When sales as a culture matters

Effective sales are the key to growth and profitability. It, therefore, becomes critical for entrepreneurs with limited resources to smartly imbibe sales as a culture.

Before I jump into the gyan, I want to share a short story that has always motivated me as a sales leader. A shoe salesman once undertook a journey to identify a new market. He traveled to an island and was disappointed to see that no one was wearing shoes there. He returned as he felt that he would never be able to sell shoes there. He narrated this story to his colleagues and one of them chose to travel to the same island. This new salesman was super excited at the same situation. He returned and created a business plan to sell shoes to people who had never experienced wearing shoes before. The same situation and voila! A different perspective…

Now, let us look at sales differently, moving it from a function to a culture. It’s simple; we all need to transform to perform.

Are you developing a sales culture?

It’s not about SELL, SELL and SELL; it’s about how to SELL. Way back in the 90s, I was working as a sales manager for a leading engineering software company. We were under daily pressure from top management –“If the sales department does not perform, we will be in trouble.”It was very evident that the entire business was dependent on sales.  I can recollect days when the sales team was called in for reviews that went on for hours, because the business suddenly realized that cash flows were negative, outstanding was piling up and collections were low.

The sales team was identified as the culprit for all the negative impact to the business. On the other hand, when the business was doing well, sales was recognized as a high performing team and no other team got credit.  It is obvious that sales are critical for any business. But I have an issue with sales getting called out as the sole responsibility of the ‘Sales Department.’ Yes, we all have teams or departments working on their own ‘To Do List’. This is how our aggressive sales departments also work – running after their own ‘To Do List’ and numbers, and that is where issues arise.

According to me, all departments need to bring in a mindset change to imbibe an overall culture of sales. Look at a scenario where every ‘department’ or ‘function’ is driven by a common goal – Profitability or Customer delight. Why can’t a technical manager sell; why should HR managers be oblivious to the top line? In an ideal situation, sales should own the numbers but all other teams must support in a collaborative effort. It’s not difficult to understand how to use culture to improve performance.

Sales3

Here’s another example – consider tender meetings that involve technical, commercial, delivery and finance teams to come together. Imagine that you are in a middle of a million dollar deal and you as a sales manager need all these functions to be a part of the meeting to clinch the deal.  But your finance guy doesn’t care about sales; he is just number crunching. Your techie does not care about sales; he is only drumming about his product and its USP. Your commercial guy is only interested in ‘payment terms’. And your delivery head is only talking about how many people are required and how long will it take to deliver a product or a solution. This is an all too common situation that epitomizes the opposite of what is optimal. The need of the hour is to think alike and have a common goal. Yes, each team will have its own specific perspectives to look at, but there is a need to have a common, aligned goal of making the sale happens!

If we all agree that sales are critical to business success, we need to focus on building a culture of sales. How many CEOs are pure product experts, how many CTOs are technical gurus and don’t want to talk sales? I have seen instances where a CEO would not make a customer call if there was no technical discussion involved. Sadly that doesn’t work. Every individual in a business or organization has to sell, keeping customer delight and the organization’s growth in mind.  Building a culture of sales will bring in customers and retain them, more so when your business is just about taking off.

Look for opportunities, opportunities and more opportunities

One does not have to move around with a magnifying glass to look for opportunities. The need of the hour is to convert simple conversations into meaningful business. You can be at a social gathering, partying with friends and someone is bound to ask you the question, ‘What do you do’ or ‘Where do you work’? Please don’t start a business presentation, you may not be invited to the party again!

Simple power statements should do the trick. Most often simple messages invoke more curiosity. Does the phrase ‘small talk’ ring a bell? Sure it does, as I grew in my career as a sales person I realized that opportunities are not at the buyers’/customer desk, it can be at the coffee shop, over lunch, at a gym, or even at the golf course.

As an effective ‘Sales Person’ it should be in your blood to look for opportunities. At the same time, would you want to be seen as a person who sells at a drop of a hat – the answer is a big NO.

Sales4

One of the many ways to building or identifying an opportunity is to visit a customer when there are no specific requirements. Use the excuse of making a ‘courtesy call’. In eight out of 10 visits you will walk out with a lead. Remember, customers hate sales people who knock at their door only for business; they love partners who can discuss the requirement as a joint venture. After the deal is closed continue to look for references through them.

Effective delivery of a sales pitch 

It’s no rocket science. An ideal sales pitch involves understanding pain areas and addressing them with your products and solutions. Sales pitches are sometimes misunderstood as high-end technical presentations. Preparing heavily loaded decks with information can kill your customer’s enthusiasm. Understand what keeps your customer awake at night and come up with a solution. Then describe that solution as briefly, but effectively as possible.

Team Pulling Up an ArrowIn earlier days, sales was a ‘buyer-seller’ situation – you have a product and there is someone to buy it. Sales have changed and evolved over the years, it’s no more ‘buyer-seller’ theatrics. Today it is partnership and business collaboration.

Never over-sell; you will be caught off-guard earlier than usual. Customers know what you have even before you tell them. What they don’t know is how you can help their business grow by partnering with them.

With your team, continue to encourage casual chats. Call your team over for tea/coffee or lunch, share your strategic priorities and business plans. Give them the freedom to talk about what the company stands for. This will build a culture of collaboration. Talk strategy and no number crunching please.

Drive growth, optimize profitability and see your dreams turn into reality.

charlesAbout the guest author

Charles D’Cruz is a freelance facilitator, coach and consultant. Prior to venturing on his own, he worked with Wipro. He spend over 21 years understanding sales, partner management and alliance relationship. Having worked with industry leaders he has travelled extensively to develop new markets, acquire customers, serviced key accounts and managed large teams and projects. He understands the nuances that business requires to create a niche for them. You can reach him on twitter at @DCruzforceindia.