By Leo Linder
All companies and customers have one thing in common. They all want to grow. To execute on their goals for growth, companies can either build internal processes for sales or they can outsource the function.
According to Leo Linder, CEO of Emerge, outsourcing typically isn’t feasible for entrepreneurs with early-stage companies. However, founders can achieve momentum if they have the proper planning, documentation, and people in place.
During an interactive webinar hosted by NextCorps on April 14, 2020, Linder shared his company’s playbook for getting sales off the ground. This 12-week, affordable, doable growth plan can be especially useful during economic downturns, like those caused by COVID-19, because it refocuses people on the most important actions to take.
“There are only three things you can do with customers. You can attain them, grow them, or retain them,” says Linder. “As an owner, you should be asking, ‘How do all of your employees support these three things?’ John Chambers the Emeritus Chairman of Cisco Systems, for example, answered this question quite simply: ‘We have two kinds of employees: Those who sell and those who help people sell.’”
This demonstrates the need for organizations to develop a culture that is focused on sales. Not one that views sales as a role that’s done only by hunters and closers, but one that views sales as an important aspect of everyone’s job in the company.
“You can’t hire a single sales god. If you do, it just creates a Rolodex sales system. You need to develop a culture of sales through a defined system that allows you to build connections over time,” explains Linder. “Everyone takes their cues from leadership. Employees wonder, ‘Do we have a good way to sell?’ Emerge’s playbook can help you get leads going now, which will help during the crisis or in instances where the sales cycle for your product or services takes a long time.”
To create your company’s playbook for sales, start by documenting foundational elements that will be critical to execution.
The first action is to establish a reasonable, clear goal that you’d like to achieve in the next 12 weeks. Be realistic, such as to complete one major sale or to have 10 leads in the pipeline.
Next, you’ll need to make sure you have the following in place:
- The right technology to support sales development. This should closely align to the steps in the sales journey that will be required for attracting, attaining, and retaining customers.
- A manageable contact database or list of contacts.
- A description of each audience (segment) that you will be selling to. Segmenting your list of contacts will help you identify what is most important to each group so that you can alter your sales messaging to speak to what is relevant to them and how your offering will make their job/life easier.
- Call guides to help everyone in your company speak to customers in a way that tells your story consistently. This will allow you to build clarity and equity in your brand over time. If employees tell different stories, it will be impossible for a company to deliver on customer expectations or behaviors that are consistent with its values.
When putting these foundational elements in place, Linder cautions that it’s really important to completely understand your sales journey as it is NOW. You need to have a clear picture of how you are selling (in person, on the phone, online, and/or through partners or a channel); of how you’re motivating a partner or channel to sell your products/solution over competitive offerings; and, what you have to do to deliver products, which sometimes could mean you have to manufacture more products now than you might need.
“If you’re an entrepreneur, the other important question that you need to be totally honest in answering is, ‘How many hours are you, as an owner, willing to work to make sales calls and make sales as part of your culture?’” adds Linder.
With this foundation in place, next you need to create a playbook for how you will conduct a sale. This will allow you to bring employees into the process, one by one, to grow your sales efforts. Follow Emerge’s three-step process:
- Use a spreadsheet to keep track of your efforts.
- On the first tab of the spreadsheet, document your goals.
- On the second tab, list the 50 most important contacts that will be critical to growing your company (see step 2 below). Often Linder finds that, for most companies, these 50 contacts won’t change over the years. These are the “archetypal companies that match to your brand archetype.”
- On the third tab, document your agreed upon process for sales. For example, if you’re entering data into lists, make sure everyone is using a common language to properly enter that data — deal, opportunity, etc. If information is entered in the same way consistently, you will know where you are in the sales process.
- For the 12-week process, Linder recommends that you don’t use a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool, rather simply populate the spreadsheet.
- Use your contact list to map 50 influencers. Start by identifying 5 who would be your most valuable customers; 5 who are the most influential people you know who could help with sales conversion; and 40 companies that would benefit from your products and services. If roughly half of those give you a sales call, and half of those calls result in a referral, you’ll end up with about 12 referrals (50 = 25 = 12). By focusing only on 50 people, you’ll find that your outreach is manageable. If your funnel is too big at the top, such as 1,000 contacts, your outreach process could get overwhelming. There are many resources available to help you find these contacts, including data.gov, the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce, the Business Innovation Center at the Monroe County Library, NextCorps, LinkedIn Plus, and Google.
- Make an execution plan and execute. If you execute on your plan, you’ll be in the 10% of growing companies that are out there today.
“Your plan or playbook doesn’t need to be perfect — waiting for perfection can immobilize a business. If you’re having trouble, engaging a seasoned consultant to help you build a solid playbook is often a wise investment,” says Linder.
When you begin to execute, it’s also helpful to document your stories so that you can reproduce your tactical approach to sales, over and over. “Most companies respond to a good story, and there are about five ways to tell it,” he explains. These are:
- Keeping up with the Jones emphasizes new things the company should have to remain competitive, grow sales, and be seen as a leader in their field.
- Smarty Pants tells companies how you’ll provide them with proprietary knowledge for free to give them the “inside track” to remaining competitive and growing sales.
- I’ve Got a Person uses the connections you have to help companies find those who can help them solve a problem (even if it isn’t you). This generosity and genuine interest in them will be remembered and repaid through actions like referrals.
- Some Dumb Guy — If I don’t know the answer to your question or problem, I know someone who does, like an engineer on the team.
- Treasure Map — If you help companies unlock, stretch, or grow their budget, they will listen. Always build your sales presentations to show how your product or service will help them do this by achieving their goal(s).
One final piece of advice that Linder offers is how a startup can get its first client. “Give the first one away for free. Get them to use your product and then get their help to tell the story. Testimonials can go far in helping others see what your product can do for them. By instilling the belief of success in your customer’s mind, you’ll validate that your playbook works. Equally important, you’ll have the proven experience needed to scale your business.
To learn how to augment this growth planning, read the first part of this blog series, 8 Steps to Thriving in a Downturn or Crisis with Jamie Cornehlsen, Managing Director of Fitter Financials, and view our podcast with Virginia Smith, U.S. Small Business Loan Assistance: April 6, 2020 to understand how to apply for assistance that is available during the pandemic.
About Leo Linder
Leo is the founder and CEO of Emerge, a tech-enabled global business outsourcing company serving fortune 100 and high-growth industries. Outside of work, Leo is dedicated to supporting the EquiCenter (fostering personal growth for the disabled and veterans) and enjoys being in the mountains with his wife, Barb, and two children, Everest and McKinley.