Executing: Sales as you go to market

Nuances of progress are not seen and understood by everyone on the journey to market, which can lead to frustration and misjudgements.

Boardroom frustrations

My kids disliked car journeys like most do, and we became all too familiar with that most difficult of questions: “Are we nearly there yet?”. The simple answer was usually: “No!”. Kids ask this question because they don’t have the frames of reference to understand the progress of the journey. They get frustrated by the endless series of roads, turnings, intersections, and have no way of understanding the progress from these signposts.

I’ve sat in many board meetings, and heard the question “Have we made any sales yet?”. The similarity is striking. The management team have been busting a gut all month, but the questions from the investors and outside directors is the same as it was at the last meeting. Taking a new proposition to market is often a tough challenge, a long a winding road before arriving at actual sales. That journey should be studied before departure, and everyone should be aware of the stages and able to recognise them.

Have we worked out what we’re expecting?

Marketing and business development stages are nuanced and somewhat subjective. Progress can often be judged only by how prospects behave, by their sense of urgency and the effort they put in. These have few numerical metrics and are hard to measure and harder to convey, but they do say a great deal about progress.

The picture must be understood by Management too, and the progress or lack of it. Ways must be found to identify non-numerate, more subjective milestones and, hopefully, achievements. Without that, progress will be opaque, support will be harder to come by when it’s needed, and frustration and cynicism will become entrenched.

Why do sales always move to the right?

This is such a common perception but I don’t often see it treated with more than frustration and greater urgency.

  1. Perhaps sales always were going to be later – over optimism is rarely a winning characteristic of those driving sales, but it is common, in the UK at least. Understanding the customer and the detail of their process and activity is the key to this.
  2. The tough questions may not have been asked – poor qualification of a prospect so often leads to the “pipeline” being full of great sounding prospects that don’t really have much chance of closing. Someone should ask the prospect the tough questions and qualify the opportunity in or out.
  3. Your proposition may be seen as valuable but not urgent – prospective customers are busy people too, and they prioritise the things that they consider urgent. If they aren’t biting off the hands of your sales people, then you need to look at why that is. Hearing praise for your proposition but not getting sales is rather a giveaway.
  4. You might not be selling the way they want to buy – the price and structure of the offer can create hurdles and friction, as can where, when and how you interact with prospects. All of these things need careful tuning to make sure you’re not making it harder to buy from you than it could be.

Have we learned what to adjust or are we mad?

The journey the business is undertaking must be well understood so that the navigation of the journey, its challenges and its staging points are visible. Progress will be understood more clearly, and achievement recognised. I’ve rarely seen this done in business plans or boardrooms, which is why those tedious questions about sales keep being asked. Two quotes for you:

  • A wise investor once said to me: “Your first few customers can teach you more than you thought you knew“,
  • Albert Einstein is credited with: “Insanity is doing the same thing again, but expecting different results”.

It’s never easy, which is why it’s so rewarding when you get it right. You may need to duck and dive, and change many things along the way. Without understanding the twists and turns and what they mean, Management risks taking wrong turns, burning valuable time and fuel, and the kids in the back will continue to ask that age old question.


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Peter is chairman of Flexiion and has a number of other business interests. (c) 2019, Peter Osborn