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December 18, 2018

Marketing & Sales for ‘Old’ Business Owners, Part 3

“Sales doesn’t work for a company like ours.”

Or “Sales doesn’t work in our industry” or any number of other anti-sales statements. Why is it that so many “old” business owners say those kinds of things? Why is there such a bias against “sales” people?

I think their responses are driven by one of three things:

Perception: When an old business owner thinks of a “salesman,” they immediately go to the old stereotype – the fast-talking, white-shoes-and-white-belt-wearing, used car salesman type – because that’s what they grew up with.

And no one would want someone like that representing their firm in the marketplace… especially in today’s business environment, where buyers are in the driver’s seat.

Unfortunately, what these business owners don’t consider (and maybe don’t understand) is the modern alternative to that… the smart, professional, well-trained sales professional with a “seek first to help, then to sell” mentality… someone who can represent their firm and help to build their brand in the markets they serve.

Expertise: “Only experts in our area of specialty can sell what we sell.” Old business owners believe this because they don’t understand the sales process.

‘Experts in our specialty” certainly can – and should – be part of the sales process… especially toward the end to help ‘close’ the deal or design the project.

What these owners don’t understand – and what the experts can’t or won’t do – is all of the sales work leading up to the close… following-up on incoming sales leads or inquiries, staying in touch with prospects (“nurturing”), being available as a resource, cold-calling, working the booth at a conference and the continuous, proactive outreach – the hundreds of calls, voice mails and emails. That’s what needs to be done… and won’t be done without someone focused on selling and who understands how to sell.

I am certainly not suggesting that salespeople go out into the marketplace with no understanding of your area of expertise. Of course, they have to understand it and be able to talk intelligently about it, but they don’t have to be an expert. When expertise is needed, the salesperson can bring in the expert to participate in the conversation and help to convert the prospect.

Expectations: “I hired a sales guy several years ago and he didn’t sell anything in the first three months… so we fired him.”

Hey old business owner… what did you expect?

Sure, you might have hired a sales rep who was just not very good and needed firing. But let’s consider two other, very common scenarios…

#1. What’s your ‘sales cycle?’ If it’s 6-12 months, like many other professional services firms, what did you [realistically] think would happen? Sales isn’t magic… it’s hard, continuous work that – even for the best salespeople on the planet – takes time to pay off. You’ve got to give your sales reps – and the sales process – time to be successful.

#2. There are also those business owners who think they can hire a sales rep and just “let them sell.” However, the reason why this ‘strategy’ usually fails is:

  • No training (on what you do and how you do it, on your industry, on the markets and kind of clients you serve, etc.)
  • An incomplete tool kit (laptop, CRM, smart phone, quiet office to work from, a reasonable budget, etc.)
  • Minimal marketing support (not just business cards and sales collateral, but a smart, strategic marketing initiative that builds awareness in the markets you serve, helps establish a reputation for your firm, and effectively generates in-bound sales leads for them to follow-up with)
  • No leadership; every sales rep – regardless of their experience and skill level, needs support, direction, a friendly ear, guidance, motivation (this includes a proper comp plan), accountability and so on. They need a ‘sales manager’… something most business owners have no experience with.

So, old business owner, before you unilaterally abandon the idea of sales because “it doesn’t work for a firm like ours” (or some other ill-founded excuse), take a long look in the mirror and make sure YOU aren’t the source of the problem.

When properly hired, trained, measured and managed, having a dedicated sales professional (or two) on your team can dramatically increase the trajectory of your firm.


This was part 3 of a 5-part series; I’ll be taking next week off to celebrate the Christmas week, but will be back with Part 4 right after the first of the year.

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