Friday, July 10, 2009

When a sales strategy really matters

I was watching Gerry's Big Decision last night a programme where Sir Gerry Robinson decides whether or not to provide angel funding for businesses that are about to hit the skids.

One of those businesses was fairly local to me  - HJ Berry Furniture maker. It's England's oldest chair maker and indeed I have some of their furniture in my house and I can vouch for the fact that it's of the highest quality and will last. The other was a pie and pasty maker in Devon. The pies looked good. If smelly-vision existed I may have ended up eating the TV.

So both businesses have good product, but aren't selling enough. One understandable in a recession (high-end furniture), the other less so (high-quality, low-price food).

There were three things in the show that amazed me.

1) Both businesses, struggling for revenue had an incredibly lax attitude to sales. Poor quality, ill-prepared sales people that seemed willing to do sales calls without any planning whatsoever. Where's the sales strategy, target customers, key account planning?

2) Berrys - oblivious to an incentivised approach to sales. The sales model isn't working...the economy has changed...the competition has changed...the way people buy has changed. Do something different, don't just expect it to fall out of the air.

3) The Managing Director's pitch to House of Fraser. I'm sure that this was a very difficult thing to do in front of TV cameras and with the pressure of Gerry Robinson being there...and it may well have been a last minute thing. Plus of course we only see the bits that they want to broadcast.

But, going to a major pitch on your own and just talking about the product as if you'd only read the brochure 5 minutes before. Talk about the customers of House of Fraser and why they want to buy the furniture. Be prepared about the questions on seat coverings...take a pack of swatch samples down. Highlight the USP - the oldest chair maker in the country with stylish chairs that last...and why not guarantee it. Anticipate the question.

And would you ever go alone to a major pitch? No, neither would I.

All in all it's examples like these that demonstrate that sales skills aren't very good across a range of businesses...or at least there is a reluctance to learn and practice. All major pitches should be rehearsed. You may spend four weeks on a proposal, but only an hour "putting some slides together". If you are at the presentation stage, take it a little seriously.

If you have the product, get the sales effort right and it will sell. If the sales element of your business isn't right, there are very few products out there that are good enough to compensate for it.