Lately I have become fascinated with the sales process. Those of you who know me well, are not surprised, since sales has always been a Black Hole area for me. But my fascination is really directed at a certain type of sales process. Let me explain.
When you think of sales, you normally think of a company who has a product or service and has to find customers for that deliverable. There are a lot of folks writing articles about and perfecting their sales processes to get that prospect to sign on the dotted line. Everybody from Boeing to the local deli has their own process down and understands what they need to do to ensure that the income keeps rolling in.
In the past several weeks, I have had conversations with several businesses that have a dual sales process. That is, they have to sell someone on the idea to sell a product to the end user.
At DePaul University’s Coleman Entrepreneurship Center, I attended a Blueprint Connections networking event recently. These events give student entrepreneurs an opportunity to talk with and present their ideas to experienced business folks. I am always excited by the future of business after attending these sessions; there is just so much energy there.
At this event, I met a student named John. John had started a business of providing real estate services to college students. His goal was to match students to the perfect apartment. John had a good sense of his market, he understood the value of high quality service and he made a compelling case. His challenge, though, was that in order to make a sale, he actually had to make two sales. He had to develop relationships (and contracts) with landlords, so that he could show their properties and get paid for the successful lease process. Then he had to sell the students on the need for his services and the “inventory” of properties that he could show. It is a devilishly hard process to manage.
Another company that I have been working with sells a licensed commodity to a large retail chain. The owner needs to get legal authorization from each licensee (think over 15,000) to sell their licensed material. Then he has to work with the store manager (there are over 5,000 of those) at the retail chain to offer his products. Even though corporate has given the green light to selling the products, they want the store managers at the local level to make the final decision. It is a balancing problem. You want to go out to the licensee and get the authorization so that you have something to provide to the retail chain, but it certainly is helpful if you have the local retail store already on board to sell the products and can go to the licensee with a pre-order.
These opportunities are golden opportunities, because they have the benefit of a contractual relationship between the parties and that makes it more difficult for others to enter. When we talk about investors funding ventures, one area we normally talk about is barriers to entry. These dual-focused sales efforts do provide some level of barrier. The challenge is how to balance the sales efforts in a knowledgeable and responsible way to grow your business.