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Is Your Sales Strategy Designed With Engineering Precision?

At some point, it's going to come down to sales.
COLLABORATORS Anni Rodgers
photo by Patrick Feller
photo by Patrick Feller

“Bridges don’t collapse because marketing makes a mistake. When marketing makes a mistake, you get Crystal Pepsi.”

Yes, this quote from An Engineering Mind’s video about “marketechture,” “synergy,” and other dubious marketing lingo, was crafted for entertainment value. But chances are it reflects how the engineers in your organization regard their sales and marketing brethren — and vice versa. After all, contempt and frustration rarely flow in just one direction.

More than one startup has suffered lethargic sales because a brilliant founder couldn’t stop coding or modeling long enough to craft an ideal customer profile. Equally doomed are high-gloss, big-name launches that weren’t developed to meet client expectations. Uncoordinated sales and engineering teams present the most common life-threatening problem for small- to medium-size businesses, says Tony Horwath, president, founder, and CEO of Sales Focus, a 15-year-old sales outsourcing service with 200 employees.

“A financial guru or technologist can build their company up to $2 million in sales, but then they hit a stage where they’ve used up all their contacts and they need to hire a sales director,” says Horwath, who’s seen Sales Focus grow 430 percent over the past five years by selling its outsourced sales solutions to growing companies during this critical transition period. “The problem is that they don’t know how to develop commission plans, motivation plans, or hiring strategies. So they come to me after the fact and say, ‘We hired the wrong people.’ But most times they didn’t hire they wrong person; they just didn’t know what it takes to build, manage, and motivate sales teams.”

Most new sales efforts run afoul in the first 45 days — a critical time period during which Sales Focus guarantees to its clients that it will establish a comprehensive strategy, develop the necessary sales materials, and hire and onboard a professional sales team. The highly structured process, called S.O.L.D., is the product of Horwath’s engineering mind and sales experience.

Here’s how Sales Focus uses S.O.L.D. to improve sales efforts at growing organizations:

1. Study. “Drink from the data fire hose” by gathering all of the information you can about the company’s processes, products, and people, Horwath advises. Ask: What is the company’s value proposition? What does the competitive landscape look like? Which projects have succeeded and failed in the past? Which business segments are most attractive? Without taking a step back to view the business goals and processes at large, Sales Focus can’t determine how to make the biggest impact through sales.

The Result: “Clearly identified and quantified corporate goals and objectives,” Horwath says.

2. Organize. Begin building or rebuilding the sales and marketing plan, including key performance metrics (When is a salesperson considered successful?), staffing plan (How many salespeople are just enough?), and targeted client profiles (Where’s the highest-value customer?). Resource materials generated in this step include sales scripts, opening statements, rebuttals, and other collateral.

The Result: Sales Focus produces the tools and materials the sales team needs to sell on target and the processes for tracking progress against metrics.

3. Launch. “Recruiting takes the most time; finding people is the hard part,” explains Horwath, whose No. 1 hiring criterion is a strong work ethic. “How do you gauge work ethic? I look for part successes and discipline, such as participation in athletics or Eagle Scouts. I want people who are used to getting up early, working hard, and accomplishing goals.” Once the team is in place, this step is all about training and education, which continues on a monthly basis with internal webcasts and face-to-face trainings based on gap analysis.

The Result: Sales Focus trains a hand-picked sales team to meet specific goals and objectives.

4. Direct. Here’s where the big (and small) data comes in. All salespeople are responsible for conducting day-to-day tracking, such as updating tick sheets, monitoring estimates, and tracking processes on each account that the sales director then synthesizes and reports on weekly.

The Result: “Some clients don’t want to be privy to the tactical details, and others do,” Horwath says. “The more we sell, the less they care about reports.”

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