The Sales Improvement Experts

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Bridging the gap between where your sales are today and where they could be tomorrow

Increase Valuable Sales Enquiries

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Does your company receive all the sales enquiries needed to reach your financial goal?

If not, outbound prospecting is the best answer.  Contrary to much that’s written today, prospecting still works. In fact the best salespeople are masters of all the traditional aspects of selling.

Companies and their salespeople can’t leave it all to inbound marketing, content marketing or social media. Most companies don’t receive all the inbound enquires they need to reach their sales plans or financial goals.  Also, most company’s largest and most profitable customers are won by outbound marketing and sales efforts combined.

The best marketers and salespeople are prepared to interrupt prospects and spend a significant proportion of each week doing so. To be effective, good lead generation takes a lot of self-discipline and a sound process.  A database of carefully selected target companies likely to benefit from your particular product or service will need to be keyed into the CRM system.  Email prospecting is the sending of cold emails to targeted organisations. It’s worth remembering that sending a small number of tailored emails to specific decision makers isn’t spamming.

Emailing can be extremely effective and generates very good ROI. A recent study in the US by the Direct Marketing Association found that businesses earn an average of $43 for every $1 invested in email marketing.  That’s a 4,300% ROI.  Not surprisingly, this beats all other advertising channels.  According to a 2015 report by DemandGen, 87% of B2B demand generators listed email as their top channel for generating leads.

In a 2014 study by GigaOm, marketers ranked email marketing as the most effective strategy for acquiring leads, generating sales and retaining customers. Another study by McKinsey & Co found that businesses are 40 times more likely to create a new customer from email marketing than through social media.  A study by SEMPO found that 66% of marketers believe email marketing delivers a “good” or “excellent” ROI, while only 41% of them said they feel the same way about social media.

The more familiar a prospect is with a provider, the more likely they are to talk to them. Inbound marketing certainly helps with familiarity in the long term but outbound prospecting brings results more quickly.  However, prospecting takes patience and perseverance in equal measure.

The best form of campaign to adopt is “multi touch” including telephone calls, voicemail, email/InMail, and sometimes old fashioned communications such as letters and faxes. It’s a little known fact that many directors’ personal assistants still have their own fax lines.  These are largely unknown to receptionists or switchboard operators.

Be prepared to make touches per prospect well into double figures. This is why only the best and most dedicated sales and marketing people succeed, as most people give up after a couple of attempts.  Sadly these people will do almost anything to avoid picking up a telephone to “cold call” a prospect, especially if that prospect is a senior or board level decision maker.  But if a tailored prompt sheet is utilised and emails are sent before and after the telephone call, there is less to fear.

It’s a fact of life that marketing and salespeople will always be rejected by some prospects and sometimes several. It’s part of the job.  However, the people who are the best at this early stage of the sales process are often the best performers at the business end of the sales process as well.  As long as there is a strong and relevant value proposition, based on thorough homework of each prospect and insights about their industry sector, there’s a much better chance of engaging the prospect.

Add these methods to your inbound marketing efforts and you have a multi touch system which makes prospects much more likely to do business.

Sales Process = Buying Process

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Salespeople must help their prospects to buy, by shifting their sales process towards the prospect’s buying process.

Today, most of the sales cycle is in the buyer’s control. If a company wants to reduce its sales cycle time, they need to get engaged in the buyer’s process.

A 2013 CSO Insights study found that 75% of B2B purchases included at least 3 buyers, but 40% of salespeople fail to identify them. There are now even more buyers in a decision making unit (5.4 average) and even fewer salespeople qualified to identify them.

There is good news however. Sales Performance International reported in 2014 that when salespeople engage first with a buyer, they win business over five times more often than sellers who wait for buyers to engage them.  Quite simply, the earlier salespeople are involved in the customer’s buying process, the greater the chance of winning.

A considerable amount of recent research claims that on average, buyers have completed at least 60% of their buying cycle before contacting a salesperson. However, Sales Benchmark Index indicates that nearly 60% of sales opportunities end up in “no decision”.  This begs the question as to the accuracy of buyer’s judgement concerning how far along their process they really are.

It’s important to realise that these figures mostly relate to inbound leads, not outbound generated opportunities. It’s also interesting to note that even inbound specialists like HubSpot and Marketo have large teams of outbound prospectors to speed up growth.

Most buyers are undecided whether to make a change at all. Salespeople need to reinforce the need to change buyers from the status quo.  Furthermore, 74% of buyers indicated that they buy from salespeople who can establish a buying vision for them to change.  The avoidance of loss is more valuable to buyers than the achievement of gain.

The IT Services Marketing Association (ITSMA) found that 70% of buyers want to engage with salespeople before they identify their short list.

Do your salespeople understand their prospect’s sales processes?

Specialising Sales Roles

Sales Funnel set of flat design vector illustrations. Conversion optimization, lead magnets and funnel ab tests infographics elements. Internet marketing conversion concepts collection.

Divide the sales function to multiply profitable income.

If your business is growing, and you have more than one salesperson, the sooner you can specialise your salespeople the more profitable your business is likely to be.

Good “lead generators” and good “business closers” aren’t always found in the same salesperson. Sometimes good face-to-face salespeople are less than enthusiastic about prospecting but better at closing.  An ideal solution is to divide the sales function into four responsibilities.

The first two can be referred to as Inside Salespeople. They consist of a Lead Generation Executive (LGE) and an Enquiry Response Executive (ERE).

The Lead Generation Executives generate new leads by prospecting – mainly emailing and telephoning organisations targeted by marketing. When the LGE has “qualified” a lead, i.e. discovered there are needs and a willingness to meet face-to-face, the LGE will hand the lead over to a Sales Executive (SE).

A LGE’s salary and commission structure needs to be very similar to SE’s. This is because an LGE’s job is such a demanding and important one.

The Enquiry Response Executive (ERE) deals with inbound enquires only. These will come from both inbound and outbound efforts made by the marketing department. Such leads need qualifying over the telephone to confirm genuine interest. Once qualified, these leads are handed over to an SE.

The second two sales functions can be referred to as Outside Salespeople, as both are customer facing. They consist of a Sales Executive (SE) and a Customer Executive (CE) also sometimes called a Key Account Manager (KAM).

Sales Executives (SEs) are sales “hunters” who are concerned with questioning prospective customers and listening carefully to their replies. Their other functions include proposal presentations and closing, or winning new customer revenue.

If the LGE is good at their job, the SE will have enough qualified leads to follow up. If not, the SE may have to do some of their own prospecting and lead generation, so they certainly need to know how to do it.

Finally, the Customer Executive (CE) or Key Account Manager (KAM) is a “farmer” of existing customers. Their role is twofold –

  1. To ensure their customers have all the support and information they need.
  2. To expand or win extra revenue at every opportunity – this means some “hunting” skills are necessary, similar to those of an SE.  

It’s essential that the activities of all four sales disciplines are recorded on a dashboard, either on a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system or at least on a spreadsheet. Entries on the dashboard should include the number of –

  1. Outbound and inbound leads.
  2. Qualified leads handed to the Sales Executives.
  3. Face-to-face prospect meetings.
  4. Proposals requested.
  5. Proposals presented.
  6. Sales successfully closed.
  7. Pounds Sterling each sale is worth.
  8. Months and years each customer stays.
  9. Pounds Sterling each customer is enlarged.

How specialised is your sales team?

Finding the Right Salespeople

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Get the right salespeople and they will get the right results.

Hiring the best people possible is the most important driver of profitable sales success. After all, you need to continuously assess prospective and serving salespeople to determine their suitability for the job.

Some companies regard salespeople as merely an overhead or cost. It’s true to say that salespeople are expensive, but the most successful companies are sales driven.

If you’re looking for young people or people new to sales, contrary to popular belief, it’s best to go for the entrepreneurial type. Salespeople need many of the traits of entrepreneurs.   Then, train them from scratch.  Good communication skills and a good understanding of business and financial issues are far more important attributes than anything else.

However, if you’re looking for experienced salespeople who can make an early impact, LinkedIn is one of the best sources. This is because the top performers are always busy and not necessarily looking for a job.  You may have to offer more to persuade them to move, but it should be worth it.

The characteristics of the best salespeople are –

  1. The ability to absorb and apply coaching to their role (effective coaching is the biggest driver of sales productivity).
  2. A good knowledge of how business works in general.
  3. The ability to interpret Profit & Loss Accounts and Balance Sheets.
  4. Great questioning and listening skills (the ability to show interest in others and understand their goals and issues).
  5. The ability to learn complex concepts quickly and communicate them in an easy to understand manner (strong verbal and writing skills are necessary).
  6. A very strong work ethic.
  7. A first class telephone manner.
  8. Very confident face-to-face with senior prospects.

It’s no coincidence that the need for salespeople to absorb and apply coaching is at the top of the above list. Sales managers must get out with salespeople for whole days at a time. This gives managers a chance to see their salespeople in action.  Coaching can then take place after a call.  Sales managers should always ask the salesperson how they think the call went and how it could have gone better.

Getting out of the office helps managers see what’s taking place in the market. Face-to-face meetings with key prospects and customers can be a reality check for managers and executives.  When with salespeople, managers should turn off their mobiles or tablets – emails and telephone calls can wait until the end of the day.  After all, managers aren’t heart surgeons or cabinet ministers, 24/7 communication isn’t always a good thing.

When in a meeting with a prospect, managers shouldn’t try to butt in and do the salesperson’s job for them. In fact, the more a salesperson struggles, the more they will be open to being coached after the meeting. If the salesperson does well, they should be given all the credit for doing so.

Initially it’s a good idea to interview candidates over the telephone. Not only does this test their telephone communication skills, but it also saves both parties time and money.

When interviewing salespeople face-to-face, treat the interview as if it were a sales meeting. Look for people who ask probing questions and who can take control of the interview.  If they can do this, there’s a good chance they’ll also be able to control a sales meeting.  Even better if they can summarize the meeting and propose next steps.  If the individual effectively closes the interview, they’re probably good at closing sales meetings too.

Have you found the right salespeople?

Salespeople and C-level Communication

CEO, leadership and corporate hierarchy concept - recruiter complete team represented by puzzle in pyramid scheme by one leader person (CEO).

Are your salespeople able to talk to C-level decision makers?

Most salespeople don’t know how to communicate with C-level buyers. Senior buyers like as CEOs and MDs want salespeople to demonstrate business and financial competence.  They’re not interested in the features or even the benefits of a product or service.  They want to know what impact a provider will have on their profits as well as their customers.

C-level buyers are mainly concerned with generating profitable income in order to pay investors, suppliers and employees, among other outgoings. Whatever it is you’re trying to sell them, you have to show how you can save them money, reduce their risk and make them money.  Financial results are in; feature dumps are out.

According to IDC, the global providers of market intelligence, senior decision makers such as CEOs and MDs will be involved in 80% of buying decisions. SiriusDecisions research found that top decision makers prefer discussions about business trends, issues and insights four times more than traditional sales conversations.  Forrester Research supports this by stating that salespeople only talk about business issues 24% of the time.

When you do contact the CEO or MD you need to speak their language. These people have very limited time, so you have to get the point quickly.  When on the telephone it helps to have a prompt sheet consisting of a few key questions.  This is not the same as a script, which might sound canned.  After stating your name and company, say in one sentence what you’re calling about.  Then ask an open question directly related to the most likely issue you believe them to have.

When it comes to a face to face meeting with a CEO or MD, you can base the whole discussion around these five open questions: –

  1. Tell me about your main aims?
  2. What’s your timetable for reaching these aims?
  3. What’s your action plan to achieve them?
  4. What issues might prevent you from reaching them?
  5. What return would you enjoy if these issues were resolved and your aims reached in a timely manner?

TrainingIndustry found that high performing companies spend much more effort developing business expertise and financial acumen among their salespeople than most companies. Is your company one of them?

The Dreaded “No Decision”

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Are salespeople able to help buyers count the cost of inaction?

Buyers today are flooded with too much information. As a salesperson you need to act as a filter, clarify the buyer’s thoughts and be a guide to the buyer’s purchasing process.  This can be done by demonstrating a keen insight into the buyer’s world, telling them something new about their business and providing them with a reason to take action.

You also need to educate buyers with new ideas. Buyers are always looking to increase profitable revenue while trying to reduce costs and risk.  If you can show how this can be achieved, trust will ensue.

It’s therefore important to quantify the costs of inaction by a buyer in both time and money. Ultimately, it’s the only way to change the status quo.  Once the buyer doubts their inaction, they’re more likely to change.

A salesperson needs to show the buyer their unique value and what sets them apart. If you can show how change is less costly than doing nothing, a successful sale is much more likely.  A good way for you to convince a buyer is to show how turnarounds have been achieved with other customers, or even in your own company.

You can influence the buyer’s purchasing process via a champion in the buyer’s company. This is valid so long as the champion understands their colleagues’ agendas and motives.  Ultimately salespeople must be clear about defining a buyer’s problem before matching a solution.  You really need to know how the buyer’s company makes money.

If you can discover and address any external factors that might have a negative effect on a buyer’s business, you can create excellent value for senior decision makers in the buyer’s company.

PLCs are answerable to their shareholders. These shareholders will want to know about their company’s business initiatives.  If a salesperson can attach their solution to a particular business initiative, access to board level decision makers is a good deal easier.

Can you help your prospective customer make the right decision?

Farming Key Customers

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Your competitors are targeting your key customers –

Are you?

Your existing customers are giving your company revenue each month. If the revenue is profitable, you obviously need to keep such customers for as long as possible.  Investing in monthly face-to-face meetings with your largest and most profitable customers is the best investment your company can make.

Farming extra business and revenue from existing customers is quicker and less costly than hunting for new customers. Penetrating other business units, or even divisions, of your existing customers can generate considerable extra revenue.

Always keep up to date with each major customer’s current situation. Cover matters such as changes in their market, their products and their customers.  Find out –

  1. What their latest plans and goals are.
  2. What their key performance indicators are.
  3. What new problems may be holding them back.
  4. Whether they’re facing a merger or takeover.
  5. Whether they’re using a competitor’s service or product as well as yours – or worse, instead of yours – or at least thinking of doing so.

You need to be certain how your customers see you and your company. Is it as a specialist high level advisor, or merely as a commodity “me too” provider?  Your customers need to have the same perception of you as you have of them.  It’s essential to be on the same page.

Make sure you place all the contact names of each customer in order of seniority. Then mark each name that has the best relationship with your company. It’s also important to have coaches or mobilisers in your customers who have authority, influence and the willingness to support you with advice and guidance.

Ideally, you should have specialist “farmers”, often called Key Account Managers (KAMs), who should know how each of your customer’s business is structured. KAMs also need to know –

  1. What parts of a customer’s business has used which of your products or services.
  2. What revenue and gross profit has been earned from each piece of business.
  3. What it’s cost your company to provide your products or services.
  4. What value the customer has gained from each product or service.
  5. Whether your services or products have addressed the customer’s problems.
  6. Your sales targets for each part of each customer.

If the worst happens, and your customer stops using your company without saying anything, make sure you have targets in place to monitor products or services that have been reduced or terminated by them. Put together an action plan for the customer and review it each quarter.  This should be regularly updated.

How closely are you monitoring your key customers?

Outbound Selling and Inbound Marketing

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DO YOUR SALES LEADERS REALLY BELIEVE IN OUTBOUND SELLING?

In his new book Sales Management Simplified, Mike Weinberg says that a selling team is as good as their company’s leadership and the strategy they lay down.

Obviously the best leadership should come from the top of any well-run company. In order to increase sales performance, an enlightened company must increase their sales leader’s management acumen.  A results focused culture must be created.

Sales leaders shouldn’t actually sell or fight fires; they should just manage and coach their salespeople. Out of those salespeople, managing and coaching sales hunters should be their first priority.

These sales hunters must prospect proactively and not just react to inbound enquires. It’s most unlikely inbound enquiries will fill all salespeople’s pipelines or anywhere near doing so.

According to Trish Bertuzzi in her book The Sales Development Playbook, the majority of companies source less than half their pipeline from marketing. Indeed, only 10% of companies source more than 75% of their pipeline from inbound inquires.

Face-to-face salespeople should be divided into hunters and farmers. Such a division will generate better and more profitable sales results, which everyone in any company is totally dependent on.

Top sales hunters are masters of the traditional aspects of selling, such as prospecting for new customers. Indeed, according to Jeb Blount in his book Fanatical Prospecting, top sales hunters spend as much as 80% of their time on prospecting and qualifying.

As good sales hunters are harder to find than farmers, keeping them happy and appreciated is essential. Invest in them and coach them more than poor performers.  The results will be much greater.

In order that your good sales hunters are not beaten by a bad sales process, ensure that their sales process is aligned with the prospect’s buying process.

To show how challenging this can be, a 2012 CEB report stated that vendors only achieve a 12% mind share with their buyers throughout the entire purchasing process. Another report from ANNUITAS in 2014 stated that only 29% of companies align their content to each stage of the buyer’s journey.

The best way to rectify this is by asking each stakeholder in a prospect’s company to describe their buying process in detail.

How good are your sales hunters at matching the sales process to prospects buying processes?

Lean Thinking for Sales?

Mr. Smart Guy telefoniert entspanntSales can learn a lot from Lean Thinking

It isn’t only manufacturers of products who gain from Lean Thinking.  Practically all business processes can benefit from Lean. According to Robert J Pryor in his book Lean Selling, many board level decision makers are not entirely happy with the results of their sales teams.

Three of their most common complaints are –

  1. Inaccurate sales forecasts and missed quota commitments.
  2. Wasted time providing information customers don’t want, while not giving them enough of what they really need.
  3. An opaque sales process not lending itself to continuous improvement.

On the other hand, many sales teams have their own issues, for example –

  1. 41% of salespeople fear they are unable to communicate value to prospects.
  2. 40% of salespeople believe they don’t understand their prospect’s buying process.
  3. As many as two out of every three sales cycles end in no decision.

Up to 75% of the sales cycle is in the buyer’s control. If a company wants to reduce its sales cycle time, they need to get engaged in the buyer’s process. Time spent in any activity that doesn’t add value for the buyer is wasted.

On this evidence, most companies could do better and provide a greater return for their investors. A good start is to realise that the buyer defines what value is, not the seller. Any salesperson who says to a buyer, “I imagine you want to make an informed decision on the best provider in the shortest time and not regret it” will be ahead of the game.

One of the best ways to reach these objectives is by using Value Stream Mapping. This provides a bird’s eye view of how a company can build value into its product or service and take them from their Current State to a new and more profitable Future State.

As Karen Martin & Mike Osterling say in their book Value Stream Mapping, if company personnel can’t describe what there’re doing as a process or value stream, they don’t know what there’re doing. It’s an unfortunate fact that most employees can’t describe the complete series of events required to transform a customer request into a product or service.

Every value stream needs between two and five Key Performance Indicators tracked on a regular basis. Most companies don’t do this. This is why they continue to fight fires, fail to capture greater market share and don’t generate as much profit as they could.

How much do you believe sales teams can benefit from using Lean Thinking and Value Stream Mapping?

Business Development or Sales?

Torn newspaper headlines depicting business strategyBusiness development is so much more than only sales – it’s the whole customer facing operation.

However, if you ask ten people what they think business development is, you probably get ten different answers.

In her book Business Development, Anna Kennedy defines business development as the discipline required to achieve growth through the acquisition of profitable new customers and the expansion of existing customers.

In fact, just about anything and everything to do with customers and prospects comes under the heading of business development, including pricing.  It’s all about finding, keeping and growing profitable customers.  It was ever thus, but the question is how best to go about it?

Firstly, as Ian Cooper says in his book The Financial Times Guide to Business Development, get the right employees and they will get the right results.  It’s well worth investing in good people and training them thoroughly.

Secondly, think about employing or training full time lead generation specialists.  As Aaron Ross & Marylou Tyler say in their book Predictable Revenue, F2F salespeople are often better employed closing business rather than prospecting.  Leave the prospecting to lead generation specialists, but pay them just as well as the closers.

Thirdly, take action to increase the conversion rate of your current leads or enquiries into profitable customers.  As Ian Cooper asks – what’s the point of spending time, money, creative energy and manpower on generating new leads if you don’t convert as many as possible into profitable customers?

Fourthly, never forget to continuously target your existing customers for possible new business & growth.  Also penetrate other business units within your existing customers.  Consider using full time farmers for this role.  After all, if your competitors think it’s worth investing in targeting your customers, shouldn’t you?

Finally, try to increase prices where possible now we’re coming out of the recession.  You may have some customers who are less profitable than others.  Can they be made more profitable by a price increase or is it time to let them go?

What’s your definition of business development?