Tools of the Trade
Taking a deal from quote to completion often comes with challenges: long courtships, multiple follow-ups and complex arrangements, to name a few. But having a streamlined sales process in place can make arduous tasks easier to perform, thereby maximizing your chances for success and productivity. So ask yourself: Is your current system going to get you where you want to be? If the answer is “no,” it’s time to tweak your approach until you get the desired results. Here are eight tips to put you on the right track.
1. Establish a Game Plan
To develop an efficient sales process, you must first define specific goals. When doing so, certain activity levels and other benchmarks should be considered. Kelly Mallozzi, principal of Success.In.Print, Chicago, offered a few examples, including: the number of new prospects being added to the pipeline, the amount of calls and other engagement touchpoints that will be achieved during a certain time frame, and the quoting and revenue targets that will help you reach your income and sales goals. “If you do not know exactly where you want to end up at the end of the year, there is no way you will get there,” she said. “I encourage people to close their eyes, imagine it is Dec. 31, and answer the question: ‘How was your year?’ If you can answer, ‘Awesome,” you need to look at what you did to get yourself there, and then go make it happen.”
2. Use Time Wisely
Sales is a constantly moving target. For this reason, Mallozzi doesn’t follow a rigid schedule. Others, like T.J. Tedesco, chief client growth officer for TT Consulting, and Synepta Group, both of which are located in Pittsburgh, prefer to start their days by catching up with the latest news headlines. Tedesco also dedicates the early-morning hours to email and reports. “I’ve known many excellent sales types who do this late at night,” he acknowledged. “I’m not a fan of micromanaging people’s work schedules. Heck, sales reps can do paperwork 9 to 5 or go surfing for all I care—as long as they’re cheerfully making quota and are consistently good team members.”
3. Be Available
Are you guilty of using just one engagement tool? It’s a trap that Mallozzi has seen salespeople fall into all too often. Instead, she said, be everywhere and be open. “Every way you are willing to be communicated with should be on your business card, and you should be on all channels,” Mallozzi stressed. “This means LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. You need to be able to adapt your message [so it can] lend itself to email communications, and be ready to have two-way conversations over email as if you were talking to the person. More and more, people are preferring email to the phone, so sharpen your written skills now.”
4. Track Everything
When sales inquiries are flooding your desk from multiple sources—think email, phone, live chat, etc.—it’s hard not to feel overwhelmed. The key is to record everything in a particular format. But is there one right way? “This really depends on the sales management engine of each company,” Mallozzi said. “Do you have a CRM system? Can you benchmark a percentage chance of closing the sale based on the stage? It is a great idea for each company to [have] some kind of system in place to track opportunity, for both forecasting and performance check-ins throughout the year.”
Tedesco admitted that the solution isn’t always clear. And, unless you’re one of the lucky ones, tracking at the company level can be downright “painful,” he said. Again, every situation is unique to each company. “If a company’s culture is warm and supportive, you might have sales reps [who] readily acknowledge the marketing team for leads, but this certainly isn’t a given,” Tedesco warned. “If it’s a dog-eat-dog culture, you can forget it—your marketing-generated leads will be difficult to track. Sure, you can try to retrospectively evaluate the effectiveness of promotional activities captured in a CRM system, but the connections between new business and demand generation activities will often be tenuous.”
However, there is good news ahead. “If your marketing department is transitioning to an inbound marketing system, complete with landing-page best practices and weighted lead scoring, then tracking gets better,” he added.
5. Get Serious
Time is money, so it’s important to separate the bargain hunters from the serious buyers. When the conversation inevitably turns to price, Tedesco recommended offering trial balloon “value-sell” statements, such as:
- “My company made a decision years ago. We can either explain our value one time or poor service many times. We chose value.”
- “If I sell on price, I may get a customer today. If I sell on value, I’ll get a customer for a lot of tomorrows.”
- “Salespeople sell on price when there’s nothing else. Do you agree?”
- “You are right, we are higher than some. But we focus on providing value and, in turn, getting repeat customers, not one-timers.”
- “Warren Buffet is fond of saying, ‘Price is what you pay. Value is what you get.’ Since any buyer can usually find a lower price or two, we focus on delivering value while remaining price-competitive.”
If you detect a price buyer, switch gears and try using what Tedesco called a “walk-away statement.” “[For example,] ‘Sounds like you’re getting a better deal somewhere else. Maybe we shouldn’t waste any more time,’” he suggested. “[If] you’re dealing with a price-only buyer, then he or she will let you walk—and you’ll be better off.”
6. Always Be Closing (at the Right Time)
Experience is the best teacher here. “When I was a newbie sales rep in the early 1990s, it was uncomfortable for me to close a deal too fast,” Tedesco recalled. “What I didn’t understand is that sometimes what was a big order to me just wasn’t a big deal to them. Show them this isn’t your first rodeo by thanking them for the order at the right time and concluding your business.”
As Mallozzi pointed out, every conversation should be leading you closer to the close. “But, the close in our business is a very instinctive thing,” she noted. “I like to use questions like, ‘Is there anything standing in the way of us doing business together right now?’ or ‘What would be the No. 1 reason you would not move forward with me right now?’
It is then your job to listen. “You will learn a lot,” Mallozzi said.
7. Master the Art of Follow Up
Where you are in the sales cycle will determine how often and when to follow up.
If you’re still in the courting stage, be patient. According to Tedesco, the old way of thinking was to make seven contacts before dropping a prospect. About a decade ago, that number got bumped up to 11. “Today’s ubiquity of sales automation tools coupled with gnat-sized attention spans leads me to doubt that there’s an appropriate rule of thumb regarding frequency of contact anymore,” he said. “All I can say is you darn well better protect your most valuable asset: your time. While you may be willing to continue nurturing a dormant qualified prospect via a company newsletter, blog or other auto-contact device, there certainly comes a time when zero-responders should be removed from active prospect lists.”
If you’re at the quoting stage, Tedesco continued, you deserve meaningful feedback. “If your prospect authorized you to work on their behalf, you should feel empowered to contact them until the cows come home,” he said.
8. Keep Calm and Carry On
You must be able to navigate today’s ever-changing business climate. This means having the courage to try everything and make adjustments as needed. “Stick with what’s working right now,” Mallozzi advised. “And what works today might not work tomorrow, so be flexible. If you don’t like what you’re hearing, change what you’re saying.”