Mirror, mirror on the all why do we keep hiring the worst sales people of all?

A CEO recently came to us seeking counsel on how to solve her company’s sales problem. Using her words, “We have everything else working in our company, but we cannot seem to get people to buy and our sales team is not cutting it.” How many of you have encountered this same dilemma in your organization? If you have, where did you look to solve the problem?

If you are like most companies you look at the sales team first, starting with the talent. Maybe you look at the process? Or better yet blame marketing? But the question is, how many have taken the time to look in the mirror? Yes, I hate to tell you, but the problem with sales may begin with you. 

To be successful in sales you have to know who it is you are selling to. Sounds simple enough but you would be surprised how many companies and their leaders do not know how to answer this simple question. 

1. Who are your best customers and why?

Take inventory of your current customers. Take the time to segment them and understand what makes each one of them unique and different. Segmentation can be done by size, vertical, region, type of work etc. This will provide a better perspective on what types of customers you want going forward. On several occasions clients have said they want more customers but when we looked at their current customer base, their best opportunity for new sales was selling more services to those existing customers.

2. Who makes the buying decision for your clients and who in your organization best fits their personality?

This is an extremely important question for many industries. If the decision maker is an operations person whose primary concern is getting the job done in the easiest most efficient way, they may not want to talk to a “sales person”. They may want to talk to the person who “walks their walk”, the operations person. If you have particularly large clients, it may require a team approach to close a sale. Just because you hired a salesperson for your organization, it does not mean you are done selling. Actively engaging the departments and subject matter experts who will pull the jobs through your organization into the sales process establishes credibility with your prospective clients.

3. What is your customer buying?

Many times there is a big difference between what you think you are selling versus what the customer is buying. People aren’t interested in buying a product or service. People love to buy … they hate to be sold to. They’re interested in the benefit that comes from buying, not the product or service itself. For example, you may be a printing company, and yes they are coming to you for some type of printing services, but what else have they come to expect? Quality, flexibility, peace of mind that it will be done right? Understand your customer’s expectations and make sure the organization delivers upon them every time.

4. What type of work do you NOT want?

This is probably one of the most important questions to answer as a leadership team. Be willing to say no if the customer is not a good fit. There is nothing more demotivating for a sales person than bringing a new project to the leadership team to celebrate and they don’t like something about the work. Examine your most challenging customers. Understand what made them such a challenge. Knowing what you don’t want to do and who you don’t want to work with provides focus and can be incredibly empowering to a company. Figure out what work you DON’T want and share it with everyone in your organization.

It does not matter how great your product or service is and how brilliant the leadership is, if you can’t find someone to buy what it is you are selling, you won’t survive. So the next time you find yourself criticizing the sales team, take a few minutes to look in the mirror. Is the problem staring back at you?

Linda Ruffenach

Founder / Chief Strategic Officer at Execuity. Linda is an experienced entrepreneur, skilled facilitator, and bourbon badass. Her 20+ years of C-level experience enables her to relate to the challenges business owners face every day. As the former CEO of a $100 million international enterprise, she has been through almost every stage a company can experience from fast growth, rapid decline, to complete transformation. In addition to running multiple businesses, Linda is Entrepreneur in Residence at the University of Louisville's School of Business, leading and mentoring undergrad and graduate students on their path to business ownership Linda’s superpower is turning strategy into results.