Selling points Featured

7:00pm EDT December 26, 2007

Sales is a tough business. A complex sales cycle can take six months to a year before the deal is closed. The process is long and involved. Since every customer sees many salespeople every week, it is important to differentiate yourself and your company from the pack.

Smart Business asked Rick Lawson, vice president of new business development for InfoCision Management Corp., Akron, for some advice on how to get customers to the bottom line in an effective, efficient manner.

What is the first step in getting a customer to ‘yes’?

The most important step in new business development is to spend time researching the prospect. First, figure out whether the needs of the prospect align with the services or products you provide. As an example, don’t go to a prospect with international operations if your support capabilities are limited to domestic sales and service.

Spend time researching the prospect. Look at its annual reports. Do Internet searches. Look for articles that quote the company’s CEO. Try to get a feel for where it sees its business in three to five years. This process opens up your understanding of the market and the companies you anticipate engaging. Be prepared to understand — in detail — what your company can do for them.

Then, identify the highest-level executive you can speak to in that organization. Don’t start low and try to work your way up. You might see a person in a lower-level position who is nice and listens to your proposal — but it’s really a waste of time. Identify and approach an executive who has a broad view across the prospect’s strategic landscape.

Once you identify a target, what’s next?

The next step is to obtain an interview, to get in front of that senior-level prospect. The mistake many people make once they get the interview is to load up on PowerPoint presentations and give a one-sided talk about their business, their manufacturing capability or JD Power ratings. Instead, give the other side time to explain its needs. I like to go into an interview with a blank piece of paper. On one side, list the prospect’s current state. On the other, list the desired state. Work from global concepts to specifics. This model is a fantastic tool to glean where the prospect’s strategic objectives are headed. When you are done, the prospect — not you — has built a bridge to where it wants to be. That bridge should be your offering.

Is it now time to ask for the sale?

Right. Craft a proposal. Target the proposal based on how your company’s products and services will get prospects where they want to be in one, three or five years. This is much more powerful than talking about manufacturing capability or ISO approvals. This approach lets you establish credibility. You’ve built a relationship. They know you are serious about the process and understand the complexities and the gaps in their program.

What should be in the proposal?

Write something that is aligned with the areas that you plan to address. Be sure it states that these are needs that the prospect has identified, not just things that you want to sell. Say, in so many words, ‘Here’s what we propose to meet the needs you’ve identified.’

Don’t just pull up a boilerplate document and change names on the company’s standard proposal. You must respond to the prospect’s specific needs. It helps to bring in cross-functional teams so everyone is on board within your company. Give prospects an actionable document that they can take to their CEO for approval.

What if the prospect says ‘no’?

You will have to overcome objections. Some are in the form of questions: ‘Is this your best deal?’ Others will be statements: ‘You’re too expensive.’ This is the time to file off the rough edges.

Always respond from a position of strength. Don’t back down. Tie your responses to how your product or service will help prospects meet their strategic plans. Always loop the answer back to helping them get where they want to be. Then, close the deal. Don’t be afraid to ask for the business. Make presumptive statements like, ‘Can we start in 10 days?’ or, ‘Where can I send the contract?’

What about following up?

The sales process does not stop here, in fact, it is really just beginning. This is where most sales organizations really fall short. Remember to measure, monitor and platform. By this, I mean that once the program is up and running, the salesperson must measure and monitor the program. Be sure to live up to your proposal.

Being successful in measuring and monitoring your service once you have started will position you for future sales. Look for add-on sales. See if you can make a similar sale to a different division. Get referrals. It’s much easier to use a reference to get another job than it is to try to find a new prospect.

RICK LAWSON is vice president of new business development at InfoCision Management Corp., Akron. He has a broad background in financial and outsourcing services. He can be reached at rick.lawson@infocision.com. In business for 25 years, InfoCision Management Corporation is the second largest privately held teleservices company and a leading provider of customer care services, commercial sales and marketing for a variety of Fortune 100 companies and smaller businesses. InfoCision is also a leader of inbound and outbound marketing for nonprofit, religious and political organizations. InfoCision operates 32 call centers at 13 locations throughout Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. For more information, visit www.infocision.com.