Sending letters won’t cut it: To grow revenue, lead from the front


It’s the start of June, five months of the year are now part of history and if you are like many companies, you’re struggling to see the kind of revenue growth you planned.

Growing revenue may be a chronic problem for your organization or it might be that there is something unique taking place in your particular industry.

Sales people often use the excuse that it’s a tough time “out there” to explain declining sales, slow or no growth. I don’t buy it.

I worked for a mature company in a mature industry. In fact, it may have been a shrinking market. In less than six years, the size of the company doubled, to a billion dollars a year.

Solutions to increasing revenue are inside the company you lead and not outside of it.

Paraphrasing Jim Collins, author of “Good to Great: “Without great people, great results just won’t happen.”

Set aside for now your sales team, and look at everyone else on the payroll. Rate them from one to with one being present and fogging a mirror during work hours, to ten, defined as a superstar doing the work of three people. How many would you decide who merits a one, two, or three?

I’m aware of one company where the human resources department estimated that 40 percent of the people on the payroll consisted of folks ranked no higher than a two on the ten point scale.

Owners, CEOs and entrepreneurs may not realize it, but their businesses may have morphed into privately funded social programs, carrying non-performing employees for the simple reason that their leaders are unable or afraid to see the situation for what it is.

The lowest performers eat into the bottom line and wreak havoc with client care, because the only thing they care about is a paycheck.

To employees like this, a client is an irritant, an interruption, a pain to be ignored until the client can no longer be ignored.

Is there a place on your payroll for these individuals? They need to be set free to go to work somewhere, anywhere else.

If having these conversations is tough, let me offer a solution: outsource the task of reducing payroll by finding a professional to do the job.

Next, evaluate your sales team. If you want to grow revenue, there are only two paths: get more business from current clients, or find more clients.

Ask a few simple questions: Are all of your clients assigned to specific sales people? Who is responsible for house accounts? How many prospecting calls are being made each day, week, month, and quarter and by whom?

The only way sales people perform is to be held accountable to metrics that are specifically focused on the activities that will drive revenue.

Shuffling business cards stacked on the desk, going to lunch with other salespeople from the company, or sitting around drinking coffee during prime selling hours do not represent best practice in the use of time by sales staff.

Revenue growth takes place face to face with prospects and clients. Deals are done as a result of establishing, building and maintaining good relationships.

Allow me to illustrate with a story from the 2006 movie “We Are Marshall.” The film recounts the tale of the rebuilding of Marshall University’s football program after a horrific plane crash in 1970 killed all 75 people onboard, including 37 players and five coaches.

One scene features the new head coach, Jack Lengyel, played by Matthew McConaughey, talking to his boss, college president Don Dedmon, played by David Strathairn.

Lengyel needs to convince Dedmon to get the National Collegiate Athletic Association to waive a rule barring first-year students from playing on a varsity team. Otherwise, Marshall won’t be able to field a varsity team.

To this point in the movie, all Dedmon has done is send letters to the NCAA, which rejects each request without comment.

In this scene, the two talk about the problem after receiving another rejection letter:

Lengyel: Don, are you married?

Dedmon: Yes, sir, 25 years this year.

Lengyel: Now, I am going to bet … that you didn’t propose over the phone.

Dedmon: Ummm, no.

Lengyel: And, I’m pretty sure that she didn’t accept with a letter.

Dedmon: Uhhhh.

Lengyel: Don?

Dedmon: Jack?

Lengyel: “Don … you can do this!”

Dedmon goes in person to visit the NCAA in Kansas City to make his pitch, something he was very uncomfortable doing, but he does it because no one else can.

David Strathairn as Don Dedmon (left) and Matthew McConaughey as Jack Lengyel in “We Are Marshall.” Courtesy photo.

Marshall University received the exemption, and freshmen were allowed to play on the team that season.

Sales people must be pushed to get out of the office, to make appointments, to follow up, to move the sale forward, and to be held accountable. Sales people also need to be educated, coached, mentored and appreciated.

If your current sales manager can’t or won’t do the job, perhaps it is time to find a new one.

Ask yourself if you have any Sales Prevention Departments in your company. Ask your sales team members where the roadblocks are that prevent proper care of your clients. You may hear an earful.

Don’t discard what you hear. Make a checklist of issues that need to be looked at and addressed to remove the roadblocks for sales to do their job, to create revenue.

Finally, like President Don Dedmon, you need to lead from the front. You need to leave the comfort of your office, go visit prospects and clients and demonstrate by your actions how important it is to grow revenue.

There is no time like the present to do this. Make it a priority for the next seven months.

Ken Keller is CEO of Strategic Advisory Boards, which guides leaders to their desired future through use of peer perspective, best business practices and leadership tools, while reducing risk and unneeded expense. For a complimentary leadership assessment, please visit Ken’s column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of the SCVBJ.  


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