This article was written by Ed Hatton for Entrepreneur Magazine (South African edition), as the My Mentor column published in November 2016 and is posted here by their kind permission
Where should business owners fit in to the sale process?
Buyers like dealing directly with the boss, and some large organisations insist on the business owner as their primary contact. When your business was a start-up you may have done all or most of the selling, and still have the sales relationship with customers. The problem is that the owner’s involvement in sales is seldom a defined role and this can create uncertainties and inefficiencies, so it is worthwhile examining just what your role should be.
If you have a very small business or if you have a single large customer you will probably have to be the account manager or salesperson. You may find it difficult to delegate sales responsibilities involving customers you have personally dealt with for years. Then there is the awkward transition period between the owners doing all the selling and having a fully-fledged sales force. The usual first step is to hire one or two salespeople and expecting them to generate new business with as much drive and knowledge as you apply. That is unlikely to happen. Rather approach delegation of sales responsibility and development of a sales force as projects, with appropriate funding, training, systems, measurements and processes in place.
If you must continue in sales attend a course or otherwise educate yourself about sales skills and tactics. That might seem strange when you have been selling successfully for years, but unless you understand solution based selling you will not know what additional business you could be getting. Then get an understudy to shadow you and take over at least the routine work. Free up time to manage the business otherwise you will not grow.
Many entrepreneurs have salespeople or resellers reporting directly to them. If so, please reflect that sales and channel management are specialised functions. Professional sales and channel managers can add immense value to the business by getting the most out of the sales force or channel. If you are doing this job part time with no training you will almost certainly be much less effective. That means lower turnover, less motivated salespeople and fewer customers. Undertake the relevant training or hire a professional.
With sales or channel managers limit your Involvement to managing the manager not their team. Make sure there is a sales process in place and that it is being followed, then let them get on with it and manage by results. Use a good CRM system. Make yourself available to assist in sales cycles where needed but only dive in if a serious problem looms. If you have retained some customers, subject yourself to the same disciplines and processes as those applicable to the sales team.
Consistency is very important, if you get involved in random sales cycles and ignore others you will create uncertainty and doubt, and you do not need either of these in your sales team. An underperforming sales manager or one who shields incompetent salespeople means you must take corrective action rather than taking over, just as you should for any manager. Your primary roles should include sales strategy, reputation management and finding the resources to provide the appropriate level of sales support and marketing to create a climate where sales strike rates are higher.
Organisations which sell via the internet or direct marketing in any form are employing channels and these must be managed as such. You need skilled management, sales support and marketing. The challenge is different to managing salespeople or resellers but it is not any easier. Manage the manager, and be consistent.
Sales is the lifeblood of your business. No sales means no business survival so you must involve yourself appropriately. But if sales is the lifeblood you should be the brains – your job is strategy and business management so don’t get so deep in sales that you fail in your primary function.
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