5 Keys to Getting the Founder Out of Sales
My typical client is the founder of a company with between $2M – $10M in revenue, and they come onto my radar about the time they’re trying to move from the point where the founder is still heavily involved in selling. Typically the founder is frustrated because, despite their best efforts, they haven’t been able to get themselves out of this day-to-day selling role.
The challenge of the founder being ‘stuck’ in the sales process manifests in a couple of different varieties.
- In one situation, the founder has just never been able to hire someone who has been able to move the needle at all. Despite several attempts, nobody has ever worked out.
- Another scenario includes the founder who has hired (and fired) lots of folks including a number of supposedly seasoned (pronounced: expensive) salespeople from ‘the industry’.
- A third condition includes the CEO who has had some success, perhaps one or two people have been with them for a few years, but everyone else they have hired has come and gone quickly.
The root cause in every one of these scenarios is straightforward even though it is not necessarily easy to fix. Fundamentally, the founder needs to accept that the tools, techniques, process, and approach that have served them to this point will never work at scale. Why? Everything the founder does to engage clients (build trust, build credibility, etc.) cannot be easily replicated by someone else. As simple as the concept sounds, acknowledging this is a big ‘aha moment’ for the founder, who must confront the reality that they have been unconsciously (or consciously) seeking out people like themselves. They realize they’ve only hired people in whom they see part of themselves and then they have tried to get those folks to implement the same process, the same techniques, and the same approach to selling that works for them.
The second challenge founders face as they try to move out of the selling process is that they try to move themselves out of the sales process all at once. They are under this illusion they can find somebody who can replace them completely (and the revenue they are bringing in) on day one. I regularly see clients in companies who are disappointed and shocked when they’ve hired somebody and nothing has been sold two months into their employment. In reality, even if you’ve found a great resource and have a good process in place, there will always be significant ramp up time required. Even hiring from a direct competitor requires longer than you might think to come up to speed.
A study from a few years ago found that for an experienced new hire moving to a company in the same industry, it takes an average of six months to attain full productivity. This may feel like a long time, but it isn’t. The problem here is larger companies can ‘afford’ a six-month ramp to full productivity while a smaller company can’t stomach six months of sales expense without revenue coming in. If you’ve got 40 sales people and 10%-20% are always coming up to speed or transitioning out, no problem. However, if your entire staff consists of one or two people, you’re burning lots of cash to get people up to speed. Frustration is really is a factor of unrealistic expectations combined with the very real need for smaller businesses to balance revenue and expenses.
Here are five specific things to think about for sales process development:
- It’s important for the CEO or founder to get out of the business of selling in order for any company to ensure a scalable means to generating new business. As a founder, it’s never too early to start thinking about how you will work yourself out of a sales job.
- Your sales process has to be based on the assumption you will hire ‘normal’ people. You must be able to grow the business hiring mere mortals – not superheroes.
- It’s your responsibility to define (figure out) a sales process that works. This concept of hiring the ‘right person’ who will ‘figure things out’ is an absurd myth that just doesn’t work. Finding somebody to take over selling will require you do the hard work of defining a sales process and understanding what it’s going to take for others to sell; what tools they’re going to use; and ultimately what they need to do to be successful.
- No matter how smart, talented, experienced, or motivated someone is, they won’t be productive on day one. Account for this in your budgeting and planning.
- More often than not, I advocate for growing your sales team in a progressive and organic manner. Hire junior (or entry level) talent who can perform lower level functions such as appointment setting or qualification, then develop them gradually into the rest of the sales process. Treat on-boarding as a progressive effort rather than big bang theory.
I hope this gives you food for thought and starts you on the path of working you out of your sales job and building a team of salespeople that can sell for you over the long-term. For more on this topic, please check out ‘Are you ready to hire your first salesperson?’
By Townsend Wardlaw