Sales is often the poor relation of business functions. It receives reluctant and restricted investment, even from shareholders whose return-on-investment can lie largely in the hands of Sales.

Where investment does take place in sales, it’s usually limited to hiring a “good” salesperson i.e. a rare find who just makes sales happen. Once you hire a salesperson, that’s the entire investment in sales made.

Companies with a deep understanding of “sales” are prepared to match that with investment. So what does investing in sales look like, especially in early-stage, growth and scaling companies?

Professional Sales Leadership: After the first or second sales (i.e. salesperson) hire, the company invests in a sales leader hire, who can oversee the development of a sales engine, and not just a sales team. Sales leaders don’t just build the team; they build the company’s sales capability and make it a competitive weapon.

Data: There is an investment in what we call data for selling. This isn’t buying a few lists.  It means building data for outbound prospecting that is actionable and relevant and reflects the company’s ideal and sweet spot customers. Most business development people today are wandering around Google looking for so-called leads, because there is no alternative and it’s a common reason why people fail when they take on a new sales role.

Training: This is probably the most reluctant investment of all. The argument goes something like this: I shouldn’t need to train them. Aren’t they salespeople. You can either sell or you can’t. When sales receives a serious investment, training is used to lift individual performance and prevent the inevitable performance declines associated with selling.

Remuneration: Ambitious companies that value the sales function don’t limit remuneration to what will keep other people in the company happy. In particular, they use aggressive OTE (On Target Earnings) scales to encourage effort and performance and don’t match champagne expectations with beer rewards.

Sales is coming of age in the professional sense. We are moving into an era where the sales function (including salespeople) is sometimes the only competitive strength of a company. If a company has the means to invest, an investment in a professional sales engine should be at the top of the list, if you want growth, scaling and ROI.