These five sales tactics are actually traps that will rarely deliver critical new revenue
- Expected a sales hunter to do it alone
- Failed with lead generation, lead sourcing or telemarketing companies
- Engaged B2B marketing firms or bought marketing automation software
- Hired sales coaching, strategy and consulting firms
- Tactical fixes to strategic problems in sales department hiring and training
Learn the top five ways that CEOs of established or emerging companies try (and fail) to solve their business development problems.
Five Sales Tactics to Avoid
You and your core executive team most likely chose your career path because you love to create, operate, consult, design, analyze and solve problems.
But then you discovered an ugly reality: Your senior team are now the default new revenue rainmakers, which means a year-round business development grind that keeps you in a perpetual state of anxiety about cash flow — and spending less time doing what you love to do.
Maybe you hired a specialized and experienced sales expert to join the executive team and take full responsibility for new business. But is that person realistically going to design and execute strategy, messaging, marketing, sales, content, prospecting, closing, operations and technology on their own? Should all fingers point here as growth goals are not met?
THE LOGICAL ANSWER?
Bring in or develop a fully integrated sales and marketing function so your team can focus on what they’re best at. IBM and Accenture know how to do this, but companies in the small- and mid-market often don’t have the resources. The pain is often the same whether you’re the founder of a funded startup or a CEO of a $75M legacy family business.
The Sales Tactics to avoid all involve thinking that a few new sales tactics will bring different revenue outcomes. By trying to address business development issues without the resources, messaging, time and expertise to build, integrate and deploy all elements of a sales function, revenue-driven growth remains a mirage. Here are a few piecemeal measures that turn into traps that don’t deliver revenue and opportunities:
Sales Tactic to Avoid: The Hired Gun
I once worked for an event production company whose owners found themselves spending all of their time trying to get new business. They’d hired a very green kid (me) and brought in a sales coach. I had zero idea what I was doing, despite having a natural talent for sales. But the future of this company rode on me filling the pipeline and closing deals on my own. This was insanity. The coach was great but he didn’t stick around long enough to dig into the details. The good news is that I closed a $750,000 new product launch event for an Eli Lilly blockbuster drug. I’ll admit that I did get lucky which isn’t really a strategy.
“That’s not me,” you say. “I can find seasoned business development people to get fresh revenue.”
You’re lucky if you can. But even so, this is what you face:
- It is extremely difficult and time consuming to vet and hire the right salesperson.
- It will take them six to eight months to learn the nuances of what they’re supposed to be selling — at which point they might leave anyway and leave you at square one. The real truth is that your salespeople don’t need to be deep industry experts. That’s not really their role.
- Feel like managing these people? That’s a time and energy headache equal to your original problem. Want to offload it to a sales manager? OK, but add serious dollars to your costs if you want a good one. If you already have an effective sales leader, will they spend all day prospecting and finding new revenue sources?
- Having salespeople rarely equates to having a sales department; if your hired gun has never been trained in building and following one, you’re just throwing money away.
The sales hunter approach looks seductive when you consider the money and effort necessary to put a repeatable processes and proper operational support in place. But it’s an expensive and risky shortcut to nowhere. It almost never works.
Sales Tactic to Avoid: Lead Generation and Telemarketing Services
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this: “I just need more leads.”
Four times out of five, the lead solution doesn’t work because problems in other parts of the business ruin opportunities at the lead attraction, conversation and proposal stage. For now, let’s assume your focus on lead generation as the sole problem is justified, and talk about these services for a minute.
- If you have a nuanced or niched offering, a generic, templated approach is going to bring you crappy leads — unless your provider can translate what’s special about you in an effective, compelling way. Somebody putting your name on the same sales-y crap that everyone else is blasting at people might even hurt your brand image and company.
- If there is just one other piece of the sales support spectrum missing, the leads are worthless. For example, poor pipeline management means you have leads — but no idea who on the vendor side talked to them, if at all, or when you should step in.
- Lead generation is often a tactical solution to a deeper strategic problem. A lead generation or telemarketing company may produce leads, but none of this matters if your offering is mis-positioned or you don’t have outstanding people to convert leads to revenue.
- You won’t get to the right people. It takes a sophisticated and nuanced approach to design a program that must reach a particular decision maker. Following up with a bunch of people who have no decision-making authority when you need the C-level is a waste of your time.
The “best of the best” in this category will offer strategic support to design sales campaigns, help you think carefully about your segments, provide seasoned sales support and give you insight into response data and coordinated follow-up. But if all you’re buying is leads, good luck.
Sales Tactic to Avoid: B2B Marketing Companies and Technology Platforms
This is not a condemnation of investments in B2B vendors or technology; there are some good ones out there. The flaw in this thinking is that once you’ve procured either (or both), your sales problem can be solved.
Here’s what I’ve heard from prospects in the past:
- “We bought HubSpot, so we’ve got it covered.”
I’m a fan of HubSpot (love their sales blog), but what these companies really bought was a monthly fee and a way to send out a ton of content which doesn’t actually drive business. We’ve found that even robust, on-target content marketing needs to be yoked to some fundamental outbound sales practice (and infrastructure) to get the right new clients into your pipeline.
- “We send out a ton of emails or do this through an outside provider.”
There is a huge difference between sending emails and delivering those emails into the prospect’s inbox. Even worse, you are probably violating the terms and conditions of your email provider and trashing your domain and IP server reputation. Email marketing is rocket science.
- “We’re already paying for search engine optimization and pay-per-click.”
These can have value, but when I hear this, I like to ask how those leads are performing. Are they turning into real business or are you attracting curious bystanders that can’t afford your services, but are still desperate for help?
- ”We’ve already positioned and branded our company.”
Positioning and branding exercises are critical, but more often than not, they get put in a drawer with your other homework. This is valuable stuff to have, but I have rarely seen boilerplate marketing messaging work well with an outbound sales approach. Moreover, did anyone in a sales role actually read or know what to do with the expensive PowerPoint that you bought? Did a more focused website messaging or a new tagline drive any real business your way?
Sales Tactic to Avoid: Lack of infrastructure from Sales Coaching and Consulting Firms
Here is another hit-or-miss proposition:
Investments in these (mostly) very capable providers are defensible if you have an effective end-to-end infrastructure in place. If not, here’s what happens:
- Your skill sets are improved, but you still don’t have any new business results.
- You learned a lot about sales, but have no way of executing on what you learned.
- You or your executive team are still the head prospectors and opportunity chasers.
- The salesperson got better on paper, but still has to do the job of an entire sales department without a well-defined process strategy.
Sales Tactic to Avoid: Incremental “Fixes” to Sales Performance Issues
It’s not uncommon for business leaders to default to tactical responses when revenue is flat or declining: Shuffling chairs in the sales department, jiggering incentive plans and the like. Sometimes there’s a right time for these fixes, but if the problem lies deeper in the organization, they won’t change your outcomes because you’re attacking symptoms, not root causes.
In our experience, these are common tactical errors driven by root issues:
- Over time, salespeople tend to revert to service-focused, account manager roles. Once they are comfortable as “order takers,” getting them back into the mindset of proactive, consultative sellers takes retraining — or even some new faces.
- Consultative sales experience is the solid prerequisite for a salesperson who will produce over time. A common hiring or promotion error is thinking you must have a “domain expert” or somebody with a great personality. Absent consultative sales experience, neither one of these people will succeed.
- Many business leaders think they have an easy solution in promoting their top salesperson to a managerial role and that can be considered a bad sales tactic. But what made them a great salesperson will not make them a great manager. These roles have distinct skill sets and very different day-to-day activities. This may necessitate an investment in sales leadership training if you want this move to bear fruit.
- If you have been hiring and firing without seeing a change in outcomes, I’ll bet you have a strategic or structural problem in your sales department or process that hasn’t been discovered or addressed. Subtle factors here can have a huge impact that can’t be remediated by churning the department.
Bad Sales Tactics Takeaways
- Tactical sales and marketing solutions don’t work on their own.
- When you finally got to a senior level in your industry, you actually signed up for a sales job — without the experience, training or support needed to succeed in the role.
- When business executives realize this, they typically try to escape via common strategies: For example, hiring a sales hunter or engaging with a lead generation provider.
- Sales hunters are hard to find, hard to train and even harder to keep. Your sales process vanishes when they do, and you’re back to square one
- Lead generation firms typically deliver leads, but quality is suspect and very few have end-to-end capability.
- Marketing automation services, PPC and SEO alone will not quickly get you to high-value prospects that fill your pipeline.
- Branding and positioning is valuable on the marketing side, but only have realized value with the important marriage in the context of sales programs that move the needle.
- Outbound deliverability standards are always shifting; sending out emails is really tricky and requires significant expertise — and often a consultant.
THE TAKEAWAY IS THIS:
Unless you can sink significant money into developing a robust, end-to-end sales and marketing department, you do yourself little good with the partial measure of buying the lead generation piece of the puzzle.
The smart money’s on being able to plug in an end-to-end, fully integrated new business function to run or augment your resources so you can close new business and impact your top-and bottom-line results.