Are you a sales person or a sales professional?

For the last 5 years I’ve had the pleasure of delivering regular sales masterclasses for GC Business Growth Hub aimed at Greater Manchester SME’s wanting to grow their businesses. Around 12 different businesses participate in each masterclass.

One of the key learning objectives is to help each business owner understand how ‘sales’ is viewed and more importantly, used within their business. I always start by asking a simple question “Do you like, love or loath sales?” An overwhelming majority admit to loathing sales and the sales process. One participant recently described how they viewed sales as “a bit grubby”. A statement that many others agreed with.

Further questioning reveals that as these owners describe 'sales' they tend to focus in on examples where they, or someone they know, has experienced some form of dodgy sales practice. For example: They’ve been overpromised and under delivered. The stated price had risen dramatically with additional add-ons. They been trapped in a pressured sales environment or pestered constantly with unsolicited telephone calls. This is the domain of what I call the sales person.

These less than honest or trustworthy practices sit in stark contrast to the domain of the sales professional. Here, the sales professional takes pride in their undertaking and engaging with customers to discover and serve their needs in a way which makes repeat business highly likely. The sales professional works hard at their craft and is always learning and developing their skills.

When I started my first proper sales role (selling facsimile machines) my business card carried the title - Sales Executive. The two brothers who owned the firm and trained me were described by those who met them as ‘natural born sales people’. They looked and acted the part to me as a naïve sales novice. Suited, booted and driving nice cars they seemed to have the gift of the gab and fulfilled a stereotype of what I thought sales was. However, during my 6 week long sales induction programme I realised that these two were anything but natural born sales people. They were sales professionals with a clear plan. Like good magicians or actors they worked hard at their craft behind the scenes and thus, when they performed they made it seem natural.

Every time I was with them they had a book, magazine or audio on the go. They recommended different books across a wide range of subjects to me to read in order to develop my sales skills. I learnt some important basic concepts from them about sales and the need to develop my skills, knowledge and attitude towards sales. Sales, they taught should always be a win-win situation if you want sustained customers. Sales was a worthy profession if done right and they believed in doing it right.

They taught me that profitable sales are the key to a successful business. Figuring out the difference between ‘a profitable sale’ and just ‘a sale’ required a little more effort and a different pitch. A sales professional doesn’t look for the short cut but will help the client understand their needs and wants and put a proposal in that suits the client and themselves.

When I teach sales, I ask business owners to think about building sales practices that reflect a professional approach to sales. This goes right across the business from developing and training the right skills, knowledge and sales attitude. Without this you’ll likely have sales people and not sales professionals in your business.

A knock on impact of people not loving sales is that they tend to avoid reading books or attending courses on sales. This further compounds their issue with sales as if they don’t develop their skills and knowledge they won’t be very good at the subject.  Sales is a broad subject with a huge array of books available some useful some not so. Many attendees simply don’t know where to start their sales skills journey.

Reframing ‘sales’ as a positive and core component of a business helps attendees to shift their thinking about sales. From this new perspective, it’s much easier for people to reengage with sales and develop their specific knowledge to understand how to serve their clients better. Employing professional sales practices and developing a new sales strategy helps owners and staff to love sales and enjoy a more profitable business.

I’m passionate about good sales practices and helping customers to buy the right product as often as they need. Professional sales practices will help you and your business stand out in a crowd of sales amateurs. Profitable sales helps to sustain your business and serve your clients more effectively.

If you want to develop the sales skills in your business contact Know+Do today and ask for our advice.

I’d welcome your thoughts or comments on this important area.

3 Ways to Check if your Plans are Sanity or Vanity

Many business owners aspire to grow their company and see size as a factor of success. However, as a business grows one area that can easily suffer is the profit margin; and this is a core marker of a successful enterprise. Falling profit with rising sales might seem counter intuitive but a business in the process of scaling ignores this probability at their peril. A helpful saying summarises this view:

Turnover is vanity, profit is sanity.

A new client came to my colleague last year for assistance. The business they had founded some years ago had grown significantly, turnover had more than doubled in 18 months and all was looking good for continued growth. However, they were not happy, as they’d seen their profit fall over this period. In effect, they employed more people, serviced more clients and worked harder but for less return. This might have been acceptable if it was a planned and brief stage in growth but all they could see is the industry demanding their margin of profit to shrink further. [What happened next is not part of this post but if you want to know what Andrew did to assist in changing this dilemma contact him direct!]

Profit can fall as a business grows for a number of factors. Outside forces such as an increasingly competitive market can demand a fall in price just as your sales rise. External factors and their impact may / may not be out of your control, but internal ones are not. It is easy for a business to find the price of growth means their business model does not look so good at a greater scale.

Let’s consider three key areas that costs rise too easily and profits can start to fall unnoticed:

1. Decision Making.

Can you answer some fundamental, but crucial, questions about the numbers in your business? For instance:

  • When and where does the business make a profit?

  • Which of your products or services are loss leaders (and why)?

  • Who are your most profitable customers?

If you feel these questions are too simple, try stopping right now and writing out the answer for your business. You will not have every fact in mind but if you cannot begin to sketch an answer within a few minutes you might want to go back and double check the data!

2. Cost control.

How well can you understand the different cost elements in your business model? For instance, can you explain:

  • If / how an extra sale effects your costs?

  • Which costs vary with each sale and which ones are fixed?

  • What expenses in your business are directly related to your product or service and which ones are indirect?

Though each business will have their own answers, essentially all costs can be divided in four areas: variable or fixed costs; direct or indirect costs. Each one needs slightly different monitoring and therefore expectations of control.

3. Costs Do Not Make Prices.

Costs are the easy part of managing a business compared to setting the right price. Too high a price and you are afraid of scaring off customers; setting it too low and you are undervaluing the business.

Though cost can be a guide to calculating the price you might need to earn, they have no bearing on the value a customer places on a product or service.

Think about the different sizes of a coffee in those well-known high street chains. Often you get a choice of a small, medium or large drink. The customer pays more for the largest coffee because it is just that - much larger - and it is only marginally more expensive than the other sizes. Yet the cost of producing it is almost exactly the same. It is the same shop with the same business rates, same lights, same furniture, same barista, same coffee machine, same tap for the water, same portion of coffee, etc. This means a coffee shop will want you to buy the big cup as it looks good value to you (the customer) AND it will make more profit for them (the seller).

So, my question is, how do you understand the value to the customer of your product or service? Will they pay only £1 for something that costs £5 to make, or would they value it as a good price at £10?

The three fundamental issues above target the core knowledge a business owner needs to make good decisions about the current needs and future aspirations. The role of leading a business is dynamic as the context, opportunities and challenges change all the time. However, if you understand profit and cost within your business you can respond better to the change.

If you want to explore your answers further to make sure your business grows in a secure manner contact our team on 0161 2804567.

5 Ways to Stop Your Growing Organisation Becoming Chaotic

Last week I spent several hours with a group of brilliant business leaders who want to scale their companies on another cohort of our Inspiring Business Leaders series. We delved into the leadership they need to grow their businesses and explored how to generate high performing teams in a context of constant change. They left the session with tools to assess their own leadership skill set, ways to motivate teams and an approach to measure success.

Although many topics were explored in the seminar, one that was most revealing came when we mapped the organisational structures in the room. Everyone could draw (albeit some more neatly than others!) their current organisational map. However, thinking ahead 2 or 3 years and drafting how the people in a business should connect was much harder. Running a company of 10 or 20 people is busy; but leading a fast growing business or 50, 80 or 100 will be very, very messy without a plan. Success, in the case of these entrepreneurs really could ‘kill’ their business.

So, we shared 5 ways to get control of these impending changes and stop organic development or employing ad hoc roles that will unbalance a fast scaling business.

  1. Know your purpose. Have your purpose written down in a succinct, clear manner so everything you do can reference it maybe even add your core values. Without this guide, your memory of the reasons you state now will fade as you become busier and events will shape your business, as your decisions will not be made to a consistent plan.

  2. Remove yourself from the mix. If you are the founder or leader now, try mapping the future of the business without your name in the chart. This way it forces you to think through your role and responsibilities and divide them up. It can also stop you building a business that just amplifies your weaknesses!

  3. Draw, draw it again and then re-draw some more! An organisational map is not the only plan you will need but by writing it down and putting pen to paper the thoughts in your head become clearer and also you can share this plan with others and continually refine it.

  4. Chose a scale. If you do not have business plan with targets choose a multiplier, e.g. in 3 years time the business will have 10 times more customers. Then you can consider what functions are needed as specialisms or what teams you do / do not need in a future business to serve that demand.

  5. What does it mean for you? When a future organisational map is drawn look at the difference to how it is now and consider the skills, knowledge and experience you role needs to develop in. If you are a leader, you need to set a plan for your own development so you change with the business and do not hold it back. What training, what experiences, what change do you need to make to be ready for the ‘new’ shape to your business?

If you have begun to map the future you can then set the plans to transition from your current state of business to the desired state. You have a barometer to judge the decisions the business leadership make as opportunity and challenge come your way in the next few years.

If this challenge seems to new for you, reach out to someone more experienced or to an appropriate consultant to help. Clients often tell us that their problem was solved because they had the right people with them to explore an issue and set a plan to change.

Finally, what do you do to map the future of your business? Have you found an effective way to visualize the future? I’d welcome your views and insight in the comments section below or contact me direct on @berneeclarke.

How Scale-Up Leaders Can Flourish

I attended an event to promote the support of scale-up businesses, those that are experiences year-on-year high growth. The speakers were leaders from local businesses that are managing rapid growth and it was fascinating to hear about their respective journeys, challenges and mind-set. As they spoke they shared four key qualities they’ve needed by fast-growth leaders.