Are you an Accidental Sales Manager?
For every entrepreneur, the need to get out there and sell in the early days is a rite of passage.
Typically, it’s the founder’s passion that wins those early customer deals.
And, of course, these deals often come through a close contact, which always helps.
For many, though, the challenge comes when seeking to scale this early success.
We’ve worked with lots of business owners who begin to struggle at this point, particularly when they are scaling without outside investment.
Why? Broadly, if you’ve got external investment, then you can attract – and afford – the best talent.
Even then, when it comes to hiring salespeople, there are still many risks.
But it’s undoubtedly easier than a more DIY approach.
And it’s definitely made more difficult when the entrepreneur hasn’t a formal sales background.
The “Accidental” Sales Manager
This is where we see many business owners having the biggest challenges.
They’ve become an “accidental” sales manager and find themselves having to hire, train and manage a new sales team.
Even if you’re just managing one person, it can still be a significant challenge.
The reason is that there’s always more to scaling a sales team than just hiring someone.
If you’ve not had a formal sales background, let alone one in sales management, then there are plenty of pitfalls to avoid.
Compounded with the fact that salespeople are always a higher cost (and risk) employee.
Here are some common issues that we see:
1) Poor Hiring Process
Salespeople are, unsurprisingly, good at selling themselves.
You really need to dig into their history and numbers to weed out the BS.
Also, understanding what type of sales person you need is critical; hiring a “farmer” when you really want an out-and-out “hunter” is a costly mistake.
2) Lack of Systems
When a founding team has been doing all the selling they typically get by with few (if any) formal systems.
When we speak with entrepreneurs who own sales for the company, we ask them “When was the last-time you formally reviewed your deal pipeline?” Often we are met with silence.
In our experience, data can be sporadic or non-existent; reporting and forecasting systems are rarer still.
Without these you cannot effectively manage your salespeople.
3) Missing Sales Tools
As the entrepreneur, you have the benefit of having everything in your head.
The business is your baby, right? And invariably you’re the technical expert too.
But when you start to build a sales team, you need to get everything out of your head and into a format that will help them sell.
They won’t have your depth of expertise about the product or service, so they need the tools.
Everything from a “cheat sheet” of common objections through to power-point deck and ROI models.
Assume they need it all… and keep adding to them.
4) Underestimating the Ramp-Up Time
This is probably the biggest issue (compounded by all the above).
Founders nearly always think that their new sales hire will get up and running quicker than what is really the case.
We’ve previously written a blog post on this subject, which goes into more detail on why this is so important and what you can do to avoid this issue.
It causes so much stress to the business and founders, and can potentially result in a backward step if the new hire doesn’t make it.
Whatever timescale you have in mind… just double it (at least).
In addition to all of the above, it’s worth saying that for complex and enterprise sales (higher-value, longer sales cycle, multiple decision makers and stakeholders) the more likely all these issues will be present.
So, what’s the solution?
How can you avoid these issues when building a sales team?
Firstly, if you’re a business owner and still the “salesperson” for the business, you need to invest in getting the systems and tools in place – before you hire anyone.
It’s time to get professional about your sales.
Track pipeline deals and KPIs to see how you can improve. Invest in creating systems that can be taught.
Yes, that does mean more work. But it will both set you up for success when you do scale, as well as give you confidence about what you can reasonably expect from anyone you hire.
This is an area that we advise founders and business owners on, either in workshops or through one-to-one support.
If you’re already an accidental sales manager and struggling in any of the four areas that we’ve covered above, then you need to understand what changes are needed and what will have the biggest impact.
In this scenario, we help clients rapidly assess their current capabilities, including the sales team, and put in place a prioritised plan of action.
From experience, this not only helps the entrepreneur become more effective, but will support the development (and performance) of the whole sales team.
If any of these issues resonate with your situation – contact us to find out how we can help.