I have been asked, “Why do I need a defined sales process?” My answer is you don’t…unless, of course, you:
- Want to identify spots where prospects get “stuck” in the sales funnel or
- Want to help those reps who are not doing well converting prospects into customers or
- Want to see how leads from different marketing campaigns convert or
- Want to create campaigns to “recycle” leads that fall out of the funnel at various spots.
A defined process makes it easier to test ideas for improving sales results. A defined sales process with conversion rates can allow you to quickly generate, pipeline and revenue reports. For example, if you have 50 prospects at the presentation stage, your process may show that 20% will become customers. That means those 50 prospects should deliver 10 new customers. The process will also tell when that should happen and how much revenue those prospects represent. You can use a similar calculation to project results from new marketing campaigns…if a campaign should produce 100 qualified leads, you can estimate the number of meetings, presentations, and new customers the campaign will generate.
Define and analyze your sales process by critically thinking about the following areas:
When a salesperson is extremely well versed in a particular product especially a technical one, it is easy to get caught up in a monologue of all the great features it provides. The technical expert-turned-salesperson might be eager to explain how the product works that the benefits to the prospect customer are left out of the discussion.
Never assume that a prospect will easily link a feature to a benefit. That relationship must be stated clearly. The acquiring of product knowledge for a salesperson is less about the features of the product itself, and more about how the customer will benefit from those features. When discussing a product, consider what the prospect thinks every time a feature is mentioned, and re-learn your product from the “so what” perspective.
The key to searching for new customers effectively is knowing where to dig and what to look for while distinguishing between a lead, a prospect, and a qualified prospect. The most important element is to create a profile of existing customers. Then tailor the approach tactics to match each profile.
For instance, you may have identified the following major market segments: State Governments, County Governments, Consulting Firms, Federal Agencies, Utilities, Universities, but have you fully profiled each of these in order to adjust marketing tactics appropriately? A direct mail, seminar invitation might work well to generate State Government leads, but will it be effective in developing Consulting Firm leads? For each market segment do you really know what the ideal customer looks like? These questions should be answered fully in the “Tactics” portion of a marketing plan.
In the broadest sense, prospecting is an ongoing process in which everyone in the company should be involved. All employees should be “prospecting” when they are out and about in the world. Very often, a great lead turned customer was first discovered after being heard or seen in the news at a party, or event, etc.
As an example, let’s consider the approach in the context of a sales call rather than lead generation (i.e. the difference between a mass mailing and a telephone call). This is where you begin to build a relationship and continue to gather information (it started with prospecting). “Problem-solving” is the top trait that buyers value in salespeople, with nearly half (47%) deeming it a desirable characteristic.
Critical strategic thinking and planning should be prioritized over manual tasks like updating or validating contacts in a CRM or continually replicating search criteria to identify the right buyers to target.
Today, buyers are distracted balancing the pressures of work with the unexpected day-to-day that they face in their personal lives. Considering only one-third (32%) of sales managers look for reps with strong problem-solving skills, it’s more important than ever for leaders to consider how to train their organizations to understand the power and value in solving before selling.
Consider the example of tele-marketers selling a seminar: A good approach is crucial to sales success because it will either identify you as a bothersome salesperson and cause a prospect’s guard to go up, or it will identify you as an obliging salesperson with something of value to offer. There is probably a middle road too, but you get the idea.
Their product is a seminar, about which they presumably have sufficient knowledge. They prospect by scanning the house lists for appropriately titled leads, (generated by earlier prospecting efforts). They approach by saying “I’m John from The Company and I’m calling to follow up on an invitation to a seminar that we mailed to you last week. Do you recall receiving it?” Then the dialog begins, often it’s perfunctory, other times however it can be extremely informative. The difference more often than not depends on how astute and articulate the caller is. Think about what is good about this approach and what is bad?
Quite often the type of call one makes is a follow up to some action i.e. seminar attendance, brochure mailed, etc. These calls are part of “Follow-up” below, but let’s address them in the context of a sales approach. What would be a good approach for each of the above follow-up actions? Think about eliciting information and advancing the sale. What would be a good approach for a cold call?
Regardless of the type of call or the results, it is important to take detailed call notes and schedule a subsequent action item, no matter when it is be it a week, a month, or a year down the road. History notes are important for a variety of reasons: tracking where a prospect is in the sales process; what follow-up is necessary and when; noting that “packet was mailed” or “attended seminar” or “inquired about model”; etc.
The Needs Assessment.
This is the most important step of the sales process because it allows you to determine how you can truly be of service. A highly effective salesperson sells to the prospect’s needs but in order to do that you must first understand what those needs are. This means you must think in terms of solving a prospects problem. The only way to do that is by asking lots of questions. Does a health practitioner prescribe remedies before a thorough exam?
Asking good questions will not only help you determine what will best suit the prospects needs, but it builds confidence, trust, and will very often help the prospect consider issues they may never have thought of before. This last point is powerful because it provides an opportunity to showcase features, which the prospects answers led you toward. What questions would you ask to illustrate how your product is different/better than a competitor’s. Although intelligence gathering occurs throughout the sales process, it is at the needs assessment where it happens in earnest. What other information would be important to gather at this stage? (hint: who’s who, referrals).
If you consider your product/service in terms of how it benefits the customer, your presentation will be a focused and relevant dialogue rather than a self aggrandizing monologue. Nothing is worse than a sales presentation which proceeds from the sellers perspective. This is why the needs assessment is so important and why it will ideally flow in and out of this step. A good needs assessment allows you to tailor your presentation to your audience, and keep it interactive.
Eighty percent of sales are lost because a salesperson fails to close. Closing is about advancing the sales process to ultimately get an order. What you are trying to sell at each stage may be different.
For example, a close early in the sales process may be to get an appointment to discuss the product/service…in that case you are selling an appointment not a product. In a later stage you might need to meet with a committee…in that case what you are selling is a meeting. Seeing the sale process in this light takes a little pressure off of each encounter and makes things a bit more manageable. However, you must ultimately ask for the order and no sales conversation should ever end without an agreement to some next step. Critically think about what you should say in response to such a remarks like “we’ll get back to you” (no agreement in that response) in order to advance the sale?
Closing is about discovering obstacles. What could you say to overcome these well know objections:
- “I’ll need to think about it.”
- “It’s too expensive.”
- “Let me run it by some other people.”
- “Sounds good but I’ve already got one.”
Closing a sale has almost become a science but there is one elemental truth…if you don’t ask you don’t get. Here are a few closing techniques from among the many I have heard:
- The Ask For It Close: “What do we need to do to get this model into your organization?”
- The If-Then Close: “If I could demonstrate how an XYZ model provides you with, (things based on the prospect needs assessment) then would you be willing to…demo, rent, buy, switch, etc.”
- The Process Of Elimination Close: “So you like the model, you have use for it, it’s not too expensive!”
- The Either Or Close: “Will that be cash or charge?”
- The Lost Puppy Close: “I guess I didn’t do my job very well.”
Additional note: The question “How much does it cost?” is a great buying signal yet it is a question you want to avoid early in the sales process. What could you say to defer that question politely? When you do mention price, don’t be afraid that they are too high, say it with pride. Don’t forget to ask for the referral.
Good follow-up will double your closing ratio. When a salesperson makes contact with a prospect a relationship has been built, and follow-up is how it is nurtured. Staying at the forefront of a prospect’s mind requires persistence and should not be confused with being bothersome. This is why it’s important to get agreement on some next step each time there is contact. Follow-up therefore should never end. The pace may slow but it will never end. When a sale is made, then a new type of follow-up begins.
Follow-up conversations are best handled by the salesperson who started the relationship. Who else can better gauge a prospect’s “willingness to buy”, or pick up where “we last left off”. This means that detailed notes must be kept on each prospect with particular emphasis on their “state of mind”. It is unwise and ineffective to keep track of this information anywhere other than a centralized database. It’s important to hold some follow-up ammunition in reserve. Overwhelming prospects with every piece of information you possess on their first request hampers your ability to stay in touch. Having a stable of collateral materials gives you reason to follow-up.
After documenting the process, develop the sales tools and literature needed to guide prospects through each sales process step. Add the process to any customer relationship management (CRM) software so that each account is assigned to a stage at all times. Then run reports and measure progress and improve your sales management.
For more thoughts on sales, view the short micro-thought free video “How To Focus Sales & Marketing“.
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