By Todd Smithee

As a refugee of three tech start-up companies, I had the “opportunity” to learn about running a company where expenses exceeded revenues.  Several of these previous employers went bankrupt or had their assets sold for much less than the original investment.  In all three cases we spent millions of dollars to hire quality people, develop great products and services, and create an all-encompassing killer marketing plan.  All of the millions in investment went for naught.  We eventually had to cut jobs and costs to stay afloat.  No matter what we did we had to face the fact that our sales plan did not reach expectations.  While the lessons were learned were in a growing economy, the practical applications remain valid.  You can extend the misery by cutting costs, but to survive long-term, you need to have a successful sales plan.

While these concepts are simple in nature, execution and management over an extended period of time can be difficult.  The following checklist will give you a place to start:

  • Expectations of Sales Personnel – This sounds simple enough, right?  It would be wise to confirm this with your staff.  I have frequently found that a major disconnect exists between sales teams and management with regards to expectations.  Be sure that everyone understands what is expected of them and hold them accountable.
  • Driving New Business – Most sales people absolutely hate prospecting.  The grind and rejection of prospecting definitely is not on the top of anyone’s list of enjoyable things.  That said, prospecting for new clients is critical in a slow economy.  Take the time to work with your sales team to identify specific companies to target for the upcoming year.  Provide clear guidance on expectations and follow up with your team monthly to ensure activity levels are appropriate.
  • Use the Internet – search engine optimization and paid Internet advertising is a very cost-effective way to immediately generate sales leads.  What’s more, you can target specific geographic areas that match up with your business strategy.  You will want to be sure to consider potential customers in other parts of the country even if you do not currently have a sales representative in those areas.  Some regions of the US are still doing quite well economically.  You can identify prospects in those regions via the Internet and make your presentation from your home office using a web-conferencing tool.
  • Look for “Rain Brokers” – An attorney once told me that while a rain maker is great, it is better to have rain brokers.  These are people who have significant contact with those prospects to whom you want to sell.  Look for ways your rain brokers can solve their problems by referring you to their customers and contacts.  These solutions can be as simple as providing information to their customers as a service to helping them solve a specific issue.

These steps will help you generate additional business with limited additional investment.  They will not work, however, unless you regularly measure their effectiveness.  Things that get measured tend to happen.  Things that do not get measured are almost always forgotten.