Timing is Crucial

Time may be of the essence …

… but timing is crucial when selling!

Other than with the most-simple proposition, selling will involve the sales person in multiple touches or points of contact with a number of different people in the prospect’s organisation. Touches could involve, for example; phone calls, e-mail, texts, social media messaging, meetings, demonstrations or presentations.

Which people you speak to and the sequence and timing of the steps is crucial to achieving a successful outcome within an optimum timescale.

This is partly about increasing your chances of success but also about shortening the elapsed time taken to get to the point of decision. This is somewhat of a virtuous circle as getting to the decision point quickly usually increases your chances of winning as you wrong foot the competition.

Here are a few simple techniques to ensure an engagement cycle with a prospect stands the very best chance of producing a successful outcome; successful both for the prospect and the hopeful supplier.

  • Keep in mind your own ideal engagement process that you have created to give you the best chance of winning deals the; events & actions, steps & milestones, timing for each, and overall elapsed time required to get to the decision point.
    Aenea&Micah on the trapeze

    Customer-Supplier process handshake

    • As soon as you start meetings with the prospect test your engagement process to see if it works for them and if it doesn’t, agree to an amended process and timetable that works for both of you.
    • If the prospect wants to skip steps that are important to you negotiate; seek their agreement to include the events and activities you really need in the process.

Be flexible in your process; one size may not be the appropriate fit in all circumstances. The philosophy revolves around risk management and required outcomes.

  • Continually be mindful of the stage you are at and behave appropriately. A simple example; if you are calling someone to arrange the first meeting, focus purely on that objective; don’t try selling them anything other than the meeting.
  • Allow time for the two separate functions of relationship building and opportunity identification & pursuit.
    • Plan time to nurture each separate contact and don’t assume because you know one person well the good karma will automatically transfer to others; account engagement is actually a series of new business encounters.
    • Be clear in your mind as to what you want to achieve at each touch point and focus on that.
    • Be sincere; don’t pretend you are trying to become best buddies when all parties know your sole objective is to secure a deal for your company. No one minds this but what people don’t like is pretence.
  • Identify or create requirements? If the prospect says “I need/want ….” then of course you respond to that in a positive manner but there could be hidden opportunities that the prospect may not have recognised.
    • When talking about a stated requirement always look for opportunities to upsell or cross sell.
    • Be ready to be pushed back; explore the objection politely and positively and if the prospect is adamant then revert to dealing with the requirement as stated, but don’t forget, the additional opportunity you spotted is something for the future.

If you consider applying just one new technique to your own engagement approach then make it this one.

  • NEVER consider a step in your agreed engagement process to be complete until you have agreed a date and time for the next step; don’t leave a meeting having agreed to produce a proposal without putting a date in the prospect’s diary for the meeting when you present your proposal.

This is all about keeping things simple; I see a lot of situations where the tendency is to over-complicate the processes of customer engagement and opportunity pursuit.  This often leads to protracted timescales and an increased risk that the prospect will do nothing or they will go ahead with a supplier who is willing and able to move quickly.  Make sure it’s you that moves quickly and you will win more business.

First published on  LinkedIn Pulse

mouse in maze hunting cheese

New year, new challenges?

As you start a new year, and reflect on the old; does your business feel the same?

When we last looked at this topic we asked “Did someone move your cheese?

The question was inspired by a book; Who Moved My Cheese, written by Dr. Spencer Johnson first published in 1999.
mouse in maze hunting cheese
In our earlier article we explored two areas where many businesses are suffering imposed change; the way they define and present their propositions and the way they take those propositions to market. While both issues are still very important as they continue to cause problems for many businesses this article explores some additional “cheese moving” forces that are impacting on business performance and productivity.

In the book, the mice handle the unexpected change in different ways and basically two of them stubbornly keep returning to the same place hoping the cheese will be there while the other two, aptly named sniff and scurry, immediately go looking elsewhere.

Problems cannot be solved with the same mind-set that created them

Albert Einsten

The message for any business; you must be in a permanent state of anticipation, ready and willing to adapt and ready to quickly embrace change as soon as the need is foreseen.

Let us assume your proposition and the way you take it market is working well but performance is still below expectations e.g. fewer new customers, less repeat or add-on business, longer sales cycles, or completely stalled decisions. Two key areas that are often found to contribute to these problems are your sales & selling processes and the way the sales pipeline is populated and managed. It can be difficult to spot these issues especially if your processes and pipeline management approach have been in place for a while and they used to serve you well. If change is slow, like the trees in a wood, it can be difficult to spot when you are inside the wood.

It is also the case that the change is often externally driven; someone has moved your customers’ cheese, which again makes it difficult to spot unless you employ a rigorous account management approach which focuses on the relationship as well as the work you are doing for the customer. This is a topic in itself that we will look at in a later newsletter.

Sales & Selling Processes

The question I am usually asked is; what is the difference between sales and selling in this context? Basically, the sales process is used to create and build a relationship with a prospect or customer while the supplier deploys the selling process when pursuing individual deals with a prospect or customer.

Here are a few pointers on what makes for good sales and selling processes.

Selling process:

Many would typically expect this to come after the sales process, but maybe if you first look at how you are going to close deals based on how your customers will buy, might that provide better information for designing your sales process?

“Begin with the end in mind”

Stephen Covey

  • The essence of a successful selling process is that it aligns with or better still mirrors the buying processes used by prospects and customers. There are two aspects to this; the generic buying processes used in your industry and by the sort of companies that become your customers and then the specific buying process used by each individual customer. As an example of generic buying process, consider how an owner managed business with 10 employees might go about it compared to the approach that a multi-million pound turnover global enterprise might approach it.
  • The selling process must be flexible enough to work with the whole gamut of customers and customer types you want to trade with.
  • The selling process is sometimes characterised as being a series of techniques and even tricks. If this is an indication of how sales people behave then it is easy to see why some get such a bad press. Executed properly a selling process is like any other professional discipline being built from a series of connected steps with rules that govern the progress across the steps leading to a predictable outcome.

Sales process:

  • Needs to be completely joined up enabling the evolution of a customer relationship to proceed smoothly. This is especially important where different departments are involved; web design & digital marketing, PR, marcomms, tele-marketing, sales enablement, etc. There was a time when these functions would have been under a single manager but this is often not the case which can lead to a silo mentality when what is required is absolute cooperation. The need for cooperation and joined up thinking becomes even more important when some of the functions are undertaken by external companies or contractors.
  • Needs to be fully integrated with other functions that are not directly associated with the sales process, but do have a contribution to make, such as; finance, logistics or technical support. All elements of the extended sales team need to have the same level of information and understanding of the strategic objectives so they can “sing from the same hymn sheet.”
  • Needs to be fully integrated with the selling process. One of the most common complaints that we hear is “they don’t understand what we need/do” and this is made by marketing people about sales people and also the other way around. If , for example, a decision is made to attend a trade show all too often marketing see this as their project which can mean they do not involve the sales staff until the 11th hour when it is realised they will need to follow up on people who visit the company stand at the show.

All elements of the sales and selling processes should seamlessly mesh into the business, with someone given responsibility for ensuring it all works as a single entity – the trouble spots are often at the interfaces so this would be the starting point for exploring performance weaknesses.

Pipeline – population and management

The sales pipeline should provide a reliable and accurate indicator of two key things; how many suitable prospects and opportunities you have moving through your sales funnel and how many of them you convert in a timely manner into profitable business.

This enables you to fine tune your targeting such that the pipeline can provide the essential source of reliable forecasting information enabling you to predict future revenues. If the prediction shows revenue below target for the next quarter you have time to look for additional business to fill the hole. Knowing with reasonable confidence what revenue will be each week, month and quarter facilitates more cost effective resource planning; cash, people, materials, external partners, etc.

Unreliable pipeline information is the most common complaint we have been hearing from our prospects over recent years and here are a few clues as to the cause of the problem and also a few suggestions to start fixing it:

  • The information in the pipeline should be in a consistent format, based on consistent objective criteria used by all sales people. Sounds simple but few do this well.
  • The information in the pipeline should be supported by; details of the product or service quoted for, the quote calculation, the competitive position, the decision date and criteria, and the win strategy. None of this should be down to gut feel; any assumptions need to be challenged.
  • We suggest a process of quantification is used as the basis of the formula used to calculate probability. What this marks is a move from the qualitative information used when developing a contact relationship to the factual information required to generate a reliable forecast.
  • All items in the pipeline should be the subject of regular scrutiny in a one-to-one review between the sales person and the sales manager. If there are doubts e.g. as to the decision date, the sales person should be tasked to confirm with the prospect; in the knowledge that the sales manager may reserve the right to also contact the prospect to discuss the opportunity. All too often decision dates are put as the last day of the month which typically means the sales person hasn’t done the work to really know. The decision date must be linked to a specific event, such as a board meeting, not to the sales person’s hopes.
  • A useful quick way to test an item in the pipeline is to ask three questions; Why, why now and why you. Good sales people ask these questions of themselves and their prospects but the sales manager should ask them as well.
    • Why; do they have the need or want, what is the problem they are trying to avoid or solve, and what benefits and value do they want to gain from making the purchase?
    • Why now; is there a sufficiently compelling reason for them to definitely make the purchase now? One of the most common reasons for stalled deals in sales pipelines is that the prospect does not have an imperative to make a decision; the pain isn’t bad enough so it feels less risky to do nothing.
    • Why you; can they fix it themselves, is there an incumbent supplier in place, who are your other competitors, and do you have something special or at least different which matters?

Everything in the pipeline should stand up to the rigour of an evaluation against the SMART formula (Specific, Measurable, Agreed, Realistic and Time-based); of these Agreed is the most important.

Summary

To ensure you can recognise when the cheese has been moved (for you or your customers), you need to periodically review the way you are monitoring your business, your market and your customers. You must ensure your sales & selling processes and pipeline management system provide you with pertinent leading indicators; it is much less painful to dodge the pothole than to repair the tyre after you’ve hit it.

The entire sales and selling operation should be systematically focused on business as usual and in particular delivering on the business plan for the current period. This enables identification and assessment of minor and major changes required to deliver on the current and future business plan.

Two final points to take into consideration:

  1. Keep it simple! You will all have seen horror stories of sales people who spend just 20% of their time actually selling and while I think 20% is very much the exception I frequently observe 60% to 70% which means three sales people are as productive as two would be with better designed systems and processes.
  2. I haven’t mentioned; CRM, ERP or any other computer based systems. While such tools can make an invaluable contribution they often exacerbate a bad situation. The introduction of such tools should be applied to existing processes that actually work in order to make them more effective and efficient. But, all too often, the introduction of a CRM does little more than computerise an inadequate set of generic processes.
    Similarly, using the introduction of a CRM as a means to impose sales and selling processes rarely works; shoehorning an artificial view rather than reflecting the way the sales operation actually functions. This leads to the oft observed situation where sales people see the CRM as an unhelpful administration burden on top of a very busy day or week doing the real job.

If you would like a high level view of how your sales and selling operation is performing try our free assessment.

People, Process, Technology; working in harmony

Mike makes the point very well that an effective CRM system is not just about the technology.  It should go without saying that it must also be about the people who will use and benefit from it. What is often missed though is the process.

A CRM system is like any other computer system; you get the business process right first and then you provide a computer system to make those processes easier to use, more efficient and more effective.  But what often happens is that the business processes are archaic, incomplete or full of compromises arising from having been originated from manual systems or systems based on much older technologies.  So, if you then install a CRM to “automate” or “computerise” those incomplete and compromised business processes then you are computerising an imperfect situation and this typically makes the position worse.

Another issue with CRM systems that we see all too often is that they tend to be primarily focused on helping the marketing function but they require input from the sales people to complete the loop.  This often leads to the situation where the sales people see themselves as providing data to the CRM system while getting very little information or knowledge in return.  I have heard it said, paraphrasing; “I have a really hard week then I have to spend my own time on the CRM doing admin!”.  If they at some point fail to enter the data and no-one notices or chases them, this also reinforces their admin/bureaucracy perception.

On the other hand, if the CRM system is in complete harmony with the way the sales people work then they are far less likely to see it as just admin.  If the CRM supports the sales people, provides them with selling aids and provides useful information then they will see it as a valuable tool and they will engage in using it properly.  To ensure this happens the CRM must not only reflect the way the sales people actually work, but picking up on a point made by Mike in his article, the CRM system must also reflect the sales cycle stages.  Only then will you see sales people treating the CRM as a tool to help them rather than as an onerous admin task.

I said above “..the CRM must reflect the way the sales people actually work ..”.  It would be nice if this was always true. It is common that companies do not have in place a complete, end-to-end, sales and selling process and therefore the sales people tend to function as individuals, within the confines of a set of loose rules.  It thus follows that if each sales person interprets their role in their own way then there is no common system and the CRM will not be a perfect fit for the way any of the sales people actually work.

For all these reasons we recommend that a company should define and install complete end-to-end sales and selling processes, then train the whole team in the processes and then launch the CRM system built around and supporting the processes.  The design of the processes should reflect the strategy for the business taking note of the way the business wants to take its proposition to market and eradicating anything that might have become established bad practice.  In this way the people, the processes and the technology will function in complete harmony to the mutual benefit of all concerned.
Businessman
Strictly, we are now talking about Sales Process Automation (SPA) rather than CRM and we will expand on this in a future article.

Arrk

The Outcome:

Transformed sales team structure and composition to reduce reliance on too few customers and on the Managing Director as the focal point for sales, thereby positioning the company better as an acquisition target.

The Challenge

Arrk is a software development company that focuses on helping its customers improve their bottom line through the imaginative use of web and mobile technologies.

Arrk’s challenge was that it had built a strong, but small, customer base and this had become a risk to the business.  The Managing Director (MD) was also heavily involved in the success of these few customers, thereby compounding the over-reliance position.  At the time of Performative’s project, the MD was interested in the possibility of selling Arrk, so needed to ensure a robust selling operation was in place for the benefit of potential buyers.

The Performative Solution

Performative undertook a Sales Performance Transformation exercise in two stages:

  • Performative initially provided an interim Sales Director, who undertook a range of activities to structure and establish a good team.  These included:
    • Evaluating the capabilities and motivations of Arrk’s existing sales and marketing people through one-on-one interviews and psychometric tests
    • Creating a marketing/lead generation capability
    • Designing and delivering a training and development programme for sales, marketing and sales support staff
    • Managing the sales team and undertaking coaching and mentoring as required
  • In parallel to the sales team work, Performative implemented Performative Structured Selling®, which included:
    • Creating an overarching sales and marketing strategy
    • Reviewing Arrk’s current sales and marketing processes including the bidding processes and standard document used for bidding and proposals
    • Amending existing processes as required and blending with Performative Structured Selling ® to produce a complete sales and marketing approach
    • Documenting the complete process as a sales manual.

Wadenhoe House

The Outcome:

This was very successful measured in terms of increased levels of business from existing customers, an increase in the number of new customers and a consistent increase in the overall level of bookings.  In the area of weddings we had a phenomenal success with bookings more than doubling between 2002 and 2003 and as we start a new year, I am confident this trend will continue.”

“I have no hesitation in recommending Performative to any other organisation seeking a solution to business and/or sales performance issues.”    MD, Wadenhoe House

The Challenge

Wadenhoe House is a magnificent Jacobean manor house in the rolling Northamptonshire countryside.  It is recognised as offering the highest levels of residential and non-residential conference, training and special occasion facilities to meet the needs of the most demanding clients.  The Wadenhoe House management team approached Performative to help bring about long-term improvement in the performance of the business.

The Performative Solution

Performative worked with the Wadenhoe House team over a two year period to achieve improvement in a number of areas, the key ones being:

  • Using the Market Focus Review process, implementation of a dramatically reduced prospect database to enable much more focused selling effort to get the best return.
  • Creation of a selling model specifically tailored to the Wadenhoe House business.  This gave the sales team tools and processes to support all aspects of their selling activities.
  • Introduction of tools for the Managing Director to easily manage the process and, in particular, the sales pipeline.
  • Creation of a proper selling team based partly on existing staff and partly on a new recruit.  In particular, Performative helped identify the talent in one existing team member, who then became the team leader.
  • Introduction of the concept of meeting prospects as well as talking to them on the telephone. This was unusual in the venue business and was acknowledged to be one of the reasons behind subsequent improved performance especially in the weddings area of the business.
  • Development of a customised training and development programme covering; general selling principles, use of the telephone, handling objections, negotiating and closing.  This brought all the other work together and contributed to a significant improvement in confidence and morale across the whole team.
  • Provision of a telephone support service to coach through individual sales negotiations and any general sales or business issues.