Building A Great Business – part four

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In the fourth part of our series, Fort William businessman Angus MacDonald offers advice on starting your own company, and why it is quite possible to build a valuable business in the West Highlands.

Sales and selling

In many countries in the world sales executives are feted as the driving force within a business: the people who know the customer needs better than others, know how to price the product and have a real ability to relate and communicate.
However in Britain, it is hard to think of a job with a worse reputation than sales executive.

How many mothers here want their little darlings to have a career in sales? The image is of someone in a sharp suit, slicked back hair, too smooth by half in their BMW company car.

I am fundamentally a sales person and have built my business career with an unusually high focus and interest in the sales side of the company.
Assuming your product is solid, if you hire enough of the right sort of sales people, there is every chance you can achieve exponential growth that will help you build an exceptional business.

Good sales people are hard to find and hire. They often already have great jobs and are getting well remunerated. You need to identify the best then woo them. An exciting new company, a better product and an opportunity to do better financially and career-wise should allow you to land the candidate.

Headhunting the best sales people from your competitor has a double advantage, of course. A great sales person is likeable and trustworthy, doesn’t over promise and is resilient to the inevitable knockbacks.

Once you have clinched the right people, treasure them, give them your time and interest, and compensate them well — they are difficult to replace. When they arrive in the company give them time to find their feet; few will get off to a running start. And expect even the best to have periods of drought: sales can be the most dispiriting career.

In my businesses, sales people were asked to take the Myers Briggs personality test. It informs individuals what sort of character they are: alpha male, outspoken, hugely confident, or reserved, detailed, methodical … and everything in between. There is a place for all sorts on a sales team.

Even more important is to be aware of what sort of character your client is. Understanding how Myers Briggs works is invaluable for that. To state the obvious, your young alpha male is unlikely to hit it off with the almost reclusive elderly facilities manager who loves his chess.

Having a mix of women and men in a sales team seemed beneficial.

Having telesales to produce warm sales leads proved very useful to me. And attending trade shows in your sector is a great way to suss out competitors and meet potential customers, some of whom you often aren’t even aware of.

It was difficult to make my little waste firm stand out amongst the mega companies, with their vast, prime positioned stands. So one year our sales director had a skip full of multi-coloured plastic balls and clients would have fifteen seconds to dive in to find a prize, ranging from our logo’d mug to an iPhone. Our staff wore lurid, multi-coloured shirts to stand out from the corporate types everywhere else.

Everyone knew of our company by the end of the show, and we had a few minutes to introduce our business to everyone who mattered.

The basic pay of a sales person should be modest, but with real scope to earn a multiple of that from bonuses or commission. I’d really want my top sales people to be the best compensated people in the company.

I’m often asked how best to structure commission. At my waste company they would need to bring in business worth six times their salary in a quarter to cover their cost, then they would earn 5 per cent of their sales over that, with 2.5 per cent for renewal of contracts. The sales director would get a bonus on the team hitting their targets. There are a dozen ways of structuring an incentive scheme, and they constantly need revising.

Half your staff should be on the sales side of the business; each should win a lot more business than it costs to employ them.

Sales people are often outgoing and fun colleagues but hard to manage; getting your sales team right is key to building a successful company.

Next week: Managing the operational side