Export markets need warming up
What is the loneliest job in the world?
Could it be a field officer at the French-Italian Concordia research station in Antarctica, built on an ice plateau 3200 metres, and one of the remotest places on earth? Or perhaps a scientist at the Northeast Science Station in Siberia, Russia?
Sometimes I think the prize for lonely jobs could go to the average sales person for a Kiwi exporter, especially in sectors like hi-tech.
We send them off into massive foreign markets, against large and well-funded competitors, selling their wares armed with little more than a few glossy brochures and our good wishes.
Sales person appointed, job done and we can forget about that until the orders start rolling in. They are left to do everything, from introducing the company to potential customers to overcoming objections to closing the sale.
These talented, driven people achieve amazing things, selling our innovative technology to large organisations throughout the world. I am constantly astonished at the big deals these people based offshore, or even living out of suitcases, manage to put together.
Relying on this sales approach, the ‘lone wolf' model, restricts our ability to grow enough technology companies of scale.
What the annual Market Measures study of sales and marketing has found is that exporters using the lone wolf model face several growth challenges.
Their cost of sales is high relative to the value of the product they are selling, and this stays relatively constant.
A symptom of this will often be long sales cycles - the average time it takes to secure a sale - which hits these small to medium-sized companies with inconsistent cash flow.
They also become very vulnerable to the quality of their sales staff. If they can't recruit and retain star performers, it has a massive effect on the company's revenue. Company growth tends to be directly correlated with the number of quality sales staff they can recruit.
Distributors can also be hard to engage with effectively, as the company isn't attuned enough to their target markets to work effectively with local partners.
How can you make the sales person's job a little less lonely, more like hunting in a wolf pack than alone, and therefore more cost-effective for the organisation?
It takes intensity, clarity and a programme.
Intensity means having the courage to focus on a very specific market opportunity or set of opportunities. That makes it easier for you to raise awareness of your brand, so when a sales person calls, the prospect already has some understanding of it.
Clarity means being able to articulate a clear and compelling offer to the defined set of prospective customers - the market. That is, being able to show potential customers very strongly how your product will benefit them, and how it has benefited similar organisations in their market.
Most importantly, it takes a programme to create a wolf pack approach to sales. That means supporting your poor, lonely sales people by implementing a set of tactics that ‘warms up' your target market.
If this programme is working well, when a sales person calls on a potential customer, part of their job is already done.
The prospect knows about your product and the potential benefits it offers.
You can use a wide array of tactics to achieve this, from direct mail to tradeshows to publicity to online marketing.
Given that people in virtually any market for any product are doing their purchase research online, you need to especially consider online tactics, including your website, email and social media.
Here's an example of the wolf pack approach.
Imagine you are selling cattle breed management software and have done the research to determine there are 7083 registered beef farms in the US state of Montana, with a need to use software to manage the quality of their herds.
You don't want an expensive sales person spending their time calling up all 7083 farmers, given a good number may not be interested at all, or at least not right now. Having the right marketing programme in place helps build awareness and pull in those with an immediate interest, so you can deploy your talented sales resource to close the deal.
According to the research, companies that apply this wolf pack approach, where the sales person is adequately supported, gain some important advantages.
Sales people aren't just left to it. Other parts of the company support them, enabling them to focus on closing deals.
As prospects come to sales ‘warmed up', the sales process is more efficient, lowering the average cost of sale. Lead times drop, and cashflow smoothes out.
Most importantly, growth isn't simply dictated by how many talented sales people you can attract. Scale can be achieved. And the poor old sales person feels more like part of a team, rather than a scientist in Siberia.