Recently, I had the great pleasure of giving the keynote address to a group of product distribution business companies. All of them built successful businesses and succeeded in a tough marketplace. The topic was sales improvement and how changes in the sales landscape put pressure on companies to optimize their sales organizations.
We started with a video about the SawStop company, which invented a way to stop a table saw blade within a few thousandths of a second, and thereby prevent operator accidents. In the video, the inventor put his own finger into the moving blade’s rotation to demonstrate that his invention works. At this, the audience could only gasp!
The resulting message for us is, as a CEO or executive, what is your saw blade and what must you do that scares you to ensure the growth of your company. Managing a sales force today requires that you transition your salespeople from account managers to proactive hunters, and from presenters to consultative sellers.
Achieving this means overcoming many obstacles including the motivation of your salespeople, changing the way that they sell and teaching them new skills which they either don’t have or haven’t used in a while.
The fastest way to accomplish this is to invest time, money, effort and resources in your sales leaders. Making the decision to do this involves your own investment.
I asked the audience a series of questions:
- How many of you are great at holding people accountable?
- What percentage of your 2011 revenue came from brand new accounts?
- How many of you love sales leadership?
- Can you grow your business without a more effective sales leadership function?
- Do you feel like your salespeople are holding you hostage?
- How much time do your sales leaders spend developing their people?
- Who is responsibility for this change?
- Why haven’t you changed?
Not surprisingly, the answers raised much introspection and soul-searching. CEO’s, presidents and business leaders have succeeded in growing their businesses despite not having optimized their sales organizations. Much of this is due to phenomenal efforts to improve operations, financial management, acquisitions and other business operation functions. The time of sales improvement is now upon us. We need to treat the sales force with the same level of professionalism that we do with other departments. We need to align and develop the systems and processes that support the sales department and, most importantly, we need to raise our standards for what is expected and acceptable. To do this, you need to invest in the people who are the lifeblood of your company’s growth.