When It Comes To Sales, Do Good Things Really Come To Those Who Wait Or…Does The Early Bird Truly Get The Worm?

How would you describe your company’s basic business-to-business sales philosophy: passive/reactive or aggressive/proactive?

The passive/reactive philosophy is not necessarily the wrong approach just as the aggressive/proactive philosophy is not always a required ingredient for success.  And, realistically, most businesses engage in both to some degree.  However, there are some simple criteria for deciding which approach should be the lead sales methodology for your organization.

The passive/reactive approach works when a company and its products/services are well-known to an established, static customer base that has few or no competitive alternatives.  In this scenario, the company can assemble an efficient customer service-oriented inside sales team and wait for the phone to ring.

The aggressive/proactive approach is necessary for a new company or a business operating in a highly competitive industry with a large, fluid customer base.  In this scenario, the company needs a well-trained, intelligent and highly motivated sales force to go out and “hunt” for business.

Let’s focus on new companies and businesses operating in highly competitive industries with large, fluid customer bases since these represent the vast majority of small-to-medium-size companies in existence today.  If your business falls into this category and you lack a strategic, targeted, proactive sales plan for reaching the customer base with which you want and need to be doing business, chances are you good that you are consistently falling short of your revenue goals and maximum growth potential.

Let’s peel back another layer and ask the following: do your sales people have a razor sharp understanding of who they should be calling on and why?  If the answer is no, then the logical follow-up question is “why not?”  Is it a lack of training, a lack of discipline and focus, a lack of tools and information provided to them or worse…an unfiltered overload of information provided to them?  Chances are it is a combination of those and other factors.  The reason is rarely singular or clear.

One thing that is clear, however, is that it is virtually impossible for a company to maintain an aggressive/proactive, motivated sales staff (and by extension a successful and sustainable sales operation) if it lacks a clearly-identified and prioritized prospective customer list.  Creating such a list is not always as easy as it would seem, but is critical to the success of any business.

There are some prerequisites to accomplishing this task.  In order to improve their success ratio while also reducing wasted time and effort pursuing dead-end prospects, your sales people should first be able to demonstrate that they have a solid understanding of:

  • Your company’s branding and the unique qualities that differentiate your organization from the others that say they do what you do
  • Your own products and services and how they support the industry you serve
  • The competitive landscape in which you operate (i.e. the strengths/weaknesses of your competition vs. your own)
  • The reputations of the companies they feel belong on their target list (i.e. are the mission statements and/or corporate values of these companies in line with your own?)
  • The existence of the proper purchasing indicators  within the companies they feel belong on their target list (i.e. do the target companies have a history of purchasing what you have to sell or—at a minimum—are conditions present that would allow you to convince them of the need to purchase what you have to sell?)
  • The potential sales cycle for the companies they feel belong on their target list (i.e. how long will it take them to turn prospects into paying customers?)
  • The financial health and stability of the companies they feel belong on their target list (i.e. can they pay their bills?)

When your sales people can speak to these qualifiers with confidence they should, with some assistance, be able to produce a workable prospective customer list.  Once that’s accomplished, it’s time for your sales staff to kick it into high gear.  You should witness an increase in energy and confidence from your sales people as they begin working their sales plan with a proactive, aggressive, forward-thinking mentality.  It will be a beautiful thing to see them actually “create” revenue streams for your company.

Progress benchmarks and accountability standards should be established and discussed on a regular basis but, for the most part, it’s time to get out of the way and let your sales people do their jobs.  Of course, they will need your support along the way so be prepared to remove whatever obstacles you can for them and provide back-up to their efforts during key points of the sales cycle.

In my next blog we’ll discuss how to utilize the “step-stoning” method to penetrate a prospective customer even when you don’t know who the decision-maker is.  Think of crossing a river when there is no bridge. 

If you want to learn more about how well-planned, effective sales strategies can enhance your business, please contact Mike Thompson of Oak Hill Business Partners.

Mike Thompson is a Partner with Oak Hill Business Partners and a veteran sales professional with over 25 years of sales, sales management, and marketing communications experience.   Mike takes a consultative approach toward partnering with business management to develop a detailed understanding of its needs in order to provide business solutions designed to help companies maximize their potentials.  His knowledge gained from working with companies of all sizes combined with his strong communication skills establishes a rock-solid foundation to deliver effective results.

Oak Hill Business Partners is a Milwaukee, WI-based firm focused on growth initiatives for small and mid-sized firms needing expertise in finance, sales, marketing, operations, or mergers and acquisitions.  In addition, the firm conducts field exams for banks.  Most recently, Oak Hill has expanded its line of services to include comprehensive enterprise project management for large organizations.  Oak Hill serves the Upper Midwest with partners based in Milwaukee, Madison, and Indianapolis.   In 2012 and again in 2013, Oak Hill was named to the Milwaukee Business Journal’s List of Top 25 Management Consulting Firms Serving Milwaukee.

Posted by Erik Owen