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Building a Direct Sales Force in a Small Company

Building a successful direct sales force will require:

  • Central coordination
  • Placing people strategically
  • Providing people with tools
  • Providing leads
  • Communicating back results of meetings and events including reporting non related opportunities
  • Cross training
  • Mitigating channel conflict
  • Having a few rules

As you grow, you will need to coordinate the efforts of your sales force from a central location. This central location will also be where you will generate your marketing materials and coordinate activities like attendance at trade shows, shipping trade booths, shipping samples, coordinating technical support, etc.

The second element of building an effective sales force is to locate your people strategically. There will be clusters of target accounts across the nation. People should be located in or near these areas. While these clusters may contain different market segments, it is not necessary to match sales experience with market segment causing overlap. If you try to do this at the start, you will spend more on personnel than you can afford. However, consideration should be given to existing capabilities when adding new capabilities. For example, if you were to hire a person in the Boston, MA area due to market clusters there, you may look for someone with a bio background, not a semiconductor background if you have that already.

The tools you will need to supply your sales force with begin with the specific market focused material that highlights the benefits of your technology and products that are important to that market. Creation of these tools needs to be dynamic. Personnel in the field (this can be home office people on road trips) must provide feedback information on sales strategies that work and strategies that do not work and suggested new strategies and or refinements to existing strategies. Common templates should be created and shared and continuously refined and improved. You will find that core material will be used over and over again.

Leads can come into the home office or to field sales personnel. These leads must be immediately routed to the appropriate person and followed up upon in a timely manner.  Communication and coordination are key elements in success. Opportunities will evaporate or other solutions will be employed if there is not an immediate response to an inquiry. I cannot stress this point strongly enough. Businesses are trying to make money and often have critical time constraints.

Communicating results of meetings and non related opportunities is another key to success. A sales force must be trained to share data and vet opportunities with others. They must also be willing to hand over leads to others who might be more effective in closing a sale. Others include other direct sales personnel and other channel partners. When you add sales personnel in the future, screen out people who hoard information.

Sales personnel will tend to have experience that makes them more comfortable with specific market segments. You should strive to cross train your personnel in how to sell to various market segments. Initial failure should be accepted as long as people can learn from their mistakes and can expand their knowledge base to become effective selling into new markets. It does not take long (6-9 months) to become an expert in a market.

Channel conflict will occur. You will have distributors who will want to deal with clients that you have started to deal with on a direct basis. You will have distribution customers who grow and then want to deal with you directly. You must develop policy and communicate this policy to those involved. Channel conflict is a normal occurrence. Get used to dealing with it. Common sense solutions are always the best.

You will need some basic rules on setting price, lead times, special orders, credit, signing contracts and the like. You should also develop rules on spending. Travel costs can be prohibitive; trade shows are very expensive with space rental, booths, show material and people. Advance planning saves money. At the beginning in a small company, no one likes rules, or you all know what the rules are without having to formalize them. Formalize them. Thank me later.

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