, or someone inside the company?
New Business Development Emphasis
So if it’s not a referral, or a buyer that has picked you out of the bushel, how else can you get new business? I’ve written in the past about the virtues of doing the research, finding the contacts, pounding the phones, and sending email, letters, or direct mail to unsuspecting suspects with the hope that they will respond favorably. My experience tells me that approach still works for some, and not so much for others. One common denominator of success or failure seems to be having the discipline to stay at it for the long haul. We’ve all read the stats on how many touches it takes to connect with someone new, and conversely, how few attempts are actually made by the reps and when they quit. So unless the discipline improves, the ending of this movie never changes.
The other observation I have is that reps, young or old, are prospecting with the intent of finding a new customer in a relatively short time frame. In a sense, they are selling for next week, not next quarter or the quarter after that.Why is that? Well, if this is your first week selling, I can understand the desire to make something happen quickly. But, if buyers buy, or change suppliers only when they are ready, how’s that going to work? While you’ve got to start somewhere, one point of emphasis that is overlooked is the new business pipeline. New or seasoned, what’s that pipeline of potential new contacts and opportunities look like? Adding qualified opportunities to that backlog will be a better indicator for future sales success. In a pipeline review, you should be able to identify the new business opportunities that should mature this month, next month, etc. Don’t only focus on what could hatch this week – there’s a huge difference in these two approaches.
There are no absolutes as I mentioned earlier in this post. My ultimate goal is to see younger reps enter this great industry and get the direction, leadership, and time necessary to be successful for your company. Your best reps today will, one day, want to hang up their cleats. So, to stay in the game, you’ll need to be effectively nurturing the next new crop of all-stars. The better you understand what they need to be skilled at and the role they play in helping buyers buy, the more effective you’ll be at recruiting and retaining your sales team. Keep at it and don’t stop learning.
Mike Philie can help validate what’s working and what may need to change in your business. Changing the trajectory of a business is difficult to do while simultaneously operating the core competencies. Mike provides strategy and insight to owners and CEOs in the Graphic Communications Industry by providing direct and realistic assessments, not being afraid to voice the unpopular opinion and helping leaders navigate change through a common sense and practical approach. Learn more at www.philiegroup.com, LinkedIn or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.