My Microsoft buddy has had an interesting work career. He has worked in Pharma, sold videos for Disney during the VHS heyday, and had a stop at Yahoo before joining Microsoft’s XBOX team. He is a life-long “sales” guy. The fascinating aspect (and he shares this often) of this sales guy’s career is he has always represented products in high demand, to the point, that he had to tell potential customers that they couldn’t have them. Our mutual friend, who sells investment funds and other money products, feigns disgust that “XBOX” calls himself a sales guy. How could anyone who tells prospective buyers “no” be a sales person? We should all be so lucky! For most of us, the sales game is a tough one, a very tough one. A vast array of competitors, fickle customers, and our own discipline make life difficult for most sales people. And while there are many factors to running a business that make it successful, it all comes down to getting in front of a prospect with a compelling value proposition and asking for an order.
So, getting sales right is critical for any business. Let’s assume a company’s product is competitive and can be delivered effectively (even though many sales folks will tell you not to confuse selling with installing!), that organization MUST ensure it has the right people, with the right message, with the right processes, with right guidance selling their products. A colleague of mine who has a career in sales recently engaged with a company whose sales had been stagnant at about $14M for years. The company produces a commodity product, has 14 salespeople and sells its product in North and South America. Over the last 8 months, my colleague has modified the message for the salespeople, built new selling tools, focused their efforts in new verticals, implemented an activity tracking and forecasting process and stressed the importance of not only maintaining existing customers, but growing them. Additionally, and probably more importantly, he has stressed the importance of listening for opportunity. It’s all about the customer and his business and, only after you really understand that, can you sell your products and services. The results: the company is tracking to a $20M revenue year in 2008 with an enormous funnel leading to 2009.
This work isn’t easy. And while my friend has always represented products in high demand, he too is a master of the fundamentals I have shared above. He recognizes there is always a competitor lurking with the next hot product and, if you are not ready with a disciplined, focused and energetic sales organization, you will lose in the long run.