Receivable/Accounts - Information for Credit and Collection Issues

Friday, November 6, 2015

Sales Sucks ... Sometimes

It's no secret that I probably have come across as "anti-sales" in my blog ... I've written a number of articles that occasionally takes a swipe against the idea of traditional sales here , here , and here.

So, two weeks ago, we hired our second Outreach Manager -- some might consider these folks 'sales people', and one of my friends in the industry (who is a sales manager) started raising his eyebrow at me when I showed up to industry conferences.  I'm betting that some people are wondering if I'm a hypocrite ... well, not completely.  Allow me to explain. 

Our company existed for its first four years without a 'sales person'.  A third of a million files and four years later we have developed two Outreach Managers.  Their job isn't 'sales', because sales roles often suck (for the sales person and the company)... it's something better.


So, I've talked about Paul Nazareth and his mantra of Social Business.  I've talked about Scott Stratten and his book Unmarketing.  I've talked about how awesome people are, and how if you build something different and amazing, clients will come to you.  That's mostly true.  The first thing a company should do is undergo Awesomification, meaning building something ... well, amazing.  

I'm talking about a product or service worth providing, something of value that people will *want* and *need*, and a company that people will enjoy working with.  I'm not talking about copying the guy down the street.  Look at Google and the company and products they've developed over the years ... how many Google 'sales people' have called you to ask you to use their website or try their self-driving car?

The problem with many collection agencies are they are mostly the same ... if you build something identical, or nearly identical to the next agency down the street, convincing companies to use your service is a pretty hard uphill battle.  If you can build something different, you can set yourself up as an industry disruptor, or at least make your company stand apart from all the others, you won't need to completely depend on 'sales'.  There are lots of ways to do this -- technology, better communication, customer service, transparency, reputation, and so on.  This in itself will create the opportunity to grow your business.

Marketing vs Sales

So you have something Awesome (tm).  Now should you hire a 'sales person'?  Nope, not yet.   


Well, unless you have time, patience, and money to spare, your next logical step should be to focus on marketing rather than sales. Now a lot of articles talk about marketing versus sales, and how marketing executives think they are better than sales people ... this isn't one of those articles.  Marketing isn't superior, it's actually the servant to sales.  With marketing, your brand becomes broadly known, and starts attracting clients and growing your company. 

Marketing isn't just renting a billboard on the highway.  Marketing can be social media engagement, client engagement, sharing testimonials and success stories,  Basically, any company activity that can be viewed by the outside world as you do it.  When you see a CEO use Twitter to engage with people, or someone posts a Google+ review that everyone can see, that's marketing.

Marketing on its own is a wide and shallow approach.  One blog article, one purchased ad, one mailing campaign might reach more eyes per dollar, but it's uncontrolled -- you don't have control over who calls you back, when they call you back, what products they are interested in, and how you might grow your company.  

If you sell one kind of toothbrush or cable package, it probably doesn't matter as much, but in the collections industry, clients are wildly different -- anything from a dentist with a handful of files, all the way to a national financial institution with millions of dollars in accounts -- and both clients have merit and value, and need completely different services and support.

As I've said before, I think I suck at 'sales'.  I'm impatient, opinionated, and want to talk process right away.  I've been a collector too long and I drink too much coffee loaded down with sugar to shift gears to a more calm, relaxed approach.  But what seems to have worked well for our company is that I've been able to take my fine arts courses at University and turn to writing, which had a completely unexpected side effect of marketing -- this blog, my activity on social media, our Google+ reviews, and so on makes a lot of 'noise'.  I'm not saying that each blog article I write is a cold calculated attempt to sell somebody something ... I'm saying because I'm impatient, opinionated, process driven and I'm on my fourth coffee as I write this, I can channel my passion and knowledge into a written 1,500 word article and share my story with folks.  That noise makes me known, and if I'm of similar minds with a potential client, they might call me (but it's okay if they don't ... I enjoy just writing).  Which eliminates the elevator pitch, the telemarketing, and the power point presentation
(which I suck at).  I'm truly surprised and humbled by our clients that have reached out to us over the years because of marketing.

So ... your company has Awesomification and has a well developed marketing strategy.  Can you finally hire a 'sales person' now?  Maybe ... if you do it for the right reason, and give them the ability to do the job they really should be doing.

If your company has clients coming in, and you want to start steering the growth and future of your company, it might be time to get someone with expertise and time to sit down, go over your five year plan, immerse themselves in your products and services, and take all the raw awesomeness and noise and turn it into something more refined.  This is not 'sales' in most people's minds.

Sales Is Not Necessarily "Sales"

I may be confusing you at this point.  Let me make a line in the sand ... there are 'sales people' and then there are 'ambassadors'.  Do these positions sound similar?  Maybe not, if you think about it.  Titles aren't important to get hung up on, but let me illustrate the difference between the two concepts with a small theoretical comparison:

So imagine if you will, Frank owns a struggling or stagnant collection agency, and hires Claire to be his Sales Manager (or VP of Business Development, or Client Acquisition Specialist, or whatever you want to call the job), and asks her to go get 'the next big client'.  The pressure is on, and Claire needs to perform, show management her prospect list, what she has on the go, and give estimates when 'the client will land'.  They might give her a travel allowance, and might pay her way to conferences and business trips ... or maybe not.  And if she doesn't perform, pump out calls and proposals, and justify her position in the short run, she's gone.  It's all about the next big thing.  This is the bad "sales" I've talked about.  It sucks for Claire, and it sucks for Frank and his agency.

Now let's look at Megan ... she owns a collection agency with a lot of clients, and isn't hurting for revenue.  She grows her company with Awesomification and Marketing, and then hires a Andrew as herClient Relations Manager (or Outreach Manager, or Corporate Ambassador ... note the difference from above).    Andrew is asked to take a successful company and improve it.  He engages in social media, conferences, golf tournaments, meetings, and a select number of calls.  It might be slow, and it might be subtle, but this isn't the above example with pressure to sell, sell, sell ... it's an investment in the future by asking someone to build new relationships, to focus and funnel the rewards of Awesomification and Marketing.  Andrew might not land a client in months ... and that's okay, because it doesn't matter.  He's taking the raw value of Megan's agency which is growing anyway, and adding focus.

Growing and developing a company isn't about making a phone call to a prospect list ... that phone call should be the last step.  If you haven't built something awesome, and made some noise and created an audience or fan base, what good is a call going to do?  Sure, you might get a slick sales guy who can sell ice to someone from Nunavut, and he might land 1% of his leads ... but that's a crappy job for the 'sales manager' and the 99% of their time wasted, and it's going to suck when 10-50% of those clients move on when they find out the honeymoon is over and they haven't benefitted from the 'sale' because this company is just like the last one they used.

We have an Outreach Manager who spends 20% of her time building relationships with existing and new clients, and now we have another Outreach Manager who spends 80% of his time building relationships with existing and new clients.  It's not about the 'next big client', it's about giving someone the time and ability to be the curators of our company's brand and have the time and ability to make sure clients' needs are met.  It's not about the 'sale' ... a good product that's Awesome sells itself, and a company that understands marketing can make a footprint in their industry.  It's the skilled ambassadors that can facilitate the relationships that develop from the raw product and noise, and improves what already exists.

Will the Outreach Manager sell the company's service?  Well, yes ... but that's driven by Awesomeness and Marketing.  It makes the Outreach Manager less about pitches and more about conversations, and it's about relationships not prospect lists and 'smiling and dialing'.


I know this article is more wordy and opinionated than most, but one of my first part-time jobs during high school was selling vacuum cleaners as a telemarketer.  I lasted two weeks, and I couldn't stand 'selling' something for the sake of 'selling' -- it left an impression on me to this day.  'Sales' sucks ... but sometimes, you can take a long view without pressure or cold strategy, and build something that's better than sales.

If you read Daniel Pink's book "To Sell Is Human", there's a great story in there about the last Fuller Brush salesman ... it was my impression that this salesman was a craftsman of relationships, not a guy who pumped out brush orders.

If you want to have a discussion about sales, marketing, unmarketing, or any of these ideas I've gone on about, I'm happy to have a chat -- feel free to email or call me and share your viewpoint.

Thanks kindly!

Blair DeMarco-Wettlaufer
KINGSTON Data & Credit
Brantford, Ontario

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