A Small Business Sales Meeting

Following a portfolio company board meeting yesterday I decided to linger and observe a sales staff huddle. Present were the CEO and two salesmen. (They each wear other hats but the focus of this agenda was on sales.)

The CEO kicked off the meeting and began with a review of territories and key accounts. One objective was to shift a northern route between teammates. This went smoothly and I observed no debate.

A couple questions came up as they reviewed the homegrown CRM built within Trello. All three had laptops open and I was a safe distance away but within ear shot. The newly burdened salesmen made a request of the team to add more descriptions to product cards that would help him share with customers the key components more quickly. Simultaneously the CEO realized that the account shift may also require some oversight on what specific products to emphasize. The more experienced salesmen started rattling off some attributes to help the newbie. The CEO was pushing on prioritization. And they had my full attention.

I asked to see the CRM and physically stepped into the conversation and sat down at the high top. The CEO swung his laptop around and then promptly said “I’ll just give you access.” Seconds later my laptop is seeing what they are seeing.

I ask, “What was it you were after, (newbie)?” He responds with a short list of example descriptive data points. A few simple attributes that will jar his memory and position product with the customer… (the “CRM” section of the board was well organized… they had crafted a handy product guide in a list nearby for fast access. This area was what was creating the excitement today.)

The debate resumes… and I type. Seconds later, newbie says “he already added the structure.” They laugh and tease me.

I start explaining what I did and asked that someone that knew more about the products fill in the details. It was a simple suggestion. I also propose we put the gross margin on each internal product guide. That’d help the salesmen know which and how much of different margins to blend if they have the opportunity with a customer. CEO likes it and the salesmen agree. “We’ve never had access to that!” The salesmen start talking again.

During this excitement the CEO is making updates and transcribing gross margins. Seeing the progress and transparency growing the lead salesmen verbally clarifies the desire of the CEO to rank-sort the products by present emphasis. Lead salesmen then re-orders the data so visually everyone can stay in sync. “You’re thinking something like this?”, he asks the group.

“Yes!” they agree. A weekly order refresh during the sales huddle would be a bare minimum. The lead salesmen takes responsibility to be the keeper of the order. The CEO smiles. He knows this responsibility is bigger than he realizes but knows he is equipped with data access now on inventories and velocities and they can work together to get it done (and him trained.)

I label the list header so everyone (including the next newbie) remembers how the process works. This also introduces a little structure/documentation that I imagine they’ll use in the future.

Something like seven minutes in and we are done. The CEO says, “I bet Daryl writes a blog post about this.”

I just smile. Good idea.

While writing this the next morning, I am reminded of a mentor. He would have dubbed this meeting, and this blog post an example of “e-speed.” (Or, entrepreneurial-speed.) In a well functioning small business the transparency is very high and structure is still forming. The team roles move and shift dynamically within moments. The tools may change and a CRM might integrate a product and inventory module in seconds… not hours or months. This is really hard for big corp people to understand. No one asked permission. Each just did the right thing. The group held it together and picked up each other’s weaknesses.

I have to chuckle because Trello is not a CRM. I used it with the CEO during his search to buy a business. And, I had adapted it from software product development usage to business searching. He installed it with the sales team because the company kept no written records of sales calls before we bought it. Now, the three of them integrated product sell sheets and a prioritization process in minutes… and the whole team can see it update in real time. Frankly, this system will probably work sufficiently for double, triple or even 5x the number of salesmen. And, based on my shallow understanding of competition in this market, my guess is this trio is going to carry a bigger volume of accounts per person. And it’s all built on Trello? Hilarious. Effective, but hilarious.

More importantly, the beauty of small business management is revealed. Each person at that table also has responsibilities outside of just sales. Those outside experiences shaped the meeting and drove to an effective design implementation almost simultaneously. They’ll iterate it to a place that’s very robust. And, it’s adaptive because removing any one individual wouldn’t disrupt the whole. Money doesn’t solve problems like this. People do.

Go team, go!