Entrepreneurship doesn’t exempt salesmanship

“I want you to train my sales team. I’ve recently started a business and I handle the technical aspects. It’s why I started the business. Selling is not my thing so I want you to train my team.” If only it were that simple, I silently think. You see, contrary to what it’s screaming, this is not a salesmanship, but entrepreneurship, problem; specifically it’s a team formation (or group development) problem.

First though, I have received this paraphrased request, at least three times and always from a start-up SME owner. One sold land, another wines and spirits, and the third, water purification equipment. The meaning of ‘technical competence’ varied for each. The one selling land was technically competent in digital marketing, the water purification expert was an engineer, and the wines and spirits businessman, well, had opened a wines and spirits shop in a potential area. In some ways the request was saying, “I’ve done my part let them do theirs.”

Salesmanship in entrepreneurship

To their credit, these greenhorn entrepreneurs have discovered sales challenges in entrepreneurship, why sales is so important to entrepreneurs and the importance of sales ability in entrepreneurship. So, I explain the futility and cost ineffectiveness of training. “It’s still early days. Let’s revisit in, say, six months”. I go on to explain why with what the 5 phases of team formation are. That is, as theory tells us, forming, storming, norming, performing, and adjourning or mourning.

For most, a light bulb instantly comes on at the mention of team formation. “Oh yes, I’d forgotten about that. You’re so right. It makes sense. But instead of six months could we revisit in three?”  Almost always, by that time half the team is gone or looking at the exit sign.

Entrepreneurship and salesmanship

Team development before training

What does forming mean in team development? When a business starts, what the owner has formed is a team (he, and his staff). This is a honeymoon phase; what the businessman sees are still waters forgetting they run deep and instead thinking, this is a perfect time to get my team performing. But this team must go through a storming and norming stage before it starts performing. The stages are the team learning to work together, warts and all. There is infighting, suspicion, power posturing, doubt, sucking up, curiosity and many other subjective matters (Can the boss be trusted?, for instance), that must be forged into a working unit. Sales training before this step is not a prudent use of resources.

Now then. The storming and norming required the wines and spirits shop owner to show her aisle attendants how customers should be served. The same goes for the others entrepreneurs. Some level of hand-holding and joint plan of action will be required of the owner. An externally facilitated training cannot beat owner-led, on-going, continually monitored, culture forming, vision sharing, staff developing, on the job training. 

Entrepreneurship is not salesmanship

So, are entrepreneurship and salesmanship synonymous? Absolutely, not. Entrepreneurs who started in sales, benefit immensely of course. Their learning and training curves are pleasantly shorter. But jumping from salesman to entrepreneur based purely on brilliance in the former is not a guaranteed success in the latter.

However, if the entrepreneur cannot sell, then he can learn how to. In fact, if there is a training to happen, her learning to sell would be it. It is not only cost effective, it is highly targeted and offers a stretched return on investment.

(Join us here next week as we look at how different, successful entrepreneurs, tackled the sales problem)


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