One of the best ways to achieve entrepreneurial success is to anticipate and correct problems associated with achieving sales traction by looking at your sales process before starting your business. Regardless of who will be selling your product offering or how it’s going to be sold, be sure to spend time developing a coherent sales strategy before you start selling. One way to do this is to go through the process of being a potential buyer, purchasing the product offering, and experiencing the execution. Remember, the path to a successful business starts with survival and survival depends on how fast revenue can be generated.
When I ask entrepreneurs why they believe they’re not hitting the revenue numbers they need, they’ll point to a lot of different issues like:
- Messaging: This excuse is usually at the top: “We’re just not doing a good enough job explaining our value proposition to the customer.” Marketing will then fall on their sword to fix it, running through a series of expensive and time-consuming A/B tests and focus groups.
- Product: “If it’s not broken, fix it so it sells more.” This backwards logic can easily sneak into the issue list. But the opposite is actually the truth. If you can’t sell the product you have, you’re not going to sell a newer, “better” version of it.
- Pricing: Sales will tell you that the price point is too high. Marketing will tell you that the product isn’t aspirational enough. Or maybe the pricing model is just “wrong” and call for experimenting with subscription or pay-as-you-go or any model that makes one price look like another price.
- Reach: The channels you’ve chosen aren’t reaching the customers you’re targeting. The solution here might include the aforementioned messaging experiments across new channels, thereby making it even harder to tell if marketing is the issue.
- External: Otherwise known as “it’s not our fault.” Anything from COVID to shrinking industry demand to disruptions in supply chains could be dampening sales flow. You can either wait until the problem abates or try a million work-arounds.
The complication here is that all of those issues are valid reasons for why revenue might be stagnant. Yes, you may have problems in any of those areas, but they could be secondary issues. If your sales process is busted before you start your business, no amount of fix in any other area is going to produce results until that sales process is fixed. So always do this first…evaluate your sales process by using a revenue-first focused strategy and the sales funnel.
Look for friction in your sales funnel. Start by assessing your selling needs, and focus on the solid point of reference as if you are the customer. Don’t get entangled with the aspects of your sales process that benefit your business. Instead look at your customer needs required to move to the next buyer’s journey stage. If you business is already started, be the buyer by experiencing the process yourself. What is stopping the buyer from crossing the hurdle to reach that next step?
Look at your the messaging at the top of your funnel. As you view top of the funnel as a potential customer, do you find that messaging compelling you to click or call or whatever the intended action is. When that action is taken, how quickly can the potential customer purchase? Do you measure that in days? Hours? Minutes? Spoiler alert: It should be seconds.
Now, I understand that there are all kinds of sales scenarios requiring salesperson handholding, contracts and pre-qualifications. But the primary sales process should not focus on catering to the on-the-fence customer that needs convincing. It should be directed to the customer that has the credit card out with enough credit to cover the purchase of your offering that they so desperately need.
Look for value in the funnel. Many salespeople look at a potential sale and do everything in their power not to lose it. The customer does not look at your product this way. They want you to prove value, not disprove all the potential problems. It’s a nuanced change in your approach, but it’s critical. Customers buy outcomes and aspirations … not products or services.
One of strategic tenets I hammer home to entrepreneurs about their offering is that it must evolve from something interesting to a got-to-have product/service. Everything about the offering…from what it does to how it’s explained…should reflect a feeling of necessity. Think about the last time you bought something you really needed. What drove you was the expectation you had for the end of the process…the outcome satisfaction you were going to feel when that offering was yours. You were living for the value of it. This is the approach that needs to build along the funnel…the value driving you to the next buyer’s journey stage is the anticipation of the removal of pain, frustration, expense, or any other gating issues that are preventing you from living your best life.
Your sales process needs to reflect that value at every point. There are necessary evils in this life like dental work, auto insurance, tax preparation. If your product offering is one of these, remember that those are sold on bright smiles, smooth claims processes, and quick tax refunds.
As you view buying your own product offering, are you excited at the end of the transaction? If not, document all the reasons why and attack those reasons in your sales process.
Sales transactions are killed by distractions. Remember, transaction and even fulfillment are still critical parts of the sales process. Things like: online ordering requiring too many extra clicks; product offering pickup process not enjoyable because of a 10-minute wait regardless of when the client arrived; getting orders wrong. You can see where this is going, right? Bad customer service can chase a sale to an alternative competitive product.
On the transaction side, decide the bare minimum information you need from the customer and collect only that. Start with one customer and sell the heck out of them. How that first customer gets sold, how they get onboarded, how they adopt the product offering, and when they stop using it will all be lessons to learn. Learn from customer number one, then go to 10 customers. Learn from them, then do 20, and so on until you have definitive, repeatable, scalable revenue streams.
On the fulfillment side, ask how your sales process reinforces a long relationship with each customer? Use a customer success program that white-gloves new customers until they understand the unique value they’re getting from the product they just purchased. Your customer isn’t your repeat customer until this moment happens. This means you need to know each customer’s story going in, so you can determine how they define value, and then show them that value in a quantifiable way. Then they’re a customer for life, as long as you don’t screw it up.
Summary. Once you have a sales process that doesn’t have leaks in the funnel, you really do have an opportunity to go out and land customers. Then, and only then, look at marketing and how to test those items listed previously that you believe are restricting revenue growth. Focus first on a sales process plan for revenue generation.
For more thoughts on sales, read the blog entitled “Effective Sales Process Management”and read a free sample of the new book “Small Business Thoughts Real-Time Strategic Planning“.
Copyright ©John Trenary 2022