Which Role for Sales

Front-line worker, or Business Development staff – Who is better at bringing in new business?

Some companies choose, either by design or tradition, to have a business development team or person, while others like many of my clients choose instead to leverage their existing resources and capabilities.

Either way, it’s important that there is a focus on the key function of sales and companies who don’t have that focus are often risking:

  • Attracting the wrong types of clients
  • Long buying cycles
  • Unoptimised margins

But which approach is better? Having dedicated Sales/BD roles or equipping your current front-line team?

If I had a dollar for every time a managing director told me “Julia, we don’t do sales”, I’d have enough money to buy my kids an actual sized garbage truck they’ve been badgering us about for years.

They (the managing directors, not my kids) go on to tell me that their front-line team are excellent lawyers/engineers/consultants/accountants/technicians etc and that they are not really cut-out for sales.

This is where they ask the question about hiring someone specifically for the position.

Two kinds of companies

I have identified that there are 2 types of companies in the world, traditional sales businesses: and non-traditional sales businesses.

Traditional sales businesses are those that typically operate in retail, property, real estate, insurance etc. They tend to be more transactional in nature and openly associate with being in sales.

Non-traditional sales businesses are those operating service based, or professional services like; accountants, logistics, IT, software, legal, engineering, financial, training, healthcare and architecture, for example. Quite a lot of companies in those industries, but not all, rarely associate their professional activities with doing sales, and are much more focussed on the delivery of the work for the client, rather than bringing in new clients.

The sales skills required for each of these 2 types of businesses, are very different.

Most of my clients identify with being in the second category, the non-traditional sales businesses, and they share some unique characteristics, for example:

  • Selling services or solutions
  • High ticket items
  • Long buying cycles
  • Complexity in what they offer

Hiring someone directly for this role is an excellent idea. PLOT TWIST: they are hard to find. Very hard, in fact.

If the challenges of the current labour shortage aren’t enough, finding someone who can sell to those above characteristics, is not easy.


Hiring specifically for sales

I had a meeting with a prospect, who told me their plan was double revenue by hiring a business development manager. I enquired about how exactly, this person was going to do the sales, and they told me “We will just teach them what we do, and then they will go and get the sales.”

I asked them a few questions, like:

  • Where will they be getting the sales from?
  • What process will they follow?
  • How will you KPI/measure them?
  • How will you know in the interview if they are any good at sales?

These questions are often largely misunderstood by non-traditional sales businesses who are hiring for this specific role.

In fact, there are several types of Business Development skillsets and it is extremely rare to find someone who has all of them, not to mention, not a scalable or reliable business strategy.

For example, there are different traditional roles within Business Development that some BD professionals adopt like Hunting, Lead nurturing, Client engagement, Top-tier engagement, ‘Cold-calling’, Networking and Referrals, etc… so even if you do hire someone, it’s not easy to have them adopt different roles when they’re usually more suited for different personalities.

Hence there are common conclusions made by recruiting managers and I’ve often heard… “This person has a great personality, lots of experience in sales/business development and our customers will really like them!”.

However, there are 3 huge red flags in this statement;

  1. Engaging well with clients is a very different skill to bringing in new business from prospects where the relationship hasn’t been fully established.
  2. Hiring based on personality is not an indicator of sales ability
  3. How were their sales skills tested in the interview so you know they can convert?

83% of companies hire the same type of salesperson, which unknowingly to them, is the type that is the least effective.

Worth it? Indeed, IF you get it right, because these people are worth their weight in gold.

But get it wrong, which is extremely common, and you’ve got an expensive liability on your hands.

Because getting it right is often so difficult, and even more so now with the talent issues everywhere, it is also difficult to scale as you are often dependent on finding ‘unicorns’. Hence this approach is best left with businesses who have very clearly defined BD roles, and reliable access to a pool of talent.

In an ideal world, if high-quality labour resources were readily available, then hiring someone specifically to work on new business, is an excellent strategy.

Using your front-line team?

What about leveraging your current team? Are they going to be as effective?

Firstly, there are some great benefits to using your existing team to bring in sales.

For starters, they already know the business, the work and how their company best services their clients. They are also technically strong when speaking about complexities of the services they can provide.

Your existing team know what it takes to deliver the client work and what kind of clients, are great clients for your company.

They can easily transition between meeting a new prospect and delivering them the work.

The biggest challenge lies in their lack of ability to prospect for business, follow up with prospects and importantly, convert the business.

However, the scalable and highly effective solution to addressing this is to establish a best-practice process that guides them through the journey. So their sales effectiveness is primarily then dependent on the sales process which ideally is a proven and effective one.

And if you add to that, upskilling them in the key skills they can use in that process, and hopefully some ongoing coaching/training, you’ll have implemented an effective, scalable and more risk-mitigated ‘revenue-machine’ for your business that enables your best people to be even better.

In conclusion, the decision should be based on effectiveness of sales (and cost-effectiveness), scalability and structure.

So, given the tough labour market, gearing your existing team to step-up and conduct some sales activity (for a portion of their time) could be the perfect option for you. You’ve got business development professionals right in front of you!

I don’t know about you, but I love solutions that are hiding in plain sight.