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Scaling is not an option–If your company is not growing, it is dying!

You need to be proactive in setting up your sales engine before the sales starts dropping. When you start looking at the options when your revenue is flat or dropping, you do things in panic. It is like the recent advice by the IMF to the world economies – one should repair the roof when the Sun is shining. You should invest in sales and marketing more and set up your own successful way of sales and marketing when you are growing and not when you see flat growth.”

Many of us keep wondering what is the right time to invest in proactive sales and marketing. There are many who believe that the leads they get through their network and the inbounds through customer references are sufficient for their growth. They hardly invest in proactive sales and marketing. This continues till they lose a few customers and the referrals dry up leaving them with a flat or declining revenue. It seems to me that this was waiting to happen. You can’t just rely on the network and the references to build and scale up your business. You need to continuously invest into sales and marketing and reach out to unknown prospects from your target market. Scaling up your company is not an option. If you are not growing you are shrinking, rather dying. You need to be proactive in setting up your sales engine before the sales starts dropping. When you start looking at the options when your revenue is flat or dropping, you do things in panic. It is like the recent advice by the IMF to the world economies – one should repair the roof when the Sun is shining. You should invest in sales and marketing more and set up your own successful way of sales and marketing when you are growing and not when you see flat growth.

There are phases through which a startup goes through – Feasibility, Saleability, Profitability, Scalability and Leadership. As you are going through these phases, your clarity about the business increases and hence the sales approach needs to change and has to be more refined. The most critical part of this evolution is creating your core theme around which you will build a scalable unit. A lot of companies start with an idea but that idea is at abstract level and gets refined and evolved over a period of time. It is just like our career paths. We don’t know many a times, rather most of the times, what we are good in and would excel. You have some hunch and go with a feedback that we get from friends, mentors or we just pick up what we see ahead of us to figure it out later. As we go ahead in our career, we keep refining that till we get to the point where we know exactly the focused area where we excel and seem to do better than others with very less efforts. More importantly, we seem to enjoy that as well and create a virtuous circle for us. Some are lucky to know what they are good in at very early age, some know much later and unfortunately some never figure it out. For me, the evolution of a company is very similar. Most of the companies start with an abstract idea and some with a very broad business proposition. It gets refined as the company evolves and gets feedback. Of course, there are a few, very few who get it right very early and are focused in a very pointed area of their excellence and they excel. Most of the organizations keep refining and sometimes totally redefining their purpose of existence. No doubt, the earlier you get that focus, the better it is. So the thought here is to introspect, know yourself well, keep getting feedback, be open to it and keep incorporating that in the refinement till you reach that focused excellence and create a virtuous growth cycle. Once you reach there, then the scaling is relatively smooth and will be rapid. Once you get that focus and build a profitable scalable unit, you can replicate that and create multiple such units because now you have mastered how to do it.

I strongly believe that the CEO or one of the co-founders needs to be the best sales person of the company. That just sets the things right for the company. The leader needs to lead by example giving a lot of credibility to him/her to set expectations of the sales team. The CEO needs to make at least the first few sales, be on the ground, set up the template for the sales process and then get the sales team in place. Then the CEO can restrict his/her role to defining sales strategy and let the sales team execute as per the framework defined. That will be much more effective than just hiring a business development team in the beginning and expecting them to figure out sales in the field. The CEO can strike the right balance between sales and delivery and get that initial fine tuning to set up the scalable sales process. This also helps the CEO to get the first hand feedback on the solution and refine the same based on the feedback.

As the company scales up, it is important to induct more sales people and this is also an equally important transition. Many a times, your internal delivery or operations person makes the best sales person. I find it a very good strategy to keep looking at your delivery team to find individuals who are good at interacting with customers, have business acumen and want to grow more on the business side. You can get them into the roles needing more customer interaction and then account management eventually transitioning into the sales roles. They know your business operations very well and hence can be very effective in responding to the customer exceptions during the sales process. Also, the prospects are always put off by a transactional sales person who does not have the depth of the subject. The decision makers like the individuals who know their subject and don’t need any help to answer the questions - the delivery persons excel in this area.

As an entrepreneur, once you have chosen to build your own business, you have no choice but to acquire sales skills. You need to sell the concept to your co-founders, investors, employees and prospects. To do this, your conviction and spreading/selling that conviction is the key. You can use your initial customers that you get through references and network, for refining the business model. You need to find your focus, your core themes of excellence. Once you get that theme and the business model correct, you need to build your sales approach and engine in the early stage. You should create the scalable unit and then ramp up the sales and marketing efforts and expand till you reach the leadership in your own business area.

Wish you the best in your entrepreneurial journey to scale up your organization to the leadership position!

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