In the world of the entrepreneur, the executive and the employee it is important to note that the choice to start a business or work for one begins with a vision, a motivation, or a sense of purpose that inspires one to make a difference. That vision may have personal, professional and social implications. It may be motivated by self-interest or a selflessness that seeks to positively impact the lives of clients, employees and the community at large. It may even be a combination of the two. Furthermore, the products, services and programs that are the manifestation of that vision may very well be best-in-class and ultimately of great benefit to the businesses and individuals who purchase them.
However, there is a common vulnerability that exists for all businesses. The sobering reality is that regardless of the authenticity of a founder’s vision, the intention of a company’s mission, the value of its products and services, or the best efforts of its employees, any enterprise that lacks sufficient funding will not remain in business and will ultimately fail to realize the very vision that inspired it in the first place. Therefore, its stands to reason that the success of any business is dependent on its ability to generate profitable revenue – consistently and predictably over time.
In my years as a sales professional, I have observed the frustrations of well intentioned-business owners, managers, and salespeople with superior products and services struggle to meet objectives and adapt to market changes, increasing competition, fierce pricing, and higher customer expectations. I have also seen how limited and inconsistent exposure to formal sales skill development can make a sales person’s and team’s approach unfocused and ineffective in the quest to meet or exceed sales goals. The cumulative effect of these conditions is staggering since the vitality of a company, the security of employees, and its impact on the community remain dependent on its sales organization’s understanding and execution of sales core competencies.
The Sales Paradox
Unfortunately, the world of sales is a paradoxical one. Where most professions require subject matter undergraduate or graduate degrees, state certification and continuing education requirements that serve to maintain professional standards of competency and excellence, the education and certification requirements for the average sales and business development professional are more the result of on-the-job training than formal education. In fact, it is highly likely that an individual looking to establish her or himself as sales and business development professional will be hard pressed to find a university degreed curriculum that addresses those core competencies required for success in their development role. Those that do exist tend to concentrate on marketing, communications, sales operations, and leadership skill sets. Too often the practical understanding, implementation, and execution of sales process and the best practices that drive successful sales behavior remain elusive.
Individuals who work for large national and multi-national companies, such as the Fortune 100 and Global 200, often benefit from formal training in traditional sales techniques as a part of their on-boarding process. Some may benefit from periodic continuing education as an extension of that process. Product managers and subject matter experts may provide product training in order to foster subject matter expertise as part of that regimen, though it is important to understand that product training and practical sales skill development are complimentary, not replacements for one another.
For the small to medium size business, including larger firms with sales departments under 60 employees, the reality is much different. Approximately 80% of sales and business development professionals in these groups have received very little if any formal education in sales or sales management. In addition, a recent survey from the National Federation of Independent Businesses researched small business owners’ pre-ownership experience, and found that over 50% of them launched their businesses without any background in sales.
Moreover, when efforts are made to develop these skills, they are typically fragmented, short-term or quick-fix initiatives. They may consist of seminars, webinars, podcasts, best-selling books, or other resources made available through online learning management systems. They may be delivered by third-party training providers that offer standardized training classes in topics such as pipeline development, pursue to win strategies, overcoming objections, persuasion, and win-win negotiations just to name a few.
Though opportunities to develop and refine skills are critical to continued professional success, it is important to note that regardless of how well intentioned, ad hoc approaches to skill development can often result in personal sales systems that typically impact the performance of only one or several individuals within a sales organization. They do little to increase the competency, accountability and performance of an entire sales team.
Shifting your reality requires an intentional and coordinated staff skill development initiative that seeks to elevate your entire team’s understanding and execution of sales process and best practices. As you raise individual and team competencies you will insulate yourself from relying on a handful of top performers, individual laps in performance, and competitive threats within the markets you serve. The process will take time, but as you progress you will experience measurable increases in performance that will reinforce the commitment you’ve made in people, time and money.
Lastly, I want to you to keep something in mind. Your investment in the professional development of your staff has the potential to be a valuable investment in your business. The odds are it is an investment that your competitors may not have considered or chosen to make. From that standpoint your investment and its impact on team performance may very well place you at a competitive advantage. More importantly, it places you in a much better position to meet business revenue and growth goals that enable your vision and its impact on clients to thrive.
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