For entrepreneurs who don't come from a sales background, the entire sales process sometimes seems like an indecipherable combination of confidence, knowledge and luck.
To get around these handicaps, they expend extra effort when hiring sales managers and reps to ensure they have people in place who can craft and execute a sound sales strategy based on proven strategies and performance metrics. But, just because these founders -- who are sales novices -- wisely cede the details of the sales strategy to others does not mean they have shut themselves out of the sales process entirely.
Instead, if you're a startup founder, you need to remind yourself that being a decisive, fair and visionary leader is more important than possessing any particular technical skill. You can use those leadership skills to help your sales team without being a distraction or interfering with the outlined sales strategy your sales experts have already devised.
By relying on your visibility as founder, and your ability to provide the sales tools your team members need to perform at the highest levels, you can better better position your sales team for success -- even if you've never once closed a deal in your career. Here are five ways to do that.
1. Use the power of your network to your sales team's advantage.
Successful sales professionals frequently rely on referrals to connect with potential new clients, and they are a great way to bypass cold calling in an era when B2B sales opportunities have expanded exponentially.
But referrals do not have to remain the sole provenance of the sales department; any member of your organization can ask for connections for referrals that will help the sales reps. Says Eimantas Balciunas, CEO of Travel Ticker: "To secure more hotel partnerships at Travel Ticker, sometimes the sales team enlists help from members of the executive team -- including me -- to gain introductions to other influencers in the hospitality industry who may have access to hard-to-reach executives, at boutique and chain hotels around the world."
As the founder, you are likely going to be the person most closely connected to people with deep and robust professional networks, such as your investors or members of the board of directors. Many sales reps may feel they are overstepping their bounds by contacting these sources themselves, so don't pass up the opportunity to reach out to them for client referrals on behalf of your sales team.
They do have a stake in the future of your company, after all. En route, make sure that your sales team gets all of the credit once a deal goes through.
2. Become a thought leader within your industry.
Cultivating a thought leadership position is usually associated with marketing strategy, but there's no reason that that position can't positively affect your sales efforts, as well. One of the common traits successful sales reps and entrepreneurs share is effective communication, and being a thought leader allows you to communicate your value proposition to a potentially wider and more diverse audience than your typical sales rep has access to.
By providing potential customers with a baseline understanding of your company and product, salespeople walk prospects through the early stages of the buying funnel. But the founder can do this, too: In the early days of HubSpot, founder and CTO Dharmesh Shah educated hundreds of thousands of businesses about the value of inbound marketing.
Those efforts ultimately made it easy for HubSpot’s sales reps to sell the company’s inbound marketing software to that same audience.
3. Build cohesion between marketing and sales.
Promoting thought leadership through content creation is one way to shore up your marketing effort, but it is up to you to ensure that your marketing and sales strategies are complementing, rather than inhibiting, one other. When your marketing people identify the wrong leads for your sales reps, or deliver prospects at the incorrect stage of the purchasing journey, those mistakes can seriously hinder your sales efforts (even when all of the other variables present an attractive proposition for the customer).
Bring your sales and marketing teams together for training efforts, so that each unit can better understand the needs, abilities and limitations of the other.
4. Encourage opportunities for professional development.
Most sales professionals want to feel that they are being encouraged to grow personally and professionally. By working with them to develop a comprehensive professional development program for the company, you will increase the likelihood that they feel invested and perform at their highest possible levels to exceed expectations.
Professional development does not have to relate exclusively to the sales field, either. If employees are interested in learning about the processes of other business units, that exercise may give them more confidence to speak to clients about the company.
You may also want to attend sales training events with your staff, so that you can learn more about the day-to-day issues that they face in their roles. At Campaign Monitor, for instance, one employee perk is the opportunity to attend and participate in any conference or workshop of the staffer's choosing, at the company's expense. This supports personal and professional development across the company as a whole.
5. Find unique ways to keep your sales reps motivated.
Many people (yes, even sales reps) are motivated by more than just financial rewards, yet so many startups are still employing traditional incentive programs that offer only cash bonuses for top performers.
It turns out, however, that people are motivated by a myriad of different factors, and moving to a more inclusive reward system encourages all members of the team to consistently perform better. As the leader of the company, you have the power to create new and unique incentives for your sales reps that will ultimately benefit everyone. Are you looking for ways to help your team today?