One Person Does Not a Department Make
We once engaged with a management consulting firm with deep expertise in helping manufacturing companies make smarter capital investment decisions. The principal had struggled to maintain his record sales performance from the year before.
He had hired an incredibly successful sales hunter and she had succeeded beyond his expectations. When she left, so did the entire sales department. He had no idea why she was successful, had no visibility into the value of his pipeline and lacked a process to replace her. His numbers had nosedived. He should have assumed that she would leave at some point; then he could have monitored her success, seen what worked and used the data to build a platform for repeatability.
A Disaster Inside an Implosion
This one hurts even more to think about: I was hired by two founders of a startup database marketing agency. Or was it a marketing analytics company? Maybe more like a research company? The best description was a disaster waiting to implode. These guys were right off the banana boat in terms of sales, but had years of experience shooting darts at their bosses, who were great rainmakers but not as good working an Excel sheet or SAS software suite.
The CEO told me that his goal was to build the company and be the first to leave. My job was to make this happen for him as fast as possible. His job was to work with the clients.
It was a tension-filled environment right from the start. I suggested a positioning statement exercise. They wanted a full strategy similar to the sort of stuff they put together for clients like Fortune 100 cable companies. They actually gave me an example of this sort of strategy. What a huge waste of our time.
We did write a bland and useless positioning statement. It’s ironic that marketing MBAs like them had no idea how to formulate or write such a statement. I almost laughed out loud when they actually put it in a file cabinet drawer when it was finished. (“Yup, got that checked off the list. Now go make some cold calls, Larry.”)
The central problem here was that nobody had any idea what the company offered and why it mattered to anybody. You fall into Trap #1 when you try to solve it by hiring one person to solve it all with sales. It doesn’t work that way. The entire company works together to pull together business, product, message, sales and marketing strategy with prospecting and closing approaches. Everybody is involved in execution, although the sales team takes the lead. All businesses are sales businesses. Sales is the most important thing happening in the company. It’s the heart of the culture, not somebody you leave in a cubicle to work revenue out on their own.
After a few months I was blamed for the failure of the sales effort. The company closed soon after I was fired for cause because I forgot to send an NDA before a proposal to a client that I did close. The CEO and his partner saw a “cover up” and fought me in unemployment court. Yeah it was that bad and I did try and bury my mistake. It was that bad a culture and legal capabilities were considered more important than sales.
The owners never understood that their inability to avoid this sales trap caused their company to fail. After deciding that I was another one of those “losing” salespeople, they started to closely monitor my call volume and thought that if I made 100 calls a day instead of 20, things would change. The bad news for them is that they are probably still stuck working for the man. It didn’t have to turn out that way.
The sales hunter approach looks seductive when you consider the money and effort necessary to put repeatable processes and proper operational support in place. But it’s an expensive and risky shortcut to nowhere. It almost never works.
Your job is to avoid this trap. Make sure that if you hire a salesperson, you also have a team to handle messaging, prospecting, sales, marketing and content campaign strategy. And somebody in the company that knows consultative sales and can build and manage a fully integrated sales and marketing process and the underlying technology required to make it all work.