Entrepreneurs are frequently great salespeople
It is rare to meet an entrepreneur who thinks they are a great salesperson or sales manager. Most times they will use language like “I just don’t have the gift of the gab” or ‘I know my products but…”. But usually at start up the entrepreneur has to be a salesperson – there is nobody else around!
It is also rare for entrepreneurs to take steps to develop selling or sales management skills, which is odd. They will frequently take financial courses, read marketing ‘how-to’ books and study HR and staff management. The business is totally dependent on sales being made, and yet it is the one art that entrepreneurs seem to shy away from.
Let’s back up a bit. At the time the business launches, the entrepreneur talks to prospective customers, defends the price, negotiates terms, enthuses about the qualities of the products or services and spends lots of effort to think of ways he can make initial sales. Contrary to the usually-expressed belief by entrepreneurs that they cannot sell, they are often really good salespeople. They work really hard and are determined to make sales because they have to. Their product knowledge is awesome; they have the ability to shave a price and the knowledge of when cutting further will hurt the business. They make very sure that what was promised gets delivered, and attend to any customer complaint with vigour and immediacy.
They are respected as experts by customers and have excellent business relationships in the customer, often at senior level. A lot of new business comes from recommendations by customers – you would have heard someone say “You need to talk to George personally; he knows what he is doing”. Their work ethic is huge; they will drop anything for a customer and somehow squeeze in additional emergency orders. Quotations are done after hours. They will somehow make sure that the factory keeps busy by generating sales in even the worst of times, and will find a way to make the key sale when the business desperately needs it to keep on track. A lost customer is regarded as a catastrophe and every effort will be made to get them back.
Is this you?
If you are an entrepreneur, have another look at the previous paragraph and ask yourself if this is you. The chances are you do all or most of those things. Now reflect a bit – have I not described the absolutely ideal salesperson? Surely as the business grows the entrepreneur would love to have several salespeople with exactly those qualities?
Purists may say that skills like presentations, proposal writing, territory management, objections handling, canvassing techniques and closing skills are missing from the list and that is true. For the harried entrepreneur the good news is that these skills are the easiest of all sales skills to master. He or she has already done the hard part. So why not do exactly that? Add the missing skills by way of courses, books and guides to become an extremely skilled salesperson.
The next step in the growth path is where the entrepreneur needs to hire people to do a lot of the work he or she did previously. This usually includes production people, administrators, maybe a logistics manager, an accountant – and one or more salespeople.
The sales manager
The entrepreneur becomes the sales manager, and only rarely does he or she look for someone with their own attitude and focus. Mistake number one made by entrepreneurs is to hire cheap salespeople, either because they are low grade, or because the company pays them minimal fixed income and sets commission packages which are unlikely to be achieved. So the salesperson fails because they are poor at their job or because they are moonlighting to make ends meet and desperate for any sale, even if it is not in the customer interest.
The second mistake is not to recognise that while necessity forced the entrepreneur to become a good salesperson, there is little to force him or her to become a good sales manager. So this, one of the most difficult management positions to run successfully is in the hands of a rank amateur, with no knowledge about the functions and demands of sales management. It is a very smart move to either hire a professional sales manager, or take some training and read a lot about this management role.
Negative beliefs are dangerous
The biggest mistake of all is to treat the salespeople with scorn. This does not have to be open comments disparaging them, it is an attitude. There is a common belief that all salespeople are liars at least some of the time. Another is that they are lazy, only in it for the money, and have to be whipped and threatened to get any work out of them. There are many other negative thoughts. As the entrepreneur discovered, sales is difficult, requires a high level of dedication and skill, needs great doses of internal motivation and is wonderfully satisfying when a sale is made. If there are negative attitudes to salespeople either change the attitudes or change the salespeople. Leaving the situation as is dooms the sales effort to failure.
Have you been a salesperson–entrepreneur? Please leave a comment.
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