Businesses have been able to keep their heads above water during the recession — and the agonizingly slow recovery — by increasing efficiency and reducing expenses. However, many find sales growth more elusive.
“Their focus has been belt tightening, cutting expenses and doing more with less, but that’s not going to carry them through the next five years,” says Larry Goddard, CTP, managing director at SS&G Parkland. “The challenge is to focus on growth in a slow-growing economy, and everyone is going to have to be better at sales strategy and execution.”
Sales strategy, however, often gets less attention than lowering costs, as you’re dealing with an uncontrolled environment of customers and competitors, he says.
Smart Business spoke with Goddard about the questions business owners should ask themselves when sales are stagnating.
Are you operating in markets that are conducive to success?
Business success is always tough, but it is even tougher when operating in markets that make success harder to attain. Markets that are shrinking, low margin, or dominated by formidable and powerful competitors invariably make sales growth harder to achieve. Businesses that do not operate in markets that are conducive to success are likely to be consistently disappointed with their sales performance — unless they have strong ways to counteract unattractive markets.
You can make markets more attractive by changing markets, finding growing niches within markets, or changing or adding distribution channels. You might differentiate your product or form a marketplace alliance to gain a competitive edge. For example, a company made cameras that could be attached to news helicopters, a shrinking market, so it modified the product to work in the military, where cameras give tank drivers a bird’s eye view of their surroundings. This small switch increased sales from $4 million to $100 million per year in six months.
Do you have compelling value propositions?
Businesses that don’t differentiate themselves in a way that customers can clearly see the value provided put themselves at a major disadvantage. Value propositions are the customer’s perception of differentiation — not the company’s. Too many businesses, when asked about their differentiation, will say their service — without having compelling facts to support this claim. This response frequently comes from the top three or four competitors in the same market, but they can’t all have the best service. To make this claim, a business should be able to document that its on-time delivery or its resolution of customer complaints or some other important aspects of service are superior.
Even the best salespeople have trouble selling without compelling value propositions. How successful do you think Zig Ziglar would be selling encyclopedias, typewriters or pay phones today? Conversely, how good does the salesperson have to be to sell an iPhone? The iPhone value proposition is so strong that the product virtually sells itself.
Generally, at the macro level, there are two types of value propositions — product and nonproduct. It’s important to know the difference because it changes your sales strategy. Product value propositions are usually more tangible and easier to sell.
Are you using the best people for the job?
Just like most quarterbacks don’t make good linemen and seldom are pitchers good hitters, not all salespeople are good at generating new business. Being comfortable meeting new people, dealing with rejection and persisting in the face of defeat are traits that only a small percentage of salespeople enjoy. These traits are usually essential for success in new business development. Frequently referred to as ‘hunter’ salespeople, most businesses are fortunate if one in four of their salespeople fits this description.
Salespeople who don’t fit this description are known as ‘farmers.’ Farmers are vitally important salespeople, but they should play a different role — their jobs should be to work with, service and grow relationships with existing customers.
Most businesses don’t differentiate between hunters and farmers and expect both types of salespeople to generate new business and service existing customers. This is a mistake because hunters are generally not good at customer service and farmers, while trying valiantly to succeed, are usually poor at new business development.
Do you provide salespeople with the tools and support to be successful?
Here are some important resources and tools you need to equip your sales force with.
- Training — Salespeople need training in selling skills and product knowledge.
- Collateral materials — Effective brochures, websites, business cards, etc., are essential.
- Lead generation and qualification — Because hunters are so hard to find, the good ones should not be bogged down looking for and qualifying leads. Companies should conduct market analysis, identify and prequalify leads. The best leads should then be given to hunter salespeople to pursue.
- Plans and goals — Salespeople need to know the sales plan, strategy and goals. It is harder for the sales team to be effective without this information.
- Accountability — Just like other employees, salespeople will generally be more effective if they are held accountable for achieving their goals.
- Leadership and coaching — Most salespeople need effective mentoring, guidance, encouragement and appreciation.
It is easy to blame the sales team for poor sales results. Incompetent, unmotivated or disorganized salespeople could be part of the problem. However, unattractive markets, the lack of compelling value propositions, expecting farmers to be successful in new business development and not supporting the sales team are more likely to be the root cause of slow sales growth.
Larry Goddard, CTP, is a managing director at SS&G Parkland. Reach him at (440) 394-6150 or LGoddard@SSandG.com.
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Companies invest great amounts of time, effort and capital on building the right website to resonate with their target customers and convert those targets into leads for the business. “Building and marketing a great website that generates volumes of leads often comes with the next-level challenge of efficiently managing those leads to quickly convert to sales,” advises says Kevin Hourigan, president and CEO of Web design, Web development and online marketing agency, Bayshore Solutions.
Smart Business spoke with Hourigan about how to connect the right technologies to effectively manage your leads and close sales faster.
What are the critical elements I need to manage my lead to sale process?
Standing alone, a business website typically processes a new lead from a quote request or a contact form submission by sending an email alert to someone, and perhaps storing those form submissions in the administrative back end of the website. Unless a lot of detailed, accurate and disciplined manual documentation is maintained about each lead, the ability to track them through to the sale and see key metrics such as best performing lead sources, campaigns, etc. is lost. Critical business decisions could then be made based on faulty information and opinion. The technology exists today to eliminate this risk, at investment levels that accommodate most sizes of businesses.
In order to stay competitive in today’s business climate, intelligence needs to be exchanged between marketing and sales that streamlines the progress of leads through your sales funnel and enables more, better and faster closed sales. The way to enable this is by integrating your website with a Customer Relations Management (CRM) system and a Marketing Automation platform.
What does CRM and marketing automation do?
A CRM system is your repository of collected, and real-time information on all leads, customers and contacts related to your business. It acts as your marketing and sales process database and can categorize and segment your contacts on a wide variety of items for use in reporting, and grouping for specific action. CRM Systems can be proprietary and stored within a business’s IT infrastructure, or accessed via the ‘Cloud’ through a variety of providers. CRM can focus only on sales process aspects, or expand to cover end to end (marketing and lead gen through invoicing and collections) functions.
Each business applies customization to a CRM to serve their unique needs and procedures. In addition to housing your valuable prospect and client information and serving it up as needed, data from your CRM gives you objective insights to your marketing, sales and business performance.
Marketing automation grew out of campaign and email marketing beginnings, and has become the current standard of best practices. Today, enlisting just an email sending tool without using the advanced features of marketing automation is like driving blindfolded on a busy interstate: Your chances of getting to your destination (customer acquisition) without wrecking your brand integrity are extremely slim. The missing piece that marketing automation provides is the live, real time ‘sight’ into the ongoing actions of the target audiences interacting with your business.
Marketing automation allows you to communicate, evaluate and accelerate your leads through your sales funnel. Email (and even print) communications to your audiences with customized, relevant information, triggered from their ongoing behaviors are efficiently managed using marketing automation. This integration enables specific and more effective lead nurturing without requiring large amounts of time and staff that a stand-alone tool would.
Further, lead qualification and scoring is greatly enhanced with marketing automation’s ability to monitor your audiences’ ongoing interaction with your website. Specific characteristics and actions can be ‘scored’ to identify buying-stage and readiness for sales contact. Alerts and workflows can be triggered at any number of points in this progression. An immediate feedback stream of all this data to your CRM and to your marketing and sales team is a key benefit of marketing automation. They now know who is reading your messaging and can prioritize their responses based on the content you are sending that they are engaging with.
How does this integration help me sell better and faster?
In an integrated system, leads generated from your online properties are automatically fed into your CRM, with critical marketing data attached including: lead source, campaign info, keywords used, where the lead came from online, etc. Leads generated through outbound sales can also be entered directly into the CRM for a real-time and holistic view of your business’s sales pipeline. Live dashboards and reports on key performance indictors can be accessed immediately to assist sales management and communication.
The initially gathered data is augmented through your marketing automation platform with each lead’s specific ongoing engagement with your company including: web pages visited over time, emails received, opened and clicked on, articles and other content consumed, conversations and in-person touch points documented on the path of that lead becoming a customer. Post-sale relationship information is also kept including proposals presented, closed or lost – and why. This enables data-driven evaluation of sales initiatives, campaigns and tactics.
Consistent lead ‘scoring’ and tracking can trigger appropriate workflows and responses within your organization. Your sales reps can be alerted immediately of a lead’s sales conversation readiness in their specific area or product of interest. Sales can then intelligently focus on those ‘warmer’ leads, while marketing continues to nurture leads that are in earlier buy cycle stages and separate unqualified and non leads to maintain branding integrity, and save sales reps from activities that waste time and cause frustration.
An integrated lead management system of your website, CRM and marketing automation puts your sales team in position to connect with the right leads at the right time with the right information, thus closing sales faster, more easily and more often.
<< For a snapshot of Bayshore Solutions Web marketing methodology, visit: http://www.bayshoresolutions.com/about-bayshore-solutions/methodology.aspx
Kevin Hourigan is the president and CEO of Bayshore Solutions. Reach him at (877) 535-4578 or http://www.BayshoreSolutions.com.
During a one-on-one coaching session, someone asked if I would like to be the first
salesperson in or the last if our organization was bidding on a project or sale.
That’s a difficult question, but a very important one. Obviously, there are advantages and disadvantages to both, and the answer also depends on whether you’re working with an existing client or a new prospect that’s given you the opportunity to win the business.
When you’re trying to close a deal and you’re the first one in, your organization has the opportunity to make a solid impression and convince the prospect that there is no need to look any further. You can try to close the deal on the spot and walk out the door with a signed contract.
Even if that’s not an option, if you’re first you should ask for “last look,” which means you’re requesting the prospect or customer doesn’t make any decisions without giving you the opportunity to revisit the deal you’ve proposed and make one final pitch.
One of the big disadvantages to going first is the prospect may be determined to meet with other companies and use your proposal as leverage, which prevents you from closing.
When you’re the last one in, you’re in a position to leave the last impression and reinforce the fact that they must not have been too impressed with anyone else or they would have bought already. And, I’m never afraid to ask to see the other estimates so the prospect can make a fair comparison.
The disadvantage to going last is that they may have already decided to buy and are just giving you a courtesy appointment so they can claim they’ve reviewed all the options. Unfortunately, in that case, the decision has already been made and you have an uphill battle reversing it to get a fair consideration.
In short, there is no right or wrong answer. With either case, your job is to close the sale. The difference becomes the tactics that you use to get the deal done. When working with your sales team to ensure they meet or exceed your company’s goals, don’t let position become a distraction, deterrent or excuse for your team not getting the job done.
Marvin Montgomery is an author, speaker and sales training consultant at ERC, where he has assisted hundreds of organizations in improving their productivity. You can ask the Sales Doctor a question at SalesDoctor@ercnet.org.
“As a sales rep, you can sort of get into a rut or the same routine and get to your wit’s end, in some cases, in trying to reach people,” says Michael Pace, vice president of Americas direct sales for Infor Global Solutions, a $1.8 billion business software and services provider.
Because of this, Infor is always looking for ways to improve. Enter Vorsight, a Virginia-based company that specializes in sales training and meeting scheduling. Some members of the Vorsight team came in and worked with Infor about utilizing different sales techniques.
Pace says one of the first keys for your sales force to improve their approach is to use Web tools, such as Hoover’s, LinkedIn and the prospective company’s website, to do more research and understand that organization better. It sounds simple, but it goes far.
One of the other keys Infor learned about was learning how to leave better voice mails that would generate interest on the recipient’s end in returning the call. About half the calls Infor’s team makes end up in voicemail, so this is critical.
“When you leave a message, make sure they understand you know who they are and what their business is,” says Tim Young, regional vice president, distribution sales for Infor. “Try to relate something that might be of benefit.”
For example, your salesperson could say something like, “X company is a customer, and they’ve really benefited from our product. I see that you’re similar to X company, so this might also really help your company, and I’d like to set up a meeting to talk about it.” This approach shows a genuine care for the prospective company.
Additionally, Chris Huard, regional vice president, channels distribution sales for Infor, says your sales team has to be very strategic in how they leave their messages.
“Each time you’re leaving it, don’t overload them,” Huard says. “Make it short and sweet. Leave our number once at the beginning, and leave it again at the end. Speak clearly and slowly. Each time we leave a message, leave a piece of value with that customer to make them want to call back.”
Another key is to make sure your team doesn’t stop at just leaving a voice mail. Take it a step further.
“A lot of people leave voice messages, and some people leave e-mails, but statistically, they’ve proven that a combination of e-mail and a voice mail are three times more effective in getting a response,” Young says.
Sometimes it can be difficult to get people who are set on their approach to try new techniques, so part of the training consisted of Vorsight and Infor people making calls right there in the training to put these techniques in action. Huard says seeing the training team making these calls using these techniques and having success — right there in front of everyone was a huge buy-in booster. That buy-in is critical, so showing people how it can help them will help them personalize what it will mean for their success.
“If you have sales people who are motivated by money, and if they use a successful sales technique, they’re going to get more at-bats and be more successful at bat and hopefully hit more homeruns,” Young says.
As a result of the training and trying new sales techniques, Pace sees a clear difference.
“At a high level, we’re much more efficient in reaching the people that we want to reach,” Pace says. … “We’re more efficient at doing that, we’re more creative, and I think our pipelines are more accurate and cleaner because we are able to deal at the executive levels, at the decision-maker levels because we’re having conversations with the team, and the deals we’re working are more real.”
Infor used Virginia-based Vorsight, a meeting scheduling and sales training company, to help it improve its approach to sales. Steve Richard is the co-founder of Vorsight, and he says one of the biggest tools you can have your sales team use is the switch-board operators at the companies you’re calling on.
“Most people approach the switchboard the wrong way,” he says. “When they call the switchboard, they either identify themselves, or they start trying to get transferred through to the right person instead of getting the information from the switchboard first.”
For example, in some cases, you may be trying to reach the CFO, and you may know who the CFO is, but perhaps you don’t know who the CFO’s assistant is or what his or her e-mail address or direct phone number is.
“Getting that simple information first, and then by calling into that direct dial number, you have a much higher probability of getting that person on the phone,” he says.
He says that clients tend to see better results when taking this approach.
“They were finding that the connection rates were much higher, and they were able to engage these people in discussions that were qualified appointments, and, in turn, qualified opportunities,” Richard says.