I ’ve often heard it said that there are three main functions in a business or organization – sales, operations, and finance. Like three legs on a stool, each of these functions is needed to ensure stability and balance. Sales, sometimes called business development, is concerned with attracting revenue. Revenue flows into operations to get things done, services provided, products made, and so forth. Finance (and administration) ensures that operations are properly funded and that the flow of money is handled properly by both employees and vendors.
Although a business needs all three functions, the most important of the three is sales. Indeed, it’s been said that “Nothing happens in business until someone sells something”. That quote has been attributed to Henry Ford, Tom Watson, and even Peter Drucker. I’m not sure who said it, but as a small business owner, I can tell you it’s true. Money is needed to fuel a business and the main source of that is sales.
Sales come in many forms, depending upon the type of organization. In the non-profit world, sales are often referred to as business or donor development. It’s the job of the development officer to develop sources of revenue to fund the non-profit. The revenue typically comes from donors, grants, and patrons who support the organization. In a small non-profit, that may be one person or a proactive board member. In a larger organization, a whole team may be involved in development. A combination of direct solicitation, fund-raising events, campaigns, and grant writing is used to seek out funds. A passion for the non-profit cause is what helps motivate the development officer’s efforts.
In a product company, sales are made when a customer buys a product. Commodity items of smaller value are typically purchased by customers without the direct involvement of a salesperson. In this case, direct marketing helps encourage sales through advertisements, promotions, and publicity. For larger value items such as a car or home, a salesperson is directly involved in the sale in order to help the buyer find the product that best matches their needs. Once the match is made, the salesperson helps guide the buyer through the buying process. Having the customer’s interests at heart is what helps motivate the salesperson to make the sale.
A service company, like mine, provides services for a fee. When I’m selling, it’s my job to listen to potential customer needs and offer solutions to meet those needs. This is called solution-based selling and involves listening, creating solutions, offering options, answering questions, and handling objections. Potential customers (aka “leads”) come from marketing, referrals, and community networking. A sincere desire to help people solve problems and grow opportunities is what motivates me. I’ve often told people that if I was independently wealthy, I’d give away my services because I like to help people and enjoy what I do so much.
No matter what kind of business is involved, the key ingredient in being effective at sales is passion for what you do and belief that your organization has the right products and services to help people. It’s very hard to fake it in sales. If you believe in what you do, the customer will pick up on that passion. Most people buy based on emotion, not price – no matter what they might say. It’s why someone will pay $5 for a can of water because “it’s cool” instead of drinking out of a water fountain for free. The numbers have to make sense, but often the deciding factor is trust, not price.
As a business leader, I’m fueled not just by the passion for helping customers, but also by the absolute necessity of generating revenue no matter how fast or slow sales are happening. Revenue is needed to run my business, compensate my employees, and pay my vendors. No offense big business leaders, you often have deep pockets and a big team to make sales happen. My hats are off to those of you who work for smaller organizations in which you have a direct stake in the success or failure of your business. Failure is not an option because it directly impacts your ability to pay your personal bills and financial obligations. This is true not only for non-profit executives and business owners but also for commissioned salespeople and others whose paycheck depends on making a sale.
Sales are one of the most rewarding things I do in my business. When someone has a need and hires my company to provide solutions it’s a great feeling. A successful sale is the validation of my life’s work and that of my company. A lost sale is tough. We have some great local firms who do similar work as we do. It doesn’t bother me too much when a competitor is selected over my firm. Although I want customers to pick us, I also take comfort in knowing the customer kept the business local and are dealing with good people at the competition. What probably hurts the most is when a potential customer opts to do nothing. Honestly, that’s our biggest competitor – the “do nothing” or “we’ll wait and see.” I’m not a pushy person, so when this happens I ensure the potential customer has my contact information and I move on to the next opportunity.
Sales can make or break a business. It’s been my experience that sales is the number one success factor in business growth and sustainability. We’ve all seen organizations “too big to fail” fall apart due to a lack of sales. We’ve also seen organizations ride a wave of rapid sales growth and collapse because they couldn’t keep up. In general, steady sales increases are better for businesses than hyper-growth. Steady sales supported by robust and consistent marketing is the best combination.
Running a business is a team effort. The combination of sales, operations, and finance ensures an organization is viable and properly functioning. Although all three functions are important, the most important is sales. It’s the efforts of “front-line” sales and business development people that ensure revenue generation to ensure the success of the overall organization. If you ask me, salespeople are essential workers in the business community.
[Joe Domaleski, a Fayette County resident for 25 years, is the owner of Country Fried Creative – an award-winning digital marketing agency located in Peachtree City. His company was the Fayette Chamber’s 2021 Small Business of the Year. Joe is a husband, father of three grown children, and proud Army veteran. He has an MBA from Georgia State University and enjoys sharing his perspectives drawing from thirty years of business leadership experience. ]