Small business, big mistake: Why we never should have outsourced our sales force

Welcome to “Small Business, Big Mistake” where small-business owners face up to their biggest mistakes and share advice to help your company avoid the same fate. Check back to On Small Business every other week for the latest entry.

Starting a new business can pull you in many directions, and it can be tempting to go outside for help. Help comes in many forms, and business owners are constantly being approached by people who claim they can help you run and grow your business.

Sales are the most important aspect of your business, and turning over responsibility for that element of our business turned out to be our biggest mistake. Of course, we only learned this valuable lesson after hiring two external salespeople.

Our business is a do-it-yourself and do-it-for me auto repair facility. We found that offering fleet repair was a good way to generate a stable base of business, but calling on these accounts was a time-consuming process for the owners. So we decided to hire a sales person dedicated to the fleet business.

Our plan was to manage the business and our new sales person would be able to make calls unencumbered by the day-to-day operations of running the business. It all seemed so perfect and a little too easy.

Our first salesperson landed a few fleets for us in his first few weeks, but he slowed down quickly. Not too surprisingly, he left us for another job after three months. We were intrigued by the early success and proceeded to hire another salesperson three months later. We told ourselves that if we paid more for a proven, experienced salesperson, we would get even better, lasting results.

We paid our new salesperson almost double the salary of the first. And just like the previous experience, that quickly proved to be a bad idea.

Our new salesperson brought in a couple immediate sales but was very good at finding things to do around the shop. We tried to help him get out of the shop, but it was obvious that he preferred to stay at the garage. He had every excuse possible to avoid calling on fleet businesses.

We also noticed he did not connect with our existing fleet customers as we had hoped. Realizing we made a mistake in hiring a salesperson, we quickly parted ways with no plans to replace him.

Inevitably, the answer to our sales problem was right in front of our face.

It was us.

No one could sell our business as well as we could. We started the company and we were passionate about it. Our passion translated into sales. We also found the fleet business owners liked talking to the founders rather than a salesperson.

We had to adjust our workflow, but we knew sales made our business tick. It’s what allowed us to come in and turn the lights on. We needed fleet sales to keep Hands-on Garage growing at a 20 percent annual clip.

Selling is now at the very core of what we do, and last fall, our company selected to be a part of a six-week intense sales and growth training called Scalerator, a program backed by a public-private partnership in Milwaukee and American Express. During the training, our instructors reinforced the lesson we had learned, that “nobody sells your business better than you do.”

My advice for fellow entrepreneurs is to make sales a top priority, and remember that you, the company founder, are the best salesperson for your business. As those instructors drilled on us: “Always be selling. Constantly hone your sales pitch.”

Bill Reilly is one of the founders of Hands-on Garage, an auto repair facility headquartered in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

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