Consumer sales is more about attracting a particular personality type that behaves and reacts in a certain manner than about the demographics and facts about the prospect. This is why companies often hire psychologists and sociologists in their sales organizations.

A few years ago I was running a consumer sales organization and we had a problem. Our sales weren’t growing at all, but we knew they should and could. Everything the sales organization tried didn’t seem to produce results. We were clueless.

I attended a one week workshop on developing a sales organization. It made a big difference because I subsequently viewed our sales in a new light. The workshop was hosted by a sales trainer, who had been a top salesman and had a doctorate degree in clinical psychology.

What I learned was …

Great sales people can determine a prospects personality quickly and can direct the sales discussion based upon how that personality makes decisions.

Average sales people target a specific type of personality, often one that is like their own or is complementary to it. They deliver a sales experience to the prospects that is the same for everyone, but only a specific subset become customers.

New sales organizations are often built to attract customers with one specific personality.  The company’s first sale person hires the second one, and people hire people like themselves. The result is a sales group honed to target a small portion of the total addressable market. In fact, all of the marketing material and the entire sales process zooms in on this one customer profile, and sales growth stalls. The product is presented in a way to not appeal to the rest of their potential market.

To further exasperate the problem, if a start-up is doing well with sales, no one bothers to ask, “Why is this happening”? If the start-up is doing poorly with sales, the obvious answer is to fire the sales person and try a new one. Still, no one asks, “Why aren’t sales flourishing?” The consequence is no repeatable and predictable sales system.

Aha! This was our exact issue.

My background is product development, marketing, and corporate management. So I was an outsider looking an underperforming sales organization and asking why. What I found was that my sales group was always trying to sell me on their wonders of them – particularly the top performers.

At the inception of the start-up, there was an assumption about who was the customer, but the actual customers didn’t match the profile and no one had gone back to validate or dismiss the assumption. As a result, our advertising was ineffective but costly.

While someone had been hired to develop and outline the step-by-step flow of how a person transitioned from a lead to a customer, the top sales performers weren’t following it. They were doing what they do best, close as many sales as possible. The other 20 sales people were being churned, as they’d spend two weeks in training, produce lackluster sales, and have to be fired. The sales process couldn’t be reproduced by the average sales person. This was a big issue; you can’t grow a company based upon only hiring superstars.

The clear answer was to revisit how we did sales. Sales calls were more beneficial to the top performers than helping define a sales process, and developing a process was of no interest to them. And to be honest, the CEO cared most about the revenue numbers and diverting the attention of the top performers away from closing sales was not acceptable – after all, he had to report to the shareholders and board. Simple enough solution, just send an observer with the sales people to see and record what transpired between them and the prospects.

Unfortunately, we didn’t like what we saw. We found the top performers were selling to a specific personality type – one that could be easily bullied into buying and this wasn’t who we wanted our customers to be. The top performers were not beyond lying to the customer or making promises that we clearly couldn’t deliver on.

What happened? Sales got away from the start-up and was running amuck. Initially, the founders were involved in the sales process. They hired several sales people and fired them when sales didn’t materialize. Then they got lucky. They hired these two top performers and the founders neglected sales because it was clearly under control. Next, they prematurely scaled sales without knowing why it suddenly started to work. However, the scale up didn’t work because the additional sales people weren’t bring more revenue to the company. Just when the founders thought the business looked promising, it quickly turned to disillusionment.

Money is the lifeblood of a company. Businesses can’t meet expenses unless they have sales, obtain funding from investors, or have creditors. In small companies, founders, CEOs, or owners cannot disconnect themselves from the flow of money. They can’t leave it to someone else.

Every fledgling business needs to create a sales process. Without one, the company won’t know why sales are generated and without the why, business can’t grow and expand.