What is the most common problem with the sales function in manufacturing companies? Below, I’ll show you and then I’ll explain how to fix it. As with many things in life - the solution is simple, but don’t mistake simplicity for ease, because easy it is not! If you want to fix the sales function in your business then you will have to put some work into it, just as you would into the other areas of your business. But let’s get back to what the problem actually is……..
How often have I heard the following assertions from SME tech businesses:
“I hired an experienced salesperson but he/she just didn’t work out for us….”
“We have a great salesperson, I don’t know how he/she does it…”
“Sales have dropped since our star salesperson left….”
Most tech manufacturers have three main activities within their business units. These are R&D, Production and Sales. Many tech manufacturers are started by engineers or scientists of one sort or another. These founders are inherently innovators who love nothing more than designing elegant and novel solutions to problems their customers have. These solutions are the products that we sell and the founders of these companies usually have a descending list of interest levels within their business activities as follows:
Designing Products (most interested)
Producing Products (fairly interested)
Selling Products (not interested at all, except in the output numbers i.e. the total sales)
Now scientists, engineers and innovators in general understand the need for processes to get R&D done. Most manufacturers have some formal methodology or process to govern the development of new products, think design control procedures or agile software development for example. Similarly, producers have controls and processes to cover how their product is manufactured.
This all makes perfect sense, right?
Then why do so many companies refuse to put in place procedures and controls for their sales function. Well the answer is usually that they don’t want to. What I mean is that the owners just aren’t interested in applying the same common sense to the sales function that they demand of R&D and Production departments. Now a very wise man and a mentor of mine (thanks Boris!) once told me that the difference between a business and a hobby is sales. In order to be paid for your innovation you have to convince someone to buy it from you and that does not happen by magic.
So the next time you look at your star performing salesperson, and I mean really look and analyse what they are doing, then I bet you will find they excel at the following:
They are very disciplined about doing regular sales tasks
They are assertive
The are organised and don’t let things slip
They analyse activities in terms of outcomes and they dump the activities that don’t bring in sales while increasing usage of the activities that do.
Items 2 & 3 have a lot to do with someone's personality and these are among the main things I suggest you really explore in candidates during your hiring process but I will leave a blog on hiring salespeople to another occasion.
Items 1 and 4 are about process; your sales process. Indeed, let’s capitalise this: SALES PROCESS. Just like your processes for R&D and production, your Sales Process is a written and comprehensive document on how to sell your products. If you (a) don’t have a written and comprehensive sales process document or (b) don’t ensure that it us implemented rigorously and revised regularly, then you are practicing voodoo or magic selling i.e. you are relying on apparently mystical powers of a star salesperson to stand between your business and financial ruin.
So what does a great sales process document look like? Well here’s the rub or, more accurately, here is where you have to do some hard work because your sales process is unique to your business, market and product. There may be elements that are common to many similar businesses but your sales process will not be the same as someone else's. So the next time you meet a supposed sales-guru who offers to teach you how to sell their way, run a mile. These are the snake-oil salespeople of the sales training business. They ask you to pay them to teach some skills to your sales staff and then, when those staff leave, they take all that knowledge with them. The reason your sales process should be unique to your company is because your business is unique. How you can and should sell will be affected by:
Your target market
Your company culture
So if your product has a high price tag and/or forms part of complex projects/installations for your customers then it will need relationship selling i.e. long term hand-holding, going on a journey with your customers to carry them from early interest to purchasing commitment and on to being happy products users. Similarly, your sales process will have to adjust depending on the target market e.g. do you sell to businesses or publically funded institutions, and do single individuals usually make the purchasing decision or are there multiple decision makers and/or influencers. Finally, what sort of sales style do you want to have within your organisation? Is it a team selling culture?; do you want to separate sales and customer support?; will you have a separate inside sales department?, etc., etc.
So as I said at the outset, selling is simple - but not easy. If you want to add value to your business then get control of your sales process just like you control your R&D and Production processes. If you have a great salesperson then find out exactly what they do and document it, then require this process to be followed by all your sales team. Then, when a new salesperson starts you can get them up and running quickly because they will have a clear guide to follow. Similarly, when a great salesperson leaves you won’t have a complete disaster on your hands because by regularly updating your sales process with the best practice from your most successful team members you will have a process that your next hire can pick up and run with.
So, if you have been hiding from your sales function and hoping that others will magically keep the orders flowing then stop now and take control. Eliminate one of the biggest risks to your business and, at the same time, you will add value when it come time to retire because any prospective buyer will be delighted to see you treat the sales function in your business with the same care and diligence you apportion to your R&D and Production departments.
May 18th, 2023
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