One of the most common mistakes early stage entrepreneurs make is assuming that their product or service will “sell itself.” With very few exceptions, this is almost never the case; sales success is usually the combination of hard work, persistence, and having a well-organized sales strategy.
One of the key reasons the “selling itself” myth is so persistent is that many entrepreneurs aren’t really sure where to begin setting up a sales organization. The task seems so detailed and daunting, that they shove sales strategy into the background until months later when sales are sluggish and they’re having cash flow troubles.
The good news is that there are a few tried and true ways to set up your sales organization for success. There are certainly more ways than the three discussed here, but these are a few of the most
One of the trendiest sales strategies is not even technically a sales strategy… it’s a marketing strategy so efficient that new customers flock to the product or service without a sales force. This is commonly employed by app companies, Software-As-A-Service (SaaS) companies, e-tailers or direct-to-consumer product companies.
There are two primary types of Marketing Only strategies:
Outbound Marketing: Often confused with “advertising,” Outbound Marketing is a strategy that puts your business in front of an audience whether they’re interested or not. Examples include: cold calling, traditional advertising, direct mail or flyers.
Inbound Marketing: This strategy requires a level of “buyin” from the prospective client, like following a Twitter account, “Liking” a Facebook page or subscribing to a newsletter. Sometimes called content marketing, Inbound Marketing is when a company uses different media sources (like social media, newsletters, SEO, websites, blogs) to promote their products or services. With Inbound Marketing, the customer is giving permission to be marketed to.
One of the most common — and most powerful — ways a company can drive sales is by combining an efficient marketing strategy (like blogging, SEO or cold-calling) with a well-trained sales force that is prepared to take advantage of the incoming customers. Splitting up responsibilities between marketing and sales exists along a continuum between two extremes:
Call Center Model: This model works well for products and services that are inexpensive and have a short sales cycle (like small insurance policies or easily understood consumer products). In this model, the sales force is integrated with marketing, making them the logical end of the strategy. Call Centers are the most common example of this model, with cold callers following up on marketing efforts to make over-the-phone sales.
Dedicated Sales Model: One of the most common ways companies split marketing and sales is to have dedicated sales representatives who close deals arranged or facilitated by marketing. Think of the way the average bank is organized, with tellers, advertising and other outbound marketing efforts referring potential clients to the Financial Service Representatives who close the deals.
This is the most common way that small businesses organize their sales strategy. With most marketing strategies financially out of reach, time-consuming, or hard to understand, many small business owners default to either hiring a dedicated sales representative, or doing it themselves. A Sales Only strategy pays little attention to marketing the product or service; the sales reps are expected to generate all their own leads. This can be an effective strategy for business-to-business (B2B) companies, since many marketing avenues are geared toward consumer products.
With so many things to juggle when starting a new business, developing a sales strategy is often overlooked, but having an effective sales strategy from the beginning can help your business achieve profitability faster and save you a ton of headaches later.
(Source: Tres Crow, Consultant, UGA SBDC at Georgia State University)