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Build A Solutions Force, Not A Sales Force

Do you dream at night of your sales force closing all the deals in your pipeline only to wake up and realize that you still don't have the Ferrari in your driveway and that very few of the leads you get ever turn into cash? Your company's approach to sales might be killing opportunity. Just recently, the CEO of a Minnesota-based firm explained how his newly developed sales force was not selling a thing while chewing away at over a half a million a year in payroll. Within a year, the CEO had hired both a president and a national sales manager to take over the expansion of a firm that was growing at a rapid pace. Customers like Target and Wal-Mart were just a few of the household-name clients he had already secured. Yet with the hiring of the sales manager, something had gone terribly wrong. The new staff wasn't making any money, and for the first time in the company's history, customers were complaining.

In order to get the business back in order, the fantasy of sipping Pina Coladas on golden beaches would have to wait. The CEO had four basic problems. One, the sales manager was hired away from an extremely large firm where he was successful during an expanding economy and had no clue how to work in a 32-person company. Two, the new sales people primarily were drawn away from tech firms when the economy was so good that sales was not really the skill one needed to generate revenue. Three, he paid everyone way too much.

The sales manager started with a salary in the low six figures and the sales personnel were paid enough that even if they never made a sale, they could have a great living. The rationale for the base from the new sales manager was that you needed to pay for talent, especially in the tech industry. The fourth problem was that he wanted a sales force that could cover the country, but in the past, the CEO had done all the sales himself while running the business at the same time. One day, the CEO received a call from his company's largest customer, Wal-Mart. They were terminating their relationship. He was dumfounded and could not understand what went wrong; remember, he had completely turned over the reins. Jumping back into the fire, he asked his contact, "What can I do to earn your business back." To that they replied, "Personally take over the account again." The customer had become disgusted with the new sales staff along with the changes in operations. In his initial shock, the CEO was ready to roll heads until he was offered a little introspection; his sales force was not the problem, he was! These were some of the problems he realized: 1.

The CEO used to be the sole salesperson, and in each case, he did not "sell," but showed people what his service could do for them. As a result, sales volume shot sky high. (The "ah, ha.") 2. The CEO had not taught the sales manager how the former had been successful. He just assumed that a guy with a great sales history would ignite sales. (Lesson: success in one firm does not mean success in another, especially if it's not the same product.) 3. The CEO's expectations were out of whack with reality when it came to hiring sales people. The more the merrier is not a formula.

It's a recipe for disaster, especially if you're just hiring to cover regions. The best approach would have been to start with a sales person or two and to create a structure that mimicked what made his firm grow so quickly in the past. 4. The sales force was not a "Solutions Force:" solutions-oriented, as the CEO had been. The CEO never passed on his method of helping customers gain solutions by utilizing his firm's products. In the past, the entire organization built the sale as the customer was educated on the services. 5. The CEO let go of too much, too soon. Would you just let your kid jump in your car and start driving without any instruction? Letting go and expecting others to fill one's shoes without a period of education is ridiculous. Think of it this way; the larger the sales ticket or the more critical the supplier is to the (buying) firm's overall success in a project, the more important it is for the vendor to offer solutions, not simply standard products and services.

(This is a common mistake so don't think that he's the only one to use the new "empowerment" model. He built a technology firm with 30 employees that was extremely profitable. He just didn't know how to build a "Solutions Force." 6. They didn't need a lot of accounts to grow aggressively. The type of clients this firm serviced spent hundreds of thousands annually and would best be serviced by showing long-term value in addition to targeting prospects. The warpath now over and much of the dead weight in the sales department gone, the CEO was able to see that he inadequately equipped his Sales/Solutions Force and ultimately was responsible for their early failures. The best approach to sales is like any other operating function within the firm. In the case of the CEO, it's the leader's responsibility to build and implement the STRUCTURE that enables others to duplicate his successes.


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