Wednesday, July 31, 2013

How to Ensure No Sales Leads are Left Behind


I propose that every company needs to adopt a "No Lead Left Behind" policy for sales leads. 
Studies have found that among companies of all sizes and industries approximately 40-50% of sales leads are not followed up. Consider for a moment that nearly $250 billion (yes, that is billion with a B) are spent each year on traditional measured media and new media to create buyer interest in products and services. If 40% of the sales leads generated by those dollars are deemed unworthy of follow-up by sales teams then that means $100 billion are essentially flushed down the tubes each year due to sales indifference.
So, what’s new about that? Haven't sales always possessed an inherent skepticism about the value of marketing-generated leads? Yes. And, there may have been a valid reason for this behavior in the past. But an inbound lead today is a very different creature than those of the past and demands a different proactive response.
No Lead Left Behind.*

These Aren't Your Father's Sales Leads

A 2010 study showed that more than 90% of B2B customers conduct some form of online research on a product or service before they engage with a sales person. This means that most potential customers have initiated their buying process prior to ever talking to you.
Before the widespread adoption of the Internet as a means to promote and research a company's products, potential buyers had few sources of information about a company or its products. Many "sales leads" were generated by "bingo cards." Bingo cards were postcards stapled into the seam of a magazine that listed the names of the companies that were mentioned in the editorial or advertising in that issue. The reader circled the name of the companies whose products they were interested in learning more about (remember, you couldn't go online because, well, online didn't exist...), tore the postage paid postcard out of the magazine and dropped it in a mailbox. A fulfillment house processed the cards and passed the reader’s name on to the relevant company.
The value of bingo card leads was pretty low. Most of them were from people who were merely curious about a product and service and, without the Internet to easily supply this information, reached out to the company to learn more. In this environment it was rarely worth the sales effort to sort through the 99% of the “leads” that were just tire kickers in an effort to find that 1% that might be qualified as a prospect. (A study of the effectiveness of reader inquiry cards, otherwise known as bingo cards, found that “Advertisers' response to requests for information via bingo cards tends to be very slow, if they respond at all.”)

Sell to Me. Please!

Now, the situation has evolved for the better for both buyers and sellers but salespeople continue to act as if all inbound sales leads were coming from bingo cards. The Internet provides a low-cost, low-touch means for companies to deliver detailed information about their products and services to any interested party. As a result, the merely curious information seeker no longer has to reach out to a company, and consume its sales time, to satisfy their basic curiosity about a product or service.
In fact, the Internet, and the widespread acceptance of the basic compact of permission-based marketing between buyer and seller, means information seekers that reach out to companies today are much more likely to be valid sales leads. (Please note that I am saying, "lead," not "prospect.") People who fill out a form on a website know that they are giving that company permission to fill their inbox with a carefully calibrated sequence of automatically generated emails that are designed to engage and sufficiently qualify their interest to the point where an alert is triggered to have a salesperson call them. Knowing what is in store for them, most people don't casually fill out web forms unless they are prepared to engage a seller.
As a result, the inbound leads that a company receives are from a different audience than even 10, 15 and 20 years ago. These are valid leads from people who have done their homework and are deserving of a response by sales.

The Modern Sales Lead

I was talking to a VP (Jon) at a fast growing startup that was inundated by a flood of unsolicited resumes from job seekers. He said that his team had decided they needed a system to organize and track these resumes so he came into the office on a Saturday and spent four hours researching various cloud-based apps to handle their requirements. He identified three companies whose products appeared able to handle his needs. He went to each of the company's websites and filled in and submitted a sales lead via a form.
Jon typifies a modern sales lead. He conducted his initial product research online, did an initial qualification of the sellers, and then reached out a to a select group of vendors he thought could meet his requirements.
Unfortunately, the sellers treated Jon like his lead arrived by bingo card (or the Mayflower.) By the following Friday, he had not heard from any of the three companies. After two weeks he received a call from only one of the companies he had invited to sell to him. (By then he had decided that he didn't want to do business with any of these companies that couldn't be bothered to respond to his inquiry.)
Effective sales lead follow-up is a core sales process that every company needs to master. It is the easiest and fastest path to find new sources of revenue in nearly every company. But before you can define and implement this process you have to make the fundamental commitment as a company, and a sales team, to leaving no lead behind.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Dogfooding: is it part of your CRM selection process?

 Wikipedia--Dogfooding can be a way for a company to demonstrate confidence in its own products. The idea is that if the company expects customers to buy its products, it should also be willing to use those products. Hence dogfooding can act as a kind of testimonial advertising.[2][3][dead link]

I recently had the opportunity to present my product to the VP of Sales Support at a major insurance company.  They had a legacy CRM system that had been deemed ineffective mostly because of sales agent compliance and were looking for something new. The VP had done his research: internally to the key stake holders, the sales agents, managers, IT department, marketing and HR; and externally to the insurance industry and even outside his industry.

His challenges were significant. The sales force in consideration was one that considered themselves to be independent contractors and treated sales reporting as a necessary evil at best and a waste of time at worst. The management team had lost contact with their customers, products and direction.
Based on his research, the VP came up with 4 key features that he believed were critical for the successful implementation of a new CRM system:

1. Primarily mobile based and preferably a 100% mobile platform.
2. Fast and easy for the sales agents to learn and use.
3. Helps the sales agents make more money.
4. Gives impactful and insightful information about the customers and the sales agents.

With these features in hand he did his research and short listed 7 companies who were then asked to present their products. They were the usual companies that we all know about.

At the end of my presentation he asked me two very interesting questions and the reason for this blog. His first was “Ok, so you just had a sales meeting with me. I want to watch you submit your sales report from your mobile device into your CRM system.” The second was, “I have had 4 interactions with you up until now and I would like to see the records of those sales reports in your CRM data system.”

The VP confided in me that 5 of the 7 companies could do neither of his requests; one could not submit his report but did have a record in his data base of the previous contacts. He eliminated those 5 companies immediately. His reasoning was that he could not purchase a product as critical as this without the company being able to demonstrate their own commitment and belief in it.

Weeks later I had the opportunity to attend a Sales Productivity conference and product exhibit hall.  I visited 9 different CRM companies exhibiting their products all extolling the virtues of their software. I went to all 9 companies handed them my business card and asked if I could watch them create me as a prospect and submit a sales report against my contact. Not one could do it using their mobile device and several kept pulling me to their computers or asked me to come back later and meet with their product manager or IT specialist. As a side note not one of these companies contacted me later to follow up.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Why Discounting Your Price is the Wrong Strategy

One of the common responses to a tough selling environment is to let anyone on the sales force can offer a discount.

When you discount your price it's usually because  you are either under time pressure or you have not done a good enough job laying out the price/value relationship.  

Let’s look at both of these issues.

Discounting Price Because of Time Pressure

First there is the issue of discounting due to the time pressure of such circumstances as needing to make a quarterly number or liquidate inventory.  In these and similar situations, you’re not only signaling your methods to immediate customers, but you’re also signaling future customers.
Look at the automotive industry and how people buy cars.  The auto industry has conditioned the marketplace to buy a new vehicle at the end of the month when they’re all chasing their monthly numbers.
Does this result in more cars being sold? No. The only thing it does is accelerate a purchase, but it does so at a discount.  Ouch!  Lost profit.   If you add up the total sum of month-end discounts being given, there is no way it equals the extra mythical profit of a few accelerated sales.  Keep in mind too that those sales likely would have come in the following month or two anyway.
The example I use is autos, but look at your own industry. What signals are you and other salespeople sending?  What games are being played?  And for what reason do you believe incremental profit is being generated?  If you run the numbers, I think you would discover you are not gaining anything by consistently discounting to close sales.

Offer Value, Not Discounts

The bigger argument about price discounting is also the most simple.  Discounts are given because the selling process lacks the focus it needs to create real value for the customer.   Salespeople are the first to yell how they are losing sales because the price is too high.  This argument is so lame that it borders on ridiculous.
Salespeople are yelling this because they don’t want to admit their own selling process is ineffective.  Rather than saying it’s their fault, it’s easier for them to blame something else. The scapegoat is usually the price.
Yes, setting the right price point is a delicate process, but all this work gets wiped out by a panic attack of trying to close a sale.
A salesperson should not attempt to close a sale until understanding at least three of the customer’s needs or desired benefits. Remember, a customer will pay an amount equal to the level of need they have.   Put another way, consider this: If there is no need, then why should they even buy, let alone at full-price?
Many salespeople are diligent in making sure they are selling to someone empowered to actually buy.  Identifying a decision maker, though, is only one aspect of the selling process. The salesperson must be confident in establishing a relationship between the price and the value of the product or service being sold.
When I say “value,” I’m talking about the value as determined by the customer, not the salesperson.   The problem is many times the customer doesn’t understand or know how to grasp the full magnitude of their situation. Salespeople need to uncover those needs and sell to the outcome, not to the feature.
An example I like to use is a company looking to buy tablets for some of their employees.  One company might be buying the tablets to provide people who occasionally travel with a more portable way to work away from the office.   Another company might be looking to buy tablets for salespeople to use in multi-million dollar presentations to senior level executives.
Both companies have needs, but most likely the second company is looking at a larger outcome.  If you the salesperson only knew the customer was looking to buy tablets for some employees, you might view the price as “x.”  On the other hand, if you knew the impact the use of tablets could have on the customer’s business, then you would immediately realize the value to them is much greater.

What About Price Integrity?

There are some of you reading this right now and wondering, “What about price integrity and the need to treat all customers equitably?”  Yes, that’s correct and I do believe in pricing integrity, but let’s not forget the customer in the equation.
In the end, it’s the customer’s level of confidence that is going to determine pricing integrity.  If you price at different levels by customer group, but can back it up with valid reasons and a sound selling proposition that allows the customer to achieve their desired outcome, then you have pricing integrity at whatever price being paid.
Just remember that discounting is not a strategy that is effective in the short or long term. Focus on your selling proposition and uncovering at least three needs or desired outcomes of the customer.
When you do this, you will be able to present a full-value offer and protect the profit that otherwise would be lost to discounting.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

5 Warning Signs of CRM Readiness Syndrome


Today, many small business owners are suffering from a syndrome that, while treatable, can hamper the future growth of their business. Common symptoms include unexplained lost deals, a vague feeling that leads are falling through the cracks, and a frustrating inability to get a view into their sales pipeline.
While most shrug these symptoms off as just the way life as a growing business, others look for relief in the wrong ways…working longer hours, creating yet another spreadsheet to track data, drinking more coffee. Few people talk about it openly.

Fortunately, there is relief. It is called CRM Customer Relationship Management. A CRM system can alleviate many of the headaches that come with managing a small business that is poised for fast growth.
Don’t wait until it’s too late and your pain spreads to the rest of your team — or worse yet — to your customers.

Take our 5-point diagnostic check-up to see if you suffer from CRM Readiness Syndrome.

Do you…

1. Struggle with time?

The first sign of CRM Readiness Syndrome is finding yourself wishing you had more time to focus on what you do best – selling your product or service to prospective new customers -- and less time spent on administrative tasks such as managing your sales team's progress or looking for customer information in multiple locations.
Remedy: A CRM system can give you one source of truth for all you customer data, in real-time, to help your teams stay connected.

2. Struggle with revenue?

As symptoms develop, you may start to have increasing concerns about how to grow your revenue without growing your sales team and expenses.
Remedy: A CRM system can give you insights to find new customers like your best current ones, and mine archived opportunities. 

3. Struggle to grow your customer base?

As your readiness for CRM develops, you may notice that you are wasting precious time on your most vocal or familiar customers, and ignoring potentially high value customers who need attention.
Remedy: CRM can help you focus on data-driven insights to help close more profitable deals.

4. Worry about retaining your current customers?

Anxiety about keeping your current customers happy is common in today’s competitive economy. Customers have endless choices today, so creating loyalty with your highest value customers is crucial.
Remedy: A CRM system can help you communicate with existing customers at the right time in the right channel with the right message to keep them coming back and, better yet, become an advocate of your business.

5. Need more visibility into your business?

Nothing causes stress like not being able to predict where your business will be at the close of the quarter Do you know which sales team members are closing the biggest deals? The status of opportunities in the pipeline? When you experience this most painful of symptoms, you'll know its time to act.
Remedy: A CRM helps you keep track of data to make actionable decisions and course-correct when needed.

If you've experienced one or more of the symptoms listed above, you may suffer from CRM Readiness Syndrome. Fortunately, relief is in sight. The right dose of CRM can address these symptoms and ready your business for future growth.

What are some of your common "growing pains" that you face as a business? If you already use a CRM system, how has it alleviated your headaches and helped you become a healthier business?

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Tips For a Strong Close to Your Sales Quarter

The end of the quarter is fast approaching. And for sales professionals there are only two outcomes.

Will you finish in the red, or in the black?

Winning near the end of a quarter is a trait of all the best sales people I’ve ever met. And while closing out strong is primarily the effect of a consistent quarter, there are still a handful of things you can do to strike off checkboxes in the win column.

We consulted with sales closing expert Trish Bertuzzi of The Bridge Group and she offers up some powerful tips to help you close your quarter strong.

1. Be Direct 

There’s no substitute for being pleasantly persistent and respectfully blunt. Get out there and be straightforward. One of Trish’s favorite questions is to ask customers is: “If you were me, would you forecast this deal to close this month?"

Remember, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Being direct will help you get real with your customer and align yourself with the true sales cycle. It might also enable you to pull out a quick win.

2. The Quid Pro Quo 

Prospects are always asking for ‘extras’ like discounts, special service, or that unique integration quirk. Even if these requests are within the scope of what you’d typically provide, respond with a “yes - if request” from your end.

It could work like this: “If we give you those terms, then we’ll need you to authorize the deal by the end of the quarter” or “I’ll talk with my manager and if she greenlights these provisions, could we have the purchase order by Monday?”

3. Use Your Executives 

Another surefire strategy Trish employs is using your executives to call your prospect executives. This tactic may enable you to get a deeper sense of the deal and what can be done to close it by quarter’s end. Your executive team can be a very effective and persuasive resource for you - use them.

4. Stack-Rank Your Prospects 

We will never be able to manufacture more time, but we can manufacture more focus. Trish recommends looking at your pipeline and grading each opportunity on a scale of 1-4 with 4 being “highly closeable by the end of the period.” Then, focus your closing efforts on the 3’s and 4’s ONLY. You don’t have time to waste.

5. Purge Your Pipeline 

Almost every sales pro has them. They’re those big opportunities in the pipeline that you’ve been working for months. Everytime you think about killing them, you get a glimmer of hope.

Remove them.

They don’t deserve to be on your radar right now. Coming clean with yourself will open new vistas and invigorate you to add more productive opportunities to your pipeline.

6. Start Planning for Next Quarter 

How much revenue do you plan to book next quarter? And exactly how many new deals do you need to earn that? Knowing exactly what you plan to earn acts like a magnet that attracts business your way. Having this exact number also allows you to project your required activities into month one of the new quarter.

If you’re accurately measuring your deal metrics, you’ll be able to predict with some certainty how many calls, emails, demos, or opportunities you’ll need to make it rain.

One last suggestion: ask for a review by management. Knowing your numbers is one thing, but to positively affect the business, it’s equally vital to understand your ongoing culture fit and progression opportunities.

Bonus Tips: What NOT to Do at the End of the Quarter

1. Do Not Bring on Bad Fitting Clients Just to Make your Numbers 

Any client outside of your ideal customer profile will complicate servicing, produce a higher likelihood of churn or failure, and ultimately cost you more time and resources than it will be worth. Instead, focus on filling the pipeline with high quality leads for next quarter. It’s never too early to start filling the funnel.

2. Never Give Away More Than You’re Comfortable With 

It’s just not worth it. You only have one reputation for your brand and offering, treat it respectfully. Concessions can quickly become a crutch that hides other issues. Sell on value, not on price.
The key to closing out your quarter strong is to keep up the momentum that got you to where you are now. If you’re struggling to meet your numbers, it’s a time to embrace new sales insights and start building effective rhythm.

Take the last minute shots on goal listed above, but remember to always be thinking about the bigger picture: Your reputation is the product of your past actions. Sales that allow you to produce predictable revenue are the future.