Five Powerful Sales and Marketing Productivity Tips (That are Also Free)

There are tons of ways to improve productivity in sales and marketing. Here are five improvements that will make a big difference and yet don’t cost a thing.

1) Use What Your People Already Know instead of Market Research

Several years ago, my company launched a new product and paid big bucks for market research telling our salespeople specifically which companies in their territories could use it (based on other equipment already installed in their facilities). Our jaws dropped when we realized that 50% to 60% of that so-called data on companies in their territories was wrong. I’ve since learned that this is not atypical. Clients have confided that hundreds of thousands of dollars they have spent on market research – even when sponsored by government agencies – has turned out to be wasted.

How much cheaper and more accurate would it be to document what distributors and salespeople already know about their customer’s businesses instead?

2) Gather Observable Data to Statistically Analyze Deal Quality

When salespeople won’t follow up on leads provided to them; it is a telltale sign that your marketing and selling are wasteful. This happens because they:

   A) don’t believe any of the leads are worth their time (they may have evidence for this)

   B) can’t easily sort the good leads from the poor ones (don’t have time)

   C) have too many high-quality leads, and some are falling through the cracks

Any of these situations is wasteful.  Unfortunately, most marketers are rewarded for the quantity of leads produced, not the quality. This drives some executives (who should know better) to mistake high activity for the likelihood of results. Nothing could be further from the truth!

Only high quality implies likelihood of results. If your marketers don’t know how to generate qualified leads, don’t be embarrassed: this is incredibly common. Admitting the problem is the first step to solving the problem. Start by getting salespeople and marketers together to develop a universal definition of qualified leads. Let marketers travel with salespeople for a while to get first –hand experience with qualified and unqualified prospects. Remember: the characteristics that make your prospects more or less likely to buy should be defined in terms of observable characteristics. (Follow the same rules as for any operating definition.) In this way, you can begin gathering data for statistical analysis. This technique is free, and very powerful.

3) Help Prospects to Do What They Are Ready to Do, and Avoid What They Are NOT Ready to Do

Once salespeople think a prospect might be ready to buy, their human nature can cause them to make big mistakes.

  A) Talk about their product or service before prospects want to know (boring!)

  B) Assume their product is best without proper evidence (arrogant!)

 C) Waste time and money on demonstrations, samples, and proposals the prospect really didn’t ask for (wishful thinking)

  D) Make offers and deals on the assumption that price is the reason prospects don’t buy (it often it isn’t the issue, unless you make it one)

  E) Fool themselves into thinking the customers will buy if they are polite and “do the right thing” (head in the sand)

Companies need to ensure salespeople avoid these mistakes by designing interactions enabling them to test what the customer might be ready to do next, and then make it easy for them to do so. It is much easier to encourage the customer do take the next baby step toward what they were already thinking of anyway, than it is to get them to do something they are not ready to do.

4) It’s the Relationship, Stupid! Devise Ways to Help Customers Get Their Money’s Worth

The cost of keeping a loyal customer is much cheaper than finding a new one. However, you would not know that when dealing with companies who act like they never have to sell anything. Consider these examples of companies that don’t so much “manage” their relationships with customers, they “take advantage” instead. They deserve the publicity:

The Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company happily took my premiums for 21 years, during which time I had only one claim, and that was for much less than the amount of the annual premium. In year 22 of my “relationship” with them, winter ice dams tore down my gutters, and my garage and cars were vandalized. Two separate incidents within a few months, for a total of about $5k in damage (annual premiums were about $1200). So, Fireman’s Fund decided to classify me as high risk and cancelled my policy.  (No lie.) Needless to say, once an insurance company has “black-balled” you it is difficult to get coverage for reasonable prices any longer. Now, this was their prerogative. And, owing to my prerogative (and the “relationship” I had them) I’m not loyal to them anymore.

We’ve all had longstanding relationships with the telephone companies, the cable TV companies, and credit card companies. Yet when we call them, they still don’t recognize our phone number, they still wonder if we speak Spanish, they require us to enter long account numbers on the phone, and then can’t manage to remember them during the long hold times they make us endure. Then, of course, there is the fact that the person you end up talking to is often an entry level person who can’t fix anything themselves anyway.

A friend of mine had his 4-year-old Maytag dishwasher go down. Since it was right before the Christmas holiday, Sears repair service would not answer his call. Facing a gaggle of relatives and a holiday party, he took the machine apart himself and found that a circuit board had burned through. He was able to replace the $100 part the next day through an Internet parts store. Then he called Maytag to return the defective part and to recover at least some of his money. Their response? A cheerful, empathetic e-mail pointing out he had made an “unauthorized repair” and they would therefore pay zero.

When the service department ‘s priority is to hold operating costs to a minimum rather than ensure the customer gets their money’s worth, these kinds of things happen. The executives in these companies typically don’t measure customer satisfaction, perhaps on the assumption that “no news is good news.”  When they do attempt to measure customer satisfaction, they ask if you are happy with the agent’s performance, which is the wrong question.  I bet you too have found yourself thinking “Hey, the agent did fine, however your company is really messed up.”

Instead, companies that can devise positive interactions with customers throughout their life cycle have a tremendous advantage. For Example:

One client I worked with discovered that their prospects needed a template for proposing and cost justifying their systems to management, a process which took place when budgets were set … at least a year before any transaction  was even possible, long before they usually began talking with salespeople.

Another client realized they could profitably sell training on the advanced modes of their product, typically about 18 months after its initial installation. What’s more, learning advanced modes made customers less comfortable with competitive products down the road. These discoveries created great ways for these companies to interact with customers–and make more money from them–at times when the customer was not ready to buy their main product offer.

5) Make it Easier for Customers to Get What They Want by Observing Them Use Your Product

Most companies still produce too much of what customers don’t really want and not enough of what they do want. Avoid this by basing your product development, your marketing, and your sales process on solid Voice of Customer evidence. Salespeople should be incorporated into this effort.

For example, on a trip to Japan, one executive I know observed a sales report open on a worktable in a robotics manufacturing plant. Rather than having words and numbers, it contained sketches of the product in use by a customer. The sketch illustrated how the customer had modified the grippers for their application. The robotics company used the information to begin offering new types of grippers, and the salesperson had something new to talk to his customers about.

Michael Webb

Michael Webb founded Sales Performance Consultants to create a data-driven alternative to the slogans and shallow impact offered by typical sales training, sales consulting, and CRM companies. Michael helped organize and delivered the keynote speeches for the first conferences ever held on applying Six Sigma to marketing and sales. Connect with me on LinkedIn.

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