Sales Effectiveness is better than Sales Productivity

Sales leaders are always trying to balance between sales effectiveness and sales productivity. If a poll was conducted what would a CEO prefer, a productive sales force or an effective sales force? In my experience the most successful sales leaders and people care little about sales productivity. Anyone with even a few years experience in sales management will know that real sales people move to a different beat. They are a different animal, and not just because some of them like fast cars, expensive shirts or the latest Smartphone, no, the reality is real successful sales professionals are more goal focused than the average sales person. In fact the most successful sales people will constantly work more than 40 hours a week to make a sale or win a new customer to beat their target.

The measure of productivity is “the output of a worker divided by the time is required to achieve the output “, while a nice metric in sales it is not that really applicable in most sales organisations. I argue that sales people or a sales force cannot be measured in the same way as a factory worker, software developer or accountant.

Let me explain further, if for example, the IT department bring in a new system that reduces software coding time by 20% it takes a developer to code then it is reasonable to expect that the developer will produce an extra 20% more lines of code and the software teams output might go up proportionately.

When it comes to sales, when a tool is introduced that should save a sales person a few hours a week or measured as % of their working week – then it could be reasonable to think that they should be able to increase their sales by ten or twenty percent. But that is just not the case as has been proven by the mass adoption of CRM systems as real sales productivity has not improved.

Freeing Up Sales Peoples Time Does Not Increase Sales

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You see, unlike the IT and coder example if a company introduces a solution to help sales professionals do the dreaded monthly expense reports faster, what do you reckon the typical sales person will do with the extra time the business has saved him or her?

A poll of ten senior sales leaders I know gave the following quotes in reply to the above scenario – they will takes longer lunches – play more golf – spend more time at home – relax a little more. None mentioned they believed the sales force would improve productivity.

The reality is that the successful goal focused sales person is already working as many hours as it takes to nail or over achieve their targets. Saving them time simply makes them more “productive” as in they achieve the same sales output but in fewer hours. In management speak, the sales professional’s time spent working is flexible, meaning it is adjusted by the very productivity measures or tool companies have introduced to increase productivity. A zero sum result.

Could Phone based or Inside Sales be an Exception?

The above observations are mostly to do with customer facing sales people. But let us discuss the inside sales people especially in light of the growth in SaaS models. The role of a typical phone based agent is to make 60 to 80 calls a day, so you would think that say a dialler that enabled them to increase their dials to 66 or 88 calls a day (10% sales productivity boost) would yield higher results, right?. Not always!

Let me explain why not in more detail. In a typical selling day, in making “the call quota” the inside sales person might have 6 or 7 good decision maker conversations and then generate one or two real opportunities for the sales pipeline from these conversations.

Next increase the above numbers by the 10% productivity boost and you get approx. 0.7 more sales conversations per sales person, and maybe 0.2 more qualified opportunities. Yes, I hear you say because if you spread this out over a large inside sales force, these numbers should average out to more opportunities, but often do not.  Another reality check! Inside sales productivity has not improved in over 20 years despite huge investments in technology and systems.

Why is this so? Much the same reason as for the customer facing roles, sales people are goal focused and as every good sales manager understands that four deals with a 25% probability do not equal one deal with a 100% probability in the eyes of a sale person.

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Sales Effectiveness, Not Sales Productivity Is the Answer

Introducing new systems and time saving technology that reduces non selling work is valuable for any sales force. At a minimum it will increase their job satisfaction and engagement levels plus over time it can impact an additional sale or two per sales person. However, I have firsthand experience of companies who time and time again fail to justify costly sales force automation tools because of the over reliance on increasing sales productivity as a KPI.

Sales people want to be more effective in sales situations. Their focus is not about working less or more, it is on winning more deals.

So to drive sales effectiveness for serious revenue gains, companies and sales leadership should

  1. Enhance Integration of Marketing, Sales and Service –Smarketing
  2. Improve the Customer Experience at All Touch Points
  3. Strengthen the Sales Methodologies and Sales Process
  4. Bring more Science to Hiring and Talent Acquisition
  5. Ensure Better Outcomes from Sales Technology
  6. Sharpen Focus on Goals and Customers through Agile Selling

In the new era of selling, sales leaders and management will be rewarded for taking a more holistic approach to sales effectiveness across the entire sales force including strategy, process, incentives, talent acquisition and growth, roles and sales training. At the crux of this focus to drive more revenue is delivering a consistent and excellent customer experience that blends sales, marketing and service to sell more dynamically while providing the brand promise to meet the customers ever more demanding expectations

Sales Call Structure – Sell Successfully

In the digital sales world, the art of making a sales call has been overlooked, so today lots of sales people do not understand the nuances involved in making successful sales calls. Whether the sales call is cold, as a result of a web lead or inbound enquiry always approach the sales call with the same degree of attention to detail. I have put together a few tips to help remind sales people on how to master a sales conversation and turn those conversations into sales.

“Plan your work and work your plan”

Always Be Prepared to Succeed

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Before ever picking up the phone, go to the various social media sites and Google to get the insight on the company you are going to call, the same applies to the contact with whom you intend to speak with. Think about why are calling them, what is it in for them, what is your unique selling point for this prospect and what you want to achieve out of the conversation. Plan your opening statement and personalise your value proposition into a few sentences (why should they continue to listen to you!). It is also a good idea to craft a few different value propositions to appeal to people in different industries or situations.

Time the Run

The contact has answered the phone (make sure to use their name and your name and company on the intro). Try NOT to ask them whether now is a good time to talk as your sales call might be heading to the exit door marked “call back” and in the process, you may be forced to end the call, missing the opportunity to talk with the contact but most of all missing the chance to get them to listen about a solution that could help them. (If you don’t believe your solution can solve an identified problem then don’t bother calling)

Why not try a simple opening such as “How are you today?” This can provide the type of feedback you might only discover through body language. Now listen to the contact’s tone of voice to determine whether they are in an engaging mood or sound distracted. The key is to quickly determine whether to reschedule the call, adjust the sales pitch (length) or proceed as initially planned.

Master the Delivery

It is what you say and HOW you say it. As the contact cannot see you, your voice and the quality of the information you impart is what is going to keep this call going. Always have a friendly tone, speak clearly and use voice inflection to get attention. Talk at a measured pace, be concise , let your words flow naturally and use some facts with a raised pitch showing confidence so you can move to the next step with the contacts approval (this doesn’t mean asking them, you presume and move seamlessly to next step). Have you brand or company sales pitch down pat, always be ready to answer “What do you offer different from my current supplier?

A training tip if you do not feel comfortable with the delivery is to practice and record some trial calls or ask a buddy or ask a sales trainer to score you. When you listen back to the phone recording, pay attention that your voice sounded confidence and the words flowed like a natural conversation.

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Discover the Opportunity

Now that you have got the attention of the contact with your opening delivery statement, the next step is to start the discovery process to find out if any opportunity exists, and if so, what it is or what does it look like?. All sales opportunities should tick these three boxes. Budget. Need. Authority.

Your friend here is the WWWWWW – who, why, what, where, when, who. These are the classic open-ended questions that encourage open discussion and help you to clarify the competitive landscape. Do not leave these questions to chance, prepare in advance. Some sample questions to use could include:

  • Where are your major challenges (in role or product stack)?
  • What are your responsibilities?
  • When do you conduct reviews (relating to vendors/solutions)?
  • What problems are you facing in (personalise to your product)?
  • Have you tried to solve these issues?  If so, how?
  • What solutions would you consider?
  • How soon do you want to find a solution?
  • What is the decision making process for us to progress?
  • What is the budget to address the situation?

The idea is to have a number of questions from which the answers should give a good indication whether there is a business opportunity or not. The questions should try to get to the prospects pain points; this is the start of an agreement staircase and helps you move on to the next step in the sales process. However don’t move the sales process on just for the sake of a sales pipeline report, if no opportunity exists or can’t be clarified then value your time and move on.

Stir into Action

Less than 2% of sales are made on the first contact, in fact over 80% of sales are concluded between the fifth and twelfth sales contact. So you are probably not going to go right for the sale on the 1st call but still need to advance the opportunity. So, what did you plan to achieve from this sales call? If the door is open to proceed now it is time to get agreement with your prospect on the next action. For example, if you are selling a SaaS solution, you might ask them to sign up for a free trial. Always clarify the action, agree, and repeat the value proposition then set a time to follow up to gain his or her feedback.

In all likelihood there will be several steps in the sales cycle to move from the initial discovery phase through to closing a sale. Therefore, think about your sales training, then map out your sales process and steps from initial awareness to consideration (plot the buyers journey) so you stay in control and on course to closing the deal.

The more you practise your sales calls, the better your results.

Social Selling Tips

The sales and marketing buzzword word at the moment is “Social Selling”; where the sales process is now tapping into social media conversations and the impact of social networks in driving brand awareness or buyer consideration.  Most sales and marketing leaders would concur that the sales process has completely changed. Sales people need to adjust their skill set as tactics like cold calling has a low return for allot of effort so learning how to harnessing the power of selling via social media is important.

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A social selling strategy should be about a genuine effort to share value and content prior to engaging in any sales conversations.  Social selling is not SPAM, too often the simplistic approach is for sales people to spam sales messages on Twitter, Facebook, on LinkedIn groups, or to a new connection  with a vanilla flavoured sales message and a self serving web link.  If you do this stop, as the moment anyone gets these messages, the brand loyalty and any trust gets flushed away. Connecting and building your social network just to SPAM them is NOT social selling.

The biggest social selling tip is to truly build value over time with your social network by sharing content that people find useful and helpful. In time when you personally message to a social tie to engage in a sales discussion your chances of a positive response will be greatly improved.

So a great social selling tip that will benefit all social marketers, sales people and businesses is to take the time every single day to do the following.  Connect to your social network community with news, images, videos, snippets of information. Another tip is to find ways to connect your network together (as this provides value) and offering to help others connect.  Pause a minute and think about this scenario. You see a message posted on LinkedIn that says, “Where could I find some inspiration for a presentation?”  Instead of posting of reply such as, I would be interested in this myself or have you tried PowerPoint? (True reply!).  Why not see if anyone in your network is a presentation expert or does allot of presentations that you could offer to put in touch with your connection that is looking for some presentation inspiration.  Act as a conduit, a connector who brings value by taking the time to listen and connect your social ties

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Social Selling Steps. 

Step 1. Listen to and monitor social media conversations across several social networks to get a comprehensive view of what’s being said about your specific focus

Step 2. Start to identify interests, most liked news, influencers and prospects through the listening process

Step 3. Track your prospects. Review their posts, timelines and understand what they are interested in or saying.

Step 4. Share quality content (not just your own). Seek out some information of mutual interest, and then share. The information must be professional and relevant to them. You can also like or even re-tweet their content.

Step 5. Position yourself as an expert by sharing real insights and proven research you have gained in the industry or with working with customers

Step 6. Gradually become a valuable connection, one worth listening to. Once you have established yourself as a valuable connection, you can nurture and build a buyer/supplier relationship far more quickly.

These steps are the foundations of social selling, and too many marketing and sales  people forget that selling is all about firstly building relationships and secondly providing value.  Start now to implement these social selling steps and you will have set yourself to gradually drive more sales then cold calling can ever do.

Another social selling tip is to remember that selling is inherently social so social selling is nothing new. Rather look at social selling as a sales tool to help you sell more effectively that will evolve over time.

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Next up on the tip list is to break ‘social selling’ into two main areas:

(1) Direct and

(2) Indirect.

In social selling the direct aspect is utilising social media networks like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, and Tumblr to look for conversations where you share content to make connection to people you want to target and nurture relationships with. Take the example, the CIO of a prospect tweeted something about their focus on reducing IT costs in the coming year. (See step 1, 2 and 3 above)

So now share some articles or research on reducing IT, then if your product or service can help with reducing IT costs, at an appropriate time you can tweet them about it, message them or send a personalised e-mail explaining the value you might be able to add to their focus based on what they said (see step 4 above). This is a shortened version of events but the point is to look for information about what people or companies are doing or saying so you can be highly relevant to them when you reach out on social media.

The indirect aspect of social selling has to do with building your own personal brand so over time your social audience (connections and weak ties) eventually value your shares and see you as an industry expert, not just another sales person (see steps 5 and 6 above). However please do realise this does take time and does not provide the instant hit that sales leaders think should happen these days. Social selling is all about adding value to your target market.

I write articles on sales and marketing, I try to add some value by not just talking about the theory of selling or business but actually giving my readers some useful tips on sales, marketing and business. I share suggestions on what to do and how to do it. I also regularly post or re-tweet articles from other sources not just about sales but about business topics that I think are important to my audience.

On a daily basis I review discussions on my groups in LinkedIn and give honest answers to  questions people have without plugging my business or telling them I wonderful I am or how I can help solve their problems if they meet me. So, let me wrap up by saying, really take the time to think through your “Social Selling” goals, expectations and approach. Spend time looking for articles, news and research you can use to connect with people without interrupting them while at the same time position yourself as an industry expert by sharing quality information that is on the money. This will help you throughout your sales career no matter what product or service you are selling.

LinkedIn for Lead Generation

LinkedIn can be a powerful sales tool when used as part of lead generation and networking activities. As social selling and reaching social influencers becomes ever more important in raising awareness of a company, brand, product or service it is important to use LinkedIn effectively.

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However, before any lead generation can happen, it is important to build up your network and influence across the social groups on LinkedIn.  Every business, marketing and sales person should focus on 3 key actions.

  1. Give to receive: Share quality, relevant content and news from multiple sources.
  2. Behaviour: Buyers are well informed and knowledgeable so be genuine and insightful.
  3. Connecting: Invest time connecting to people you know plus customers, influencers etc.

Here is some pointers to maximize LinkedIn for lead generation:

Tip 1. Profile: Yes, it seems obvious that you need a profile but the point is you need a full profile (photo, career, articles, social pitch) that will support the lead generation activities, not just any profile mashed together.

Tip 2. Think of your profile as a commercial that clearly spells out “what you do”. So make sure you complete the entire profile (also state that you are open to connecting with people), you could also import your resume or CV.

Tip 3. Make sure maximize the section below your name by using keywords. Select keywords that promote your products or services. If a potential buyer is searching for someone to do “sales and marketing” they are more likely to find you than if you list your company name.

Tip 4. Spend time completing your work history, summary and employment sections (again using active keywords), highlight any accomplishments or achievements. This builds trust within the LinkedIn community.

Tip 5. On-line users can be very visual, so try to include Slideshare content, presentations or videos on your profile and not forgetting any articles you published on LinkedIn pulse. This builds authority.

Tip 6. Unless you are a major social influencer, it is best to keep your LinkedIn profile pretty open as you are using LinkedIn for lead generation, so the easier it is for “social ties” to connect with you, the better. This builds connections to business people and weaker social ties.

Build Relationships Steadily

The whole premises of using LinkedIn is to build  relationships with business colleagues, potential buyers, existing customers, business people you know and to build connections with weak ties via group participation

LinkedIn suggest this 5 step process for building effective relationships based on social media best practices:

  1. Establish presence (Give to receive)
  2. Attract followers (Give to receive)
  3. Engage followers (Behaviour)
  4. Share your message (content, news, articles) through your network (Connecting)
  5. Analyse results and refine your strategy

As I keep stating, you will attract more followers and connections if you post fresh, valuable content on a regular basis.

Use Content Marketing

I have written elsewhere on The Bitter Business site about the power of content marketing. On LinkedIn stories that have a social twist, that educate, that gives insights or have a human element will attract the highest readership.

Posting articles with a variety of content, on a regular basis on LinkedIn or indeed any social network is best practise. The content should consist of sharing blog (links) updates, as well as unique written content for LinkedIn to share with your connections.

Remember content marketing creates awareness of your company and puts you on the road as an authority within a group or subject. Also, as with all content marketing, make sure your content is SEO optimized. Without being overly promotional try to include a subtle call to action (CTA) in your LinkedIn posts. Including a link back to your company website is a great way to increase your lead generation performance.

Content marketing is not just about self-promotion, it also includes content curation and is a good way to encourage connections by sharing updates from social influencers and industry experts in your own updates. It is all about, giving to receive as you cannot expect sharing of your own content unless you are willing to share quality content written by others.

Try to give LinkedIn updates daily, maybe once or twice a day (with no more than a couple per day). Some social media gurus believe sharing posts in the morning works best, my own view is either late afternoon or just after lunch. Experiment to see what times work best for you.

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Match the Buyers Journey

Content marketing is aimed at matching the needs of potential customers as they travel the buyer’s journey – awareness, consideration and decision. We now know from studies that in today’s on-line world, B2B buyers do most of their information and awareness gathering on-line, not waiting for some salesperson to ring them up. In fact, many B2B customers prefer to purchase on-line — that’s how Dell created a global business selling computers online.

It is critical that you DO NOT view your content shared on LinkedIn as some sort of teaser or preamble in B2B lead generation — it is the main tool in creating buyer awareness!! Always give readers all the information they need to work with you, not just a few selected sound bites or customer success stories. Your tactics is to carry potential customers on the buyer’s journey from awareness to consideration, on to decision and through post-purchase. So the content shared should include information on using the product or service, answers about installation or how to use, any industry recommendations or awards plus encourage feedback on the articles are all important factors in providing for the entire buyers journey.

 Analyse and Tweak

No lead generation or marketing campaign is complete without capturing data to assess performance and provide information to tweak the campaign. LinkedIn provides some good analytic tools to track performance of your LinkedIn company pages including clicks and other interactions. Make the most of these analytic insights by doing conscious testing — article headlines, post types, post times — not just monitoring passively. With patience and work, LinkedIn social selling can not only generate leads but also influence buyers considerations.

Sales Consultant

The bitter business acts as a sales consultant providing sales as a service in the areas of business development, sales strategy; social selling and high level lead generation. Entrepreneurs and early stage companies have no shortage of ideas on products and solutions but may struggle with ramping up sales and customer acquisition. In today’s digital environment — social media, social selling, inbound marketing, lower cost of customer acquisition, driving web traffic —it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly what to do to raise the bar on generating sales revenue.

As a hands on sales consultant with real world experience in growing profitable businesses, The Bitter Business can help you plot and implement the paths that will lead to significant increases in sales revenue.

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1 Goal – Help You Improve Sales Revenue

The first step is to get to know the ins and outs of your market sector, quickly grasping the dynamics in the market. Next step is to work with you to uncover the changes and actions required to see sales revenue improvement. Then working hands on, moving from recommendations to implementing the actions and activities to move the dial on sales and marketing.

While I may call myself a sales consultant, my work goes way beyond just providing analysis and plans to help a business improve its sales, I get actively involved with the sales and marketing strategy using the Smarketing approach but never forgetting that at heart I am a person who sells things to other people.

Sales Consulting Approach from “The Bitter Business”

Learn the Product or Service

Apart from quickly immersing myself in the product to market fit, I take the time to get to know the company, its vision and what it wants to achieve. Then it is about acquiring expertise in the product or service while becoming familiar with competitors, market approach, the buyers journey and industry dynamics.

Generating Leads

The whole sales process starts with generating sales leads but to generate leads we need to build awareness and increase the consideration levels (sales pipeline, inbound marketing, proactive selling and social selling). The role of any good sales consultant is to start generating qualified leads. This means using a wide list of resources and skills to know who to target and then draw up a target selection profile including creating a database of people or companies that could potentially be interested in your offering. This work involves using a variety of prospecting tools ranging social networks, LinkedIn groups, business forums, content marketing, and business directories research to good old fashioned sales prospecting.

Lead Nurturing and Sales Appointments

Part of the work of a sales consultant is to nurture leads and secure sales appointments with prospective customers. Part of the service is developing a strong sales pipeline, provide sales forecasting and organising sales meetings. Also during a sales appointment, as a sales consultant I can demonstrate the product and provide any information that the customer asks for regarding the product to bring about a successful sale.

Sales Process

As a sales consultant who has worked for Dell, Oracle, Apple, J2 and many other companies I am experienced in looking at a business sales structure, processes and sales cycle. Part of my remit is to analyse the sales process to see how well it works and then recommend business advice on how to improve aspects like lead generation, close rates and shorter sales cycles. Also part of the role can be to go through the different aspects of a business (sales activities, marketing spend, customer acquisition strategies, cost per lead, sales productivity) to determine how to grow sales and then help the business owner to understand how the sales efforts needs to be improved. Providing auxiliary services, like SEO, inbound marketing, market research and competitor analysis or helping a client business implement an on-line strategy is all part of the services on offer

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Management Skill Set

Whether the sales efforts needs to be office-based spending time to observe the sales performance, working with the management team on strategy or working remotely to drive sales growth from scratch, The Bitter Business has the management skill set and over 30 years sales experience to deliver results. Like any business leader, I have strong people skills and comfortable working directly with business owners. Being highly analytical and quick to spot patterns and errors in a sales process has helped many clients in the past. As a sales consultant I enjoy being creative as I work with so many different types of sales processes from on-line to telesales to enterprise selling. Regardless of the challenge I have the skills to come up with cost effective solutions that are specific to each individual business.

Feel free to connect with me for a chat over a coffee as I am always happy to invest time listening to a business opportunity or challenge.

Selling Techniques

In sales, for selling techniques to work effectively there needs to be clarity in both the actual sales role and in the process of selling. Successful selling is about always having a clear objective based on where we are in the sales process.

Challenge the buyer’s journey

Sales people can too often view the sales process as a linear process with a WIN/LOSS outcome at the end where the prospect either chooses you or the competition. There is a third option which studies show that effects up to sixty percent of deals getting marked lost, this is the “No Decision” scenario where the prospect parks the deal due to the fear of change or just don’t see the value. One selling technique is to challenge the status quo of the win/loss scenario and focus on getting buyers to see that change (choosing your solution) can make them a hero, will make life easier and has value far beyond the price being paid.

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Find the USP

In the sales process there will always be some overlap between what you provide and what the competition can provide to a prospective customer. Stark reality is that the overlap could be as high as sixty or seventy percent. Do not fall into the sales trap of over focusing on “parity areas” against competitors in the sales process. Rather sales people should focus on what they can do for the customer that is absolutely different from what the competition can do; this is your “Unique Selling Point.” Your USP has to be unique to your solution, identified as being important to the customer, and can be defended when push comes to shove.

Share social stories with real meaning

Sales and marketing messaging is about telling a company’s story in such a way that it attracts prospects to the business and eventually turns them into customers. The challenge for every company and sales person is to share stories (social selling) that differentiate from the competitors. Sharing stories with real meaning can help create a powerful perception of value in a customer’s mind. So we need to tell the “before” story and the “after” story, real verifiable stories, meaningful stories, stories with emotion. Share real stories about the people who were affected by the challenges in the business area they were working in. Then share how their situation became easier, more productive, or less stressful after using your solution to the problem.

The customer is the Hero

Every story has a hero. The hero who got things sorted. In business, the customer is always the hero, the hero who identified the problem, who foreseen change was needed, that there was a better way. Reality check, it is NOT you, your company or your solution. The customer is the one who needs to save the day, not you. Selling has changed, the sales role is to adopt the position of a mentor, listening, helping, guiding and sharing stories to customers so they can see what needs to be changed and how they can thrive into the future.

Focus on the customer

Successful selling starts by really listening to the customer, the challenges they have and what they want to solve, rather than just trying to find a reason to sell them something. No such thing as a standard sales presentation, each one should be tailored so the way you present your product or service will match each and every customer’s requirements. This solution selling technique is a far more powerful than delivering a template driven, general purpose sales pitch. Now your sales message can pinpoint exactly how your product suits the customer, highlighting the points where you have a competitive advantage (USP). While at the same time, the more information you know about a customer’s position and what your product could potentially do for them, the more likely you can prove its value to them, hence reducing the fear to change barrier.

Focus on the right customers

Customer acquisition and lead nurturing is about focusing on the right customers. Ask the question “Who do I sell to?” No point hunting down prospects if the solution you have is not a right fit. While sales training should include sales tips on getting past the gatekeepers such as secretaries and to create interest, they do not tell you which customers to approach. Take the time to understand where your company can beat the competition, then research customer profiles, draw up a list of prospects, engage with social selling to create awareness to put you in a strong position when it comes to considering you or your solution. Also knowing who your ideal customer profile is will help open up a sales story and why it is worth a customers’ time talking to you. Knowing when to sell and knowing when to walk away is a selling technique not being taught enough.

Clarity in the Sales Process

Think of a sales process as a series of steps to get from A to Z. Does the sales process have or include a free trial, an on-site visit, face-to-face meeting, proof of concept or maybe a product demonstration? What processes have proven most successful in the past? On every customer interaction, ask yourself, what do I want to get out of this and where are we in the sales process? Clarity in the sales process gives you a framework and the time to create a buying vision, the reasons and case why the customer will change (challenge the buyers journey) plus the time to share social stories to show how the prospect’s world can change for the better.

Be Systematic

Success is based on hard work and skill not luck. A systematic approach to selling is critical to sales success. Have a daily, weekly and monthly plan for lead generation, sales calls, social selling, pipeline development and deals secured with specific targets in each area. Much of this sales activity is a question of efficient time management so before you start your week, check your sales process and then plan the number of events you want to progress.

In sales, we are today where our selling techniques have brought us. We will be tomorrow where our selling techniques take us.

Sales Strategy

To have an effective sales strategy a business needs to consider its products, its market and how the sales effort will be directed to ensure it captures profitable growth selling to customers. Sales strategy is a business decision on (1) who the sales teams are going to sell to (2) what are they going to sell them  and (3) how are they going to sell to them?

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Sales strategies ensures market and customer coverage with plans that give the best possible opportunity to win business. In more detail, a sales strategy defines  the customer segments it wants to target(verticals, industries, geographical), the business value propositions for each segment (product, pricing, distribution), how the sales force will be structured (inbound, field, deal value) and the selling processes.

Today’s business is more about “Smarketing” than sales and marketing. Effective business strategy brings marketing and sales together to drive traffic, generate leads, build awareness and improve consideration levels so more customers buy. In a nutshell a good sales strategy will help a business identify and take advantage of the best opportunities available.

Sales strategy Tips.

Business planning

The sales strategy must be based on the business and marketing plans. Outline in as much detail as possible – how will the sales team deliver marketing objectives, plan to target market segments and how will they support marketing activities, such as content marketing or promotional events. Next identify the key aims of the strategy – sell more to the same? Is it about market penetration or market development? Also which target markets you are aiming for and the time, money and resources needed.

Understand the market and find out more about your existing customers or target customer profile. What are their needs, what problems need solving, what products they consider and what they expect from a product or supplier?  Research when, where, how and why the existing customer base buys.  In a B2B sales environment identify who Influences buying decisions both inside the company and on social networks or industry forums. Monitor key trends in the market and social media, trends like market changes and the activities of competitors.  Identify what will be the key drivers for the business that the market will buy.

Pay attention to the cost of customer acquisition and selling costs. List existing customers in order of profitability then create a list of existing, potential and major customers. Always include the total cost of selling to each one by sales channel. Identify the metrics or sales KPI’s that will enable the business to understand what a profitable customer looks like. Now use these profiles to target similar companies. So the sales strategy plan should now be in line with the marketing strategy and the planning should have costs associated to the sales efforts.

Target customers

Business growth depends on acquiring new, profitable business with different customers. Plan how you will approach every new customer. Maybe to win the business of a key customer, you may offer acquisition pricing, creating a loss-leader or maybe giving the product on a trial basis. Make sure you have a plan to move prices and margins back up to a profitable level, or else live with reduced margins from these customers.

For existing businesses develop more business with existing customers. Plan out what you will do to get existing customers buy more and buy different products (‘up-’ and ‘cross-selling’). Plan how to keep retain customers and build relationships. A sales strategy should include a mix of customers, to help safeguard sales revenue. Do not rely too much on one customer, and be aware of potential customer finance problems.

Sales plans should include a balance between time spent developing new business and that spent on existing customers. Forecast and manage seasonal sales or sales cycles.

Reaching the customer

Now that customer target selection has been set, you need to decide which sales channels will be most effective in selling to which customers. Do you sell direct or through channels? Map out the costs of each channel against the benefits it would bring.

Most businesses have a direct sales strategy. Direct sales methods include web, e-commerce, selling face-to-face, direct mail, social selling and telesales. Selling face-to-face is the most expensive sales method, and works well for enterprise high-value sales with a longer sales cycle.

Also, never rule out joining forces with other businesses to boost your sales effort.  For example, related, but non-competing, companies might share customer information. In reaching target customers marketing needs to support the sales channels by communicating with the audience to create awareness and build up the consideration level within buyers for your product. Marketing strategy is about influencing how customers would prefer to hear about, and buy, your products or services

Sales plans

Together with your sales managers and team(s), prepare the sales forecast. Sales forecasting is a detailed breakdown of the sales to be achieved each month, by customer and by product .Base forecasts on previous sales levels or if a new business base on the business plan. Take into account information about customers’ buying habits, sales cycle and other factors such as pricing and marketing activities. Plot the likelihood of achieving sales, using a percentage figure, and set out timescales when you expect to close them. Agree how much traffic, enquiries and leads are needed to achieve the forecasted sales growth. Divide out how many leads should come from new and existing customers.

Sales planning should identify customers by name where possible but always the number you expect to sell to. Define the number of sales you expect from sales KPI’s such as meetings, calls or other contacts (your sales ‘conversion’ rate). Determine the frequency and levels of sales activity needed to achieve targets. For example, allocate the amount of time to be spent on each account. Remember to include the whole range of activities needed to complete a sale. Decide how many sales people you need to achieve your sales targets, and allocate territories or accounts. Plan sales costs in proportion to the sales or profits you expect to make.

sales-and-business

Prepare the annual sales budget. This is a summary of the yearly sales forecast and acts as a benchmark to compare updated forecasts during the year. Prepare worst case, likely case and best case versions of the budget, and plan what you will do in each case. Revise your sales forecasts monthly, quarterly or annually, using past performance as the guide. Compare sales closed and the sales pipeline with the sales budget. If there is a significant difference between the two figures, find out why. Sales leadership is about adjusting to new challenges, planning new sales initiatives and knowing when to adjust sales expenditure.

Don’t underestimate the sales cycles. The total amount of time taken to complete a sale or acquire a new customer can have a critical impact on a business’s cash flow. If you have a market development strategy, new product or service, it will take longer to make sales. Work with customers’ decision-making habits. Plan out sales drives and product launches in detail. Align sales to the other business activities. An example is not to forecast sales that the software development team cannot deliver. Plan the sales campaigns and social selling to support the marketing strategy (new product launches or new whitepaper). When the sales strategy has been defined, a business may need to adjust the marketing plan as the sales team could have identified a new customer group to target.

Selling resources

There is now a range of sales tools available to a business of any size that will increase efficiency. A CRM or sales forecasting tool is essential to manage information on customers. Consider what resources could make your sales people more productive (example: premium LinkedIn account, Pipedrive, Trello, Zoho, and Salesforce). Also plan to provide appropriate admin support to allow sales people more time to focus on selling. Ensure sales people have access to documents like content marketing pieces, research papers, white papers, industry stats and market research. Use an on-line sales report tool (like Pipedrive) to record relevant information for each customer contact.

Inform and support the sales team. Have regular sessions to make sure sales people understand the business mission, what sets the product or service apart and train them to communicate this to customers. Understand just what value your product or service will bring to the customer’s business; this is the value proposition. Give sales people key information about pricing, profit margins, negotiable areas and product roadmaps. Demand that sales people record their sales activities and produce weekly reports. The sales pipeline by sales person should be scored for each customer deal, reflecting the potential value of sales and the percentage likelihood of conversion. Train the sales people regularly to improve their product and market knowledge as well as selling skills. Monitor and drive progress in supportive, weekly one-to-one meetings to review progress.

Measuring performance

Cost of sale analysis. Review and quantify the time and money spent on different customers. Focus on profitability, margin or deal size before volume of sales. Dig into the win/loss ratio, cost per lead, lead to conversion and cost per customer sale. Analyse which customer segments, sales people and channels are most productive, and the reason why. Monitor the returns on sales costs. Separate out sales force and sales support costs. Analyse conversion rates monthly, using the sales team’s pipeline, forecast and weekly activity reports. Work out how many sales have been made, the cost of customer acquisition and calculate the average value. Measure the data between leads, visits, proposals and deals closed.  This goes for both new and existing customers. Examine each stage in the selling process to find out where customers are falling out of the sales funnel.

Identify problems in the sales process or funnel and find out what has caused them. Do you have low sales into new accounts because of long lead times or the value proposition needs tuning. Identify dead deals or dormant accounts and follow them up. Always remember that selling to an existing customer is far easier and cheaper than winning new ones.

strategy-plan

At the end of the sales and business strategy planning process, a business will have when combined with deep customer insights and needs plus the buying processes will have identified growth channels. Tailor the sales strategy to the market opportunity will ensure sales leadership make winning decisions about where to allocate sales and marketing resources, how to structure the sales force, and how to choose the best sales process that will drive results on a constant basis for the business.

Sales Techniques

Every sales professional should have a reference library on effective selling techniques. There are lots of sales trainers who dispel “sales wisdom” which in reality does not help the sales person improve their sales close rates. Gathered from sales interviews and insights from sales leaders here are some really effective selling techniques that have been proven to work. Ten sales technique tips that might help improve sales performance.

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  1. Find the real problem or pain point the prospect is communicating. Do not fall into the trap of assuming that the prospect is communicating the true problem that needs solving, the so called “red herring”. It is important to dive deeper into every customer scenario. Like a doctor, a sales professional must ask “is this the prospects real pain point or is it just a niggle?” Then prior to diagnosing and offering a solution on how to address their challenges, more questions needs to be asked in order to get at the root of the customers problem or pain, and then it is the job of the sales person to demonstrate value to the prospect by aligning the product to the customers real goal.
  2. Telling is not Selling. In the agreement staircase a sales professional should always be helping the potential customer discover the best reasons to buy from their company and never ever telling them why they should. The potential customer should have decided they will be buying from you before the final proposal or presentation.
  3. Two ears and one mouth. The gift of the gab does not hold true. Sales people should seek first to understand then be understood. The first priority is about listening and asking questions. In a digital world, if a prospect wants the lowdown on a company’s products or services, all they have to do is visit the website. Selling is a series of conversations, and building trust via honest exchange of information.
  4. Put yourself in your customer’s shoes. Buyers go through a process of self-discovery and education before reaching a decision on which product or service is the right solution. Customers do not like being railroaded and to be told what to buy. To avoid the “selling by telling” scenario, it is critical to ask key questions or relate the “feel, felt, found” third party stories which guides the customer to discover the benefits and advantages of your product or services. When a sales person asks open-ended questions that leads to a discovery, the customer themselves owns the discovery and buyer resistance reduces. Customers do not tend to argue with their own logic.
  5. Ask, Sell, Educate. The first goal in selling is to find prospects and then ask why, and under what circumstances, the prospect will buy from you. Asking questions and listening comes first, the sharing of materials, data and specifics comes next. Ask, Sell, Educate in that order.
  6. A Sales person’s time is valuable too. As the sales conversation progress, a sales person must make the decision whether or not to continue investing time in the relationship building with the prospect. If a sales person is a poor decision maker in order to keep the prospect on their pipeline, the lack of clarity and decisive action will be mirrored in the prospect’s actions. A golden rule of sales is the shorter the selling cycle, the more leads that will close.
  7. Never Assume. A good sales professional always gets the facts from the prospect about what they need and why. When a prospect is vague with detail, ask for clarity. Never fall into the trap of being a mind reader. When sales people jump to conclusions, assumptions are made that lead to a waste of valuable time and opportunities being squandered.  As the saying goes, Assume is to make an ass out of you and me.
  8. Never work for Free. When and if a prospect asks for free work, proof of concept or consultancy before they will make a buying decision, play the “What If” sales game. Paint a what if picture to the prospect where the additional groundwork or consultancy is completed which is then a solution that fits everything the prospect needs, what happens next?, will they give you the purchase order? If the prospect flinches at sealing the deal even after the additional free work is completed, or if they introduce another step in the sales process, it may be time to walk away or focus on the new step in the sales process.  When you want to know where you stand, focus on the present.
  9. Be tough on yourself. It can be too easy to cast blame on the prospect for stalling the process or wasting your time. Instead, look towards yourself. It is the role of every sales person to guide, assure and inform the prospect plus address any detours along the way. The most effective way to improve sales success is to continue to refine your own sales approach and technique while valuing your time.
  10. Never perfume the pig. Never ignore any product limitations or cover over any issues the prospect identifies during the sales process. Always try to be open and transparent on product advantages, parity and disadvantages during the selling cycle. The prospect will respect a sales person that is mature enough to never to try and blanket over anything, instead turn the focus on how together you can problem solve, creating a win/win team approach to the prospects solution.

So there you have the ten sales techniques, it is not an exhaustive list or even suggesting it is all encompassing, but even if you find one suggestion that will work for you in your sales career then maybe the ten minutes spent reading this article was worth it. Happy selling and for more sales tips articles visit the Bitter Business.

Sales Lead Generation

Sales lead generation is the fuel that powers the sales engine; it is the single biggest sales activity to ignite the selling process. Sales lead generation includes three core principles: First is having the correct product to market fit strategy including compelling offers. Second is putting the product and offers in front of the right audience in large enough numbers and third is giving the audience a reason to act or interact with the business now.

If a business can make the above three things happen and then use some of the tips listed below to gain sales momentum, it should put the sales engine on a path for increasing sales while refining a sales strategy that will work in the future.

Every sales manager or sales leaders knows that the sales growth is a given together with other sales goals the business demands. It could be to boost sales by twenty percent or acquire new customers in a new market. Maybe the sales plan includes launching a new product line. To move sales planning and goals into sales success, sales leadership calls for carefully planned out selling tactics; clear eyed understanding on the current state of the business and the maturity to know when and what to change.

To achieve bigger sales and better sales leads generation results; here are some ideas and insights a sales manager may consider:

sales-lead-generation

Step 1.Develop a Sales Lead Generation Portfolio

View all lead generation activities as a financial investors would view an “investment portfolio” of assets — such as shares, bonds, stocks and real-estate investments. Financial investors have a diversified investment portfolio because it reduces the risk and maximizes the chances of success, so if one investment strand is not performing, the other investments will pick up the slack.

Sales and business development operate in much the same way; every business should have a “sales lead generation portfolio” of all the different types of lead generation sources and different activities to gather sales leads. Plan for the future because even if a business is getting sales leads from one source (say, inbound marketing), if the sales leadership within the business implements a diverse portfolio of lead generation sources with targets, the business has multiple opportunities to get new sales leads from other channels (such as content marketing, social selling, networking, cold calling or email marketing).

So cast a fresh eye on the entire lead generation portfolio:

  • Where did the business get most of the new sales leads last year?
  • Where did the business get the biggest or highest close rate leads?
  • Which marketing activities worked well, and which ones did not deliver?
  • What was the cost per sales lead per activity and lead to revenue costs?
  • How can the sales strategy be fine-tuned and how can the sales activates be adjusted to do more of the “effective” lead generation tactics, and less of the activities that did not deliver the results?

Every sales leader must keep evaluating the sales lead generation performance against targets along the way, and take the corrective actions to ensure the sales pipeline keeps flowing.

Step 2.Get in Touch With Old Customers and Prospects

Customer referrals and checking back in with old prospects or dormant customers is often an overlooked sales activity. Get the sales teams to contact old customers, dormant customers, lost business leads, buyers (if they have moved on) and people who have bought before but the business has not interacted with for a while. Things move on, people change roles, business needs are different, business lost to competitors may be in play again, so get the sales team to spend some time on this lead generation activity. Formulate a plan to check in with them and see what’s happening with their businesses. Ask questions, listen to them, and try to kick start the relationship that led them to consider or buy from the company in the first place.

It has been proven that it is easier to generate more revenue and referrals from the existing customer base (or former customers) than it is to find, qualify and convince a new customer to buy from a business for the first time.

Step 3.Have a Process for Handling Incoming Sales Leads

As the sales lead generation portfolio gathers momentum and the business starts getting more inquiries from prospective customers (calls, contact forms, emails, request for information, whitepaper downloads), it is important the sales teams understand the value in a sales lead. The sales leadership must ensure there is a process and system to handle every single sales lead.

Also ensure that weak suspects do not make it on to the sales pipeline, so the business should have a process in place for inbound lead qualification along the following lines:

  • Talk (not email) to al new prospective customers.
  • Listen, profile and ask questions.
  • Identify their needs, budgets, authority.
  • Correctly align to either lead nurturing, sales nurturing or discard.

Best sales management practise suggests that upfront qualification of inbound sales leads saves a lot of time later during the sales process. Ensuring sales leads are identified by the best, most promising, highest priority sales leads and then lead nurturing the ones that are not ready to buy now leads to a clean and transparent sales pipeline.

These three steps to sales lead generation should help a business to focus or redefine the sales lead generation process for improved lead to revenue performance. For more on this subject read related articles below.

Sales Outsourcing

In Ireland, sales outsourcing or Sales-As-A-Service should be considered as it can offer multiple benefits to a start-up or growing business. Companies can boost its sales functions, accelerate sales and build the business faster by contracting in an interim sales manager or director for outsourced selling, business development or lead generation.

sales-outsourcing

Outsourcing is nothing new as many Irish small businesses already outsource their PR, advertising, marketing or finance functions. In fact a number of recent studies have shown that mid-market companies that are using sales outsourcing can have a competitive advantage over companies that have all these sales functions in house. Lean, agile, high growth companies are now taking a different approach; they are finding sales partners with the experience to cost effectively and efficiently drive their sales strategy.

Building a sales team is not easy or cheap

Recruitment costs and time makes building a sales team no easy task. An outsourced sales partner fit in to take the same company approach to selling while also investing time in getting to know the business. An experienced sales outsourcing company can then provide the sales and marketing skills necessary to go out and win customers. The benefits to a business are instant access to an experienced sale professional who will short circuit the time to find the right markets, customers, messages, and media for exposure. An outsourced sales partner hits the ground running faster, cutting down on the ramp up time to target prospects and new customers.

The sales outsource partner should have the ability to refine or quickly implement the company’s sales strategy. When a company needs revenue, to test or define a target marketing, outsourcing some sales functions is a way to get sales resources fast without any long term commitment.

A major benefit to a budget constrained or small business is that sales outsourcing cuts out a lot of the risk. The investment of time and money into hiring a full time sales person can lead to a company holding on to a person even when they are not delivering on the sales, whereas the agreement with an outsourced sales partner can usually be terminated within 30 days’ notice.

The Bitter Business is owned by a seasoned executive who has the proven experience and skills necessary to oversee a company’s sales efforts and help the founders and management to put it on a path to success. The sales and marketing service on a risk-reward model can utilise existing business relationships, contacts and networking which is put at the disposal of the company. Also outsourcing sales is a great way to kick start demand generation for a smaller business and sales outsourcing means the business is free from having to generate leads from customers in order for the sales partner to start working.

Some advantages of sales outsourcing include

  • Implement fast and efficient sales strategy
  • To reduce the cost of sales (no salaries, fixed cost)
  • Grow the sales resources without adding fixed overheads
  • Access to sales experience and contacts
  • Short circuit the sales cycle
  • Test the best sales process to acquire customers
  • Find the right channels, customer sweet spots and market segments
  • Leveraging the skills and knowledge without incurring expense
  • Direct accountability to the business. Full transparency on sales pipeline
  • A faster return on investment in the sales efforts
  • Results driven as both sides are making an investment!

 

Outsourced sales services are focused on sales acceleration to a business (B2B, sales partners, channel or business partners). Areas where a business could deploy an outsource sales partner could be inside sales to generate and close leads, channel development to speed up the sales coverage, lead nurturing to work the sales pipeline or as an experience sales manager to refine and implement the sales strategy.

About The Bitter Business

The Bitter Business is focused as a sales accelerator. Working with a broad range of client companies, (mostly start-ups and smaller growth orientated business owners) to help them achieve sales and growth targets. We are based in Ireland but extensive experience in US, UK and EMEA markets. Using a combination of networking, social selling, prospecting, telemarketing and good old fashioned selling, the sales services are supported by deep insights into marketing and customer acquisition strategies.

Sales Strategy – Inbound Sales – Digital Sales Transformation – Social Selling – Sales Training

Sales training and digital sales transformation including social selling strategy training in Ireland.