Your sales department has just gone through a rigorous and expensive training designed to improve their closing ratio. They have been very diligent in using their new skills when reaching out to potential new clients. However, even though their leads and activity are up you are not seeing an increase in sales. What’s wrong?
Have you considered it is not necessarily your sales people who are the problem (even though they are usually the first to be blamed) that instead it could be a systemic problem? I just read a story from Michael J Webb who wrote a book called Sales and Marketing the Six Sigma Way (more on this later) that is a prime example of what I am talking about. He discussed a telesales department that was given very expensive training. They went to work using their new skills and did quite well. However, this meant they were spending longer time on the phone. Management did not like this and complained forcing the sales people to change their primary measurable back to “number of calls” which hurt their sales again. 1 What a shame. That action hurt everybody involved. It undermined the Sales Manager. Demoralized the sales people. And made the C-staff look like a dictatorship.
What happened here? The sales department had goals that did not align with the executive staffs’ goals. I lecture on this often! It is critical that everybody on the team-from the landscaper to the CEO-all have the same end goal in mind and that each individual understands the role she plays in getting to those objectives. Same goes with the department. How can Accounting support Sales to make their monthly quota? What can IT do to help Sales and still make Accounting happy? Does all of this align with the organizational goal of reducing expenses by 7%? AND is all of this communicated regularly?
Back to the book. Mr. Webb recommends that the organization carefully examine the entire sales process and look for specific points within that process where your business loses its prospects/customers. For example, he gives an example of a bank that was getting people in the door but was losing them at the “opening accounts” process. It was too difficult. Changing that procedure resulted in an 18% increase in revenue. 2
What consists of the entire sales process? From lead generation tasks all the way until the sale has been completed and you have payment. Write it all out and figure out where you are losing them. For a hotel, are you losing the corporate account because choosing food for the event is too cumbersome? For senior housing, is a concrete follow-up process in place that is actually utilized?
The book was reviewed by the Swami of Process Improvement Paul Harmon. Mr. Webb made a recommendation that Paul felt was critically important.
One of his innovations is to track the number of prospects through the entire process. Thus, for each activity in the overall Sales and Marketing Process, he lists the average number of prospects being addressed. This is a variation of the idea of sales as a sieve or funnel, but it’s much more powerful since it not only shows how each step reduces the numbers, but suggests which activities you would need to explore to determine how to increase the numbers being passed from one activity to the next. (emphasis mine) (I’ll never do diagrams of sales processes in the future without using this simple technique.) 2
Another tidbit of advice Mr. Webb gives is to stop holding the sales people responsible for every task within the sales process. He recommends “separating lead generation and nurturing” from the actual event of selling. 3
6 ways to improve the sales process 4
1- Ask your customers what stages they go through before arriving at a decision to buy your product or service. For example, 25% of your marketing budget is on TV commercials but 80% of your customers find you by searching the Internet. Wasted dollars.
2- Align your “selling process to the customer’s problem solving” needs. A “medical equipment manufacturer found that by helping their prospects prepare professional internal proposals, they were included in more sales opportunities.”
3- Define the specific criteria needed in order to make a sale. Ask your sales people. They’ll tell you.
4- Map the customer’s motivations and values. “Customer value mapping is a systematic way of figuring out your value propositions with these various players.”
5- Improve your lead generation by examining and recording. “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.”
6- Create a campaign that looks at the long-term. Most potential clients are not ready to buy today. Do not give up on them though. Continue to show the love and with time and patience you will eventually win them over.