By Tim Belcher
Is it possible that you are too focused on sales? Possibly.
To explore let’s take a look at two hypothetical scenarios.
- You have outstanding salespeople. These salespeople represent the very best in your market. They have an outstanding work ethic, have outstanding people skills, technical skills, etc. They are efficient in follow up and display proficiency in all selling skills. However, your business is out of sync. Your operations are out of control, your employee turnover is too high, your pricing is a mess and your accounts receivables and payables are dangerously delinquent. You are making the same basic mistakes over and over and your customer complaints are at an all-time high.
- Your salespeople are average. They seem to be a bit timid and have a difficult time making connections in the market to new business. They seem to plug along without much enthusiasm and while customers don’t complain about them, they don’t rave either. They just don’t have the wow factor that you hoped from a seasoned staff.
However, your business is dialed in, and you have an outstanding operational culture. Your installation and service operations get continual praise from your customers, quality is spot on and employees are happy. Your back office is solid, pricing is simple and easy to understand and your receivables / payables are better than your industry’s average.
While the situations above are hypothetical, they seem to be common among home improvement contracting businesses. As a sales leader, given the two situations; which would you prefer? Which situation gives you the best chance of being successful in your market? One might quickly observe the second situation as the best of two difficult situations.
I would say that it depends. On one hand, having a powerful reputation of operational excellence in the marketplace may position you in the best light with customers.
But what if the market didn’t know about your value as your sales staff was inept as communicating it, influencing interest and persuading customers to use you?
On the other hand, a great salesperson can deliver compelling communications and influence positive consideration for your products and services. Despite your poor performance in the operational aspects of your business, a solid selling effort from your sales team could deliver business.
It may be debatable, but we all suspect that the first example of a good salesperson in a poorly executing company is a worse position to be in. While a good sales effort will surely create interest and deliver revenue in the short term, the market will soon find out and make sustainable success very difficult.
The second example seems to be a simple fix. Maybe more difficult than it seems for sure, but hiring a great sales staff to represent an outstanding operational effort should not be that difficult. The better your company is at what it does, the easier it is to construct an exciting value proposition around it. Great salespeople love to sell great companies in the market.
This article will focus on the first example and the puzzling plight of a weak core competency company (WCCC) that pursues an aggressive sales agenda. It’s all too common across all markets and home improvement industries. The message to follow is a direct hit on leadership of these companies and if you are a leader of a WCCC, please beware that while we pull no punches, we do encourage you to keep an open mind and use this information to improve your business. We will offer a few suggestions on how to overcome your weak core and move forward to become a powerful competitor in your market.
As audacious as it may sound, currently you may be focused too much on selling.
Why Selling Will Kill Your Business
Why will selling a high-value core competency to your customers and then delivering a weak core competency experience kill your business?
In selling communications, a sales department can communicate anything. You can explain to your customers all of your capabilities and you will attract interest from the marketplace. If you are a sales manager, do you want your account representatives going into the marketplace communicating to prospects and customers that you are average or below average at the core competencies they expect you to be good at? Of course not. You’re going to want your salespeople communicating to your customers that your value proposition is of the highest quality your customer service is of the highest quality and that the customer is making a brilliant business decision by partnering with you. We can say that in a sales presentation, but the question is, “can the business deliver what it says it can?” In far too many cases the answer is no.
Obviously, this can be catastrophic for a business. If the market concludes that a business is simply not very good at what it does, then that business may be avoided by the market and could be in jeopardy of failure. If the market collective does not find out that a business is not very good, the business may still suffer because you will be selling something you cannot deliver and you will create a tremendous amount of customer escalation issues. Customers will leave as they find out that you can’t do what you said you could and this will dramatically increase the amount of attrition and churn with your customer base. It almost certainly lead to significant employee turnover and it’s simply not a very good place for a business to be.
For these reasons my recommendation is this: if you determine that you are a weak core competency company, suspend all outbound selling efforts until you correct your core competency issues. If you have a conflict between your value proposition and your value deliverable, you’re causing yourself more problems than sales can keep up with. So…how can we overcome this strange dynamic?
Customer Engagement Audit
One of the ways that you can account for where you are at with your core competencies is to examine each and every customer touch point in your business. This may be referred to as a customer engagement audit.
You may want to examine each customer interaction possibility and conduct an audit to determine the quality of that experience to the customer.
This can be a very enlightening exercise. Throughout my career I have noticed a significant amount of friction between the sales department and all other operational aspects of a particular business that is not executing its core competency at a high-level. In these cases most of the time the management of the company with a weak core competency execution is in denial about their effectiveness in the marketplace. In fact, if you ask them to rate the quality of the service deliverable to their customers they almost always exaggerate how effective they are. Apparently it is difficult for some managers to acknowledge the fact that they need significant improvement in basic elements of their business. Or it could be that they are reluctant to allocate the resources necessary to develop a strong core competency. And while there may be other reasons for the denial, the salient point here is to ensure that you know where you are at so that you can begin to improve.
Oftentimes managers are too close to their own business to recognize the deficiencies in their operation as compared to competitors in the marketplace. It is not uncommon for a business to think they are doing very well when it comes to the basic fundamentals of their business, and find out through an audit process or voice of the customer feedback that in fact they are not doing very well at all.
Find the Elements of Your Competency
Sometimes the reason a business is not very good at its core competencies is because there is no focus on what they really intend to do in their business. We see businesses all the time that are trying to do too much or trying to do a variety of things that they cannot do very well. Just because the market displays a need and an appetite for products and services does not mean that a particular business will be very good at delivering that. With this in mind it is important that management of the company define what it is going to be good at. This may seem very simplistic but it is also fundamental to ensuring that we find out exactly what our core competencies are going to be. Once we determine the core elements of a competency then we let everything else go so that we can focus all resources at being very good at what we say we are going to be good at. Believe it or not this is a very difficult destination for some businesses.
For an example slightly outside the contracting trade, in the wholesale supply business if you assume that you are going to be very good at will call fulfillment of product, delivery of product to the customers place of business, and customer job-site delivery, you may not be focusing where you should be focusing. If you determine that you cannot be very good at all three delivery platforms, then it is probably in your best interest to pick one of the delivery platforms to master before offering the other delivery platforms to your customers.
Some sales leadership may think we am crazy for suggesting the suspension of outbound selling efforts, however, from time to time a business may need a reboot. Get to work on it and make it happen as quickly as you can while maintaining integrity with your effort. In other words do not go through the motions just to get it done. Make sure that you’re making effectual and sustainable change.
Develop an Execution Play Book
Once you define what you are going to be good at, then develop the processes necessary to execute on the engagement with each customer touch point. These processes literally need to be outlined step-by-step so that they are actionable, repeatable and measurable.
I would recommend developing a process and manual for each of the processes that you identify. With a manual resource, you are able to train existing employees and new employees on the details of your process. Keep in mind as food for thought that you don’t want to go through all the trouble to identify the weaknesses in your core competency, determine what you are going to be good at, develop a process and then not document it for consistency in training. If you failed to document it, the entire process may wind up being a complete waste of time and resources.
Company Skills Development Road Map
Now that you are engaged in execution to your customer engagement touch points, where will you go from here?
I would suggest revisiting the audit process and resolve to continue to look for areas of improvement. It may makes sense to conduct these audits on some frequency. The frequency could be annual or biannual, it’s really up to you. Regardless of the frequency that you utilize it’s important to continue to look deeply at your organizational skill set and into the future to determine what you need to work on to continue to grow. You may consider utilizing voice of the customer feedback and employee input to help you construct a skills roadmap for your organization.
Back to the delivery example, if you identified the will call fulfillment skill as an area you need to master before moving onto deliveries, then once will call was mastered and you were executing on it effectively at a high-level then you may incorporate on your skills development roadmap jobsite delivery as the next capability in your core competency wheelhouse. Ideally this process would continue as you add skills to your roadmap that are consistent with your core competencies.
Create a Measurement System
To keep a track of how you’re doing with your processes you will need to develop a measurement system. Create a scorecard so you know how you and your team are executing against the process. The measurement system will allow you to identify where you are at executing the process or possibly elements of the process that you need to change to position your organization for success. We have all heard it said, yet it still remains very true…”what gets measured gets done”.
I have heard it said for years that sales can fix anything in a business. The implication is that no matter how messed up a company is operationally, higher sales can mask the challenges and make the issues less painful. Historically that may have been true; but in our new normal with an increasingly critical, discriminating, and demanding customer, I’m not sure we can sell enough to outrun a weak core.
The notion that an increased focus on selling can kill a business is certainly an unorthodox thought, but probably worth considering.
About the Author
Tim Belcher is a sales and marketing HVAC industry veteran with over 30 years of experience working with manufacturers, distributors, and contractors. Belcher has multiple books available in electronic format on Amazon. Follow him on Twitter @belcherhvac.