Even if team members never say it, there is a category of small business owners that may hear it in their minds: “What does he/she know about sales anyway?”
Some entrepreneurs were sales people earlier in their careers, and have even used those skills to help convince investors and early customers to take a chance on their fledgling firm’s products and services. In many other cases, though, the head of a small or medium-sized business (SMB) might have come from a background in marketing, finance, operations or even technology before launching their company. At some point, that means they may find themselves building a sales team without many obvious qualifications.
While it’s unlikely sales reps will somehow revolt or walk away from a job where they’re not being led by one of their own, SMB owners have an obvious interest in wanting to ensure they’re seen as credible to those they manage. This is particularly true with respect to sales teams, who obviously have a direct bearing on overall growth and whose team members are often the closest contact between the company and its customers.
Even if you’ve never sold so much as a box of Girl Guide cookies, though, there’s no reason you can’t hire the right kind of sales reps, monitor their performance and even offer coaching when necessary. Part of this is made easier through technologies that can empower sales teams with more information than they might have had in the past, and which give them more freedom to develop themselves on the job.
It all starts with recognizing what kind of experience and knowledge to bring forward when direct experience in sales doesn’t apply, and the kind of moments where a higher level of leadership is can make a real difference in how many deals get closed.
The most outstanding sales teams are often staffed by people whose skills are remarkably transferable from one company or industry to another. In other words, great sales people can sell almost anything because they know how to establish a rapport with customers, build trust and make arguments that ultimately persuade tire-kickers to make an actual purchase.
That said, even the best sales people can’t work in a vacuum. They need to be armed with information that will let them make a strong impression with customers and prospects. In many cases, for example, SMBs might need to hire a salesperson who doesn’t have any direct experience or education in the industry where they’ll be working. Or they might have worked in a sector so broad -- like financial services, health-care or retail -- that there are important nuances in how to sell to a more granular or more particular segment of the market.
This is where an SMB owner’s subject matter expertise becomes arguably more important than whether they’ve acted as a sales person themselves. They can help their sales team identify the most common challenges customers and prospects will be going through, the competitive threats an SMB will face and even industry-specific regulations or jargon that may need to be woven into a pitch deck. After all, it was likely based on knowledge of a market or industry that lead to the firm’s launch in the first place.
Think about running a sales team meeting that begins by offering some ongoing education about the market, including new entrants, emerging trends and other details that might spark a meaningful discussion about how reps can improve their close rates.
Whereas SMB owners may lack a track record in selling, their sales team members may never fully know all the nuts and bolts of the products and services they’re pitching to potential buyers. This is often a common complaint among customers, who will wonder why they’re dealing with a sales rep that can’t fully address their particular needs.
Consider how, as an SMB owner, you can tag-team with your sales staff to mitigate this kind of problem. The rep might get the prospect warmed up during initial phone calls and meetings, for instance, then ask you to join in the later stages of the sale, where specific questions around product integrations, configurations or bundles might emerge. You’re sticking with what you know best, as is the sales person, and ultimately the customer is offered a better experience.
There was a time when looking at sales results relied a lot on gut instinct, even guesswork. In those days, not having sales experience might have been a bigger issue for business owners. The rise of data-driven selling has changed all that.
By using a CRM like Sales Cloud, context-rich information about who’s buying and who’s not (and why) is accessible not only by the sales team but anyone else, including the president or CEO. You can start to see common roadblocks that might lengthen the sales cycle, for instance, or opportunities to extend into new regions, markets or kinds of customers that might not have been obvious otherwise.
Using data puts an SMB owner and the sales team on a more level playing field, because it’s more than mere numbers. It’s a collective way of analyzing sales results that can lead to actionable insights. SMB owners can apply their knowledge of the product and the market to better understand what’s happening, while sales team members can share details about specific customer interactions that make the data ever-stronger and more relevant to the company’s objectives.
Finally, always remember that as the SMB owner you set the tone for the organization, communicating the values and mission of the company. When you articulate these elements in a way that brings real meaning to the everyday lives of your employees, they’ll remember that far more than any other tips or suggestions you make.
SMB owners may never be expert sales people, but they’re almost always an expert on selling their vision of what success for the organization will look like.