My online dictionary defines entrepreneur as “one who organizes, manages, and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise”. Over the last few quarters, where many sales professionals succumbed to the pressures of the declining economic landscape, I’ve observed some who raised their game to take control of their own destiny and become true sales entrepreneurs. Now, it’s likely that these folks didn’t just switch from average, run with the pack, behavior, and turn into sales entrepreneurs overnight. In fact, their preparation for difficult times was probably their continuous modus operandi right the way through their sales careers. And they were probably the top performers anyway. However, as they say – when the going gets tough, the tough get going. When there were fewer deals going around, those who continued to make quota, and continued to win were (for the most part) those who treated their job as their own business, their personal franchise – a franchise that would succeed or fail primarily on how well they organized, managed and assumed the risks of the franchise.
I’ve been involved in running businesses pretty much all of my professional career. Some of these were bootstrapped start-ups without any customers; others were larger enterprises where I had a large team to run and customers to satisfy; there was the consulting business; the software development tools business; the online research company and the email marketing business. While in the consulting business I had the privilege of working with large and small companies – both domestic and international. I’ve had the opportunity to make many mistakes! But I hope I’ve learned something along the way.
Being old enough to have seen a few down cycles and their corresponding upturns, I see there have been some truths that remain constant when things get tough. In the first instance, nothing happens until someone sells something – and if you’re in sales you need to be innovative, organized, and hard-working – but above all you need to be entrepreneurial. As an entrepreneur you get to take control. You’ve no one to blame except yourself – but, you know what – that provides a level of clarity that’s liberating. Now, I’m not talking about throwing out all of your company’s rules, trying to create new product offerings without reference to your company’s ability to supply and service those products; and I’m not suggesting inventing your own pricing models that don’t give adequate consideration to your company’s need for certain gross margins. I’m not promoting the rogue sales person who doesn’t care about the consequences of his or her actions. But I am proposing that you accept that you need to take control of your own destiny, and that implies treating your territory as your market, making risk/reward decisions about where you spend your time, building your own brand with your customers, and leveraging the network you have to gain access to new customers and markets.
I’d like to propose the following three rules as basic rules of entrepreneurship, and consider how these might apply to the sales entrepreneur in these times.
1. Get it right first time: As a start-up entrepreneur you rarely get a second chance. You don’t get the luxury of making too many mistakes. You can’t afford a redo, and your brand is not strong enough to have a customer consider you a second time if you’ve not put your best foot forward the first time.
Over the past few quarters we’ve seen decision making authority move way up the organization. It’s harder to get budgets released and decisions made. More people are necessarily involved in getting any sales completed. As budgets get axed or reduced, time is not your friend. It’s important therefore that you do not need a second shot at getting your message across, or fixing your proposal, or rethinking your competitive strategy – you just won’t get the opportunity.
2. Prepare a business plan: When you’re running a business, you need to have goals and targets. With a plan – it means you have visualized how you are going to succeed – and hopefully identified what you need to achieve to avoid failure. You’ve made assumptions that you constantly check and refine – but you’ve charted a course. That way you know which way to head when you get up in the morning. It’s necessary for survival.
If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know I’m a HUGE fan of structured sales planning – and that’s not because planning is fun – it’s because when you do it, you sell more stuff – and then you make more money. In this economy though, it’s not just about following a sales process, or using an opportunity sales methodology to close the current deal – that’s just the basic requirement. Now you need to own your own market place, fill your own pipeline (and be grateful for anything you get from marketing), and manage your own sales forecast – honestly. You have to have a plan to run your own sales franchise – anything else is extremely foolhardy, and, if others are depending on you – it’s irresponsible.
3. Be the very best at something: This is the very basic Start-up 101. Being a ‘me too’ is not sustainable. Many more erudite writers than this one have written on the need for a differentiated value proposition so I won’t spend time on that here in the context of a business entrepreneur. However, as a sales entrepreneur …
Never underestimate the power of passion. When a customer buys something from you – they’re typically buying not just your company’s product. They’re buying because of the product’s features and price. They’re buying because your company has a proven track record and a powerful brand. But equally, they are buying because of you, the trust and belief you have developed, the effort you have made to understand how your product can be applied to solve their business problem, and because you, as the face of your company and product, have convinced them that it’s the best thing to do. To do that you need to be passionate about what you can do for the customer. You must be the best at what you do, and that means continuous self-education, understanding the market, knowing how your product can be applied to solve problems, being clear as to your competitive differentiation – as it applies to the customer, researching the customer’s business, and hard-work. That’s what it takes to win – and coming second is just a waste of time.