Are You Standing in the Way of Business Growth?

Written by Rob Malec

Ask any CEO or business owner the question, “Are you interested in growing your business?”, and they’ll invariably answer with an enthusiastic “Yes!”. When you look at their actions around running and planning for their business, however, the audio doesn’t always match the video in the way necessary for business growth.

In my role as a Fractional VP of Sales, I speak with CEOs and business owners every day, and yes, they are all enthusiastic about growing their companies. In many cases I find the audio does match the video, and their actions are consistent with their stated desire for business growth. But there is also a [not so small] proportion whose actions are inconsistent with their stated desire for business growth. Find out which category you fit into.

Are You the Hindrance to Business Growth? 3 Types of CEOs or Business Owners 

After 21 years of working with well over a hundred companies, I’ve observed that there are three camps of CEOs and business owners.

1. Those who state a commitment to business growth and act to make that growth happen

Those who are truly committed to growth always seem to find a way to make it happen. Rather than their business resembling pushing a rock uphill, it’s more akin to water running downhill. It finds its way over, under, and around obstacles to growth.

These owners are resourceful and pragmatic. A trait they all share is a keen awareness of “knowing what they don’t know”. They understand that in order to take their company to the next level they need to hire or contract expertise that they don’t have.

In a recent conversation with a client, they stated, “I know I need to hire people smarter than myself for us to be successful”. Given that this is one of the smartest people I know, their comment really hit home for me. Knowing when to bring on expert help is key to realizing business growth.

2. Those who state a commitment to business growth but don’t really want to grow

Not wanting to grow is not a bad thing at all. Many business owners start businesses to support themselves, their families, and the lifestyle they would like to enjoy. These business owners share a common characteristic. They are not out to conquer the world or to be a Fortune 500 company. They want themselves and their family to live their best life and set about to make that happen, which is never an easy thing to accomplish as a self-employed person. Starting your own business is certainly not the ‘safe’ road. These types of companies are a great thing and are the backbone of our economy.  My feeling on business owners like this is “More power to you!”.

3. Those who state a commitment to business growth but don’t have the wherewithal to act to make it happen

Those who state their commitment to growth but don’t have the wherewithal to act to make it happen also share a common characteristic: they can’t seem to get out of their own way. Businesses that have a culture of being deferential to the boss generally hit a growth ceiling and struggle mightily to get past it. Because they hire people who are okay to toe the line and not make waves, significantly fewer creative ideas are brought forth, let alone implemented.

When people wait to be told what to do and when and how to do it, there’s not much room for innovation. It’s fascinating to peek inside of these companies and see that somehow, someway inside of the hiring process those who are great at following orders get hired over the mavericks. The resulting [inadvertent] culture leads to stagnation of business growth.

CEOs and owners who need to have their hands in everything and can’t let go are often confused as to why business growth isn’t happening. They don’t recognize that they are the chokepoint. I recently worked with a CEO of a 70-person company who insisted on dealing with inbound customer service issues. Time spent on handling customer service issues (which should be delegated to someone else) is time that can’t be spent on the higher-level CEO issues that are the levers for growth. This approach may be appropriate in the start-up phase but is an obvious hindrance to growth in the maturity phase.

Beyond needing to have their hand in everything, some CEOs and business owners take things one step further and need to control everything. In this situation, even with department heads and team leads in place, every decision must be run by them. They make decisions about process change and only implement when they feel the time is right.  They don’t give their leaders the latitude to be leaders. This situation not only impedes business growth but also results in frustrated employees.

The Way Forward for Business Growth

If business growth is on your mind and you decide to act on that, then great. If your goal is to build a lifestyle business, that’s fantastic too.  But if you’re trying to achieve business growth and struggling to do so, then evaluate whether you’re the one standing in the way.

One common characteristic these business leaders often face is that they are unaware they are getting in their own way.  In some ways, this makes sense because to these people, their business is their baby and they feel the need to do everything themselves to ensure that business thrives. They came up with the idea, they struggled and bootstrapped and made it what it is today. It can be tough to let go in the way you need to for business growth to happen.

If business growth is on your mind and you are struggling to achieve it, I’m happy to chat and share my experiences with you and perhaps help you to find a path forward. Feel free to reach out to me at [email protected]

Interview Techniques for Hiring Top Sales Talent

Many sales managers I work with experience the agony of having gotten down to the final two or three new sales hire candidates but only having the budget to pick one. Each candidate has their strengths and challenges. The sales managers like (and sometimes even love) them all to the same degree. How to decide which one will join the team?

In my work as a Fractional VP of Sales, I rarely encounter small and medium enterprises that have documented and robust hiring processes. This is surprising given that people are a company’s most important asset.

Why Is It Important to Use the Right Interview Techniques to Hire Excellent Salespeople?

As a small organization grows to become a medium-sized one, the practice of hiring friends, family, and close connections runs its course and now total strangers need to be considered to fill vacant job postings. As anyone who has done any hiring knows, it’s easy and fun to hire people but challenging to exit them when it doesn’t work out. This makes a strong case for measuring twice and cutting once when it comes to vetting candidates to fill open job roles.

How to Choose the Right Sales Candidate

For companies that do have a documented sales process, one thing I rarely see is a “try before you buy” interview that sales candidates must successfully pass. In addition to testing for integrity when hiring sales reps, it’s important to know who your customers and prospects will be dealing with. The candidate you are considering will be the face of your organization and having some insight into how they will present and perform prior to hiring can save you from significant bumps down the road.

Include “Try Before You Buy” Interview Techniques in Your Hiring Process

The “try before you buy” interview should be the third step as you consider a short-listed sales candidate. You should have already done a pre-screen interview of the candidate and a second interview designed to inventory their personality traits and characteristics as they relate to the job role.

In the “try before you buy” interview, you ask the candidate to participate in a casual and relaxed sales roleplay in which they are the seller, and you are the buyer. During this roleplay, you can observe how the candidate approaches and conducts a sales interaction of the type they would need to navigate as your employee. Sales skill roleplaying should be nothing new to experienced salespeople, as it is a standard training practice, so this is not asking candidates to do something out of their comfort zone.

The roleplay scenario should be designed to mirror the job role you are hiring for. If you are hiring a frontline business development person, the roleplay should be based on how they handle a telephone interaction with a prospect. If you’re hiring an entry-level sales representative, the roleplay should involve handling a simple sales call.

During the roleplay scenario, observe the candidate’s willingness and ability to manage the sales interaction. If handling objections is part of your sale, you would want to present a few objections to see how the sales candidate handles them. If your sales are of the type that are closed in one meeting, then you would want to observe how the candidate closes. Regardless of the types of sales this role would be responsible for, it is important to have a sales call with a coherent structure and questions posed to learn about buyer needs, so listen for these elements in your roleplay as well.

Consider Willingness and Ability as Traits of Excellent Sales Hires

When choosing between candidates who are neck-and-neck in the race for the open sales position, listen for willingness and ability in the roleplay interaction to get insight into who the front runner is.

For example, it may be the case that both candidates handle objections well, but one has a greater willingness to do so by leaning into the buyer’s objection and addressing it more fluidly. When it comes to closing the sale, one candidate may stand out by displaying a higher level of assertiveness through their wording and manner in closing.

Tell Your Top Sales Candidates What to Expect in the Roleplay

As anyone who has done hiring knows, candidates who interview well typically understand what the interviewer wants to hear and will provide answers to satisfy that. This approach of “try before you buy” is the truth serum that helps you cut through this tendency and allow sales candidates to demonstrate their abilities before being hired.

To position this interview with the candidate, I typically say something to the effect of, “during our next interview we would like to see your approach to handling a sales interaction. This will be done through a relaxed sales roleplay during which you will act as a seller and sell me the product that you are currently selling or sold in your most recent sales role.”

Ensure you have at least one other company representative present at this interview so you can get other opinions on the candidate’s performance from someone who is observing and not actively involved in the roleplay.

As with all topics I discuss, there is some nuance to conducting this type of interview. If you’d like more information on what interview techniques to use with top sales candidates to ensure you choose the right one, please feel free to contact me.

How to Maximize ROI on Your Fractional VP of Sales Relationship

Working with a Fractional Vice President of Sales can be an ideal way to help increase the sales revenue your company generates.  Given the fractional [read: part-time, consulting] nature of this role, navigating the path to results is different than working with a full-time employee.

Understanding the dos and don’ts of working with a Fractional VP of sales will help you maximize the ROI on your investment and make the relationship an amazing one for all parties. Here are six things to consider before you hire a Fractional VP of sales.

1.    When You Hire a Fractional VP of Sales, You’re Not Paying for Their Time

What you are buying when you engage a Fractional VP of Sales is their expertise, not hours and minutes of their time. Any consultant’s time is worthless. It’s their expertise that is valuable. If they have “been there and done that” as it relates to tackling challenges of the type that you face in your business, they will help you in one or a combination of the following 5 ways:

  • Increasing your revenue
  • Decreasing your cost of sales
  • Shortening the time to revenue generation results
  • Making business processes easier and simpler
  • Improving the overall health of your organization

Do you really care how many hours a Fraction VP of Sales puts into making that happen? Or are you more concerned with getting that outcome within the agreed-upon timeframe?

2.    Get Comfortable with the Notion of ‘Fractional’

Part of the advantage of working with a Fractional VP Sales means that you and your company get considerable sales leadership horsepower without having to pay the hefty cost of a full-time executive/employee.

This means that they will do absolutely everything in their power to move the sales needle but will not do other ancillary tasks that often get dropped onto the plate of a full-time employee. Expecting them to do these kinds of tasks when you are paying them fractional fees will result in frustration for all parties.  To avoid this, be crystal clear about what is in their scope, and what is not in their scope during the contracting phase. Agreeing on this early on will make for a smoother ride throughout your engagement with your Fractional VP of Sales.

3.    Set Agreed-Upon Expectations for Your Fractional VP of Sales

Generally, all consultants use the same model for conducting their projects: Audit-Present Recommendations-Implement Changes-Sustain Changes over Time to Achieve Business Results. If a Fractional VP Sales is hired and revenue generation results are expected in an unreasonably short period of time, frustration will result for all parties. Candidly, if a full-time VP of Sales is hired and revenue generation results are expected in an unreasonably short period of time, frustration will also result.

Ensure both parties agree on a reasonable timeframe to conduct the audit and implement changes (this typically requires about 12 weeks) as well as how long it will take to manage sustainment to see an increase in sales and revenue generation results (typically another 12 weeks from there).

4.    Communicate, Communicate, Communicate!

Increasing sales revenue involves managing many moving parts and will require meaningful change within your organization. As a business owner, it’s vital that you have a direct line of sight into what is being done, with whom, how often, and in what manner.

Work with your Fractional VP of Sales to determine the best way for you to communicate. Whatever that looks like, make sure the communication is weekly. This will keep you current on the pulse of the project and allow for timely course correction where required.

5.    Understand That Your Participation Is Mandatory

When your Fractional VP Sales asks to meet you, make yourself available to do so in a reasonable time.  When attempting to increase sales revenues, many CEO/business owner-level decisions must be made, such as hiring new staff, changing compensation plans, understanding new product launch calendars so sales forecasts can be made, having sales goals approved etc. In the absence of speaking with you, your Fractional VP of Sales will be working in the dark and as such your project is doomed for failure.

6.    Communicate, Communicate, Communicate [Continued]

If you have questions along the way about how things are proceeding in terms of improving sales results, then ask them. If you are curious as to why things are being done a certain way within the project, then inquire. If you think the approach being taken is absolutely the wrong one, bring that up and talk about it.

As with any working relationship, all parties need to feel comfortable speaking up when they feel the need. As a CEO/business owner engaging a Fractional VP of Sales, you are bringing a new person into your organization who while implementing change is bound to have some employees feel uneasy as their old ways are left behind. Further, as each month passes you are making a deeper investment into increasing your sales revenues. These are good reasons for saying what you want to say when you want to say it so that the likelihood of project success is increased.

As with all things, there’s a great deal of nuance as it relates to integrating the help, services, and expertise of a Fractional VP of Sales. If you would like further detail, please feel free to reach out.