There were days when companies thought about improving the product alone to enhance sales. In today's hyper-competitive global market, growing sales is typically based on improving the sales process first. Understanding the sales process and how best the sales force is adapting to it will enable companies to focus on the sales resources better.
A commitment to quality in the sales process is central to the growth dynamics of any enterprise.Each step in a sales process should be well defined and the action to be performed clearly set. Beginning from researching leads to closing a sale, everything should move in clockwork precision. Apparently trivial things can make a huge difference to the final outcome. So care must be taken to strengthen every action involved in each step of the sales process. And often it's mistakenly assumed that sales process improvement means sales training. Sales training may be a part of the sales process improvement training, but it is a broader subject.
Following are some examples of how improving the sales process can make a difference.
Fresh and Creative Prospecting- The list of leads should be current and include as many qualified leads as possible. Trying to qualify prospects from a partially redundant list of leads is going to waste your time and prospecting efforts. A firm with a stale source of leads has got it all wrong from the beginning. Working on the leads and checking for their revenue potential will mean that you start your prospecting activities from a position of sales strength. This will require good lead generating and customer relationship management (CRM) practices.
A Chilean company, Andrueza Patrimonios, rode the wave of economic boom and made impressive growth. But soon the sales force found that they were making duplicate calls and that the information gathered during sales calls with clients were lost. This is the example of a terrible loss because of the absence of a good customer relationship management - CRM - program to keep track of all the information.
All possible channels of generating leads should be considered. Have you tried social networking websites apart from trade shows, seminars, and lists of companies as potential customers? Do you know how and when each of your prospects prefers to be contacted? A good sales process makes provisions for all of these sales actions.
Response Time and QualitySales depend on external customers that have identifiable expectations from your company. They wish that their questions and concerns be responded to within a reasonable time limit. They expect a certain level of clarity and objectivity in the answers they receive from salespeople. A simple issue, such as response time to a new client inquiry can make a huge difference to actual sales outcomes. When a customer wants a proposal from a company she/he expects to get an initial response within a few hours and an actual proposal within a reasonable time frame depending the size and nature of the project. If a sales rep fails to send a proposal in a reasonable time-frame he is out of the race even before it has begun.
Technology can play a vital role in responding quickly. An email from the customer can be accessed when out of the office and responded to instantly through a Blackberry, Palm, and Windows Mobile. There are many customer relationship management- CRM- tools out there that are inexpensive and yet very useful. It is a sin not to be using these devices to get back to customers immediately.
A set of winning proposals of past sales can be stored in your company data bank and every salesperson should be allowed free access to them.
The stored proposals should cater to all permutations and combinations of customer requirements within all budget ranges. So the moment there is a proposal request from a customer, a sales rep will just have to search for a few proposals broadly fitting the customer's requirements from the archive. From those the best one suiting the customer and the sales opportunity should be selected. This should only take a few minutes. Changing the content of the proposal to tailor it to the exact need of the customer is what the rep in question has to work on before sending it to the customer. Remember customers appreciate a quick response. A delayed response may reach a customer when the deal is already closed.
Streamlining Product InformationA Fortune 50 telecom company had 300 product descriptions on its web site that were being referred to by its sales force of 5000 people spread all over the world. The product description was done by several authors and lacked coherence as well as uniformity in voice. That caused confusion among the sales reps and they found it difficult to provide consistent information. They couldn't find quick answers and when they found answers those didn't match the sales process. They didn't trust the web site. A consulting firm was roped in to set the problem right. The consulting firm streamlined the product information and created a logical and intuitive navigation framework for the web site to support the sales process.
The consulting firm rewrote the product descriptions in a uniform style. Salespersons could now access information at every step of the sales process and there was consistency in the information they obtained. They could digest the information easily and share it with the clients.
The revamping resulted in the elimination of 66% of unnecessary information and a 70% increase in web site use and traffic. The division manager of product marketing for the telecom company admitted that the bottom line was - a huge boost to sales productivity and revenue.
A good sales process should be revamped to include uniform product information and the best resources available for salespeople. There should also be effective product samples at the disposal of sales force for demonstrations.
Customer Focused not Vendor FocusedSales process guru Michael Bosworth firmly believes that sales processes should be customer focused. They should address the need of the customer. Vendor focused processes cause confusion and delays. The customer is always interested in and tuned into radio station WIIFM, "what's in it for me"? A sales process should be modified to communicate that.
Spending Time with the Prospects- Does a prospect qualify for your time and attention? If yes, how much? Genuine prospects should be paid attention to and it is wise not to waste too much time on prospects that won't buy. Distinguishing between the two categories is a fine balancing act that every salesperson in the organization must know. Research has shown that the best salespersons spend considerably more quality time with their top prospects.
They also spend less time on paper work. A survey conducted by Watson Wyatt of 841 salespeople from 500 companies with large sales forces has established that the best sales professionals from financially high performing companies working for high incentives and stock options invest 40% more time on their best prospects and spend an additional 3-4 hours on high-value sales activities than their counterparts do in financially low performing companies. These achievers also analyze the needs of the prospects in detail and allot more time to prospects that they know.
If a good sales rep is producing satisfying results but taking an inordinately long time to do so he could be the victim of this - getting hypnotized by posh offices of potential customers and spending more time than necessary there. Some of the high-profile potential customers may actually be looking for very competitive prices for low volume of purchase. They may be valuable as customers but are the long hours and special attention lavished on them worth it? An effective sales process should weed out such time consuming practices. It can lay out a broad time range to be allotted to different categories of customers.
Too Close to a Good Closing Yet Missing Out- Do you have sales reps that get very close to a fruitful closing but don't succeed in clinching the deal? They do everything right to get there, but miss the target by a whisker. There are uncountable numbers of sales efforts that have come very close to a successful deal and failed at the last minute. The reason - lack of knowledge of proper closing techniques. A solid sales process lays down the best closing practices to be followed. Be aware if your salespeople are asking the right questions or offering the right incentives to close a deal? Are they practicing active listening techniques and allowing the customer to talk? Are they allowing the customer to say "yes" to a deal? Are they keeping some offers until the end as final incentives to strike a deal?
An effective sales process makes it clear to all sales reps to use the best closing techniques.
Repeat Business - Referrals- Signing a deal is not the end of the sales plan, it's just the beginning. There are more deals in the offing and a good sales process recognizes that. Repeat business is easier and cheaper than prospecting for new business and every sales process should include steps to procure repeat business via a referral process. After a sale has been made the sales rep should follow up with the customer about the performance of the product and the degree of satisfaction of the customer. If the customer is happy with the product than it can lead to repeat sales or sales through his network of contacts. A sales process gives this fact due consideration and mandates that sales reps don't wash their hands of a customer after the sale is made.
Practical Sales Process- Take an honest opinion poll of your sales reps and find out what they feel about the company's sales process. If the majority of them feel that it's - "Too theoretical", "It worked back in 2001", "Management's fantasy", or "Cast in computerized concrete" - it's time for you to consider overhauling or changing the entire sales process.
Sometimes a problem may lie with a single step and may need slight modification. Evaluate periodically how your sales process is performing. Watch out for weak areas and fortify them. A sales audit can help in identifying problem areas that require attention.
It is less of an art and more a scientific formula that the combination of a smart sales process and efficient salespeople almost always produce astounding results. Companies therefore should have a vibrant and workable sales process in place to aid their sales force in achieving their sales targets smoothly.