Does Your Monthly Sales Forecast Keep Coming Up Short?

quality decisionmaking (271/365)
If you’re a sales executive you have got to be tired of explaining why the monthly or quarterly forecast keeps coming up short?  I understand because I have managed large teams of sales representatives ranging in experience from 1 year to more than 20 years.  I shared your experience then I decided to fix it.  What I learned is that there is one main reason why the forecast consistently disappoints and a fairly easy way to address this challenge.

The problem starts with lead qualification.  Your sales team is most likely made up of a few senior representatives, several others with 3- 5 years of experience and some that are just starting out in sales.  Each representative sees a new opportunity differently.  Some think it’s highly qualified while others do not, and that’s the problem.  What I discovered is that the sales representatives who were doing well and delivering new business were doing a good job at vetting each new lead while others were chasing tire kickers.  Knowing this my team and I then embarked on a simple task and that was to create set of criteria for rating and scoring each new opportunity.

We then incorporated the criteria into the Commence CRM system which automated the process and ensured that every sales representative regardless of experience level was qualifying new business opportunities according to a specific set of criteria.  The results speak for themselves.  The team became laser focused on the most promising new opportunities instead of wasting valuable time on those that were not.  Our close ratios went up, our forecast was much more accurate and we realized higher monthly and quarterly revenues.  The Commence CRM software became a simple affordable solution to a difficult business problem.

Image “quality decisionmaking (271/365)” by Allix Rogers on Flickr under Creative Commons license.

Sales Question and Answer #16 – How to Handle Difficult Customers

This is a Customer Management article from guest poster Dave Kahle, author and leading sales educator. Follow Dave’s latest Tweets at @davekahle
News International in front of the Select Committee / Speak No Evil See No Evil Hear No Evil

Q.  How would you suggest I respond when a customer gets abusive and uses profanity with me?

A. That’s a difficult call.  I have had only a couple of these experiences in my career.  Let me do a little thinking out loud (or as it may be, on the computer.)

First, let’s clarify the situation.  We are not talking about a customer whose conversation is routinely laced with four letter words.  In that case, there is no animosity, anger or abuse directed at you; this is just how he/she speaks.  These customers are crude and vulgar, but they are crude and vulgar with everyone, not just you, and there is no negative impact intended.  We all know customers like this.

In that case, we keep our dignity, refuse to lower ourselves to that level, ignore the four letter words and carry on.

I don’t believe that is the situation to which this question refers.  The writer is describing a situation where the customer is verbally attacking the sales person, and using profanity to sharpen his verbal assault.

This is a particularly tricky situation because it moves out of the realm of the purely “professional” and into the realm of the “personal.”  In other words, it is not just about the customer/sales person interaction, it’s about you, personally. It’s not just a “sales person” who is being abused, it is you.  That makes the basic direction of the response dependent on who you are.

Let’s examine that situation.  First, I don’t think your use of profanity is ever appropriate, particularly in a sales or a management situation where you are dealing with people as a representative of your company.  It reduces you to that person’s level, diminishing your stature and reputation.  So, let’s rule out the option of reacting to someone directing profanity your way by spitting it back to him/her.  Responding in kind is, then, off the table.

On the other hand, the option at the other end of the spectrum; to meekly accept the verbal abuse and allow yourself to become the whipping boy for the customer’s vulgarity – to just meekly accept it and not respond to it – is also, I believe, an unacceptable response.  That also diminishes you and makes you seem less valuable and worthy.  So, let’s take that option off the table as well.

We have now narrowed down the range of options considerably, having ruled out the two positions on either extreme.

The issue then becomes persona — one of identifying where your personal lines are drawn.  There are some sales people who would not find this situation upsetting – who have the ability to let it roll off of them and move on to the next customer without giving it a second thought.  There are others who would be devastated, upset and off their game for days.

It really is helpful for you to think it through before you find yourself in this situation.

Where is the line for you, personally?

How affronted would you be?

What would be the emotional impact on you?

Once you have given those questions some significant thought time, you’ll be better prepared to react on the spot.  Here are some possible reactions:

1.  Stay calm; respond to the content of the customer’s remarks, and not to the emotionally-laden language.

2.  Let the customer know that you are personally affronted by his/her language, and try to continue the conversation in a more civilized manner.

3.  Let the customer know that you are personally affronted by his/her language, and leave.

As an experienced sales person, sales manager, sales executive and business owner, I can tell you that I would not have any problem with you choosing any one of the three options, were you a sales person working for me.

Which of those you choose depends on the answers you came up with to the questions we asked above, as well as the variables inherent in the specific situation.  I can tell you in the two of these kinds of situations in which I recall being involved, I chose option two on both occasions.  I also have vague recollections of hanging up on someone who got abusive in a phone call.

The bottom line is this:  You have a right to protect your personal dignity.  Where the line is and what you choose to do depends a great deal on you – your experience, your emotional make up – and the specifics of the situation.  Take some time to think it through beforehand, and you’ll be better equipped to deal with the situation when, and if, it arises.

If you’d like some specific direction on option number two, above, you may want to check out my “Best of Dave” seminar, #15 How to Skillfully Handle Difficult Customers

Copyright MMX by Dave Kahle
All Rights Reserved.

Image “News International in front of the Select Committee / Speak No Evil See No Evil Hear No Evil” by Surian Soosay on Flickr under Creative Commons license.

#1 Alternative to Salesforce.com

BIG BUT SMALL

Salesforce.com has done an excellent job in establishing themselves as a leading provider of CRM software. They have done it with a massive marketing and advertising campaign and a pretty good product, but this solution is not for everyone and small to mid-size enterprises continue to find it to be cumbersome and simply too expensive. The good news is that like any product or service offered today there are some very good low cost alternatives that are easier to use.

CRM solutions come in all flavors from simple contact managers to comprehensive systems that automate both front and back office business processes.  Most small to mid-size businesses however are just not that sophisticated.  Their focus is traditionally centered on managing accounts and contacts, adding notes and history, scheduling follow-up activity, managing leads and sales opportunities, integrating e-mail and generating reports.  These features are fairly common among CRM providers that service mid-size businesses.  So who are these alternative players?  I will get to that in a minute, but first let’s talk about what makes one CRM solution better than another.

Comparing Alternatives to Salesforce.com

This is a common question that is traditionally addressed by people engaging in a feature function war, meaning who has the most features, but the answer is much deeper than this.  What makes Salesforce.com who they are has a lot to do with the architecture of their product which has proven to support a large number of users with pretty good performance.  The system also supports multiple languages and multiple currencies so if you have hundreds of users and require multi-language and multi-currency support, Salesforce would be a very good solution. But what if you don’t need all of this? What if you have 10 or 20 users, even 50 and have no enterprise level or international requirements?  If this sounds more like your business, then there are some better easier to use more affordable options for you. If you do select Salesforce.com, that’s fine. Just keep in mind that you will be paying a high price for features, functions and a platform that you simply do not need.  I am not referring to the $5 or $15 dollar editions that reduce the product’s capability to nothing more than a basic contact management solution with a sales forecast.  I am referring to the $65 to $250 dollar editions that are twice as expensive as other high quality providers that offer similar functionality.  Add a service agreement and you’ll wonder what you got yourself into when the annual contract renewal arrives. This is not a let’s beat up on Salesforce.com article.  As indicated earlier theirs is an excellent choice for large organizations with multi-national business requirements. But for SMEs there are other good online CRM software products that have been specifically designed for the small to mid-size business sector that have proven to be a better choice.

Top Rated CRM for Small to Mid-Size Business

One of these productcustomer management software to small and mid-size companies for two decades, has a large customer base and a proven track record for providing a quality product and excellent customer service.  Commence is not an enterprise platform and has no multi-language support at this time, but what it does offer is a comprehensive suite of applications that rival Salesforce.com at half the cost.  In addition to the traditional contact management and sales functionality Commence takes CRM software to the next level, offering  a marketing application, a customer service or help desk application, a document library and project management.  The product also offers good integration with popular e-mail programs.  Customer data can be accessed from a PC, Apple Mac, Tablet or smartphone. Full mobile access is also provided at no additional cost.

What also differentiates Commence CRM however from mid-market competitors is the product’s architecture.  Similar to Salesforce.com, the Commence platform is designed with industry standard components for cloud based computing and is scalable and fast.  Customer data is stored via a strategic partnership with Rackspace, the number one provider of data hosting services in the world.  This combination of functionality and price coupled with a 20 year history and track record for high quality service and best in class data hosting has made Commence CRM a popular choice among small to mid-size businesses.

To learn more about Commence CRM software visit the company’s website at www.commence.com.

Image “BIG BUT SMALL” by whologwhy on Flickr under Creative Commons license.

Managing Customer Relationships Doesn’t Have to be a Chore

Building quality customer relationships is critical to maximizing the lifetime value of your customers and with the right customer management software this doesn’t have to be a chore.

Hi-tech robot vacuum cleaner

The key to building quality customer relationships is ensuring that all employees have immediate access to the data they need when a customer calls. Today’s customer management software solutions offer the ability to capture, manage and share vital customer information with the people who need it to provide world-class customer service.  Using a single consolidated database of customer information allows both sales and service personnel to access a complete 360 degree profile of customer information including what they purchased, when they purchased it, and if they have had any service history associated with the purchase.  More importantly the information is current and consistently updated by the people who are interacting with the customer.

While some businesses attempt to manage their relationships using Microsoft Outlook and an Excel spreadsheet, the problem is that the information cannot be shared or easily updated.  Sure you can send over a copy of the spreadsheet to your staff, but it will be obsolete ten minutes after you send it and require each staff members to update it and forward it back to all employees. This is quite a task and completely inefficient.

Customer Management software solutions are available for small, mid-size and enterprise level organizations, and are not only affordable but easier to use then they were several years ago.  A simple search of Customer Management Software or Contact Management software will provide you with a list of available companies and systems.

Image “Hi-tech robot vacuum cleaner” by Mark H. Evans on Flickr under Creative Commons license.

Persistence Leads to Increased Sales Performance

This is a best practice for sales people by guest poster Erica Bell.

What time is it?
Timing is everything…

Now, you’re probably thinking you’ve heard this many times before – how being persistent while on a call or making a pitch can improve your results. However, this article isn’t just about being persistent; it isn’t enough to just keep trying. Continuing your sales efforts at the right time and through the right means is how you can increase the performance of your sales and those of your team members. Accurate and efficient lead management with the use of CRM software is how your team can turn things.

Seeing the Numbers

If you’re cold calling or are following up with inbound leads, make sure you’re doing so at the right time and with the right information in your hand. The time it takes you to call is essential. The time of day you choose to call is also important. If you’re calling a business after their working hours, your chances of being successful won’t be very high. Not only does time of day matter, but so does where your prospect is in the buying stages.

  • According to a 2011 study by Harvard Business Review, firms that tried to contact potential customers within an hour of receiving a query were nearly seven times as likely to qualify the lead as those that tried to contact the customer even an hour later—and more than 60 times as likely as companies that waited 24 hours or longer.
  • In another study, InsideSales found that making 6 calls to a lead creates up to a 90% chance of contacting a lead… but only 10% of reps even make 3 calls (and 30% of leads in the study didn’t get called at all). They also found the best time to respond to a lead is within 5 minutes!
  • In a study from Dr. James Oldroyd from the Kellogg School of Management, Thursday was the best day to contact a lead in order to qualify that lead. Tuesday and Wednesday ranked second and third, respectively. Thursday was almost 20% better than Friday, which was the worst day of all. He also found B2B prospects are easier to reach and more willing to talk on Thursday.
  • In Oldroyd’s study, the best time to call during the day is early morning (8 to 9 am) followed by late afternoon (4 to 5 pm). The 9 to 10 am slot ranked third, with 2 to 3 pm coming in fourth place.

Make sure your persistence involves following up on various days and on more than one occasion. Just because you may not make contact the first few times doesn’t mean you should abandon the lead. Call until you make contact or reach 6 outreach efforts.

Reading the Data

You want to provide the right information at the right time. Every time you get a lead on the phone, make sure you are ready to provide them with information that will add value to their business or clients. Whether it is the offer for a free whitepaper for research, a new idea on how you can benefit their business or clients or something else, take data from your CRM or sales software to map out buying behavior.

  • Pay attention to region. Conduct some research into who you are calling, the region where they are located, and their hours of operation. Make sure you are calling during hours that are convenient for them, not you.
  • Look at their industry. Different industries can mean different approaches, times to call and more. Spend some time in your sales tracking database to look for trends in various industries.

Hearing No

Sales teams hear no. A lot. Just because you hear no doesn’t mean you should give up hope. If you have an inbound lead, it’s clear that they displayed some type of interest, even if it was just research. Here are a few questions you can ask an inbound lead who is saying no.

  • How they found your site/business. Ask how they found your site or business and you can determine what they were really looking for. You’ll know whether your business can help them or not.
  • Why they chose to fill out the form. This is an elaboration on the first question. You’ll get more specifics into what their needs are and what they are hoping to get from your company.
  • What their chief reason for saying no is. If they’re saying no, ask why. You may be able to work with them on a better fit solution, product or price.

If you’re hearing no from a cold call, you too should be asking why they are saying no. Don’t take “No” as the end of the conversation. Sales teams can find out whether this contact is worth reaching out to in the future. Update your sales software with the reason why. Just because a prospect isn’t ready to buy now doesn’t mean they won’t be in the future as both your companies grow.

Persistence in sales means approaching leads with something new and valuable each and every call, and making more than one call.

Use your CRM or sales software to see when your sales team has the most success reaching out and after what number of calls. It will vary from company to company, but making multiple calls and varying times and gathering information from prospects can lead to a more successful team overall.

Author Bio:

Erica Bell is a small business writer who focuses on topics such as call center software solutions and lead nurturing campaigns. She is a web content writer for Business.com Media, Inc.

Image “What time is it?” by fotologic on Flickr under Creative Commons license.