Small to Midsize Companies Need Better Sales Processes

In today’s highly competitive market you need to have well-defined business processes for lead generation, lead qualification and sales pipeline management if you want to survive, and it does not matter what you are selling.

'Two giants and a little man ' image by Skitterphoto

Small to midsize firms however are often at a disadvantage against the industry giants in this area for the following reasons:

1)      They  may not have the brand recognition of larger more established competitors

2)      They may lack the financial and human resources to compete at the same level

3)      Recruitment of experienced sales management and staff can be challenging

4)      The sales organization may not be equipped with the same tools as larger competitors

So what do you do if you are one of these companies?  Well you can fight back by implementing the same tools and best practices the big guys are using to automate the lead qualification and sales management processes.

It’s Time to Fight Back

For years large corporations have been using Contact Management, Sales Automation and CRM software programs to automate the internal processes that impact sales execution. Today these same tools are available to smaller organizations and they have become affordable and easy to use.

I am not however suggesting you run out and buy a CRM system because this is simply a tool to automate your sales processes. You have to have a process in place first before you can automate it, so you may be better served to engage the expertise of a company that can assist you with defining your target market, and creating a process for lead generation and pipeline management.

Lead Qualification and Pipeline Management

One CRM company that has established a solid track record for assisting companies with the above is Commence Corporation.  Commence offers an online CRM solution that is wrapped around a set of best practices for lead qualification and pipeline management.  The best practices for example enable you to determine what constitutes a qualified lead for your business. Once this is outlined, it is quickly automated using a business process automation tool built into the Commence CRM software.  Based on the criteria entered by the sales representative, the CRM system then color codes the lead; red for highly qualified, yellow for needs additional qualification or blue for not qualified at this time.  The program has delivered impressive results because it ensures that your sales team is immediately focused on the most promising new opportunities based on a standard set of criteria and not the gut feeling of the sales representative.

The Sales Pipeline Management feature operates in a similar fashion, with Commence CRM’s professional staff assisting you to define and automate each step in the sales cycle from the initial introduction to closure of the sale.  Graphical reporting illustrates where every single sales opportunity is in the pipeline. This allows sales management to take an active role in assisting the sales representative in moving the opportunity toward closure.

What is unique about Commence is not the CRM software itself, but the combination of using CRM software with a set of best practices, guided and implemented by experienced sales professionals.  It’s a combination that has delivered impressive results.  Commence customers claim higher close ratios and increased revenue within a few months of utilization.   For more information about Commence CRM and its best practices for sales execution visit the company’s web site at www.commence.com.

Sales Best Practice #8 – Knows how to overcome procrastination

A best practice for sales people by guest poster Dave Kahle, author and leading sales educator.

By Dave Kahle

“Mañana.”  It will wait until tomorrow.

There are times when it is so tempting to tell yourself that, and to actually believe it.  Clearly, sometimes it is true.  However, when we continually put off for tomorrow those things that could and should be done today, we become less effective today.  And while it is true that it is only one day, the truth is that we will never have that day back again.

If we accept mediocrity in our performance for one day, we will never be able to gain that time back, and live that day over.  And a day wasted can easily become another day, and another, and eventually turn into a habit.  Habits turn into character traits, and character eventually determines our performance.

Procrastination, the character trait of putting far too many things off to be done later, is one of the insidious cripplers of sales performance, lurking under the surface of sales performance, and sucking the energy out of a sales person’s performance.

The best sales people guard against procrastination.  They work hard, with discipline, to ensure that every day is spent as effectively as possible.  They recognize the temptation, and build tools, practices and disciplines into their routines to prevent themselves from falling prey to it.

Top 3 Tips to Overcome Procrastination

There are proven tools and techniques to help with this.

One is scheduling appointments as fully as possible throughout the course of the day. If you have an appointment for this afternoon, it’s difficult to put that off until tomorrow.  The best sales people are in the habit of making appointments for at least the first call of the day, as early as they can, and the last call of the day, toward the end of the day.  That way, the temptation to put something off until tomorrow conflicts with the need to stay mentally in the job until you are finally finished.

“To-do lists,” re-organized at the end of every day, with firm priorities and deadlines, is another effective tool utilized by the “do-it-now” group.  By creating a prioritized list of the things that you must do, and assigning deadlines to each of them, you force yourself to confront the necessity to get things done.  By developing this daily  habit, you regularly force yourself to confront the urgency and importance of the tasks in front of you.

And, of course, the regular discipline of developing realistic goals and attaching clearly envisioned rewards to them is one of the most common devices used by the pros to keep themselves in the moment and on top of their games.

The best sales people understand that they need to manage their weaknesses.  They understand that their ability to manage themselves is one of the keys to sustained sales excellence.  That’s why they excel at overcoming procrastination.

If you’d like to learn more about this best practice,

If you are a subscriber to The Sales Resource Center ®, view Pod-24:  Motivating Yourself to Excel Every Day; and Cluster CL-86:  Managing and Motivating Yourself.

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For Sales Managers…

Use this rating scale to assess the extent to which each of your sales people evidence this best practice.

-5         -4         -3            -2            -1               0             +1           +2           +3           +4           +5

 

Comments:  ____________________________________________________________

 

To help a sales person build this practice into a habit,

a.  Share your assessment with them.

b.  Talk about how that impacts their performance.

c.  Refer them to one or more of the resources listed above.

d.  Ask them to commit to a couple of specific changes.

e.  Monitor their progress at a future, pre-determined date.

Copyright MMXII by Dave Kahle
All Rights Reserved

Don’t Fly Solo with CRM Software

Two Thumbs Up!
Small to mid-size businesses want to take advantage of the same technology the big guys are using for lead generation, efficiently managing the sales cycle and improving their customers’ buying experience. The good news today is that they can. Online CRM programs are affordable, easy to implement and easy to use. So why do so many companies fail to realize a return on their investment with CRM software? The answer is simple. CRM software is nothing more than a set of tools like those you see on a carpenter’s belt. The difference is that he or she is an expert, trained in one or several specialties who already know how to use the tool set and get real value from it.

Small to mid-size companies often have trouble recruiting experienced marketing and sales management, and often promote from within the ranks. This is fine, but it also means that newly promoted sales managers may not have the experience to create and manage the internal processes that drive improved business performance. They may not understand how to maximize the value they can realize from CRM software. If you are looking to implement a CRM solution, whether online or on-premise, you need to consider the following:

  • SALES EXPERTISE – Does the company I am interested in offer any sales or marketing expertise or do they simply sell their CRM software.
  • LIVE SUPPORT – Is there a support organization available for assistance with a real telephone number to call or is there nothing more than an e-mail address
  • BEST PRACTICES – Does the company offer any documented “best practices” for the implementation and use of their software or are you flying solo?

These questions can be quickly addressed and will make a substantial difference in the value you will realize from the CRM software. Every company regardless of size can use a bit of expertise from their software vendor. It’s important to realize that CRM software does not run your business, people do, but don’t fly solo when it comes to CRM.

Image “Two Thumbs Up!” by Carlos on Flickr under Creative Commons license.

Closing the Sale – A Realistic Perspective

This is a Customer Management article from guest poster Dave Kahle, author and leading sales educator. Follow Dave’s latest Tweets at @davekahle.
a step in the right direction
There is not a salesperson in existence who hasn’t repeatedly heard of the need to “close the sale.”  Every new sales manager must view the process of encouraging his/her sales force to “close the sale” as an initiation into the profession.  If you’re going to be a sales manager, you, therefore, must improve everyone’s ability to “close.”  Doesn’t it come with the job?

The sales training literature is awash with advice.  Some of it tedious and trivial:  “If he says this, you say that.”  Other advice is grandiose:  “35 new sure-fire closing techniques.” Still other is harmful.  “Overcome that objection,”  as if selling in the B2B world was a contest between you and the customer, with one of you winning (overcoming) and the other losing (being overcome). That’s an attitude that won’t get you far.

All of this advice shares one common element.  It’s incredibly overdone.  There is no one aspect of sales (at least in the B2B world) that undeservedly receives more disproportionate time and talk than the subject of “closing the sale.”

Not that there is no need to “close.”  Every project must come to a conclusion, every offer be resolved one way or the other.  It’s just that, in my experience, closing has never been the result of verbal gymnastics on my part.

It’s not my clever refrains, my slick tactics, my memorized “objection over-comers” nor my manipulative perseverance that has brought me business. Instead, it was the suitability of my offer to the needs/desires/values of the customer.

On those occasions where my offer precisely met the customer’s combination of desires, values and preferences, I got the business.  Where my offer was off, and some competitor’s offer was a closer match, I didn’t get the business.

I don’t mean to imply that every sales opportunity is that black and white.  Clearly there is a lot of grey area in the process.  But, from my perspective, the grey area tipping point was most often the personal factors of rapport, relationship and trust, and almost never the tactical manipulations of the salespeople involved.

I learned early on in my sales career that it was far more important and profitable to “open” the sale precisely than it was to close strongly.  If I spend a lot of time, energy and mental acuity on learning the precise dimensions of the customer’s needs, and if I crafted an offer that matched those precisely, there was very little need for concern about closing.

I realize that I am tramping all over the hallowed ground of a vast number of sales managers, sales trainers and sales consultants.  I am, however, reflecting thoughtfully on my 30-plus years of selling all kinds of things, and my 18-plus years of training and developing sales people.  I believe that most thoughtful salespeople will line up on my side of the issue.

Customer Follow up Steps

All that said, there some principles and simple rules that can give us direction on this issue. Let’s start with our language.  Instead of “closing the sale” let’s first call it “resolving the next step.”  Not only should the project in general have a resolution, but also every sales interaction (a conversation with a prospect or customer), should have as its goal the identification of a next step in the sales process and the natural and logical commitment to that step.

So, for example, when you are seeing a prospect for the first time, the ideal next step is to get a commitment from the prospect for a second meeting. Without that, you have no hope of getting the ultimate purchase order.   To walk away from the sales call without resolving “what happens next” is to leave the sales call incomplete and relatively worthless.

The ideal next step for a meeting when you are collecting information about the customer’s needs is the customer’s commitment to view your presentation of your solution.

The ideal next step following a sales call in which you present your solution is for the customer to identify the next step in his/her buying process, and commit to that.

On and on we go. Every sales call should end in some resolution of the next step in the process, even if the resolution is “no next step with you.”

Notice that in each of these occasions, the definition of the “next step” is a commitment on the part of the prospect or customer to do something that moves the project forward.  Acquiring that commitment, in each and every sales interaction, is one of the habits of the most successful salespeople.  It’s what I term “resolving the next step.”

If the goal is to successfully arrive at the ultimate resolution, the perceptive salesperson understands that the means to that is a step-by-step process. Every sales call is an investment of time and energy on the part of the customer. And every investment of time and energy should result in some kind of an action step. Unless you are so entertaining that the customer looks at his/her time invested with you as a substitute for the movies this weekend, he/she probably doesn’t want to squander his time with you.  He probably wants to accomplish something as a result of his investment of time with you.  The something will take the shape of a “next step” in his process.

So, the thoughtful and effective salesperson recognizes that, and merely asks the customer to identify the next step.  When he does, it’s nailed down with a deadline.  The project moves forward, the sales process continues, and you know exactly where you and the customer stand.

Powerful Sales Strategy

All of that brings us to one the most powerful “resolution” strategies. I call it “Alternate next steps.”  The definition is this:  An alternate next step is an offer made to the customer following the stated or implied rejection of a previous offer.  It always involves a smaller risk on the part of the customer, like plan B.  If the customer agrees to the alternate offer, it always keeps you in the game and the project moving forward.

Here’s an example.  You are offering a one year contract on a product which the customer uses every month.  The customer indicates that he’s not ready to sign that. Instead of confronting the issue, you resolve it.  You offer plan B, an alternate next step.

You suggest, instead, that the customer buy two months worth of the product to see how it works out, and then you and he will get together to assess the benefits of continuing.   Instead of a 12 month contract, your offer is a two month trial.

Does that offer represent less risk to the customer?  Of course.  If the customer agrees to that step, are you still in the game?  Is the project still going forward?  Yes to both.

You see, the reason the customer didn’t say yes to your original offer has to do with his concerns – perhaps issues that have nothing to do with you or your product.  By offering an alternate next step, you reduce his risk, and provide a mutually acceptable way to resolve the next step.  The reason he didn’t offer a positive solution to your original offer has more to do with you missing something in the customer, than it did with your lack of verbal dexterity.

Let’s summarize:

  1. Forget “closing the sale.” Instead think, “resolving the next step.”
  2. Remember that effective “opening” is the best single tactic for closing.
  3. Create a habit of always asking for action as a way to resolve every sales interaction.
  4. Develop the habit of offering “alternate next steps.”

If you can execute these four things with ever growing excellence, you’ll enjoy your customers respect, you’ll maintain positive relationships and become far more important to them, and, you’ll far outsell the manipulative “closers” surrounding you.

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Copyright MMXII by Dave Kahle
All Rights Reserved.

Image “a step in the right direction” by downbeatpuppet on Flickr under Creative Commons license.