It may be simple, but it’s not easy!
It’s an all too common lament in our industry. Sales performance is not what it needs to be to grow the company. Sales leadership, sales compensation, sales motivation, sales methods; just about anything related to selling is still being done using methods and techniques that were effective many years ago and simply do not work today.
Recruiting, developing, mentoring, coaching, and retaining sales talent are, for the most part, an underdeveloped competency. While there are exceptions, ask most business leaders about sales―more specifically, their sales―and you will probably not get an enthusiastic response.
Recently, I was talking with the owner of a very successful and growing NAPL member/client company. While they have made progress on the sales front, he, too, was not entirely pleased with where they were in improving this part of their business. He told me that if someone were able to “crack the code” on how to create a world-class sales organization, the industry would line up to find out how to do it.
Well, here is some good news. The “code” has been broken. Unfortunately, to learn the code, we have to look outside our industry. Here are three examples:
The hospitality industry, the financial services industry, and the pharmaceutical industry come to mind as places to find companies that put as much (or more) emphasis on developing a world-class sales organization as they do on developing any other part of their business.
I recently attended a conference for association executives. The exhibit hall was populated with many service organizations from the meetings, destination, and hospitality business. The sales teams staffing these exhibit booths were among the most highly trained I have ever encountered. They were engaging, non-threatening, made eye contact, knew just what to say, what not to say, where to stand, and where not to stand―and none of this was done by chance.
After a brief conversation with the representative of one major hotel chain, I asked about this. I was given a brief but revealing description of the recruiting, assessment, and training program she and others go through just to make the cut. All done with the idea of becoming a member of “an elite selling team” (her words, not mine)! Navy Seals who sell!
Pharmaceutical companies approach selling with an incredible amount of precision and attention to detail, and why not? They are attempting to capture the time and attention of an audience known for guarding its time as precious: medical professionals, mostly doctors.
Financial services representatives work in a highly regulated industry that requires licensure in many cases. Yet recruitment stresses at least a parallel development path; one part product knowledge, one part selling skills. Or as one long-time professional told me, “It doesn’t matter how much I know about investments, planning, markets, or risk, if I can’t communicate and sell this knowledge and my ideas to potential clients, I am out of business.”
What do these three examples have to do with the graphic communications industry? Well, nothing. And everything!
Each is going through a transformation of its own. Hotel room rates are under great pricing pressure due to discount travel sites and other factors. The financial services industry is among the most competitive in the world. And pharmaceutical companies are having to shift their selling focus to a new kind of customer: procurement officers inside large, bureaucratic health services organizations, as fewer medical doctors remain in private practice and more become employees of these kinds of organizations where purchasing is a centralized (and often commoditized) process.
Of course, all this time and attention paid to building and maintaining a world-class sales organization takes resources: time, money, expertise. In an industry that is accustomed to investing hundreds of thousands (even millions) of dollars in plant and equipment, a major breakthrough is there for the company that begins to shift its focus (and its investment dollars) to careful, professional development of the selling side of its business.
What if “becoming a world-class sales organization” was part of your corporate aim? What aspects of your business would change?