It’s funny how coming out of the recession hasn’t got nearly as much media coverage as when we went into it. Right now, savvy salespeople and companies are taking advantage of the upturn. But are you fully prepared?
If you’re a salesperson, you need to have a written sales plan of how you’re going to exceed your sales target. If you’re a sales manager, you need to have a written sales plan. If you’re a sales director, you need to have a written sales plan. If you’re a business owner, you need to have a written sales plan. There is no excuse for not having a written sales plan.
The next step is to make sure you’re focused. Most firms have had to be more focused than ever during the recession as they have faced a drop-off in enquiries and sales leads. This forced their sales team to concentrate harder on new opportunities and focus on how they were going to get it to convert into business.
If the market is starting to pick up, make sure you don’t fall into the trap of taking those enquiries for granted — as some companies had done before the recession really hit them. If you’re starting to get lots more enquiries, your sales plan will help you focus on the best opportunities, and the ones you and your team are most likely to convert.
This is an important point and one that’s often missed. The important thing is to be aware of your energy levels. Back when I was a sales manager, I had one rep that truly was a morning person — jumping around at 8.30 in the morning, yet when 3pm came he was almost asleep!
We decided to play to his strengths and arranged his diary to take advantage of his energy levels. We made his new business activity (cold calls, new business appointments) in the morning, and existing client calls and paperwork in the afternoon. Month on month his sales went up 50%. Amazing.
Are you playing to the strengths of your team? Think about how to best use your resources right now and play to the strengths of your staff.
I’ve lost count of the times people have said to me, “We don’t have time for prospecting/cold calling” or “I know I should have made some calls today, but things just got in the way”.
There is no excuse for not prospecting. Sales managers continually get frustrated with salespeople who “ride the sales rollercoaster” — a good month, followed by a bad month, followed by a good month, followed by a bad month.
This is usually because the salesperson has become so busy dealing with their leads that they haven’t had time for prospecting, which means less leads the following month — and that leads to a lack of sales.
Everyone should make time for prospecting. It should be the most important thing in your day. Too many salespeople don’t prospect because it’s easier to deal with existing customers but then they complain when they miss targets the following month.
Already this year, lots of companies have asked me to come in and help motivate their sales team. Companies that want to steal a march on their competitors are looking to get better results from their teams.
Motivation is vital to your success. Many firms make the mistake of assuming that their salespeople are already motivated. Yet in my experience, most salespeople generally work between 30-50% of their potential.
If you’re a manager or a director, what steps are you taking right now to work on the motivation of your team? If you’re the salesperson, what would it take for you to feel more motivated right now? And don’t say “more money”. That’s known as commission!
You may have a fabulous sales team but if you don’t encourage the rest of your people to sell and support the sales process, you’re missing a golden opportunity. It’s not just your sales people who should be selling!
A good marketing department should directly influence your sales. They should identify new and fruitful markets for you to approach, helping you to find and convert prospective clients. Marketing can also influence product development, helping you to devise pricing strategies and prepare all creative collateral.
By listening to customer feedback, your customer service people are in a prime position to identify customer frustrations and turn negatives into positives. What’s more, they can listen out for suggested improvements to products or services based on customer feedback. In addition to influencing sales, your customer services can encourage clients to return if they’ve had a positive customer experience.
Indirectly, other departments in your company can also influence sales. Your accounts team can free up your salespeople’s time by chasing up invoices and purchase orders for them. They can also provide salespeople with information on customer spending patterns as well as keeping costs under control so that prices can be competitive.
You may initially think that your IT team can’t boost sales, but key tasks in that department can play an important role in influencing them. Your IT people can Identify and invest in software to support your sales team, such as CRM. They’ll also be responsible for providing the hardware to support the sales team and may be involved in providing reliable remote access so sales teams can work whilst on the road.
Any delivery department will be able to ensure the quality of your product as well as its availability. They can provide a positive experience when liaising with customers and, like the customer service department, they can listen out for suggested improvements. What’s more, if your delivery team isn’t delivering on the sales team’s promises, then you won’t be getting any repeat sales.
So, whilst your sales department may do a fabulous job, they shouldn’t work in isolation. Make explicit the contributions made by other departments, so all your people can appreciate their involvement in the selling process. Selling is an activity that almost everyone can be involved in, and should be involved in.
In the words of Mark Cuban, American businessman and investor, “I still work hard to know my business … and I'm always selling. Always.”
Are you confident that your company is able to capture your customer’s needs? And more importantly, are you using them to create a viable sales process?
Far too often the traditional structure of a sales process talks about opportunity rather than customer needs or requirements — the focus is very much from the seller’s point of view.
In order to help your potential customer make a decision you need to approach the process through their eyes. It’s essential to think about their needs, not yours.
So how do you create a successful sales process that is designed around your customer’s needs? Here are some tips that we have used successfully and which are integrated into the processes that we design for our clients’ sales teams.
Recognise the customer as an individual person and create a process that adapts to them — don’t expect them to adapt to it. At the forefront of your mind should be customer satisfaction, not sales.
A salesperson’s ultimate role is to present a solution to a problem, or a perfect fit for a desire. The end result is ultimately the same — the customer chooses you and you make that sale.
People want to be served in a way that fits their situation and their buying habits. Whatever direction the sales process takes, it needs to have listening as the first step.
Customer feedback is a big part of this and can be both the end and the beginning stage of your selling process. Feedback provides you with the knowledge to refine your sales technique and/or product. It’s also a marketing tool to show new customers that you are a) actively engaging with buyers and b) providing the solutions they are looking for.
The responsibility of researching the customer is not restricted to the sales team. As social media and ecommerce increasingly dominate Internet and mobile usage, customers are looking to other channels to get the information and, ultimately, the service that they require.
This is why you need a focus on internal collaboration. Your online marketing, social media and customer service teams need to know where to look and what to look out for in order to ensure you are visible to potential buyers.
Restructuring your sales process to suit customer needs can really improve your business. Not only can you create more harmonious relationships with your customers and your staff, a revamped sales process can produce tangible results.
A sales process designed around you customer really does lead to happier customers, more collaborative teams and a measurable increase in business. What more could you ask for?
Richard Edwards is director at Quatreus.
When I’m in London, I travel between meetings on the back of a motorbike taxi. I use them because the journey times are quicker and more predictable than my other options. I don’t choose them because “it’s a motorbike”.
Also, my company chose our IT service providers because they could free up our time; not because “we do IT”.
And we selected our accountant because he could help us grow our business; not because “he is an accountant”.
You see, when we buy things, we aren’t interested in the things. Instead, we’re interested in what they give us. Or, as I call it, the afters — why we’re better-off after buying.
Weirdly, we often don’t realise we want these afters. For example, I imagine you recently bought a newspaper, thinking you wanted a newspaper. You didn’t. You wanted the news. Glasses? Better sight. Toothpaste? Clean teeth.
Smart companies use afters to persuade us to buy. For instance, Kodak doesn’t sell by discussing their photographs; they talk about preserving our memories. Disney doesn’t sell by focusing on their cartoons. They talk about making our dreams come true.
So when you want people to buy-in to your messages, what do you focus on? Your ideas? Initiatives? Proposals? Research? Yourself?
Or, do you focus on why others will be better off afterwards? The time you save them. Or the costs. Or the hassle. The fact you reduce their stress, grow their business, help them look good to their boss… Now, those are great reasons to buy-in.
So, engage others instantly by beginning with their afters. This can be hard to do — after all, you are passionate about what you do. But I would never have chosen a motorbike taxi if some motorbike enthusiasts had spent ages telling me about their motorbikes.
People will never buy into your content unless their afters are crystal clear. So next time you’re looking for quick buy-in, start by explaining why the other person will be better off afterwards.
Andy Bounds is a communications expert, speaker and the author of The Snowball Effect: Communication Techniques to Make You Unstoppable. You can sign up for his free weekly tips here.
You can read more about Andy’s approach to sales here: No more fears — selling made easy
As an ex-professional buyer, negotiation is always a fascinating topic for me. Whenever I’m working with salespeople or business owners, they often fail to get the price for their products or services that they wanted — and often get even less than they deserve.
And the pressure is even greater in today’s market conditions — where savvy buyers are looking to get the best value when they’re purchasing. Therefore to get good results, the salesperson or business owner has to be able to stand their ground in a negotiation in order to get the price they deserve. Sadly, this often doesn’t happen.
So why is it that the buyer often has the upper hand when it comes to negotiation?
One simple reason is that the buyer is often better prepared to negotiate than the salesperson is. Often a salesperson gets caught up in a negotiation when they aren’t ready for it.
So if you think that a meeting or phone call could result in a negotiation, make sure you prepare for it beforehand. If a negotiation starts before you’re ready, don’t be afraid to postpone it and re-schedule it for another time when you’ve had chance to prepare.
Another typical reason that salespeople struggle to get better results from their negotiation is that on most occasions, they’re so desperate to win the deal that this comes across to clients, and they use that as leverage to swing the negotiation in their favour.
Prospects and clients can smell desperation and it certainly isn’t attractive. Once a client knows the salesperson is more desperate to do the deal than they are, that just gives them the green light to get the best deal they can.
It’s about time that we realised that prospects and clients often want to do the deal as much (or sometimes even more) than we do — but often we don’t know it.
Any buyer or decision maker worth their salt will attempt to play tricks during a negotiation. If you can spot these and deal with them, then you’re usually fine. However, most salespeople aren’t even aware what the other party is doing and end up falling for them.
You need to learn how buyers and decision makers operate so that you can deal with their tricks and handle their objections.
Another reason salespeople often come off worst in a negotiation is that they fail to find out enough about the other party before the negotiation starts. The decision-maker may well have strong reasons to purchase now. Very often there are pressing issues that mean they want a quick deal. But if the salesperson doesn’t know this, then they lose the advantage.
Think for a moment: When was the last time you went (or sent a member of your team) on a professional negotiation skills course, lasting for, say, one to three days? Possibly never.
Think about the other side: If they’re a professional buyer, you can guarantee that they will have been on such a course. If they’re a key decision-maker in a business, they’re also likely to have been on a similar course. At the very least, they’re far more experienced at negotiation than you!
If you listen to the news, or anyone commenting on it, they’ll tell you that we are “officially” out of recession.
However, it might not feel like that at the coalface. Even though we may be officially out of recession, many businesses are still experiencing recessionary conditions and that means they’re selling in a tough market.
A tough market for some companies might mean that they’re selling against a lot of competition, or that potential prospects are beating them down on price — meaning lost margins and lost profit.
Whichever of those situations is affecting you and your business right now, here are some tips on how to sell more in tough market conditions.
My first tip for anyone selling in a tough market is to increase their new business or prospecting efforts. If people are taking longer to decide whether to buy or not, having more prospects is a good exercise in risk mitigation. Secondly, the more prospects you have, the choosier you can be who you work with. What’s more, you can then prioritise your prospects, based on who can make quick buying decisions — which mean quick sales.
For most small businesses I work with, their levels of prospecting just aren’t high enough. In this tough market, they sit there and think, “if only the phone would ring more” or “I wish I got more enquiries over the web”. It’s time to take some action and to get some prospecting done, instead of waiting for it to come to you. Because it probably won’t.
One of easiest things to do to get more sales, more quickly, is to increase the levels of interest in you and your business from your network of existing contacts. The advance of social media has made this very easy.
How are you communicating with your prospects and existing contacts over social media? Now I’m not saying that all social media is useful (there are plenty of so-called social media gurus peddling that kind of rubbish), but I am saying that you need to be where your prospects are and communicate with them.
Are you posting success stories for your business? Your new business wins? Examples of how you’ve helped people? Positive feedback and testimonials from customers? If not, now would be a good time to start.
When you’re selling in a touch market, it is vital that you ring fence your existing customers, in order to stop them going to your competitors.
Think about it, you’ve invested time and money in getting that customer to buy from you in the first place. So why on earth would you let them go without a fight? Surveys have told us for years that the biggest reasons customers leave an existing provider is because of supplier apathy. They just didn’t feel like their business was valued; that we didn’t care. So they took their business elsewhere.
Can we afford for that to happen in a tough market? I don’t think so. So make sure you ring fence your existing customers as a matter of priority.
Sometimes there are additional sales opportunities sitting right under our noses. And often we don’t spot them, or sometimes even think of them in the first place.
One of the most effective sales questions of all was simply, “would you like fries with that?”. So simple but did it work? Of course it did! That question has triggered millions of dollars of additional sales all over the world.
Now, if something that simple can have the impact that it did, what could you introduce in your business to have a similar effect?
It’s simply about spotting the additional sales opportunity at the right moment, or even preparing for it in advance. Think about the process that a customer goes through when they are buying from you. What opportunities are there for additional sales that you’re not taking right now? Or not taking consistently enough? And if you did, what kind of difference would it make to you and your business?