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The dark arts of sales

Why do many assume it is?

Business owners know that the single most effective way to transform financial success is to increase sales revenue.  

More sales (managed correctly) means:

  • More money and
  • Businesses can do more of the things that they want to do plus
  • Tackle more of the issues and challenges that need looking at.

Let's face it, when we talk about growing a business, we are almost exclusively talking about growth in annual revenue. Profit flows from revenue. Full stop.

And yet almost all business improvement assignments or programmes seem to completely ignore sales as an area. If it is looked at at all, then the focus tends to be on bottom line improvements by investigating such things as pricing, margin improvement or other supply side efficiencies.

I have endured those thankless moments when someone has explained that if sales price went up by ‘x’ and nothing else changed, then margin would increase by ‘y’. 

Thanks, I can handle basic maths.

Efficiency and supply side aspects are important and you let them get away from you at your peril. I think we all get that don’t we? What most of us also get is that the effect of increasing top line sales is immeasurably greater than almost anything else that we can do in the business. 

So why is it not looked at? Why is it seen by so many as a bit of a dark art? There are 2 main reasons:

  1. It’s a skill. You can’t really get any formal qualifications in it, but it is a skill, and it is a skill that many business advisers simply don’t have.
  2. It’s not viewed as being a professional endeavour. Many would never stoop to have ‘worked in sales’ so they play around at the edges.

Sales structure

I have worked in sales and I’m actually quite proud of it. Admittedly I spent years selling without really recognising it and what I did we called Business Development or Client Acquisition because, well, it simply sounded better.

The approach was ad-hoc but the results were good - or at least they were good enough since we didn’t actually have anything to measure ‘good’ against.

I was then fortunate enough to join one of the most sophisticated and (at the time) fastest growing companies in the world, Xero and it put everything in context.  A lot of what I had been doing actually had a name and fitted into a structure (although I did need to giggle things around a bit).

And my true education in sales began. An education that I was fortunate to continue at Thomson Reuters selling into some of the more challenging professional services firms to put it politely. 

When it comes to most businesses that I now work with, the reality is that sales can be increased and they can be increased materially. There is no quick fix and it is not something that can be simply switched on - it takes time, it needs to evolve but it does need to happen.

It can be daunting

Especially for businesses that have never really been down the route of sales targets and structures.  

Team members tend to get worried that some sort of witch hunt or ‘hard management’ ethos is being introduced and many may protest that they never signed up to be sales people in the first place (even if that is in effect what they are doing under a different name).

So first things first:

Don’t look to put in place scary looking sales structures. Look to introduce fundamental sales disciplines (and these can be introduced to any business) that build a sales environment.

Do put in place targets, but as part of a really warm, positive move to enhance achievements and earnings.

If it is a step into the unknown - then make it just that. Enjoy it and allow others to enjoy it by focussing on the benefits - intangible stuff like ‘making everyone's job easier’.

These are the very first steps to getting the business onto a sales footing. And once you’ve managed that, it is then about allowing your people to become sales people without even knowing it - sales by strength.

My top tips to look at from the outset:

Don’t put marketing first - sales informs and guides marketing, not the other way round;

Understand why people don’t buy - too much focus is placed on why people buy rather than really drilling into why they didn’t buy.

Don’t leave the ‘no decision’ option on the table - “Can i get back to you?” or “Can you call me back next week?” are the opt out clauses.

Fully grasp that the product (or service) and marketing generate demand, sales close demand - too often I have worked with businesses that are lambasting their sales function for poor performance when that is not where the problem lies.

Need help and advice?

To chat through your options feel free to drop me a line at phil@nbsadvisory.co.uk, or complete the contact form or call +44 7596 537289