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Friday, February 13, 2009

Sales reps, sales management and business ownership

If you want to start a business from scratch, you must master selling and marketing skills -- whether or not your heart and passions are in these fields. In really good economies, of course, if you are good at your trade or profession, clients come knocking at your door because of your reputation (personal brand) you acquired while working elsewhere, but you still need to find business and keep it, especially in an economic downturn.

These skills are no less important as your business grows. But things change. Now division of labour enters into the picture. You begin hiring or contracting for services and skills which you cannot do yourself effectively. You need to learn how to select the right people for the work, and how to manage and co-ordinate their responsibilities, especially as they relate to the overall business objectives.

As the business grows, things can go well, or be really messy. If they go well, you achieve the really wonderful place where the sum or the parts is greater than the individual elements -- where the team, working in synergy, produces far more than individual members could achieve on their own. This is a healthy business. Your employees are happy because they enjoy work satisfaction and can earn better incomes (with higher quality of life) than they would on their own or working elsewhere. And of course you are living the good life as the primary shareholder.

But things don't always go so well (I know from hard personal experience). Pick the wrong employees, or manage them incorrectly, and things fall apart really quickly. Worse, your finely oiled machine may break perhaps because of your management failures or because of economic changes. Then problems you never thought you would have rear their heads.

Are there solutions to these challenges?

Yes, but first you need to realize you must have really good but simple systems to handle the different responsibilities of your business, and while these systems can change, you must understand why and how to make exceptions to your rules.

Great sales reps do not necessarily make great sales managers; and great sales reps/managers often fail at business leadership -- though many businesses are started by people with a gift for selling.

Here are the simple rules/systems we apply to manage things.

  • Everyone here must prove competence before they are offered employment; the screening is thorough, fair, and comprehensive, through a questionnaire and work test hiring model (we have different rules for sales, administrative and editorial employees but the basic guidelines are the same.)
  • Regular co-ordination meetings are a cornerstone of the business; these bring everyone together and everyone participates in the building and updating of the written business plan.
If you are a 'natural' salesperson and built your business from scratch, you need to realize that your selling skills need to be subsumed to overall management and business ownership responsibilities, and these skills are not necessarily the same. I've seen some really sad flame-out stories of competitive businesses started by salespeople who thought they could do it better but didn't realize that the selling process is only part of the picture. You can solve this problem by combining your subjective abilities and awareness (good) with some objective rules of the game for hiring and working with people. That is sales management -- and you need to have this under control if you are to grow and thrive.

This thread, salesmanduties, inspired this posting.

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