Benefits of Having a Founder and CEO Run Sales

In every new business, sales is initially done by the founder. The obvious reason why is that someone needs to start bringing money in the door. If you want to spend your time elsewhere or grow the business further, you will reach a point where you need someone to help with sales.

This is going to be a multi-part series. Let’s start with the benefits of having you as your company’s founder and CEO responsible for sales. Initially you own the company and can pay yourself nothing upfront, capturing that value later on. What else?

Credibility

You are able to command the attention of prospective customers easier because people are just more likely to respond to someone who’s running a company than a salesperson. Whether it’s a cold contact on LinkedIn or talking over the phone, you garner more respect.

Knowledge

You know your product and customer better than anyone else in the company. You spend more time thinking about it than anyone else and you have thoroughly considered answers to every objection, know why you started the business, and know what you can do for your customers.

Process

You are managing prospects through LinkedIn, email, phone, or however you communicate with customers. You might be using a CRM or spreadsheet, updating your team, and taking notes, but you’re only updating the team as-needed as you juggle other tasks.

Feedback

You can take feedback from sales conversations and bring it to the delivery team (whether you’re a product or service company). Any single idea that comes from a customer can go into the product road map, without any interference, meaning rapid customer responsiveness.

Accountability

You understand the cash position, revenue and profit goals, delivery capabilities, and the overall health of the business. You are accountable to yourself and bringing in sales for the business. You are comfortable putting in extra time whenever it’s required to keep things on track.

So What’s the Problem?

Unfortunately this initial sales paradigm that you’re operating under does not scale. In my next post I’ll deconstruct the strengths listed above, and how they can also be weaknesses if you want to scale your business.

We’ll answer questions like:

  • What kind of salesperson should I hire?
  • When do I hire my first salesperson?
  • Why do I need a salesperson at all?
  • How do I ensure my first sales hire is successful?
  • Which skills should I look for in my first sales hire?

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Closing Out Sales Leads and Opportunities

How do you close out prospects, leads, and opportunities that engage with your business? The short answer is that every deal should not be boiled down to a simple win or loss label.

First, you can get five important pieces of information out of the closing status every lead, or prospective customer that your organization interacts with:

  1. Whether the sale closed or not. This is the primary responsibility of the sales and marketing teams. Everything depends on our ability to bring in deals to support the business.
  2. Whether there is a future opportunity or not. This includes if the sale did not close but there may be an opportunity in the future, or if there may be an opportunity to further serve this customer.
  3. How effectively the lead was qualified. Regardless of how the lead was generated, there will always be a percentage of disqualified leads. We want this to go down over time.
  4. How effective the sales rep is. When adding multiple sales reps to the team, eventually there will be performance discrepancies that emerge between members of the team.
  5. Why the customer chose another product. Sales captures critical insight into feature, price, and other differences versus competitors. For the sales team, share this information then forget it.

With all this in mind, I recommend five closing statuses for the leads in your CRM software (or spreadsheet, if you don’t have a CRM in-place yet).

  • Won: We won the deal and it is the most important thing that the sales and marketing teams should be focused on. If there is a future opportunity, whoever closed the deal should pass that information to the account manager, inside sales team, or in a small operation just find a way to make a note of the future deal potential.
  • Lost: We lost the deal and expended some meaningful amount of time engaging with this customer. The lead was appropriately qualified and we had relevant and timely conversations with them. They chose another product or didn’t choose ours. There should not be many leads that end up falling into this category.
  • Recycle: This is where the majority of leads are going to fall. Since the overwhelming majority of prospective customers have latent needs for the solution we offer, they probably are not ready to buy from us yet. Recycle means that we need to revisit in some future time, after having several qualifying conversations.
  • Disqualified: This should be a small but important number to watch. Disqualified leads are not a fit for our solutions. This is not a function of their readiness to buy. In other words, they do not need what we are offering at all today or at any point in the future. This reflects the quality of our lead generation efforts.
  • Dead: This should represent a small number of our total leads. These are businesses that are out of business, the number doesn’t work, emails bounce back, we get returned direct mail, etc. If this becomes a meaningful percentage of your leads, there is some serious problem happening with however your leads are being generated.

Having the right states in your CRM (or spreadsheet) is an important step but just part of the journey in scaling your sales and marketing operations. From standardizing processes and using performance frameworks like Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) to reporting and analytics, there’s a lot more to consider.

Renders versus Photos for Hardware Products

If you aren’t using rendering to visualize your products, you are wasting time and slowing how quickly you’re getting your products to market. Software and service companies do this every day, but a lot of hardware companies aren’t adapting to the new tools now available to them.

30-Second History of Product Visualization

Let’s first assume that you need to show something to your customers about your product before they buy it. The earliest way of doing this was physically showing your customers your product, followed at some point by stylized drawings. Along came photography, which co-existed with stylized drawings. Across these mediums into the 20th century, the development, blueprints, concepts, etc. were still done in physical media like paper.

With the introduction of computer aided design for buildings, products, and more, this development process went digital. Today, all meaningful work by designers and engineers is done on computers and stored as digital files. Those digital representations are then translated into production, be that going live on a server or going into physical production.

Pros and Cons

Your designs already exist in digital format. Thanks to the proliferation of free and open source tools, the cost of software for rendering is zero. For hardware products, check out software programs like Blender. If renders aren’t a regular and ongoing need for your company, consider outsourcing the work to keep your resources focused on what makes your business unique. You need access to computers and skilled people to do the work, too.

More importantly, consider the cost of not rendering. I’ve seen engineering and marketing teams go back and forth for weeks over minor changes, with frustration running high over everyone stressing about meeting their deadlines. From engineering having pressure to fix bugs and get products into production, to marketing needing to get collateral and assets ready for release, nobody has time to spare before a product release. And every minor change either means pushing out product photography or re-shooting everything.

Every time there’s a change to your product, needing to spend time re-shooting, re-creating lifestyle scenes, hiring actors, or whatever else went into the initial creation of assets. When this is done through rendering, these updates take far less time and far fewer resources. And you can create beautiful and rich environments for your products through rendering.

laptop sitting on a desk in an open room with a modern architectural design with sunlight shining through the windows
Laptop render © Freehive

Vaporware

The biggest risk I’ve seen that comes with relying on renders is that it is much easier to sell a product that doesn’t actually exist yet and may never exist. (Think of all the failed crowdfunding campaigns.) Products like this are sometimes vaporware, other times a function of unrealistic ambition.

This is especially true of hardware products, where there is substantial complexity associated with converting a design or concept into a safe, reliable, regulatory-conforming, physical product that safely arrives in working condition at its intended destination. These risks exist for software and services too, especially as you start talking about larger scale projects.

The easy way to avoid these problems is to be honest in your communications and setting expectations with customers about what they’re seeing in the render, when they can expect it to be available, how they can expect it will work, how they can expect it will change, etc.

Why Not Both?

If you’re a hardware company, you should be using renders to help sell your product. I’ve seen the extreme of not using rendering at all and it’s a mistake.

Of course, there is room for both rendering and photography. Each has its place and depending on the purpose of what you’re creating, you will probably want a little bit of both.

Short Cuts Make Long Delays

There are no shortcuts. No guaranteed formulas that will grow your business by 10x in 10 weeks. No quick-and-easy ways to build a high performing marketing or sales department.

Are you looking for a wizard, a guarantee you will go viral, or a hack that will transform your business overnight? You are looking in the wrong place. (Try Hogwarts, an epidemiologist, and DEF CON, in that order.)

I’ve seen hundreds of thousands of dollars wasted and years of necessary work delayed because of chasing shortcuts. The seen cost of these diversions is nothing compared to the unseen opportunity cost for your business. Not to mention how quickly your competitors are moving in the meantime. As J.R.R. Tolkien wrote in The Fellowship of the Ring:

“Short cuts make long delays.”

Peregrin “Pippin” Took

What does work? Sitting down with customers, getting product-market fit right, building a strong brand, informing and inspiring customers with great marketing content, training engaged and disciplined sales people, offering a seamless sales and purchasing process, having a support team focused on customer satisfaction.

Sometimes an easy path emerges unexpectedly. But that good fortune is a result of doing of other things right. In other words, not a coincidence after all. I’d love to be proven wrong on this. If you find the easy path, please be so kind as to let me know!

Otherwise you will find me taking the challenging and proven path that it takes to build and scale businesses. I understand the pressures of meeting payroll and covering accounts payable. I started this business to walk alongside founders and executives to help provide meaningful help.

Products That Speak for Themselves

There are many ways to announce new products and services. One company’s approach over the last ten years stands out in my mind. After seeing their latest video, I went back to the earliest one I could find and they have been remarkably consistent over the years. Despite not deviating from their formula, their videos continue to get traction. I’m talking about Boston Dynamics, an engineering and robotics design company.

Do you remember this video from January 2009?

Here’s another one, this time from March 2019:

Sure, there is improved video quality, more polished robots, and a more orchestrated demonstration. In general, these videos are remarkably similar. This style has become a signature for them as they released new videos of their robots online over the last decade. If you watch the rest of the videos on Boston Dynamics’ YouTube channel, they are all similar.

There are a few reasons why I think these videos succeed:

  • Features First: They show straight-forward (though not simple) demonstrations, putting what their product can do front and center. No distractions. No gimmicks. No fluff.
  • Short and to the Point: Anywhere from 25 seconds to just over 3 minutes, these videos don’t waste your time. They progress through each step of the demonstration, letting the robot and the viewer briefly reset before the robot faces its next challenge.
  • LoFi Production: There is an inherent trustworthiness in the videos because you can be nearly certain that the video is unaltered. On the other hand, this aesthetic can create a cold feeling for the viewer amidst the unceasing hum of the motors, gears, and components.
  • Anthropomorphism: Wherever these robots lie in the uncanny valley, viewers also respond sympathetically to videos showing the robots being forced to struggle. You inevitably see comments about how “the robots will remember this!” The fact that they can balance this with the cold feeling of the videos is really something.

I’m a big fan of video content. It is a great format for storytelling. You have to think their return on investment for these videos (cost per impression plus earned media) has to be astronomically good, too.

While these videos all have viral appeal with millions of views, I think the most important part of this is that professionals in robotics, mechatronics, embedded electronics, etc. must appreciate how sophisticated Boston Dynamics’ robots are based on the activities they are completing. The company is able to cater to both wider audiences and their market niche at the same time.

It helps when you make cool products and there is broad cultural interest in your industry. But arguably this same advantage exists for all their competitors in this highly competitive space. Boston Dynamics has taken a counter-intuitive way to raise brand awareness and it seems to be working because they keep doing it.

Hello, World!

Today marks the beginning of a new adventure: Kenny Consulting Group, LLC is a solo practitioner business development consultancy founded and managed by Harris Kenny (that’s me). I am grateful for the opportunities I’ve had in my career to-date and I am eager to have the flexibility and independence that comes with working for myself.

After years of working in management consulting and in the technology industry, I am ready to offer my skills and network to provide the kind of services I wish were available to me. This spans sales and marketing, which I view as intertwined. Particularly, for the startups and small- to medium-sized businesses I plan on serving.

I am only taking on a few clients at a time, riding alongside them as we find ways to grow their businesses. My efforts will be broadly categorized as fitting into two categories: Strategy and Execution.

Strategy

Asking for “more” sales is not enough. During strategy projects, we are going to take a step back and ask a lot of questions. My biggest focus is offering clarity in two areas: What are we doing to measurably increase sales? And what sales can we expect in the future? This spans sales, marketing, product roadmap, and more.

I want to sit down and talk about the customers you are serving. What problems are we solving for them (both known and unknown to them)? Who are they? What are they buying and why? What alternatives do they have?

When it comes to future sales, I want to sit down and ask what can we do to reduce pipeline uncertainty. (You may not even have a formal sales pipeline.) How focused is marketing on generated leads for the sales team? What metrics can we focus on higher in the sales/marketing funnel to anticipate future sales? How do we measure inputs that lead to sales? How do channel partners fit in the mix?

Execution

Now that we have an idea of where we are going and how we are going to get there, we have some work to do. Whether that means copywriting for landing pages, executing email campaigns, attending trade shows, or something entirely different.

If you are a startup or small- to medium-size business, odds are your team is overworked and may even be a little in over their heads in terms of the initiatives that need to be executed to drive the next stage of growth. I can jump in and work alongside your team while, in parallel, we develop a plan for how this work will be accomplished on an ongoing basis.

From cold calling to managing entire departments, I have worn a lot of hats and understand what it’s like to jump in and get to work. I have also sat on both sides of the negotiating table with service providers, both as a service provider and as an executive approving those contracts.

What’s Next

I am fortunate to have a few amazing clients that I’m working with out of the gate. Technology companies whose work I believe in, led by good people.

While I am eager to get to that work, I’d love to connect with you too to see how I can help you meet your goals for your business. We are a few months into 2019, is the year going as you expected? Is there anything off-track, or looming that you haven’t started yet?

Know somebody I might be able to help? I would appreciate you helping me spread the word as I get this business off the ground. Either way, thank you for taking time to read this post. Here goes!