Why creativity kills sales scalability (and how to fix it)

by Steli Efti
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I’m not gonna lie: I’m a great salesperson. Humbleness aside, I've pretty much always been. But as long as we’re being honest, I’ve got a confession, too: I was a terrible sales manager.

Seriously, I almost ran my first sales team into the ground. And I probably would have, too, if not for a single, defining moment: The moment I met the sales genius who gave average, underwhelming, and all-around unimpressive sales pitches.

If you’re a sales manager or leader of any kind, this is for you: The story of the most valuable sales leadership lesson I ever learned. Hopefully, you won’t need it as badly as I did.

Can't wait to get the tools you need to scale a sales team? Get them right now!

(Not so) humble beginnings

As I said above, I’ve always been a pretty gifted salesperson. I had my faults and made mistakes, but I usually closed more deals than I lost, and it didn’t take long for my creative pitches and aggressive negotiation tactics to catch the attention of my superiors. Soon, I was promoted from salesperson to sales manager.

And just like that, I was in charge of an entire sales team: A team I had to teach to replicate my results and scale my successes. No big deal, right? Wrong. As it turns out, that’s where my natural gifts ended.

I thought being a good sales leader meant demonstrating my abilities through impressive presentations, so I spent every day wowing my team and winning customers with new and creative pitches.

On one hand, this was great: My presentations really motivated and inspired the team. On the other hand, my salespeople were failing; all of them, every single month. I was failing as a manager.

I knew this was my fault, but I couldn’t figure out why. After all, I spent every day “training” my team, teaching them everything I knew, and demonstrating what I wanted from them. It worked for me, so why wasn’t it working for them?

Meet the sales genius who changed my life

Fast-forward a couple of months and things weren’t any better. But then, mere weeks from a mental breakdown, I got lucky: I was invited to an exclusive sales leadership workshop and that’s where I met the sales manager who would save my career.

The first time we met, I was immediately impressed by his charisma. But what intrigued me most was his reputation: He was supposed to be some sort of sales genius with a massive and highly successful team.

At this point, I was desperate. I had to know this guy’s secret. Thankfully, I’d get my chance: We were both scheduled to deliver practice presentations to the other workshop attendees for feedback.

I was the first to present, so I took the stage and did what I always do: I winged it. With no preparation, I gave a pitch that was customized to the audience, full of funny details pulled from earlier in the event.

And it couldn’t have gone better: I hit all the right notes and had people smiling, laughing, and engaging the whole way through. But as soon as my presentation was over, I was only interested in one thing: Hearing this sales genius deliver his pitch.

Then, finally, he walked on-stage.

The most mediocre sales presentation I’ve ever seen that turned out to be the best sales management lesson I’ve ever received

This so-called sales genius reached into his bag and pulled out an old-school folder full of what looked like laminated PowerPoint slides, then spent his entire presentation going through one slide at a time.

It was … unexpected, to say the least. I don’t know what exactly I was expecting, but it wasn’t that.

Don’t get me wrong: He didn’t give a bad pitch. It had a clear beginning, middle, and end, with a good call-to-action. It was just … boring. Boring, uninspired, and overwhelmingly average. And based on everything I’d heard about the guy, I was more than a little surprised.

So surprised, I may have been a little blunt. When it was time for feedback, I said something like, “Is that really how you give presentations to customers? I’m sure you can do better than that.”

He smiled, looked me in the eye, then said something that changed my career forever.

The simple secret to building a scalable sales team

He said, “Of course it is. This is the presentation I teach to all my first-year sales reps. If I were to give a completely different pitch than what I teach to them, how could I expect them to be any good? Or to believe in the presentation? Or believe in me, for that matter?”

He continued, “The only way I can scale my sales organization is if I have scripts, templates, and processes in place that everybody follows. Everybody, all the way to the top, especially those at the top.”

“Can I do better than this? Sure I can. But I don’t, because I don’t want to confuse my reps. As a sales leader, I’d rather have everybody do a really solid job than have just a couple of sales masters while everyone else fails.”

Boom. Mind? Blown. Life? Changed. Career? Saved. Suddenly, everything made sense: Of course, my sales reps were failing. They couldn’t replicate what I was doing because what I did was unique to me.

Instead of teaching them the basics, I only showed my team the more advanced and creative side of sales; the side of sales you can’t really teach, especially without a strong grasp of the fundamentals. In short, I was expecting my team to construct a mansion without ever providing the foundation to build on.

Sales with a safety net

Things have changed a lot since that day.

Today, my sales leadership philosophy is a mix of old and new: At Close.io, we use tons of different scripts, templates, and processes to sell our inside sales CRM, but we also encourage our salespeople to experiment and improvise.

When it comes down to it, sales documentation is like a safety net: On a bad day, your salespeople can follow the scripts and still perform relatively well. But on days they feel creative or inspired, your reps can go off-script and see if that generates better results.

And if it does, changes can (and should) be made to the documentation. That way, your sales scripts, templates, and processes evolve and scale alongside your sales team.

Productivity hack: Use an inside sales CRM like Close.io with a call recorder to capture those moments of inspired off-script brilliance! Want to give it a try? Check out our free trial!

17 pieces of proven sales documentation, for free

From cold calling scripts to follow-up email templates to objection management guides, there are 17 pieces of sales documentation you should be leveraging in your sales team. But if you aren’t yet, don’t worry: We’ve got you covered.

As I said above, we use a lot of documentation at Close.io. And for the first time, we’re bundling it all together, for free.

Download your free copy of The Startup Sales Resource Bundle below!

Yes, I want the sales bundle!

Learn from my mistakes: Use these pieces of proven sales documentation to build a better, more scalable sales organization than I did in my early days.

Now get back out there and crush it.

You can also watch the video below, where I tell the story of meeting the sales genius who changed how I taught sales. 

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