Imagine if you took every aspect of your sales process, from how that process is aligned with your customers’ buying preferences, to how you generate sales from leads. Then you examine how your sales process is being managed and finally how motivated and professional your salespeople are.
What if you had a plan to apply a 1% improvement to every single aspect of your sales process – by how much would you blow your sales forecast out of the water!
In the world of professional cycling, this 1% marginal gains principle has seen a Briton win the World’s biggest cycle race, the Tour de France, no less than six times in the past seven years.
Welcome to the world of marginal gains to improve sales!
These are the four key areas you need to ensure are aligned if you genuinely want to exceed your sales forecast.
Too often, poor sales performance is attributed to just one of the four areas shown above – usually the salesperson’s performance. For years, managers have sent their salespeople on training courses, hoping that when they return, they will implement what they’ve learned, and sales will dramatically improve – rarely is this the case.
A study by Prof Robert Brinkerhoff from the Brinkerhoff Evaluation Institute found that 15% of those who attend training workshops never apply the skills taught. The study further indicates that while 70% do make some effort, they will often return to old habits within a matter of a few weeks. Only 15% will go on to apply what they learned over time.
Is it any wonder that L&D Managers hold their heads in their hands in frustration. At the same time, the Board questions the validity of training and yet continues to throw money away by sending salespeople on training courses, with no plan to support the transfer of learning once they return to the business.
Marginal Gains Principle #1 – Stop measuring training courses and measure how management supports implementing skills provided during training.
Cultural and Customer Alignment
How aligned is your sales process with your customers’ buying behaviors? Suppose your company has a rigid sales process and assumes that every one of your customers will or should follow this process. In that case, your business will never achieve its sales potential and maybe not even attain its sales forecast.
The culture of any sales organization must be reflected across the whole organization. For this culture to appear genuine to customers, investors and employees, it must be lived and breathed from the top down.
For example, if the sales organization’s culture is geared towards excellent customer relations and service, it would make sense to organize the customer’s sales and service structure and processes. All too often, this does not happen. Instead, the customer is forced to fit within the constraints of the seller’s design and sales process – consider how true this has been of the retail car sales industry, particularly in years gone by, with sales training processes, such as Pendle.
Consider how differently salespeople would approach their role if instead of rewarding them purely on new business KPI’s, they achieved recognition for customer success outputs.
Customer alignment (you align with them)
Win:Win is a phrase often used in successful businesses. So how does this relate to selling to customers? A simple explanation is to ensure that the customer achieves a win (perhaps increased revenues) from the service you provide at a price/contract acceptable to you. But is it as simple as that? And how do you ensure a Win:Win?
Part of the answer is to ensure that your organization is aligned with the customer’s project. Ensuring that each step of the sales process is matched to the buying process. Demonstrate that your success (during that period of time) is totally reliant on the client’s successful project.
In his book ‘7 Habits of Highly Effective People’, Stephen P Covey encourages us to “begin with the end in mind.” In sales, this means a total focus on the client project, its timelines, its intended outcome, and its procurement process – rather than your own process.
You must be constantly on the lookout for the client’s actions, which confirm that you are aligned. Do you understand the procurement process? Have you met all the key influencers, be they economic, technical, or user buyers?
Outcome-Focused Lead Generation
Lead generation requires two things; an apparent reason (goal) for implementing the lead generation approach and the approach itself.
If your approach is cold calling, then what is the objective of your call? Arguably, it’s likely that the goal is to identify the customer’s need or book an appointment rather than expecting to make a sale.
Suppose LinkedIn or other social media is your lead generation process. In that case, your initial goal will be to position yourself as a connection of value and to begin the process of building a relationship, which engages your prospect, so they want to learn more about you and your services.
Perhaps Google Adwords is one of your lead generation tools. If that’s the case, you target potential customers searching for the type of product or service you’re advertising. In this circumstance, your goal is going to be the conversion of that Ad response.
The critical point is for salespeople and those managing them to be absolutely clear about the expected outcome. Too often, we hear from managers that “we haven’t made any sales from social media,” when this may not be the outcome to focus on.
You Must Use the Right Sales Tools
Consider the role these approaches play in an outcome-focused, business-to-business lead generation process:
LinkedIn – the outcome is to build relevant professional networks, position expertise, build warmer relationships, and keep top-of-mind.
Email marketing – the outcome is to share value-driven information to maintain a top-of-mind presence with those who opt-in to your database via other digital platforms.
Telephone – the outcome could be to directly communicate with those previously engaged online, identify needs, and suggest a meeting.
Meeting – the outcome is to qualify the prospect’s needs, present a solution, and agree on how that solution will be delivered.
Proposal – the outcome is to confirm the agreed solution, as discussed at the meeting and explain the next step(s).
Proposal follow-up – the outcome is to plan the implementation of the solution.
CRM – outcome is to generate accurate customer data to support the sales forecast. The CRM is probably your most important sales forecasting tool, but it relies on salespeople providing accurate information in the first place (the rubbish in, rubbish out principle). Too often, sales forecasts are calculated based on a lack of or inaccurate prospect/customer information.
Operational Sales Excellence
So, you have a sales process, and you have aligned this process with your customer’s buying process. What’s next?
The most crucial step in the sales process is to ensure that opportunities are qualified correctly with the prospect. Correct and regular review of the qualification during a sales process will mean that there are no surprises and that, when the time comes to close the deal, both parties move forward effortlessly.
Key questions to include in qualification are: access to funds and a compelling event/reason to buy.
Access to Funds (or Budget)
How are they going to pay for the service? Do they need to raise capital, and if so, how? How does this investment compare and indeed compete with other investments being made by the company? What hurdles does the client have to meet before funds can be allocated? Where does your deal/their investment sit in the priority order for the company? When is the funding released? Do they need to finance it in any way (and can you help?)?
Asking these questions (and they will vary depending on the complexity/size of opportunity will indicate to the prospect that you are thinking about them and their project rather than just you and your deal.
Compelling Event/Reason to Buy
Why is the prospect making this investment? What’s the impact of them doing this? What happens if they don’t do it? Is there a deadline (reasonable) for the solution to be in place? What return/result are they looking to achieve as a result of the investment?
If you have a solid answer to this part of the qualification process, you probably have an opportunity and one that you can forecast accurately (all other things being equal). Without it, we would suggest that you don’t have a chance and should qualify out.
Existing Customers – Qualification
It is equally important to qualify opportunities from existing customers – it’s too easy to fall into the trap of believing they will buy from you because they have already bought from you. Remember that competitors will constantly be circling!
Professional & Motivated Salespeople
By their very nature, most salespeople are highly motivated one minute and the next they’re in the doldrums. Less than 1% can maintain a high level of motivation constantly. Then there is the issue of professionalism.
In sales, professional levels can vary enormously, from dress code, meeting preparation, applying a consultative selling approach, versus product pitching, a lack of constructive follow up after the sales meeting has happened…. we could go on.
Ask any member of your sales team why they have chosen sales as a career and if you’re a salesperson, ask yourself the same question. Is the answer to that question: money, success, sense of achievement, making a difference?
What motivates a salesperson is likely to be different for each one you speak to. However, the answers can be quite telling. A salesperson who is not making enough money, defined by her reason for becoming a salesperson, is failing and is likely to become demotivated. This leads to her becoming less professional in her approach, as she begins to respond to sales inquiries reactively, possibly cutting corners to land that critical sale for this month.
On the other hand, the salesperson who is primarily motivated to make a positive difference in their clients’ businesses, if he fails to achieve this aim, is likely to respond by working harder to ensure that difference is achieved.
How does a highly motivated and professional salesperson differ from one who is less so? Below, are some suggestions to answer this question.
A highly motivated and professional salesperson will display the following ten traits:
- Have a clear sense of purpose (her WHY), both generally and when approaching a sales situation. She is clear about the outcome she wants to achieve…for her client.
- Will have a clear sense of self-worth and will understand the value he brings to the table, compared with other salespeople.
- Will have absolute belief in the company’s products and services and where this is brought into question, she will question and seek reassurance from management. He will not sell a product he doesn’t believe in.
- Will have a clear, personal brand identify, from the way he dresses, the cleanliness of his company car, his consistency of approach, his (outwardly) positive attitude, through to his time keeping.
- Will be consistent, clients will know what to expect but every so often, she will deliver beyond the client’s expectations. Her employer will rely on her to consistently adhere to the sales processes and use the system provided i.e. CRM input etc.
- Will understand resilience and will have tried and tested strategies available to help him cope with those moments when success does not appear, sometimes for days or weeks at a time.
- Will plan the sales month ahead of time – her plan will not simply be to sell more but to sell more profitably and efficiently. Her sales appointments will not simply be scheduled based on an account management (due to be seen) approach but highly geared toward those that present the best opportunities to grow the business (her employer’s and the clients).
- Will apply a consultative sales approach by taking time to understand the buyer’s higher needs and what solutions will best solve the client’s main pain points.
- Will be highly skilled at pitching and presenting and understand the importance of presenting product and service outputs rather than demonstrating features only.
- Will be a proficient networker and will consistently be building new and relevant professional connections who will become future clients or who will open doors to future clients.
Sales do not happen by accident. They are achieved by having a solid sales process and foundation in place, aligned with a set of skills and traits, which are rehearsed and practiced time and time again.
In summary, if you are not achieving your sales forecasts, sending your salespeople on a course, or investing in a new shiny CRM will not, in isolation, change anything, you are still likely to fall short of your sales goals.
True success will come by applying action to the four key areas covered in this article and then implementing a long-term plan to improve each activity that supports each of these areas, 1% at a time.
This article has been reprinted with permission from Steve Phillip’s Linkedin page.