Entrepreneur is a romanticized word. The reality — as any business owner knows — is less romantic.
Because you’re always working!
Once you figure out how to hire and delegate tasks to your team though, life gets easier. And you actually have more time. However many business owners get stuck when it comes to offloading the responsibility of sales.
Sales is one of the most difficult tasks to delegate because:
- You, the entrepreneur, have a deep understanding of your product. This can hold back a business because the owner starts believing that no one with less experience or product knowledge can sell as effectively as him or her.
- Owning the business might make you feel like no one will ever care as much about the customer and “the details” as you
- Plus, if you stop selling to train or give leads to someone else, the business will stop making money.
I write a lot about sales funnels here on the AutoGrow blog. But the elephant in the room is that regardless of whether you’re selling software or done-for-you services, someone is going to have to get on the phone at some point to close deals with clients.
And the hard truth is that it can’t always be you.
“Sales cure all,” as Mark Cuban said.
And it’s true. Afterall with more sales revenue, you can:
- Re-invest in new infrastructure and high quality materials: machines, software, store location, better raw materials, etc. This is all part of the end-product that the client receives.
- Hire better people: with more money you can pay more, meaning you can continuously attract high quality talent.
- Create better processes: with a fully developed team and a quality product in place, you’ll have more time to focus on refining your business systems. This leads to a better customer experience and more word of mouth—the flywheel turns, creates a virtuous cycle of growth and reinvestment…
All this sounds great, but…
Getting there can seem scary and complex.
I have a good friend who runs a successful service business. He’s often stressed out because he feels like the business owns him even though most of what he does is sales. If he stops selling, the business flat-lines quickly (he once explained to me after getting back from vacation).
Who could blame him? Even when sales is the only thing he tries to focus on, the business always pulls him to focus elsewhere.
And therein lies the conflict between the business owner, time, and sales:
With more sales comes the responsibility to fulfill your promises attached to each sale. That means less time for you Mr. or Mrs. Business Owner to Get. Stuff. Done.
Who’s going to manage and provide customer support to those new clients? Who’s going to nurture those relationships? Who’s going to hire those new people? And—the question of this article—who is going to handle the additional sales inquiries calling, emailing and walking in?
Like my friend above, your time is limited.
The solution is to just start delegating sales… somehow… right?
I remember the first time got the call. I out at lunch some where, doing something else. One of our trainees called to let me know he’d just closed his first deal for $1000. It was a big accomplishment in my mind. For the first time our service business generated revenue without requiring my direct involvement.
Across 10 years, 2 businesses and 4 products, I’ve hired and trained at least 18 sales people. And each time I’ve gotten better. Here’s the evolution of how I learned:
- Phase I – Sucking: “Hey,want to walk door to door and sell this? K, go do it.”
- Phase II – Sucking less: “Hey, let me tell you how to do it. K, go do it.”
- Phase III – Figuring it out: “Hey, so we’ve spoken and I’ve given you a test task already. We might be a fit to work together. Here is our sales training system. Read and complete the training document. It will teach you everything you need to know. We have weekly support calls at this time and plenty of leads to send you as long as you show you’re following up.”
- Phase IV – Streamlined, systematized, automated: I’m still in Phase III right now. This is the stage we’re reaching for though by the end of 2015. This is where the sales recruiting and training system is so well defined that anyone with a high school education can be pick up the training material and start closing deals. In addition, in this stage all leads flow in and get routed to the right sales team member, who then follows-up. Magically, the business makes money.
So while I’m still figuring it out, I know enough where I’m confident I can help you gleam important insights on how to do it the right way in your business.
At this point you might be wondering:
What are the personal benefits to you from having a sales team?
Other than the fact that you’re setting your business up for long term growth, you will…
- Save time – Time is something the average entrepreneur can’t get enough of. With a culture that often celebrates people as heroes for working all the time, we business owners need more free time to avoid burnout (whether you admit it or not).
- Earn more money – With someone else handling sales, you can your company as a whole by investing more in marketing. Plus, as a result of working less, you’re immediately earning more revenue while putting in less time.
- Increase your overall happiness – This is because sales is often the LAST component of a business to be delegated to someone else. As a result, it’s the last thing holding an entrepreneur back from being an “employee” of the business. Once sales are effectively delegated, the entrepreneur can step permanently into the role of working ON rather than IN the business.
However – and here’s the important part – in order to effectively hire and train a sales team you have to know what steps to take.
And you have to take them in the right order. Otherwise, you’re setting yourself up for failure.
For instance, here’s the first thing you should ask…
Step #1 – Are you even ready to hire a sales person?
For better or worse, most “green” entrepreneurs are exactly that when it comes to the idea of forming a sales team: naïve.
I definitely was when I started.
If you spend any time with startups, you’re going to hear someone say something like, “oh we’ll just hire a bunch of commission-based sales reps.” And call it a day, right?
Small business entrepreneurs who have more established businesses tend to be deathly afraid of change. After all, they are no longer naïve and they know from hard work and sometimes 1000 painful lessons that change carries with it some risk.
So why bother right? Too many other priorities…
Here’s the truth:
Your small, growing business is like a spoiled whining child—it always wants more. More money, more of your time, more tender loving care, more everything!
And just like a child, there IS a point after which it will grow on its own and take care of itself. Sales is one of the key “humps” to get over before entering that phase.
You need to know if you’re truly ready. The best way is to use this handy checklist:
- Enough traffic? Do you have enough traffic where you get a sustainable flow of leads walking in your door, website, or calling in every day?
- Enough leads? Are you generating enough leads where, even if you have to go through 3 sales people and all of them failed, the business would still be growing since you’d have enough leads left over for yourself to close? In order to create this situation, your website funnel and email sales funnel must be polished and in place.
- Running smoothly? Are other parts of your business running smoothly without you? If not, you’re risking more chaos.
- Have you adopted a systems mindset? This is similar to “The Engineers Mindset” which I wrote about not too long ago. It’s the idea that you’re creating an organized, documented process for achieving a specific end result.
Let’s say you can check all the above boxes. What’s next in that case?
Step #2 – Create the training process
Before you begin, map out what you are doing right now to close sales in a step-by-step format.
For example, you can start at a high level:
Step 1 – Receive lead
Step 2 – Research lead
Step 3 – Call lead to schedule consultation
Step 4 – Prepare for consultation
Step 5 – Consultation call & presentation
Step 6 – Follow-up until decision
Once you have the basic steps documented, it’s time to go back and start elaborating on exactly what a sales person must do at each step.
Imagine seeing yourself “outside and slightly elevated” (to quote Sam Carpenter, author of Work the System). Watch yourself throughout the day as you perform daily tasks.
See every problem or repetitive sales task that pops-up as an opportunity to document the solution. Record videos and screenshots to illustrate. Organize these with text explanations under each of the steps you wrote down above.
This will be your training process. It will never be perfect (I’ll explain why in Step #5 below). Keep reading…
Step #3 – Recruit and train your sales team
Most “career” sales people are jokers.
By this I mean, they just aren’t serious people. They float around from sales job to sales job, never really getting great at sales per se.
Some sales people are flamboyant and they might actually be extremely effective at “selling” you on hiring them! They might convince you of their abilities and that they are somehow special. Afterall, they have the magical ability to sell!
Some people are special, yes, and some people are truly talented.
But you don’t need those people. You need people who are excited about being given a checklist and training that will empower them to make money.
So when you recruit, here’s a simple but powerful “hack” you can employ.
Look at the positions in your business that are “next to” the sales position. For example, in AutoGrow’s business model, project managers and content marketing writers are the closest positions to the sales role. These are people who have market knowledge, have excellent work character qualities, and can be easily trained to fulfill the sales role.
- Content writers help grow our traffic and drive leads that are handed off to the sales team
- Project managers take the leads that the sales team converted into clients and move their project through to completion.
Once you’ve identified these positions, you want to recruit for them to sell for you specifically via job posts on various job boards. The job board site isn’t as important as your goal, which is to drive a volume of applicants. Out of 100 applicants, you might hire 1.
To be clear, your posts should be aimed at attracting both “career sales people” as well as people in similar positions who can also be trained in sales.
Recruiting Serious People
Your job posts should clearly advertise the fact that your company is serious and thus looking for serious people who can sell, but also work the system you’ve setup.
You show you’re serious by clearly outlining the following as the text for your job post:
- Background on your company
- Who you want to work with
- Description of responsibilities
- Required skills or expertise
- Call-to-action (this is a link where they will go to fill out your application form)
Once they reach the application form, this is where you want to make them jump through some hoops.
You do this because you’re testing for diligence and how much someone pays attention to the details.
Diligence and consciousness are the two best predictors of success in almost much any job.
For example, in sales these two traits will predict someone’s likelihood to:
- Follow-up with leads until a purchase decision is made
- Follow the sales script and process you give them
- Keep promises to prospective clients
- Maintain relationships over the long term
Sales people who are “naturally gifted” at sales are great. The problem is that these people are often not process people and their talent is difficult to scale within your business—and it’s also difficult to maintain.
In other words: they’ll sell for you, but they’ll ask for favors and pay raises every second of the day; they’ll also argue that nothing about what they do is teachable.
So unless you find someone who is naturally gifted at sales AND can follow and improve upon your existing process, it’s not worth hiring them.
Instead, hire smart people who are willing to work hard, care about the details, and stick with it. These people are easier to train, will stay with your company longer, and even if they aren’t converting sales at the same level as a talented “career” salesman, are worth it.
After you’ve decided to begin onboarding someone and given them access to go through the training materials, it’s time to…
Hold them accountable while continuing to test for diligence
To do this, I recommend you organize your training materials into a three parts. At the end of each part is a form for the trainee to fill out. The purpose of the form is the test them on what they’ve just read. For instance:
- Beginning – What are you selling (the product or service)
- Middle – Who are you selling to (detailed description of the target market and their motivations for seeking out your service)
- End – How are you selling it (the process, from A-Z on how leads are generated, received, and closed)
This three step layout is a template that helps you keep the documentation simple while setting a clear finish line for the trainee to reach.
After a trainee has completed the forms and scored a 100% (again, think of it like a test) it’s time to activate them by distributing leads and meeting weekly to support their development in the role.
Step #4 – How to nurture and support your sales team
Support can simply mean a group call, but be careful not to over-recruit and hire more sales people than is healthy. Recall that you need enough leads coming in to distribute without risking current cashflow levels.
For example, let’s say you’re getting 200 leads per month. You know that you can handle 100, and 100 can be handled by your qualified trainee so even if they don’t close any in their first 30 days the business will ok. Afterall, you’ll be closing deals in the meantime.
You should to assume a 2 month ramp-up period for any new sales team member. You shouldn’t expect people to come in to your company and start closing deals on the spot. They need to go through the training and get some experience talking and following up with clients in your target market.
To reiterate, here’s the knowledge a sales person is going to need to be successful:
- Understanding of your service (problem(s) solved, solution, benefits, and at least a general understanding of how it works)
- Understanding of how they they will receive leads
- Understanding of the target market (what they want, what their fears are, why they buy, how to overcome objections)
- Understanding the process (all the steps involved so expectations on how long it takes and what they should be doing at each step are clear)
- Understanding of compensation & how long the training takes (when they can start receiving leads, as well as performance expectations)
- Understanding of the different tools, examples, and resources they can use as part of the sales process
- Understand as well as feel a sense of team and personal support. People want to be part of something. If they didn’t they would start their own business!
Continuously teach your sales team the answers to those questions while being constructive and encouraging during the ramp-up period. Eventually your sales team will begin closing deals in the near term without you.
It’s critical to adopt a nurturing attitude during this process (while fairly judging each team member on the merits).
- What are the key roadblocks they’re running in to? (Are they facing objections they are unprepared to handle?)
- Are they following-up diligently with each lead? (How is your process holding them accountable for this?)
- Are they taking the time to qualify each lead? (Do they know how?)
- Can the speak knowledgeably about your service and build rapport with the client? (Role-playing can be a useful tactic here)
As you continuous coach your sales people and begin to see them generating results, keep in mind the final step…
Step #5 – Work the System (Remember, it’s an organic process)
The final level you want to get your sale team members to is to be responsible for improving and maintaining the sales process around how deals are closed.
This is important because the more efficient and streamlined the training and work system is, the bigger the end financial result will be for the business. Clients will also be happier because they’ll get what they need (or be referred elsewhere) sooner.
So add this to your sales team’s responsibilities checklist after they’ve actually begun closing deals:
- Work the system continuously by revising and adding to the existing training documentation and checklist(s)
For more information about business systems and how to create them, check out Sam Carpenter’s book, Work the System, as well as Michael Gerber’s The E-Myth: Revisited.
- There are many benefits to creating a sales team. The most important benefit comes in the form of time savings to your, the owner and entrepreneur.
- Before you act to create the structure and system for a sales team, make sure you and your company are ready.
- Create the training program and system for your sales team to work within before you begin recruiting.
- Support your team — give them everything they need to be successful.
- Finally, delegate the responsibility of improving the process to successful sales team members.
Are you ready to recruit sales team? What’s your biggest obstacle to doing so? Leave a comment below and let me know.
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