As a business owner, the one thing you can never have enough of is sales. Sales generate revenue, and revenue drives everything else your business does. You can be a terrific manager, with the ability to cut costs a thousand different ways, but if there's no money coming in at the top of the income statement, there isn't much to manage.
Virtually all successful entrepreneurs are terrific salespeople. Whatever else they may be doing to build their businesses, products and services, they're constantly selling them--to customers, to suppliers, to employees. If you don't know how to sell, you must learn, or you will fail.
One person who has learned the value of proactive selling in a 24/7 world is serial entrepreneur and former "dotcommer" Bradley Fisher, the founder of 10X Partners, a sales management consulting firm based in Old Greenwich, Connecticut.
Fisher's inspiration in forming 10X Partners came from his prior experience as CEO of Tailwind.com, an Internet "portal" site for entrepreneurs and small-business owners. Fisher's goal with Tailwind was to provide a virtual corporate headquarters for a growing business--every support department a big corporation had, from operations and information technology, to legal and human resources. Says Fisher, "The idea was that a business owner could walk down a virtual hallway on our Web site and get all the information, resources, products and services they needed, all provided by our sponsors, in-house experts and alliance partners, with a click of their mouse."
After a few years running the site, however, Fisher realized the small-business community was looking for something other than a virtual corporate headquarters: Of the thousands of companies that visited or became members of the Tailwind network, Fisher recounts, "The vast majority were only interested in ways of increasing their sales. They didn't give a hoot about legal, or HR, or technology, or any of our other departments."
Fisher sold Tailwind.com in early 2001. The company had been hit by the dotcom hammer, so the sale was not a happy event; the venture capital investors got every penny, which left Brad and his family in a precarious financial position. Fisher remembered, though, what his former Tailwind customers really wanted--more sales--and that observation, plus his own assessment that "the one thing I am absolutely good at is selling" led to the successful creation of 10X Partners.
10X Partners helps growing companies create a "sales engine" that takes the burden of selling away from the top executives and replaces it with a process that can be easily managed on a day-to-day basis. When a business first starts up, Fisher points out, the founder or CEO is the head, or only, salesperson. As the company grows, the CEO hires outside sales reps, and eventually an in-house sales manager or two, but the founder/CEO continues selling, often out of fear that delegating this critical function to others would make the company less effective.
"Today, in most growing companies, the CEO is like a hamster on a wheel," according to Fisher. "As long as the CEO is running full blast, there's plenty of business. But the first time the CEO gets sick, or wants to take a rest, or wants to spend some time building another part of the business, the hamster wheel grinds to a halt and so does the sales operation."
10X Partners is a virtual network of sales professionals, each of whom is a CEO with a successful business that focuses on one singular aspect of the sales process--recruiting sales personnel, executive coaching, sales training, Web site development, direct marketing, e-marketing, marketing research and sales strategy. This flexibility enables 10X Partners to put together a virtual team that's customized to a customer's specific needs. "Our target client is a company with at least a couple of million dollars in revenue, with a CEO, some sales reps and perhaps an in-house sales manager already in place," says Fisher. After only two years in business, 10X Partners' client list ranges from high technology and telecommunications services companies to not-for-profit organizations such as the Great Books Foundation in Chicago.
Despite the collapse of his dotcom dreams, Fisher is still a man with a mission. Fisher believes that salespeople have gotten a bad rap over the years. "When people think of a salesperson, they often think of someone unethical and sleazy," says Fisher, "and that's really unfair. Good salespeople aren't just 'pushers' of inventory--they help customers solve their problems." Fisher's ultimate goal in 10X Partners is to create a network of CEOs and sales managers who "believe in selling with integrity, and can help redefine sales as the profession it deserves to be."
Cliff Ennico is host of the PBS TV series MoneyHuntand a leading expert on managing growing companies. His advice for small businesses regularly appears on the "Protecting Your Business" channel on Small Business Television Network. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. This column is no substitute for legal, tax or financial advice, which can be furnished only by a qualified professional licensed in your state. Copyright 2003 Clifford R. Ennico. Distributed by Creators Syndicate Inc.