The Plane Can’t Take Off – 3 Steps to Soaring Sales

It was a freezing cold January day. So, when I left my office a little after 5PM, I was really in no mood to drive to Cambridge. Going home, building a fire and reading my book was what I really wanted to do. But I had preregistered for an MIT Enterprise Forum that sparked my interest – “Critical Lessons Learned from the Start-Up Trenches.” Well, maybe their title wasn’t quite as catchy, but that was the general gist.


I was happy I braved the single degree temps because I heard something that really struck me. A highly successful tech CEO spoke about raising money, getting the product right, and hiring an excellent marketing team BEFORE hiring one salesperson. He explained why these critical components must be in sync and fully operational, because, he said, “The plane simply can’t take off if you’re laying the runway ten feet at a time.” Your sales team, he went on to explain, is the plane that will take your company to new heights in revenue and market share.

I was struck because I have witnessed this many times – managers who were laying the runway only ten feet at a time, hoping their salespeople could get the traction they needed for liftoff and start to generate revenue so more runway could be laid! It’s a concept that’s a bit ass-backwards, but a great visual – like the mouse chasing its tail.


Whether you’re in a start-up company, a turn-around, or an established company, before your sales team can do their job, everything has to be in place for them to be successful. When that is not the case, the chances of failure go up exponentially – just like the pilot running out of runway when taxiing for liftoff.

Here are the three essentials components that managers must provide before their sales “pilots” can take off….


  • Having adequate capital to finance your team is job #1. Cash is the gas that fuels the engine of a company and having to make frequent “pit stops” to refuel only breaks the momentum of your team. (Plus, having to worry about it is a major drain of energy.) As one CEO commented, “Raise two to three times as much money as you think you’ll need, budget expenses higher than you ordinarily would, and then be conservative in your spending.”


  • While there can always be improvements to the product set, the main product itself must be fully market-ready and not in test mode. It is simply not fair to your sales team (or to the customer!) to have lots of unknowns with the product in the sales process. Even though good salespeople have the ability to “make it up along the way,” essentially you are asking your sales team to function as a research team. That’s when quotas are missed, their earnings suffer and they may erroneously be viewed as “not cutting it.”


  • If cash is the gas for your company, marketing is the fuel that drives the sales function. Sales simply cannot perform without effective marketing. Messaging, a dynamic and easily navigated website, lead generation programs (both inbound and outbound), trade-shows where your company has a noticeable presence, SME participation in industry conferences, Social Media strategy – all of these components guarantee, as much as one can, that your salespeople won’t have to educate the customer themselves. That’s the job of marketing – educate the customer, making them receptive when the salesperson calls. “Missionary” selling, where the salesperson is also performing parts of the marketing function, usually means that quotas will be missed.

If your sales team isn’t getting the results you want, ask yourself if you’ve fully paved the way for them to be successful. If you have, then you can comfortably replace non-performers. If you haven’t, acknowledge it and move towards making changes before you lose your sales talent. You may have to adjust quotas to a more realistic number and adjust compensation as well. But it will be worth it if you’ve hired yourself some top pilots who have only been constrained by a short runway!

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