There is no business without sales. It sounds like an easy concept to embrace, but I can’t tell you how often I regularly see leaders focus on everything else but selling. It’s as if it is an afterthought as they tinker under the hood trying to build the perfect internal product/service delivery engine. In addition, when it comes to making discretionary investments in sales staff or marketing/advertising activities, they are often “penny wise and pound foolish.” Sure, we would all like to have a company where customers line up to buy from us because of how wonderful we are; however, business just doesn’t work that way. The best product or service almost never wins on those merits alone.
Word of mouth growth is great, and it will also only ever get you so far. Eventually you will have to convince people who don’t even know who you are, that you are the preferred alternative in an inevitably crowded marketplace. You will have to overcome price objections and proactively respond to ever-changing quality expectations. You will need to repeatedly ask for customer referrals and explore new market opportunities. You will need to understand how to best compete for the business and differentiate your marketing efforts accordingly. Moreover, you may even have to get individuals to buy something they don’t even know they need. All of this requires a focused and well-coordinated business development infrastructure.
I certainly understand and empathize with the idea that a career in sales isn’t for everyone, but CEOs/business owners have no choice but to make sales happen. It will stretch even the most confident leaders beyond their comfort zone at times. By its very nature, selling comes with a lot of disappointment and rejection. Customers are increasingly pushing back and are becoming more educated about their options. You will need to be flexible, have thick skin, and bounce back quickly. As you hire others to sell, you will become frustrated with their slow progress. You will second guess your organizational ability to identify, hire, train and manage business development talent. Building and maintaining an effective sales infrastructure will take more time and cost more money than you ever expected – accept rather than resist this reality.
There is a certain amount of selling which is a numbers game where you must apply the right resources against the right activities to increase your probability of short and long-term success. My professional observation would lead me to believe that most organizations aren’t particularly good at creating effective sales processes to achieve consistent business growth. And, the leader will quickly hit a ceiling on what he/she can accomplish personally through individual talent or sheer force of will. This is why you need to continually invest in, leverage and challenge your sales efforts. All companies must limit their dependence on individuals, products/services, markets, and processes. The business development target is always moving. Keep your overhead low and continually funnel resources towards customer/market diversification and growth.
Let others tinker under the operational hood. As the leader you are by default the Chief Sales Officer. Your job is to stress the organization from the “outside in” not the “inside out.” Never forget that there is no business without sales.
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