When a business enters the growth phase, several critical tipping points can make or break the business. One common scenario often arises when the business outgrows a one-or two-person operation and emerges as a full-blown business: the owner can no longer do all of the selling. Hiring and retaining salespeople is complex and I’ve seen numerous business owners fail at this stage. Like most of the problems I’ve seen, it usually stems from a failure to implement an adequate sales system.
On one end up the spectrum, I’ve seen business owners recruit salespeople believing that no training is necessary. A comment remark I’ve heard is that “The way you learn to sell is by selling.” On the other end, I’ve seen micromanagement. Small business owners are prone to swinging from one extreme to the other, especially when paying a salary or a draw commission. The owner might be completely hands-off in the beginning, then begin to apply pressure and scare tactics when the sales don’t come in. Neither extreme is healthy or effective. When businesses operate in this fashion, they most often end up firing one salesperson after another, never recognizing how simple the solution could have been.
The sales process from the customer’s point of view
It has been said that “no one likes to be sold.” I disagree with that statement. Personally, I only object to bad sales pitches. I don’t like obnoxious salespeople. I don’t like salespeople who give canned pitches without listening. I don’t like being assaulted on my way into a store. I don’t like it when I tell someone “no” and they continue to “hard close” me.
On the other hand, I love a good sales pitch. I admire when a salesperson makes me curious to know more about what they’re selling. I’ve found that most people feel the same way, whether they realize it or not.
Contrary to popular belief, a good sales pitch does not require an inborn set of rare talents. It requires consistent mastery of basic disciplines. Unfortunately, many sales training programs encourage a pushy, manipulative and often dishonest method of selling. Companies that use these methods usually do not retain the majority of their salespeople. They pack rooms full of bright-eyed, bushy-tailed college students and promise large sums of money. The stereotype of the used-car salesman stems from a self-serving attitude, and a willingness to lie, cheat or steal in order to make money. The best salespeople, on the other hand, are honest and ethical. They earn a customer’s trust, because they are willing to turn away a large commission check, if it serves the customer’s best interest not to buy today.
The difference between the salespeople we love to buy from and the ones we avoid like the plague really amounts to one key factor: integrity in every transaction. It requires trust. It requires patience. It sometimes requires willingness to forgo short-term rewards that might be easily-gotten by bending ethical lines. It sometimes requires volunteering a piece of information that might make a prospect hesitant to buy. It might mean giving a refund to a customer who is not contractually entitled to one, or giving extra service at the expense of taking a loss.
For this post, I interviewed Ashley Morrison, owner of Abundant Marketing. There’s one thing I’ve always respected about Ashley: she has a kind of quiet determination. Many people know that I have a dim view of the old adage “fake it till you make it.” I’ve learned to spot fakers, and I’ve also learned to appreciate when I see a business owner who is genuinely positive through the ups and downs that come with running a business. Ashley has expanded her company at a steady pace over the time that I’ve known her, and she has focused on building a sales team based on a solid set of core values. I asked her a few questions to gain some insight into how she has created a scalable selling system.
Dave Baldwin: At what point did you initially decide you needed to bring on salespeople?
Ashley Morrison: My goal with Abundant Marketing is to be a company that serves small businesses, in a local manner, across the US. So, I knew I need a sales person from day one of my company. But, when I hired a business coach and told him my vision, that was the moment when we started heading in the direction of sales people and figuring out how that would work.
DB: When you vet or screen candidates for sales, what are some of the first questions you ask?
AM: My business coach initially screens all of the candidates that apply in order to save me time and get the best candidates in front of me. He asks questions to gain an idea of where they are at in life and what they are looking for in a job, so that we know that we have people passionate about serving small businesses.
DB: What do you feel are the most important qualities for a salesperson in the type of business that you operate?
AM: The most important, without a doubt, is a self-starting personality. In the past, I found that the individuals I had to motivate were the toughest sales people and didn’t really enjoy their jobs.
DB: When you train a new salesperson, do you feel it is more effective to teach them to sell one specific type of service at a time, or give them a broad overview of all that your company does?
AM: We teach them all the services at once and how they all work together, because a business rarely needs one service and it is crucial for them to understand how they work together. My sales team are trained to be marketers themselves, so when a customer asks them a question about how their marketing plan is working together, they can answer the questions confidently.
DB: What is your philosophy on “field training” of sales reps, or having them ride along on appointments with a more experienced person?
AM: I believe in field training; that is how new sales reps learn. In our training, we field train on almost everything, including open networking, BNI networking, sales meetings, cold calls, etc in addition to the sales meetings. We have a schedule that walks them through all types of marketing they can use and how to implement each tactic.
DB: How long do you feel it should take for a new salesperson to become competent in their role?
AM: They should understand everything up to the sales meeting as soon as they are done with training, which for us takes two weeks. We give them six sales meetings to become comfortable, then my business coach helps me “push them out of the nest.” They will always have questions, but we expect their performance to reach a higher level after their first full month.
DB: Do you find that it works better for every salesperson to follow the same basic routine, or to develop their own individual selling strategy?
AM: We initially tried to give our staff freedom to set their goals and decide on their own approach to client acquisition. However, we have found that most reps have needed more structure and a set schedule, specific goals, and repercussions when they don’t meet those goals (which I hate having to enforce).
The Abundant Marketing sales system isn’t foolproof. They are learning, tweaking, and changing on a regular basis to make sure it is the best system for the customers and sales team. But, Ashley is always monitoring both sides of the sales relationship to ensure that they are truly helping small businesses and giving employees a place where they love to come to work! Here’s a recent photo of their team having fun.
Abundant Marketing provides comprehensive marketing solutions for small businesses, and they are located in Cary, North Carolina. You can learn more about Abundant Marketing on their web site.