Why is sales such a mystery?

Why is sales such a mystery?

Sales and selling is black magic!

Of all the occupations, sales and selling are seen by some as magic and by others as despicable.  In the popular business mythos sales is some sort of black magic.  Most people would rather do any other occupation than sales.  Nothing terrifies the average professional like the thought of having to make your next paycheck by actively selling a product or service to other people or companies.

Why?  Like most things people are afraid of, hate or even glorify it stems from a lack of knowledge.  Until you’ve been tasked with selling a product or service as a professional you can’t understand what sales is all about.

I’m sure some executive has told you that “We are all in sales!”  Somebody has to sell the products that our company produces, right?  Otherwise there are no customers.  Without customers there is no revenue and no company.  It stands to reason that sales is a critical element to the health of the firm.

That’s the situation.  You’ve got a scary, mystical profession that you don’t really understand and no one wants to do that just so happens to provide the life-blood of the company.

That’s a crazy dynamic!

How do you get around this dynamic?  By understanding the process of sales and selling.  By understanding the science behind the art.  Like anything else once you understand, once you remove the mystery, you remove the magical thinking and the fear.

Sales is not magic.  Sales is a process like any other process. Once you understand it, it will cease to scare you and you can harness the power of a good sales process.

“I could never do what you do.”  That’s what I hear when I talk about some of the sales situations I’ve been in.  Walking into a conference room in a strange company full of scowling executives and walking out with their trust, appreciation and maybe even an order seems like some sort of super-hero magic.

But it’s not magic.  It is a result of many other concerted actions by the entire company.  Someone designed and built a beautiful product. Someone deployed other successful customers for the case studies.  Someone built out beautiful slides and compelling stories to be told.

In the context of the entire process of many interrelated steps and actions over a course of weeks and months and years my part was easy.  All I had to do was shave, put on a suit, show up on time and tell a good story.  There’s skill to that, but it’s not magic.

It’s understanding and preparation.

The value exchange of enterprise business to business sales?

The category of sales that we are going to describe here is ‘enterprise sales’ or ‘business to business’ sales.  In this type of sale you are selling to companies, not end consumers.  This is not retail sales where the product is on a shelf in a store (or on a virtual shelf on a website) waiting to catch the eye of a wandering consumer.

Enterprise sales is one company engaging in value exchange with another.  Value exchange is the core of enterprise sales.  Companies buy products that provide value.  I trade you money for the value your product provides my company.  That’s how it’s done.  Enterprise sales enables that value exchange.

Enterprise sales is the critical process of bridging the gap between your wonderful product and the customers who can benefit from having it.  Sales is all the activities, all the touch points between your organization and the customer’s organization that culminate in a value exchange.

The process of sales is not magic.  It’s a process like any other process.  It’s a business science like any other.  Enterprise sales answers the question “What is the most effective way to facilitate value exchange with the customers?”

Companies consistently buy value

One of the main misconceptions about sales is that somehow the sales professional can convince customer to buy the product.  Unless you’re the mafia you can’t make people buy.  If you think you can hire magical sales people to make the customers buy, you are going to be disappointed.

The good news is that All companies are buying value. The sales professional facilitates the path to understanding and buying that value.  They help the customer buy value.  The customer needs your product.  The sales person manages the process to get them that value.

“But Chris”, you say, “My product provides value why am I having trouble selling it?”  “Why aren’t my prospects buying it?”

Just providing value doesn’t mean companies will line up with money orders in their hands.

You must:

  • Get their attention
  • Explain the value
  • Prove the value
  • Show more value than the other 10 things they have in the evaluation stack
  • And, for competitive products, explain how your product has more value than the other products in this space.

That’s what the sales process is.  That’s what sales professionals do.

A big ‘misunderstanding’ of the sales process is that it is a ‘sales’ process at all.  It’s a buying process that your customer must work through.  They buy stuff every day.  They want that value.  But they have a process and criteria.  They have budgets and time frames and resource constraints.

The value is only one aspect of the equation for the buyer.  They will also look at the cost and the risk.  What is it going to take to get from the potential value to the actual value?

If you can’t succinctly move through the buyer’s process as well as your own value process you won’t see a sale.

The sales challenge is compounded in a startup

Most established companies have, at least minimally, figured sales out. They have rigorous sales systems in place staffed by competent professionals that facilitate the acquisition of new customers and new business.  Sales is a repeatable process with known steps.  They have history and data to tune and improve that process.

Not everyone in the company understands the process but enough do to kepe the lights on. Going concerns have critical mass in sales.

Startups do not have critical mass and they may not have anyone with a clue how to create, manage and execute an enterprise sales process.

The mismatch in sales process understanding is compounded in young, technology startups.  The founders may be brilliant technologists that have created a brilliant, one-of-a-kind, high-value product, but they struggle to close the gap between their product and a paying customer.

The founders are passionate and smart, but they are usually engineers and may be introverts.  (Don’t get me wrong, engineers, once they understand the process make great sales people.) They believe the product will sell itself and all they have to do is create the product and get it in front of people.  They focus all their energy on the product and miss the value exchange and the buyer’s process.

Unfortunately, the history of business is littered with the corpses of brilliant products that didn’t sell and mediocre products that grew to dominate the market.

And the difference is being able to create, manage and execute an enterprise sales process.  Being able to manage the value exchange.

Startups have a product and an idea of who needs it but they are starting from scratch.

  • What industries and segments does the product provide value to?
  • Which companies within those segments?
  • What roles within the companies?
  • What should the pricing be?
  • How long is the sales cycle going to be?
  • How do we get their attention?
  • How do we get those first sales and get them quickly?

Once you know some of these important things, then you can set up a sales process.

  • How do we get the attention of our target buyer?
  • How do we approach them?
  • How do we get them excited?
  • How do we explain the value exchange in such a way that the buyer internalizes it and ‘owns’ it?
  • What are the steps in this process?
  • What are we going to measure? Wat do we track? What systems do we need?
  • How do we qualify prospects?
  • How do we provide proof?
  • How do we remove their risk?
  • How do we differentiate for the competition and the other projects that want funding?

These are just a few of the questions the startup must answer to create a sales process.  Otherwise you’ll be blundering around poisoning the well.  Lay on top of this the urgency of a new company, the need to get to a revenue event quickly, and you tend to ‘hurry up and screw up’.

What is the alternative?  What do you do when you don’t know how to set up an effective sales process?  What are your choices?

  • Figure it out yourself?
  • Hire a magical sales pro?
  • Get a coach?

Bake you own!

Why not try to figure it out yourself?  You’re smart.  You came up with an idea, got funding and built a product.  You already know how to pitch.  How hard could it be to figure out sales?

The pros of figuring it out yourself are:

  • You’ll gain a valuable skill set
  • You will get first hand experience with how your product enters into value exchange with the target market
  • You, as a founder, will be very effective at pitching the product
  • You won’t have to deal with scary sales people or share power

The cons of the ‘bake your own’ approach include:

  • You won’t get a predictable process
  • You tie up founder time in the direct sales process
  • You won’t end up with a repeatable process
  • You’ll talk about the product too much and not the value exchange
  • You’ll leave money on the table
  • Your time to revenue will be longer

What about hiring a magical sales pro?

Why not go buy the best sales pro you can find and turn them loose?

The theory behind this move is that since your product is so cool and innovative you just need someone to get it in front of customers.  The magical thinking is that there are these sales people out there who have a list of 100 customers in their back pockets who are just waiting to buy.  The magical sales pro has this magical Rolodex that somehow immediately translates to revenue.

The pros to this approach, in theory are:

  • Immediate sales and revenue to captive customers
  • The sales pro causes a hockey stick acquisition of new paying customers
  • At some future date, while you’re counting all the money, you can build a sales process around this pro

The cons around this approach are:

  • Magical sales pros, like unicorns, don’t really exist
  • You may get a couple quick deals, but because you’re skipping steps, they may end up being troubled accounts
  • These high-powered sales pros may be like proverbial ‘bull in the china shop’, and can leave a trail of destruction that your brand will have to recover from
  • You abdicate control, visibility and management of the sales process to an individual

Get a coach?

A great compromise is to hire out the sales pro or organization that can mentor you, help you get business while you are coming up to speed.  This is typically a two pronged approach where you are building out the process and team while executing short term business.

Pros of a coach:

  • Transfer of knowledge to the founder team throughout the process
  • Creation of a predictable, scalable and repeatable process
  • Helps your credibility and ability to forecast revenue to your investors
  • Not abdicating control or ownership of the process

Cons:

  • Takes maturity to manage the urgency while managing the creation of a sales process
  • Not a quick fix

Summary

Sales is not a magical, unknowable process.  Sales is just another business process to understand and manage.  Enterprise sales is managing the value exchange between two companies.  Companies buy value and the sales process facilitates that buying process.

Sales is a much riskier proposition in a startup.  There is an urgency to bring in quick revenue.  The founders may not have a good understanding of sales as a business process.  This combination of urgency and lack of understanding causes magical thinking that can lead them to make poor decisions when spinning up an initial sales process.

Getting a good coach can help not only meet the short term revenue goals but set up a predictable process for ongoing success.

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