A common question we receive is – “When should I hire a salesperson?” Or, “What should I look for in a salesperson?” Those are certainly very good questions, but answers are filled with nuances making it difficult to offer definitive advice. Perhaps a better question to ponder first is this – “what should our company be doing before we hire someone to sell?” This article discusses several tasks/tactics to help guide your business development effort.
Think Marathon, Not Sprint
Business-to-business (B2B) growth requires planning and perseverance. Unlike business-to-consumer (B2C) growth, where you cast a net to capture anyone willing to spend a dollar, B2B growth is more focused and typically has a longer sales cycle. And while we will “pound the drum” for continually focusing on business growth, we don’t advocate hiring a salesperson and creating unreasonable expectations for rapid growth. This is a marathon, not a sprint.
Assess Your Operational Growth Capacity
Assessing your operational growth capacity can be tricky. How much and how fast should we grow? Typically, your operations team will play a more conservative card in the growth planning discussion – this is understandable, as the folks in operations must continue to serve existing customers while starting up new accounts. When planning, consider what 15-20% growth would look like for your company.
For example, if your company’s annual revenue last year was $1.2 million, could you add $200K (run rate) in new growth in one year? If your average revenue/customer is $3K/month, you would need to add around 5-6 customers per year – starting a new customer roughly every other month. Going through an exercise like this is important to help your team assess capacity. Then, challenge your team by pushing this estimate out just a bit – maybe by another percentage point. As the leader of your company, it is important to challenge your team, but do so with wisdom.
Develop Your Business Development Process
Like training for and running a marathon, B2B growth requires planning and a good process. Below is a framework we recommend for planning and executing your business development effort. NOTE: We will expand on each of these items in subsequent articles.
1. Establish your ideal customer profile – Factors to consider are the type of business, locations, and size (number of building users)
2. Prospect research – Using various paid and/or free resources, prospect research aims to develop a list of prospective customers who seem to meet your ideal customer profile and 1-2 contacts at each.
3. Make initial connection with prospects – Typically, through telephone calls and emails, the goal is to access the prospect’s “purchase readiness.” We use three questions to gather this information – (1) “Are you the person responsible for the cleaning services at your company?”, (2) “Do you currently outsource the cleaning of your facility?” and (3) “Would you tell me a little about your current situation/are you pleased with your current situation?”. Answers to these questions provide valuable insight into each prospect’s readiness to consider a change.
4. Nurturing – Once you’ve discovered the prospect’s purchase readiness, it is helpful to have a process for continuing to stay connected to your prospects. This can be a combination of telephone calls and emails with content at set frequencies. We like to send a monthly content piece and call every 4-6 months. The goal is to stay front-of-mind and provide value through providing valuable content.
Ready for a Salesperson Now?
Well….maybe. Perhaps a better consideration is what skills are needed (and missing) in your organization to execute your business growth effort. Below are brief descriptions of skills/traits needed to execute the tactics in the previous section:
1. Prospect research – Skills/traits include attention to detail, being process-oriented, comfortable working at a computer for prolonged periods, being a bit of a “detective,” and proficiency in internet searches and prospecting tools.
2. Initial Connection – Skills/traits include attention to detail, being process-oriented, being comfortable working at a computer for prolonged periods, and making telephone calls. NOTE: MANY, MANY people are NOT comfortable making telephone calls. Our suggestion – think of someone who has worked in customer service, telephone sales in a B2B setting, or someone who has had to make a bunch of telephone calls in their life.
3. Nurturing – Skills/traits include attention to detail, being process-oriented, ability to write content (helpful, but not required), and being comfortable with making telephone calls. This person will be responsible for using some software (e.g., MailChimp) to submit nurture emails, so the ability to use/learn to use software is helpful.
In most cases, we find that companies need a person(s) who can perform these tasks well to push prospects through your sales/business development pipeline. Then, as prospects are ready to engage with a company (i.e., facility walk-through, proposal, presentation), there needs to be someone who can perform these tasks. Again, in most cases, we have found that the company’s owner is generally pretty good at this part.
With careful planning and “patient persistence,” you should see your business development activities create a flywheel that produces the right kinds of customers to propel your business forward.