Busy chasing your tail?

My sister has just been awarded a fellowship to spend three years writing a book about “busyness”. Just as well, because otherwise she would probably have been too busy to write it. As with most people in work her day job is just full-on. The same is true for most salespeople. And sales managers. The latter certainly seem to struggle to find time for activities such as coaching and staff development. Because they are always so busy chasing sales.

My Sheffield Hallam colleague Dr Simon Kelly describes salespeople as deal-orientated in his doctoral thesis. Nothing gets in the way of trying to make a sale. That’s because most salespeople get rewards by hitting a sales target. I wonder how busy your average salesperson would be if they were also measured on the cost of sale?

How much are lost causes costing you?

Think about it for a moment. Say you were measured on cost of sale. Would you then willingly give up a day of your time to travel to a meeting at the other end of the country for which you have no clear purpose or agenda set? Possibly not. But a lot of salespeople do. I’ve heard many stories of salespeople filling their diaries with meetings of questionable value. Because if a salesperson is out seeing customers then they must be doing their job.

In one of my research projects I was asking some telecoms salespeople about their conversion rates. One of them said to me; well it depends what you mean by conversion rate. In his competitive market many prospects contacted him for a proposal. They would then use that proposal to beat up their incumbent on price. For him the proposal went nowhere. So he changed the rules of the game. Now, whenever a prospect contacted him for a quote he would ask them to provide him with information first. So the customer had to do some work before he did. He then discovered that customers who were serious about doing business with him would send him the information. He would then do the quote. If the customer only wanted a benchmark proposal they would not send the information. So he wouldn’t follow them up either.

The result? His conversion rate had gone through the roof. He was much happier because he spent less time chasing lost causes and got less rejection. He had discovered the secret to effectively and efficiently managing a sales portfolio. The more skin the customer puts into the game the more likely they are to do business with you.

Get the customer to do the work

At the end of each sales call or meeting agree with the customer what they will do to move it forward. The more work they do, the more committed they are likely to be. Of course if they don’t do the work then you can move them down your priority list. This means they are less likely to buy. And stop buying their excuses.

Getting the customer to do some work may mean changing what you agree at the end of a sales conversation. So instead of just agreeing to send the customer a proposal agree what the customer will do with the proposal. Or what information the customer will provide to go into the proposal. If the customer is setting up an internal meeting are they willing to invite you along to meet other stakeholders? These are examples of the customer doing some work.

Choose your leads

You don’t have to respond to every enquiry or request that comes through your door. Effective salespeople know when to qualify out. Take Requests for Proposals (RfPs) for example. Huthwaite International will tell you that there is little point responding to an RfP where you have had no previous discussions or built relationships. Because the chances of you winning the business are incredibly small.

Manage the process

Salespeople in the software industry thrive on demos. Sometimes that involves a room full of people, most of whom the salesperson does not know or has never met. So the demo becomes a feature-filled presentation that the salesperson cannot tailor to the audience. They probably don’t even know why half of them are there. Some of them probably don’t need to be there.

Having short telephone conversations with key players about their potential needs BEFORE a demo means that the salesperson can then present something that is relevant. It is also likely to be shorter and more engaging. And therefore more persuasive and successful. I have coached software salespeople to use this “pre-demo interview” approach with great success.

Most salespeople I know will tell me their gut instinct is the best prediction of a deal. But getting the customer to do the work and qualifying out when the customer won’t engage with you are two ways of making sure your sales opportunities are not just keeping you busy going nowhere.