Working towards a sales-led business
Some basic principles or methods any business must follow to consistently improve sales performance.
Included here are some measurable criteria which, rightly understood, should serve as the cornerstone of any sales strategy or sales management process worthy of the name.
Some of these things might seem trivial compared to the rational business justification.
They are from a purely rational standpoint.
But that doesn't mean deals don't very often hinge on what might seem trifles judged from a neutral or third person perspective.
The value proposition is the reasons people buy from you.
Clearly one is bound to have some form of 'generic' value proposition in virtue of being in business at all.
But people buy for their reasons not ours.
Which means the value proposition is not a static principle but always to be calibrated according to the client.
A value proposition already assumes a target market.
Having identified our market how can we best direct our activity to convert that data into meaningful business opportunities?
And if people aren’t approaching us, we have to approach them.
But even if we are able to generate inbound enquiries, they still have to be properly qualified.
Otherwise we can end up chasing lost causes and/or losing control of the sales process, putting ourselves on the backfoot from the outset.
There’s a definite structure to how people arrive at buying decisions. Structured selling means being aligned with that process so as to direct it towards our desired outcome.
Which involves drilling down on these basic elements:
Introduction. Opening. Statement of Value. Qualification. Eliciting Needs. Gaining Commitment. Demonstrating Value/Buying Interest. Closing.
Of course one can still make a sale without a structured sales approach.
After all many if not most sales happen irrespective of the salesperson, because in some business scenarios people will 'open' and 'close' themselves.
But we can't be sure of knowing which people in advance of the event, even during it sometimes.
What we can and do know is that in sales-led markets a small proportion of sales people account for a disproportionate amount of revenue.
And that’s because they are opening and closing in every situation.
Most businesses can demonstrate value.
Otherwise they wouldn’t be in business.
However, this can often be at the expense of gaining commitment from buyers in the moment, i.e. advancing the sales process.
If you’re engaging with people in terms of the factors that will determine their buying decision, closing should be a logical development of the dialogue.
People shrink from closing questions because they entail the possibility of losing the sale.
But you can’t advance the sale if you’re not ready to entertain the possibility of losing it.
This entails unlearning or divesting oneself of ingrained habits such as sharing masses of information without further qualification: telling not selling.
Contact and Pipeline Management
Effective pipeline management means identifying specific criteria for measuring sales performance.
This goes hand in hand with contact management, i.e. when, how, and why we should contact someone.
Many businesses answer this through adopting a CRM system.
But that’s back to front if its function and value have not first been defined and understood independently.
Pipeline Management: Measurable criteria
New business sales are the lifeblood of any sales-led business. Therefore the sales pipeline must be at the core of any sales management system.
The following are generic criteria some, possibly all of which will apply to a greater or lesser degree to any sales-led business.
When is the next action and what is its significance in terms of advancing the sales process: we might have a call or meeting scheduled but are we clear about its purpose?
Decision making process:
Who we’re speaking to and their place in the decision making process/power structure etc.
This is about understanding the buying process and those involved, right up to the generation of the purchase order, and not taking anything for granted.
Related to decision making process but with emphasis on the person we’re actually speaking to.
If we’re not in direct contact with the ultimate decision maker that needs to be understood and accounted for.
This relates to the nature of the requirement/project.
How critical is it to their business? What’s riding on it? Or is it more speculative in nature?
This relates to timescale. Is there a deadline by which the project must be delivered and how significant is that date?
In the absence of a compelling event, a definitive deadline, what is the urgency?
What do we have to offer that distinguishes us from the competition?
The point here is not what we think about the merit of our offering, but that the client explicitly recognises it.
Of course there often won’t be anything that we’re offering that our competitors can’t. In which case we can’t tick this box.
But we need to know one way or the other in order to arrive at an objective assessment of our chances of winning the business
Who are we competing with and what are our strengths and weaknesses in relation to them? Again it’s not what we imagine our strengths or weaknesses to be.
What we think is irrelevant. It’s about what the prospect thinks, because we’re trying to assess the
likelihood of winning his business.
And ultimately only the prospect himself can determine that.
Are there any budget constraints that we’re aware of? Any issues at all relating to cost?
Again, we need to be aware of what we know and don’t know in order to make an objective evaluation.