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Six Easy Ways to Boost Your Company’s Sales Results

by Michael Webb | * Comments (13)
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Recently, a reader asked: “What is the 20% of sales process improvement that generates 80% of the results?”

It’s a great question, because it is the right way to think about business in general, and the sales process in particular. Here is our list of the six most important components of a healthy functioning sales process.

Get these down, and you’ll get an 80% improvement … or better!

1) Know Your Customer’s Journey

Ever since I read Hugh Macfarlane’s book, “The Leakey Funnel,” I’ve harped on this issue. Every day, companies waste millions of dollars on ads no one reads, cold calls no one wants, and efforts to sell products to people who are not really interested.

The way to start solving that problem is to figure out the stages your customers go through. You can ask them. Their answers could fascinate you.

One medical equipment supplier found their prospects weren’t getting the help they needed to put internal proposals together. A financial services company learned that the people they normally gave demonstrations to could not make decisions unless a senior VP was involved.

What you assume about your prospects might not be true. Ask them!

2) Align Your Sales Process

If prospects don’t realize they need your product, you have to start by helping them see their need. Anything else is waste. If they must be ready to buy before you can help them (e.g., a commodity market), then you have to find only those kinds of prospects. Anything else is waste.

Aligning your selling process to the customer’s problem solving journey is key to getting more traction in the market. It will show you things customers wish someone would do that no one is doing (competitive advantage). The medical equipment manufacturer found that by helping their prospects prepare professional internal proposals, they were included in more sales opportunities.

It will also show you things you’re doing that customer’s doesn’t respond to (i.e., waste). The financial services company found they actually did their constituents a great service when they insisted the senior VPs be involved in their demonstrations. Their sales cycle in these cases went from 24 months to six.

As I’ve said for years: “If you design a sales process that customers will follow, salespeople will follow it too.” Aligning your sales process correctly solves an awful lot of systemic, seemingly intractable problems.

3) Define Observable Qualification Criteria

This is where the hard-edged world of face to face selling meets the hard-edged world of the quality sciences. Salespeople are interested in whether their prospects are really going to buy. They want to know the value proposition to the customer, and to their own company. They want to know if they can win, if they can get access to the decision maker, if coaches and sponsors will help them, or if gatekeepers will block them.

The scientific culture is interested in identifying the presence or absence of observable attributes that can be counted and analyzed. Ask your sales people to define the observable attributes associated with whether they are likely to win or lose their deals, You’ll be in for a productive conversation.

Start measuring and analyzing these and you will be in for some productive surprises. One software company increased its new account close ratio by 25% without any change in the quantity or quality of leads. Forecast accuracy increased to 90% at the same time.

4) Map Customer Value

Once the customers journey is identified, your selling process is aligned to the way customers buy, and concrete observable attributes are identified, you are ready to start improving your value propositions.

The cardinal characteristic of B2B selling is that there are many buying influences. Marketers and salespeople need to understand the perspectives and motivations of those departments if they are going to help them build a consensus on anything valuable.

Customer value mapping is a systematic way of figuring out your value propositions with these various players. It provides questions and interactions that speed things along. It enables marketers and sellers to work from the same base of knowledge about the customer, which improves sales productivity.

A chemical manufacturer thought its salespeople should start calling on senior level managers, something they could see no reason for. Customer value mapping showed them value propositions they had not been aware of for several different departments. It gave them intelligent, value propositions, and the confidence to test these with some senior level people in their accounts. This lead to some major wins that increased their market share.

5) Market Information to Generate Leads

In today’s market, lack of enough qualified opportunities is almost a universal problem. This is not just because of the recession or the financial crisis. It is because all of your prospects and customers would prefer to use search engines like Google to find information they need than to put up with salespeople who might try to twist their arm.

Good lead generation builds on knowledge of the customer’s journey, and on insight to problems they need to solve. It offers information that attracts the right kind of prospects, and interactions that increase the commitment and information the prospect must provide.

In this way, good lead generation can produce qualified sales opportunities that are ready to talk with a sales person. What could be more valuable than that?

6) Implement Nurturing Campaigns

Five percent is a great response to most marketing campaigns. But, no matter what, most of those responses won’t be ready to buy now. Since salespeople are paid to close business now, these future potentials usually fall through the cracks. This reduces the financial return on sales and marketing investments.

Great nurturing programs plug this gap by maintaining a relationship with these prospects. Whether contacting them regularly with simple metaphorical reminders they might enjoy, or hooking them up to an educational series of autoresponders, nurturing programs do valuable sales work, so salespeople don’t have to. They create value for customers, and keep you on the top of their mind. They make deposits in the relationship bank by providing thoughtful, useful information for free.

Six months, or two years from now, when the time is right, these prospects will come back to you. Their perception will be enhanced. They’ll be more qualified than they were at first. And your salespeople will be able to close the business more easily.

Conclusion

Examine your sales process, or your distributor’s sales process. How many of these elements does it contain?

Chances are, by installing one or more of these features, you’ll get a sure fire boost to your sales productivity almost immediately. And, best of all, each of these elements contributes to your ability to measure, and improve the sales process moving forward.

13 Responses to “Six Easy Ways to Boost Your Company’s Sales Results”

  1. Animesh says:

    For a complex industrial sale these look very common sense, yet most of us don't map this accurately. Very succinctly put.

  2. Dave Stein says:

    Michael,

    This is THE list. Bullseye.

    Now the big question: How do you get a majority of sales leaders to even say the word process, not to mention take the time, money, resources, focus and possible short-term revenue hit to actually make process changes?

  3. tony cole says:

    I don't know if its 2,4, 6, or 8 who do we appreciate but I do know that no matter what the number of steps or factors, or criteria selling is not easy. The processes and steps maybe easy but the execution is hard. If it were easy then everyone would be doing it. Systems, processes, mapping all very important ways to improve sales but again if implementation was easy then we would have nothing to write about. Let's address the issues of why companies, sales leaders and sales people fail to implement and execute basic fundamental sales processes or techniques let alone what is being discussed here.

  4. Michael says:

    Animesh, Dave:

    I believe most sales execs are stuck in a broken framework - one they did not create.

    To the extent that many of their problems are caused by factors outside their control, and they resist attempts to hamper and "limit" their actions, as anyone would. Like most people they assume the sales process is "about what salespeople do."

    Some sales managers and execs can make progress improving their process from within, but the big breakthroughs happen when finding, winning, and keeping are treated as an interdependent sales system. This is the sort of thing that cannot be changed from within. Improving it requires an outside force to make it happen.

    In other words, this is NOT a sales problem (or a marketing problem, for that matter).

    It is a management problem.

    You can accomplish an awful lot if you have the support of senior executives who understand what process thinking really means to a business.

    Michael

  5. Michael says:

    Tony,

    This is a GREAT question!

    I've been thinking about it for a couple of days, and there are so many possible answers and complexities it is well worth discussing in detail. It will be the topic of my next blog post. Stay tuned.

    Michael

  6. [...] people didn’t’ like the word “Easy” in last week’s blog post: “Six Easy Ways to Boost Your Company’s Sales Results.” For example, reader Tony Cole said: “If it were easy then everyone would be doing it. [...]

  7. cheryl says:

    What kinds of questions can I ask to figure out the stages my customers go through? Where can I find more info on this?
    Thanks.

  8. Michael says:

    Cheryl,

    The best sources of information on this are, of course, your customers themselves. Salespeople too, can be good sources of information.

    Generally speaking, it is easy to see that people don't just go from having never heard of you to spending their time and money with you in a nanosecond. First they have to realize the problem, prioritize the problem, seek alternative solutions, etc.

    Once you know they go through stages like this, you ask them, "So, when did you start thinking this was a problem that needed to be solved?" ... and, "What other things were you working on/struggling with, and what made this problem more important than that?" And so on.

    A good book on the idea, by the way, is Hugh Macfarlane's "The Leaky Funnel."

    I'll be writing an article about this in the near future, but I hope that helps.

    Michael

  9. [...] I’ve written about that several times before, for example: Six Easy Ways to Boost Your Company’s Sales Results [...]

  10. Here's another tip:

    Research delving into the ways that customers make buying decisions has revealed that buying resistance often is not caused by what you present. It is likely to result from the sequence of your presentation. Your presentation is just part of your sales process and it should be done at the right time.

    Our research shows that 76 percent of sales presentations are out of sync with the way buyers' minds actually work. Every major buying decision—such as a customer agreement to adopt you as a trusted supplier or first resort—is really the sum total of five decisions. Every customer makes all five, and always in the same order.

    Here are the things that customers must decide to "buy" before a major sale can be made.

    1. SALESPERSON. The prospect decides if they like you, trust you, and want to give you their time.
    2. COMPANY. What is your firm's reputation? What type of customer service are you known for? etc.
    3. PRODUCT. Are your products the right solutions for their needs?
    4. PRICE. Are your products competitively priced? Do they represent a good value for them?
    5. TIME TO BUY. Is now a good time to enter into a closer relationship with you? Do they want to invest more time with you?

    Customers will find reasons not to buy when your presentation is out of sync with their natural decision-making process. To increase your chances, you must sequence your presentation to follow that process: First sell yourself, then your company, then your products, etc. When you do, the prospect is more likely to decide "yes" on whether to buy you, and then buy your company, and so on. This is exactly how professional salespeople orchestrate their sales calls.

    To Your Success

  11. Robert says:

    I can't agree more with the importance of lead generation. Specifically, understanding and ethically exploiting the lifetime value of the customer, in relationship to the cost of acquiring a lead is imperative to success. Most businesses have no idea what one lead is worth or how much they are spending to add a lead to their list.

  12. It is sweet that you wrote about this. I found you on yahoo and I had been looking for information about this. Nice blog, thanks for the info. I will return to check for new entries

  13. Lead generation is an important step. You mention: "Good lead generation builds on knowledge of the customer’s journey, and on insight to problems they need to solve. It offers information that attracts the right kind of prospects, and interactions that increase the commitment and information the prospect must provide"

    Investing time and resources in prospect and new customers will regard you in the long time.

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