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Non-sales Entrepreneurs: Pitfalls to Avoid While Managing Newly Hired B2b Sales Team

This article is for “Non-Sales Entrepreneurs” to help them avoid certain Pitfalls with regard to their newly hired Sales Team:

In my last few years of journey of running a B2B sales venture, I frequently come across certain behaviors of the founders ( I realized many of them are committing similar mistakes and not able to grow from their current stage). Following are some of the key points, my fellow “Non-sales founders” may like to keep it in their mind.

1. There is a difference between an Aeroplane and a Helicopter

Aeroplane needs a Runway to gain its speed before it flies. We all know how Helicopter flies. Sales Representative is like an Aeroplane. He will need his Runway (his time) before he gains his speed and start flying (his KPI achievements). Unfortunately, I have seen so many founders get impatient with the sales team just within first few months and take a call that this is not working out and decide to remove the sales person. 

Its like stopping the Aeroplane sometime into the Runway thinking this is not flying and won’t be flying as well. This creates loss for everybody: Loss for the founder’s organization and for the founder for the resources invested and for the Sales Representative for the lack of runway given to him to obtain required skills/ knowledge to acquire product/industry/positioning/competitive knowledge and eventually loss of job.

(I have seen in many cases the same sales guys do wonder when they join another organization who give them the right time/direction and they bring some of the best customers/deals to their new employer. Whose loss is this? So how many chances should be given to sales person and how should a founder measure his performance in the first few months? Please read point 2 for this answer).

2. There is a difference between Leading Indicators (Efforts) Vs. Lagging Indicators (Results)

First few months (3-4 months) in B2B Sales is about measuring efforts and not about measuring results. I have seen founders who give new sales reps following targets in 1st few months do very well compared to others who give “Revenue” or “Order booking” or “New customer Acquisitions” targets. 

1st 3 months targets could be: 

(1) Product Knowledge, Elevator Pitch, Detailed product presentations to internal teams
(2) Understanding of the Ideal Customer profile, Overall positioning
(3) Number of new meetings/calls arranged
(4) Number of calls/meetings arranged for Senior colleague (or founder)
(5) No. of demos/Trials/ POCs arranged
(6) Overall funnel generated etc. 

Above KPIs are called as ‘Leading Indicators”. Unless these KPIs are done well, lagging indicators (revenue, Order booking) will never happen. Leading indicators give right Runway time to your Sales Rep/s before they gain speed and fly in the sky and help you win more /bigger/better wins. 

3. There is difference between you and your Sales Representative

I have heard this so many times from founders that “I am able to do this well/fast but my sales team is not able to do it and that’s disappointing.”

Message to my fellow founders – You have high expectations and please understand you are the founder (or Co-founder) of your company. In the initial years, nobody can replace you. Nobody can replace your knowledge, your experience and above all – your passion about your business. Sales representative is a paid professional and he can’t replace you completely. That’s expecting just too much.

Possible solution could be – Look at where all you are spending time in customer facing sales function. Can your Sales Rep save your few hours at least? For example – Rather than you doing prospecting, follow ups, sending standard proposals, giving usual product presentations – Can your Sales Rep do some of these activities and free up your time?

You’ll still have to get involved at critical milestones in “Prospect to order” journey. However, this will free up your time considerably and you’ll be able to focus on more important work. Even if you are able to free up 2-3 hours daily, that itself will benefit your organization significantly.

4. Expectations mismatch: Champagne Dreams and Beer Budget

You can’t get Champagne at the price of a Beer.

Another mistake I have seen is – Founders expect too much from their Sales Rep whereas reality is they have not paid right amount to hire the right sales talent. If you’ll throw peanuts, you’ll get only monkeys. Not many “Non-Sales” founders know that in large corporates, the most expensive team is “sales team” and a good sales professional is paid maximum across other functions. I am not advising to increase the budget if you are a bootstrapped early stage venture. (if you have money, then please increase your budget. You’ll not repent it).

My suggestion is to balance the expectations from the Sales Rep. For eg- Instead of expecting Sales Rep to do “end to end selling”, successful early stage founders change the profile and expect “Business development” kind of role from their sales rep. Founder gets involved at critical milestones viz. Important customer Presentation, Negotiation meeting etc. 

Last, I would just give a metaphor of a newly born baby. Don’t expect a baby to start running before it has learnt to sit or walk. It’s a process. Any new Sales team (even if they are experienced, they would still be new in your company) will need time before it starts running, win more business for you and make you smile.

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