12 Guiding Principles for Business Success – No.3 – Its all about Sales


This third guiding principle has a very simple and explicit message;

It’s ALL about sales

  • Get used to the fact that “nothing happens until someone somewhere has sold something to somebody”
  • Define and then measure (to an almost fanatical degree) the lead indicators to sales, the factors that are measurable today that indicate sales success tomorrow, e.g.
    • Your sales pipeline
    • Number of enquires
    • Number of site visitors
  • Understand the difference between Sales and Marketing and how they need to interact and work together.

Our paradoxical attitude to ‘Sales’?

It’s a crystal clear fact that the vast majority of businesses live or die by their ability to sell their product or service. But there is something paradoxical about the approach many businesspeople take to sales.  Logically we know that it’s crucial to the business, yet for some reason ‘sales’ is regarded as some kind of black magic that is often shied away from. ‘Oh I am not a salesperson’ is a commonly heard phrase. Many who claim to be great at marketing often hate to be labelled as a being involved in sales, it’s as if the word ‘sales’ somehow sullies the loftier profession of marketing. Worse, salespeople can sometimes be regarded as second class business citizens, an occupation reserved for those with the ‘gift of the gab’ or those with dubious ethics akin to the fabled dodgy used car salesman. As any modern professional salesperson will tell you, this is a seriously outmoded and inaccurate way to think about sales and salespeople. Today it’s more about understanding the customer’s needs, positioning your product/service to meet those needs, and then of course never forgetting to ask for the order!

So, this guiding principal is your sales reality check, if you cannot adjust to the fact that everything you do is ultimately about generating sales for your product or service, then your business life is probably going to be just that bit harder. By all means dress it all up with mission and vision statements and the like (nothing wrong with some higher order goals ) but please never lose sight of the fact that anything you do that is not ultimately in line with and about achieving sales is, to a greater or lesser extent, extraneous fluff and noise. But don’t just take my word for it;

“Nothing happens until someone somewhere has sold something to somebody”

The above quote has been attributed to many iconic business leaders, including Henry Ford, Thomas Watson (the man who put computer giant IBM on the map) and more recently business writer Peter Drucker. Wherever it came from frankly does not matter, but it is about one of the best bits of business advice you can ever take on board, embed it in your soul, it will serve you well.

Sales as a business process – not a dark art.

Personally, I think there are three main reasons why sales is often regarded as something of a dark art;

  • Advocacy skills are generally not taught at school and are not sufficiently highly valued in society.
  • Sales is to a large degree about influencing the behavior of others, and that’s often regarded as more art than science.
  • We tend not to think of sales as a business process or approach it as such.

The first two factors are to a great extent cultural, not things we can think about easily fixing in the context of our day to day business lives, but we can attack the third one on the list. Moving to thinking of sales as a definable, manageable and measurable business process is not a giant leap, but one a great many fail to make.

  • Define and then measure (to an almost fanatical degree) the lead indicators to sales, the factors that are measurable today that indicate sales success tomorrow, e.g.
    • Your sales pipeline
    • Number of enquires
    • Number of site visitors

Find whatever lead indicators work for you and start to measure them.

There are two main things that need to be grasped to make the move to managing sales as a business process.

  • Get used to the idea of managing sales as a ‘Sales Pipeline’, this applies especially if you are in a business where you need to build and manage a relationship with the client prior to the sale, even if that prior relationship is as simple as delivering a quote. You can look up in many places the concepts of how to manage a sales pipeline, but in very simple terms think of the sales pipeline as a funnel, generally you need to feed more leads/contact/enquiries into the top of the funnel than you get orders out the other end. Break down the sales process into measurable stages, e.g. initial contact, establishing client need, the quote/proposal, price negotiation – map out whatever stages work for you.
  • For each stage, understand what your metrics are for the number prospects that progress to the next stage. You may find for example that for every 10 enquiries you get to have a dialogue and establish a need for 6 of them. Of those 6 you get to do quotes for 5 of them, of those, 3 result in sales. So, working back the numbers, if your target is 12 sales a month, then you are going to need to do 20 quotes, establish need for 24 prospects and generate at least 40 new enquiries each month. So now you have the essentials of a sales pipeline management process.

Embed the measurements for each and every stage into your business management, measure them like mad, because these are the lead indicators of tomorrow’s sales.  If one drops below the required level you then know that you need to take immediate action to fix it, because dropping the ball on one of these links in the sales pipeline chain means less sales tomorrow. Use these ‘lead indicators’ to manage what you really focus on from a sales perspective.

At this point I could launch into things like the importance of Qualification in the sales process, but we can save that for another day. For now, just get used to the fact that ‘It’s all about sales’ and take the time to really understand your sales process, sales pipeline and the key lead indicators that are going to make a difference for you.

Sales v Marketing – different or one and the same?

We have quite deliberately really focused on sales here, but I am sometimes asked about what the difference is between sales and marketing. Once after a speaking event I was asked this very question and I gave a slightly flippant off the cuff reply “Marketing is the homework of sales”, on reflection though, I have now come to see this as a quite reasonable way to differentiate the two. At one level it’s logical to regard sales and marketing as one process that needs to be joined from end to end to work, like a chain, the entire process will only be as strong as its weakest link. So to that extent sales and marketing can be regarded as one unified system or business process. The difficulty though is that this unified view can lead to labeling everything as ‘marketing’ which is not always accurate or helpful. Here is my favorite anecdotal example, I have done work with government agencies who have conducted surveys of small businesses to find out what they want help with, unsurprisingly the response is almost always ‘We need help with marketing’, to which I will usually say “Actually, what they really means is they need help with sales!”

Marketing is about all the precursor planning and activities that have to happen to generate leads/prospects/enquiries/site-visitors etc. to then feed into the sales process. So this includes things like planning your target market, market research, pricing planning, competitive research, promotion activities, advertising etc. Essentially everything that leads up to the point of commencing an interaction with a prospective customer is marketing, everything from that point on is a sales process, be it face to face, over the phone or on a web site. It’s a simple delineation, but it helps to understand what marketing is about and what sales is about, and how they need to fit and work together.

In any event, be clear that, ultimately, it’s ALL about sales!

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