I was going to title this post, “Entrepreneurship for Sales Organizations,” and I will still talk about the benefits of implementing entrepreneurial thought, but I realized that a complete pivot in the underlying thinking of sales organizations is needed to make that type of thinking work. In my last post, I talked about salespeople embracing entrepreneurship in their work. Now I'd like to talk about how sales organizations need to change the way they think about their salespeople in order to enable and encourage entrepreneurship.
Sales has some of the highest turnover of any profession. I believe this is due in some part to the traditionally regimented nature of sales organizations. There is a quota, a methodology, and a schedule. There are Key Performance Indicators of how salespeople are measuring up to the quota, methodology, and schedule. It’s very scientific and impersonal. You either make the cut or you don’t.
You either make the cut or you don't.
The problem is that, in order to succeed in sales, you need to be personable. You need to connect with your customers, understand them as individuals and tailor a solution around their needs. Organizations expect their salespeople to operate this way, but they inexplicably don’t operate that way with their own salespeople.
I myself have been guilty in the past of thinking of salespeople by the numbers instead of as individuals. But I have had more success when exploring the personality of each salesperson and encouraging them to be self-reflective. This is where entrepreneurship comes in to play. A good entrepreneur understands their own strengths and weaknesses and uses that knowledge to better conquer the marketplace alongside team members with complimentary skill sets. Encouraging salespeople to think this way is good for salespeople and sales organizations.
A good entrepreneur understands their own strengths and weaknesses.
Being a good Sales Manager means understanding the strengths of each sales person in relation to how they connect with customers, and nurturing those strengths while mentoring for improvements on weaknesses. It also means encouraging your salespeople to go in their own direction rather than a fully prescribed one. This means encouraging them to be entrepreneurial.
I have heard sales leaders talk about their past sales wins and then assure their salespeople that they too can win a completely different deal with a completely different set of individual buyers the same way. This line of thinking assumes that sales is a cold repeatable science, that all salespeople are the same, and that all customers are the same. As I mentioned in my previous post, one person’s greatest strength may be in writing catchy email subjects and another’s may be in one-on-one relationship building. Depending on the industry and product, it makes sense to build on particular talents and maybe even work in teams.
What most people get wrong about being an entrepreneur is that it is not about having a “great idea.” There are lots of great ideas, but not as many that ever make it to market. Ideas need great execution to succeed. An entrepreneur is someone who can see the landscape all around them, and chart a better or more creative path to success.
Ideas need great execution to succeed.
Sales Organizations would do well to realize that telling salespeople to do the best they possibly can on the prescribed path is not as effective as helping them find the best path. Salespeople still needs to hit goals and sell, but sales organizations should spend more time developing individuals than teaching methodology. Admittedly, this is easier said than done with a generation of sales managers that built careers around numbers and methodology.
Developing each salesperson as an individual may sound costly and time consuming, but only when taken in the context of the current levels of turnover. Creating more successful individuals will make happier and more successful salespeople and turnover will decrease. It is a risk to make such a fundamental change, but one that a smart entrepreneur would know is worth taking.
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