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Business owners, how do you sell without a sales background?

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If you are a business owner from a non-sales background, I know your struggle.

I’m an engineer by trade. So when I founded my first company, the biggest challenge for me was sales.

I’m not a salesperson… So how do I sell?

I didn’t know where to begin and slowly descended into sales chaos.

In this blog post, I’ll explain what sales chaos is and how to deal with it, even if you’re a business owner without a background in sales.

What is sales chaos?

If you are not a salesperson, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

Sales chaos is this feeling of being unsure where to start because you’re not used to selling and don’t feel confident you’re doing it right. It’s the fear of coming across as too pushy.

In other words, sales chaos is a lack of confidence and direction in your sales efforts.

What causes sales chaos?

Having co-founded four different businesses, I’ll speak from my personal experience.

Five factors cause sales chaos. If some of them are pretty obvious, others might surprise you:

  • No defined sales process,
  • Rapidly changing priorities,
  • Lack of sales focus,
  • Data silos,
  • You.

Let me explain.

Reason 1. Non-sales business owners

When we start a business, our business is what we are passionate about. We have expertise in some field, be it career coaching or software development, and this expertise can quickly get us a good reputation.

However, expertise alone is not enough to build a profitable business. It gets you to survive—but to thrive, you need sales.

Some business owners are naturally good at sales. Others need to work on acquiring this skill.

As business owners, we tend to plunge into work and get so busy trying to stay on top of everything that a sales structure often gets neglected, especially for those of us who come from a non-sales background.

We don’t want to manage sales pipelines and deals. We are admin-allergic.

We want to take action and we often believe that should we have a great product or service, the right audience will definitely buy it.

“If you build it, they will come” has been our go-to mantra for far too long.

“If you build it, start selling” seems like a better approach.

Reason 2. Lack of sales focus

Lack of sales focus doesn’t mean you don’t understand the importance of sales. But you have other areas that you might feel more comfortable in so they take the majority of your time.

For example, in my case, it’s the product.

I’m an engineer turned product person who likes working on the concept, the design, and impressing the customer with the work of our hands.

Besides, your staff is wearing lots of different hats too.

You might have someone working on sales tasks but they are most likely dipping in and out of sales because there are many other things on their to-do lists.

If you don’t have a dedicated salesperson, you don’t address some issues about your processes straight away. They start to accumulate and at some point, they lead to sales chaos.

Reason 3. Rapidly changing priorities

The priorities in your small business are changing very quickly.

In its early days, your business needs all hands on the selling deck.

But once you get enough customers, your team will shift their focus from selling to delivering the services.

It’s a natural shift but in this case, your sales CRM is no longer about sales, it’s about delivering and managing client relationships.

So before you know it, sales are no longer a priority.

This limits your business growth because you don’t have enough time for qualification and you take any project that comes in the door.

Reason 4. Data locked up in silos

This is one of the biggest issues.

Small businesses have data locked up in multiple places. It’s in your invoicing system, in individual email inboxes, in your phone book, in different spreadsheets — and, as always, some of it is just in your head.

Once your business starts to grow, the number of data silos starts growing too.

Being busy with so many tasks, neither you nor your team have the time to get data out of their heads and personal inboxes and put it into a trusted system where it all can be easily accessed.

And there you have it: sales chaos is right here, knocking at your front door.

Reason 5. No defined sales process

Many small businesses don’t have a defined sales process.

Where there’s no defined sales process, everybody on your team does something different. You might have the owner doing sales in one way while another team member is doing it in their way.

Although it can be a little erratic at times, in a small business, you can still get decent results without a well-defined sales process.

But once you grow and hire more people, the lack of a proper sales process will become more noticeable.

Dangers behind sales chaos

Like any serious disease, sales chaos leaves scars.

The major one is lost revenue, mainly due to the lack of follow-up.

When dealing with salespeople, I always keep an eye on their follow-up practices. While some salespeople are excellent, many fail in this aspect.

For instance, in our house, we have a little bit too much glass on one side. Last summer, during a heatwave, it became a problem.

So I asked a vendor to propose a solution for our overheating house. I asked them to quote for me.

The salesperson visited our house and proposed a film that we could put over the glass to block the heat. He sent us some samples. This seemed like a good solution, we were ready to buy and were waiting for him to get back to us.

But he never did—and the weather temperature went back to normal.

One missed follow-up led to a lost sale for the company.

As a potential customer, I was left with a bit of a sour taste in my mouth and was amazed that the company lost the sale so easily by simply not following up.

The next time someone talks to me about overheating houses, I won’t recommend this company. My expectations have been damaged. This has a knock-on effect on their brand and sales.

There’s a valuable lesson in this for every business owner, including myself:

If we can impress our potential clients during the sales process, this sets us up for success.

But if our sales process is chaotic, the customer will feel it… and they won’t like it.

How to be great at sales even if you’re not a salesperson

This all made me think: How do we deal with sales chaos?

Or, in other words, how do we become great at sales, even if we are not natural salespeople?

After reflecting on my business ventures and several decades of working with salespeople, I noticed a few patterns.

So here are 3 steps that can help business owners get their sales machine up and running.

1. Get rid of islands of information

Where do you keep business-related data?

Let me guess: It’s probably in many different places. It’s in people’s email accounts, phones, Excel sheets, different apps, Google Docs, and so on.

The disconnected information is dangerous. Imagine how efficient it would be to have it all in one place and easily searchable.

Your first impulse might be to get a central system.

But putting another piece of software in your company is not a good thing unless it integrates well with what you’re working with already.

If Excel sheets and Google Docs are working for you in some regard, you don’t want to give them up.

But it would be great to pull all of the important information together. Especially, when it comes to customer data. The tools you use should be speaking to each other.

This is why a good CRM system is so fundamental to any business.

Recommended reading
How to choose the right CRM How to choose the right CRM

2. Treat contacts as business assets

While it might sound counterintuitive, in sales, you need to first think about contacts, not deals.

Even if you’re in B2B sales, you are not emailing a business. You always email a person within that business.

Think about it this way… When you are setting up a CRM system, the first thing you add is your contacts. Then you add notes, tags, and deals to these contacts.

In other words, contacts are always at the heart of every other piece of data you have.

Just like any other business asset, contacts have three distinct characteristics:

  1. Value: Business assets contribute to your business’s objectives.
  2. Action: They require active management.
  3. Ownership: Assets are owned or controlled by your business.

To make sure that your contacts provide value, you need to look after them. Keep them tidy: organize and group them together and avoid duplication and typos. A misspelled email address can cost you a sale.

You also need to take action.

Similar to cash on your bank account, the contacts in your CRM won’t generate sales unless you do something about them.

This is what next action selling is about. According to this method, you should have a Next Action assigned to every contact in your database.

For example, it can be about checking in with a client in one year to see how they’re getting on with your service. It might open doors to upselling or other opportunities.

And lastly, take ownership. It establishes clear accountability and responsibility. If no one owns a contact, it can quickly get neglected.

Pro Tip. For example, in OnePageCRM, you cannot have a contact that doesn’t have an owner. So if I look at all the contacts I own, I can clearly see if any action is required (or if I missed anything).

3. Follow up (really, do!)

In sales, you need to become a follow-up ninja.

Despite numerous books and articles on this topic, follow-ups still get misunderstood.

Here’s a simple way to make your follow-up process smooth and enjoyable. We call this approach upfront decision-making.

Imagine you’ve just sent an estimate to a prospect. What’s next? Most salespeople move on to the next prospect straight away. But this is not the right thing to do.

Once you’ve sent an estimate to a prospect, don’t move to the next one just yet. Take 10 seconds to decide what to do next with this prospect. When should you follow up with them if you don’t hear from them?

If you don’t set up a follow-up reminder straight away, you’ll get side-tracked by other tasks and inevitably start thinking “Well, I did send them an estimate. If they’re interested, they’ll get back.” So you postpone your follow-up. The worst part is that you might not follow up at all.

Never give your prospect homework by saying “Give us a shout when you’re ready or have any questions”. Park that stuff. Always get back to them.

The golden rule in sales (and in life, really) is the art of follow-up.

“You don’t ask, you don’t get,” they say.

Recommended reading
18 Tips: How To Follow Up Effectively [+5 Email Templates] 18 Tips: How To Follow Up Effectively [+5 Email Templates]

Wrapping up

That’s it for now.

This is my take on dealing with sales as a non-sales business owner.

Let me know about your sales fears and how you face them!

Michael FitzGerald
Michael FitzGerald

Michael FitzGerald is a serial entrepreneur and the founder of OnePageCRM. A multidisciplinary engineer by profession and a product guy at heart, Michael is passionate about building solutions for small businesses. He is also a founding member of a co-working space for startups, a guest speaker, and a co-founder of an app development competition.

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