There was a very relevant announcement made recently: Enterprise Ireland Announces Record Exports of €15.2bn in 2011.
This is big news in Ireland, especially with the situation that Ireland has been in. The funding, support, and programs the Irish goverment has provided companies that export (read: sell outside Ireland) led to this significant achievement. (Read Ireland Knows How to Support Growing Companies.)
As many of you know, I've been involved with the Irish Government and the Dublin Institute of Technology's International Selling Programme for ten years. More than 800 CEOs and sales executives have gone through the programs, most being from small, entrepreneur-run companies. That, coupled with years of experience working with small companies here in the U.S., all have provided me with a very, very good understanding of how entrepreneurs think and operate.
Once they graduate from the program in Ireland, the entrepreneurs are ready for prime time, as evidenced by the achievement highlighted above. But before they've been literally schooled in how to build and run a sales function, this is typically what we find:
- Most have no sales process or any documented approach to selling.
- Many are forever optimistic and subjective in their assessments of sales opportunities.
- Many underestimate the aggressiveness and competence of U.S.-based salespeople and salespeople from U.S.-based global companies.
- Many aren't tough enough with sales prospects, e.g. qualification, doing work for free, maintaining margins, etc.
- Many CEOs think they will win in their market as a result of their great products.
- Most have no idea how to hire, manage, or compensate salespeople. They waste literally millions of dollars on hiring the wrong people.
- Some will pursue literally ANY sale.
- Many produce rolling "hockey-stick" sales forecasts, where sales "the next quarter" are predicted to skyrocket.
- Many come into the program thinking that they know how to sell and build a sales function. They quickly learn they have a significant challenge ahead.
Even though these are characteristics of Irish entrepreneurs, they closely parellel those of entrepreneurs here in the U.S.
By the way, the idea for this post came from a post on an HBR blog. Although I think the points made in that post are valuable to consider, there is much more to the story.
If you're an entrepreneur and need some guidance with your company's approach to selling, let me know. I'll point you toward someone who can help.
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