More often than not, CEOs of small companies are still very much involved in the sales process. Sometimes they're even the sole salesperson in their company. So it makes sense, from time to time, for small business owners to give themselves a brutal self-assessment to make sure that their sales tactics are as effective as they can possibly be. I recently spoke to Tony Rutigliano, a strategic consultant with Gallup and co-author, with Brian Brim, of Strengths Based Selling (Gallup Press; February 2011). It's the latest installment in Gallup's strengths series (NOW, Discover Your Strengths, StrengthsFinder2.0, Strengths Based Leadership). For BNET, Rutigliano came up with seven ways for entrepreneurs to sharpen their sales strengths and manage their weaknesses. Here they are:
1. Don't hide your weaknesses. Entrepreneurs often think they need to be perfect at everything. But especially when it comes to sales, says Rutigliano, "people find themselves doing things they shouldn't do, or could do better if they asked for help. You need to be open with your staff about where they can shore you up. Say you're good at the "hunter" role -- opening up new business opportunities, or getting the entrenched competition unseated. You may not be good at the "farmer" role--taking an existing account and seeing how you can increase your footprint. Instead of saying 'I need to be the hunter and the farmer', have a conversation with your staff about what you're good at and where you need help."
2. Use your strengths intentionally. "People are sometimes not aware of the things that set them apart from the herd," says Rutigliano. "Once those things are confirmed and validated you need to put them to use. Let's say you're really good at presenting. You might think not only about how you present to your accounts, but how you might also present sales training curriculum. Think about ways to help others get better."
3. Find support systems. "This can be anything from using technology to creating certain habits," says Rutigliano. "A classic example is that salespeople are often accused of not being very good listeners. So a support system for that might be a list of questions that you need to have answered for any meeting to be viewed as successful. Personally, I'm terrible at time management, so I use Outlook to remind me of appointments."
4. Create complementary partnerships. "Sales is becoming a team game. So it's best to have a partners and for those partners to think about how they complete each other, how one plus one can equal three," says Rutigliano. But we often overlook the best partnerships, because the ways that people complete us also often annoy us because they're so different from us. But you have to hone in on those differences and think about how to make them work for you.
5. Get the right training and education. Very often sales training is one-size-fits-all, and that's a complete waste of time, cautions Rutigliano. "Take an inventory of your talents and skills, and build a curriculum based on filling in holes and leveraging strengths," he suggests. "For example you may need help with cold calling, so get some training in the area, then practice, and do role-playing with the people you work with until the process is no longer crippling.
6. Make unpleasant tasks palatable. It's easy when you're the boss to avoid the administrative tasks that come with the sales process, such as creating meeting logs or keeping track of expenses. So you need to play little head game with yourself. Rutigliano suggests that you constantly think of the benefit that those unpleasant tasks will provide -- fewer headaches at tax time for instance, or more effective follow-up calls. "Get the unpleasant tasks done first," he says. "It's an old rule but a good rule. The thing you least enjoy doing is the thing that you should do first."
7. Adjust your role based on your talents. As your company grows, you'll find that there are some jobs that you love to do and others that make you cringe. If sales is your strength, then build your job around selling as much is possible. If it's not, says Rutigliano, "then consider delegating that role city you can devote yourself to the things you're good at."