Front Lines: Sales—a.k.a., Trench Warfare!


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Editor’s Note: New columnist Craig Arcuri will offer expert advice on running and growing a successful EMS company—or any company.

Part 1—Build the Foundation

I was in Kinko’s the other day, and while waiting for the copier to finish printing, I was pacing out of boredom. I stumbled upon a rack filled with candy and treats on one side and a few dozen paperback books on the other. Nearly every book covered one of two subject areas: how to get organized or how to close a sale. I found it interesting, because I was just putting the finishing touches on this article about sales. As I thumbed through a few, I found lots of good ideas I could relate to, many of which I have used myself. Yet none provided step-by-step instructions—at least, not the kind that take you deep into the trenches of real life.  

Let’s get some basics out of the way. I will presume for the moment that if you are reading this, you already know what you are selling and who the likely buyers are. You’ve memorized the features and benefits of your products, and you’ve done your homework on both your customers and your competition. You’ve read about the art of selling, and you’ve refined your sales pitch. I will further assume that once you close a sale, you can do what you said you could do. Lastly, I will assume that in return for money, you performed a service or delivered goods that were well-received. You’re totally prepared for trench warfare! Or are you?

Let me back up and provide some background about myself. I have started and sold several companies, some large and some small. Most were in the crucible that is Silicon Valley. The largest of these companies was $150M in annual revenue and the smallest $5M. Some were manufacturing companies and some were service companies. I have built big sales teams, and at other times I have been the sales team.

Now, you might think Silicon Valley, where money falls off the light poles (it doesn’t), and customers line up to throw money at you (they don’t) is the land of opportunity. Well, it is, but those same truths attract hundreds of competitors just itching to scoop up all that money. So, kid, if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. My MBA was earned in the field, making lots of mistakes. I do not claim to be anything other than old, experienced and battle-scarred, but nonetheless, a survivor. I’ve spent my life in the trenches, and along the way, I’ve learned a thing or two.

My resume would tout my decades of experience as a successful CEO. But what does being CEO have to do with sales? Everything! As CEO, you are always selling—to peers, banks, investors, employees, customers, prospective team members, etc. In fact, I would argue that the CEO position of a company of any size is, or must be, the chief master sales person.

I'm sure you already know that the word 'sales' doesn’t mean just closing a deal or getting a purchase order. And certainly, it doesn’t mean winning by outsmarting the buyer. A successful sale (let’s say “deal”) is where both parties get good value out of the transaction. Convincing somebody to buy or accept something that is not in their best interest is not sales; its deception, at best and theft at worst. And in the long run, you’d better get very good at finding new customers, because the old ones will never come back a second time.

So let’s talk about sales—real sales. Not pop sales ideas, not sales jargon of the day, not flavor of the month tactics. Let’s talk about sales in the trenches. Real people. Real products. Real life.  I promise you, if you follow these simple steps to build a sales foundation, you will generate more sales.

After hanging out my shingle as a Business Consultant, I can tell you that every single prospective client answers my, "What do you need?" question with the same answer: "We need more sales." Clients, of course, want me to focus on exactly that end goal.  But when I dig into the operation of the sales organization, if there is one, I quickly discover that what is actually needed are the myriad foundational things that must be in place first. I have tried many analogies, but the one that I think resonates the best is this: You can’t build a house by starting on the second floor.

Together, let’s start digging the foundation. I’ll use real examples, but the names of individuals and companies have been made up to protect the guilty. The stories are real, and they are current. One more caveat... If you’re a fan of the movie Office Space, or of Dave Barry, you’ll easily recognize my sense of humor. If not—take my word for it—sometimes, ya just gotta laugh!

Ready to start working on the foundation? Hang on, because we’re heading down into the trenches.

To read this entire article, which appeared in the December 2016 issue of SMT Magazine, click here.

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