Growing Pains: How Rapid Growth Can Hurt a Company

Growth. Everyone is looking to grow their business, especially in today’s economy…so how can growth be a bad thing? Often in my work with clients, I see companies that have had growth hurt them because they hadn’t really planned for it.

“We have grown so much that now we have a bunch of salespeople doing a bunch of different things”

This is a statement that one of my clients said to me when we first started talking about working together. They had started out small, with the president of the company acting as the salesforce of the company. Not a bad idea, he thought, since he knew the business better than anybody as he was the one who started it. Soon thereafter, he realized that he couldn’t sell projects, run projects, bill projects…you get the picture, so he hired a sales rep to bring in new business. The president became the defacto sales manager.

Sales were great and the company was doing well. There were more clients to find so the president hired another salesperson, then another, then another. Soon he had 8 sales reps, all pretty successful but none were happy, and neither was the president.

“I just can’t control what they do,” he confided in me. “One sits on the phone all day while another is barely in the office. They are all bringing in business but there is no consistency in what they do. Clients are happy, but if a rep goes on vacation, it seems as though nobody else really understands how to help them.”

This is a pretty common theme—the company is doing well so let’s just throw money at it. If one sales rep can bring in x% of new business, then if we hire another we can expect y% growth, and before you know it you have a sales force with no structure and a whole lot of confusion.

The solution to this very common problem: develop and adhere to sales structure and process.

When I look at a company and help them with sales process, my inspiration is the U.S. Constitution. The beauty of the Constitution is that our Founding Fathers, in their infinite wisdom, realized that they didn’t know everything and that they would make mistakes, so they allowed for this document, the backbone of democracy, to be a living, breathing thing that could change over time based on the needs of the people.  When I look at sales process, I start out thinking the same thing. While we hold certain truths to be self evident–if you are not making your numbers, eventually one of us will be looking for a new job—how you get to make those numbers may be different for everyone. We look at the strengths of the current team to determine the best short term “absolutes.” Then we look at what the ideal structure might look like for a particular company and start to develop longer term process so as the inevitable attrition occurs, we have planned and are finding the right complementary parts for the sales team.

So how does the “living, breathing document” come into play? I’ll give you examples from my own sales career. When I started selling in my first “real” sales job (apparently lemonade stands and mowing neighbors lawns don’t count as “real” sales positions) almost 20 years ago, absolutes included being able to walk from office to office to collect business cards, find out who decision makers are and try to get in to see them. If I couldn’t see them right there and then, I would go back to the office and call the people whose business cards I collected and schedule a time to meet with them. Standard equipment was a briefcase filled with various brochures and a calling card (remember them?) so three times a day I could stop at a hotel to find a pay phone and check back at the office for messages.

Evolution led us to a desk and the requirement of 100 cold calls a day, 1-2 outside meetings, and a cell phone so I no longer had to stop into the local Marriott unless I needed to use the bathroom.  Instead of delivering proposals by hand, we were asked to fax them to prospects—of course always following up with a phone call to make sure it got there because does anyone  really trust that confirmation slip? Next we were asked to stop faxing because we could send the proposal directly from our computer with this crazy thing called email. Now we are finding clients because they read our blog posts, searched for our website on Google, found us on LinkedIn, or maybe follow us on Twitter (@RandolphSterl).

Times change but selling does not. Oh, the methods change, but in the end it is all about developing relationships and allowing clients to buy what they want or need from people they know, like, and trust. How do we develop process around that? We simply look at the strengths of the team, add in accountability, sprinkle in the right amount of support, and are never afraid to look at new ideas.

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