Thursday, May 25, 2023

Abandoning the Hero Sale

When companies first get started, the founders may do most or all of the selling. They have the vision, the passion, the depth of knowledge of the service or product and connect well with early adopters.

At some point the Hero Sale risks becoming the Hero Fail. The challenge is that as the business expands, the founders (the heros) need to focus on running the business, managing the growth, courting investors, hiring managers, etc., and they have less time for selling.

So...they hire sales people. 

And they expect sales people to act and perform in their image, with the same depth of knowledge, passion, and ability to connect with mainstream customers.

I've seen and experienced it first-hand.

When I sold predictive analytics to some of the largest tech companies in the industry, the company president and founder expected the sales team to leverage his 100 page slide go deep into the technical details of the what and how of the platform. Much of our sales training focused on this technical deep dive, and only lightly touched on personas and messaging.

Conversely, my mainstream customers were only interested in the benefits of leveraging the platform - could they increase pipeline velocity, improve pipeline size and shape,  bolster their customer acquisition rates, meet their quota and revenue targets. The decision makers didn't care what was under the hood, only whether it would bolster their marketing results and how difficult it would be to integrate the predictive analytics platform and workflow into their existing marketing processes.

IBM wasn't even interested in the platform...they had their own...they were interested in our curated third party data. And we discovered this not through a detailed review of the CEO's slide deck, but in an extended white boarding session focusing on work flows. (White boards are my favorite selling tools.)

In talking with clients I hear many facing this same the company grows, expected sales productivity fails to increase as experienced sales people are hired. And the founders question the new hires, the selection process, the target markets, everything but their own outsize influence in setting sales strategy.

Moving from a hero-driven revenue model to one that is sustainable and scalable requires a fundamental shift to a traditional selling model -- a formal selling methodology, selling processes, SFA and CRM platforms, formal onboarding activities. Dedicated sales managers will provide strong leverage for additional growth, particularly if a coaching methodology and mindset is part of the structure.

When I joined BAO, the outsourced inside sales organization, as its first sales leader, I implemented a formal selling methodology and spent a lot of time coaching my sales team on value selling techniques. Many had come from the delivery side of the organization and had been accustomed to a highly transactional sales approach...making up to 250 calls each day. The investment in time and effort paid off...we signed a number of key accounts that had been chased for fifteen years.

We also drove an increase in revenue of 75% over that first 18 month period.

Moving to this scalable selling model requires both support and patience from all of the key stakeholders. It won't happen all at once, and it does require a substantive shift in approach. The founders must step back and give the hired managers the space and time to do their job.

A formal approach to change management...and specifically...setting expectations with the key stakeholders will prove useful.

And maybe, just maybe, that hero can take their first vacation in four years.



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