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Sales & Opportunities

How to Become an Effective, Modern Sales Professional

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The Modern Sales Professional does not look much like he did 10 or even 5 years ago. The world of sales has changed forever. It had its first revolution in recent times when the Internet gave buyers access to precious information. Information that was previously in the custody of salespeople. The next revolution was the advent of Social Media. Buyers no longer need to even access the source of the information they are after. In most cases, the source of influential information is often a highly regarded 3rd party expert or influencer. As a sales professional, you may never get the opportunity to present your value proposition!

This development has been picked up by the world of marketing. They have integrated content and influencer marketing strategies to stay effective. At the same time, marketers have figured out that to best communicate their message, they have to measure and analyse. In the on-line world, marketers have become data scientists, counting and comparing clicks, links and rankings, to figure out what adjustments to make, to increase their target customer with the budget they have.

But what about you out in there the world of sales? This market transformation has had an enormous impact on the role of modern sales professionals. Information-rich buyers can be 60% -80% through the purchasing process before you get to speak to them. They come to you with the balance of power tipped in their favour and able to buy on their own terms.

As a modern sales professional, you know that it’s imperative to get a dialogue started. Apart from direct referrals, traditional outbound sales strategies, such as cold calling, are becoming less and less effective as sales targets make themselves less contactable.

 

The Modern Sales Professional

Just as successful marketing has made the transition to modern marketing, the successful sales professionals of tomorrow are making a similar transition. So what does the modern sales professionals look like? What do you have to do to become one?

1. Listen

The fact that buyers have access to lots of information means that the sales professional has access to it too. Conversations are happening across the social web about your product, brand and market. By following these conversations you can find out who’s on the market, what the key topics are, the trends and the players driving the conversation. The insights you can uncover will greatly help you in your conversations with would-be buyers. You may be able to find opportunities within those conversations to add value to the conversation.

2. Join in the Conversation

Old-style communication is largely over. People don’t answer calls from unfamiliar numbers and your emails and voicemails are unlikely to go unanswered. But conversations are happening on the social web. Join in, connect and engage. You will find opportunities to provide value, earning you the right to connect an develop relationships with qualified prospects.

3. Thought Leadership

The holy grail of interacting on the social web is to develop your persona as a thought leader. By following influencers and sharing their content, you will become known as a person of authority. From your vantage point you will have a unique perspective on how your products solve customer problems. By creating content that buyers find useful, not only will you attract more of them to you, but you will naturally become the target of their questions and the gateway to their knowledge. And before you know it, they will ask how you could help them directly.

Does all this sound a bit like marketing? You bet it does. Used to be that sales professionals followed the ABC; Always Be Closing. Perhaps that should now read Always Be Connected?

Why a “Sales System” is Essential

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The fast-paced, connected world of today makes a Sales System a success imperative. As customers gain more and more sales decision making independence, businesses need to seriously adjust their approach to cope. For the best outcomes, your system needs coherence and consistency to deal with the changing demands of the market. Only a systematic approach can produce this.

 

So Why a Sales System?

Your sale system is all the principles, processes and tools you set up to deliver revenue for your business. Every business, no matter how big or small has to give some consideration to this. The more attention and the more focus this component of your business receives, the better the sales function will be. Many businesses never develop this to the level of sophistication they need for it to run smoothly and productively, providing them the peace of mind they crave and the ability to fuel their business’s growth.

In a business where there is no formalised sales system, it is difficult to coordinate, harmonise and optimise the actions of the various people and processes involved in the various aspects of sales. In these situations, sales people operate in an uncoordinated fashion, sometimes independently and sometimes in isolation. This creates inconsistencies for customers, complications for management and erratic and unpredictable results. Above all, this approach does not scale. The management challenge will always be to improve the performance of the sales operation as a whole. Unless systematised, this is difficult, inefficient and time consuming.

The benefits of having a sales systgears_gray_smallem in place are:

  • A clearly understood (documented) process so that every person involved in it can know their responsibilities and be accountable for them
  • The ability to measure the performance of each element of the process, so that low performing elements can be identified and fixed
  • A scalable entity that can grow with the business
  • A structure that is well suited to a team environment and able to capitalise on the diverse abilities of its members
  • A manageable entity that can be effectively tuned to the environment it operates in
  • Lowers the organisation’s need for highly skilled sales people
  • Performance consistency over time. Team members coma and go. A system keeps running.

 

Let’s illustrate this by means of a case study:

Company X was selling a range of software products that addressed the needs of corporate human resources management. The products all addressed similar issues but there were different versions to suite the varying needs of different organisations. The sales cycle varied from product to product and was considerably longer and more complex for the more costly versions. These were subject to more stringent requirements and more detailed examination by prospective customers.

The business was owned by a software engineer who understood each product intimately. In order to achieve their sales objectives, a team of 4 was required. They all reported to the owner. The business had a basic web site and promoted their products principally at industry conferences. Website traffic was quite good but it was poor at generating leads.

Each sales person was responsible for their own prospecting which comprised following up leads collected at conferences and also cold calling companies off a list that had been compiled for this purpose.

Their sales process was basic: Find a lead – someone who expressed interest in a product. Prepare a proposal and submit to the prospect. Arrange a demonstration and keep following up until a sale was made or the sales person gave up in frustration.

The average cost of each customer acquisition was 9.4% of revenue.

The problems:

  • No standard proposal documents. Apart from pricing, each sales person tried their hand at writing a convincing piece about the product and the benefits to the customerOffice chaos
  • Sales people were expected to do prospecting by phone – which they all detested. As a result, there were too few prospects in the pipeline
  • Each salesperson followed up their own leads – irrespective of the product or customer
  • Salespeople crossed paths in the market often
  • Ineffective follow up saw many sales fall through, especially when they were busy
  • The overall conversion rate was too low
  • Other than revenue and conversion rate by sales person, no additional statistics were measured

The analysis

  • Too few sales opportunities being generated => too few opportunities at any given moment
  • Inadequate qualification => Opportunity quality too low, conversion rate too low
  • Inconsistent and erratic sales process => difficult to improve efficacy
  • Inefficient use of resources. 20% of sales people’s time spent selling, 80% spent prospecting. Should be the reverse
  • Too expensive. Acquisition cost should be much lower

The System solution

  • Focus on improving efficiency by standardising the process and all collateral, reduce time spent in non customer-facing activity
  • Employ dedicated telephone prospecting specialists; cheaper than sales people and more productive. Liberate 80% of sales people’s time
  • Introduce clear qualification criteria for prospects so that time is not wasted on poor quality opportunities
  • Organise the sales team by product/market and avoid crossover.
  • Redesign the website for better conversion and pace the manual sales process in line with customer’s time line.
  • Introduce multiple measuring points throughout the sales process to make it easy to identify inefficiencies and make it more manageable.

These steps made getting a better result much easier and far less costly. Over a 12 month period, the following results were recorded:Sales Growth

  • Conversion rate improved by 36%
  • Acquisition cost was reduced by 23%
  • Sales revenues improved by 32%
  • Month by month revenues were stabilised

A major benefit of introducing a proper sales system was the reduction in stress of all people engaged in sales. The morale improved and the business owner was considerably relieved.

If you are involved in the running of a sales operation, is this something you have given enough attention to?

Five Steps to Qualifying Sales Leads

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You may not have thought about the need for qualifying  sales leads much; in fact you may be rather a good salesperson but for the fact that you’ve never focussed on qualification.  Qualifying sales leads is a threshold issue: it defines a true prospect, and without paying due attention to it, selling can be an exercise of abject frustration.

Overselling

Have you ever had the experience where you have been cornered by a salesperson, who has gone on to oversell you, when you had absolutely no intention of buying from him? The salesperson thought you were going to buy and was disappointed when you did not? This is an example of not qualifying the prospect.

Selling nowadays is more subtle and sophisticated than in the example above, but the principle remains the same. Companies invest a lot in setting up an effective sales system to maximise their opportunities and ROI. They will build a sales “funnel” that is fuelled by qualified prospects. If the leads that are tipped into the funnel are not qualified, nothing will work.

We live in an age of super specialised products, each focussed on a particular niche where they can stand out as being the best. There is an abundance of choice available to the buyer. To make a sale there needs to be a good match between function and requirements, otherwise the probability of making the sale is low.

Maximising the probability of the sale is what qualification is all about. With every sales transaction attempt conducted, whether face to face, over the phone or on-line, there is an associated financial and time cost. Minimising those costs is a consideration, making qualification all the more important.

Qualifying sales leads can be achieved simply by following a simple five step process:

  1. Positioning.
    Understanding where the product or service fits in the market and defining the ideal customer for the product or service. This will help to most efficiently direct one’s efforts; looking for opportunities where they are most abundant and least expensive
  2. Need.
    Developing a set of questions aimed at testing the fit between the prospects needs and the product or service’s capabilities. This requires a proper understanding of product capabilities and usage cases. If the customer does not have a clearly identifiable need, then all the selling in the world will not fill it, and no sale will take place.
  3. Authority.
    Some sales can have a long cycle-time and may require protracted effort and negotiation. So it really pays to make sure that the person that is being sold to is in fact the right person – the decision maker, before embarking on the journey. If not, you are effectively delegating the sale to someone else, and surrendering control of the sales process to an agent of your customer. Not good. Qualifying the contacts authority should ideally take place as close to the beginning of the sales process as possible. If the person is not the decision maker, then the sales strategy should reflect this, and the real, hard selling reserved until access to the decision maker is possible.
  4. Budget
    Clearly, whatever the product or service, it must be affordable to the customer, otherwise no sale can go ahead. Note that budget is not the same as price. Whilst at first glance, the customer may not have the cash, there are always ways to structure a sale to fit the budget constraints of the customer.
  5. Time-line
    Often a prospect will appear, and in all other respects may look like a good opportunity. If their time-line is outside of your parameters, then pursuing a sale is not prudent until there is a time-line fit.

Points 2-5 can effectively be viewed as a Qualification Checklist.  Unless all four items check, then the lead is unqualified, and further sales effort will not produce a sale.

Qualifying correctly makes your sales process efficient and un-complicated. Selling to unqualified prospects is demotivating, costly and frustrating. Make sure that all sales efforts are preceded with proper qualification as described above.

Why You Need a Good Value Proposition

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Whenever a selling opportunity arises, whether face-to-face or online, there is a critical moment of truth… It’s at this moment that your value proposition needs to score a bullseye in relation to your potential customer. This is arguably the most important instant in your sales process – the first red-light-green-light moment that will either see the process moving forward or stopping dead in it’s tracks.

Nowadays people generally are spoiled for choice when it comes to making purchases. One can buy virtually anything you want from a variety of suppliers, local or international. So, as a seller,  you have to be able to show, clearly and quickly, why anyone should buy from you and not from someone else. It’s your value proposition that will be key in determining their next move.

So what is a value proposition?

Simply put: a value proposition is a promise of value to be delivered.

It usually takes the form of a statement that states:

  • how your product solves a problem or produces a desired result

  • how the customer will benefit

  • differentiates your product from alternatives available in the market

What are the common mistakes people make when they present?

As simple as it sounds, unless you have payed special attention to crafting your value proposition, chances are you may botch it.

Firstly, get clear about what in fact your value proposition is. Hard facts. Not words. Don’t set out to compose something. Set out to identify what it is that you do that represents value to your customer. Only when you have that can you start to work out how to best communicate it.

Secondly, your value proposition should not be confused with other branding statements such as your vision, mission or other slogans. Clearly the piece below is not a value proposition.

 

Whereas:

“Harley-Davidson stands for independence, freedom, individuality, expressing oneself, adventure on the open road, and experiencing life to its fullest.” Joanne Bischman, VP of marketing for Harley-Davidson.

Clearly a value proposition.

Thirdly, your value proposition must be written from the point of view of the customer, almost as if he/she was saying it. So avoid using words like “We pride ourselves…..”. You see, the customer is already thinking about your product in their terms, your value proposition must fit in neatly with that internal conversation.

The format of a value proposition

There are no rules here; you can do whatever fits best, as long as it is clear and succinct. It could be a single sentence, a couple of sentences, a heading and two or three bullet points or even a visual image. Avoid cliches.

Why is it important that you have a formal value proposition?

Anyone looking to buy something is looking to get the best value they can for their hard earned dollar. The buying trigger will only be pulled when the balance between value and price tips towards value in their mind. A well articulated value proposition will do that job for you.

So have a look at how you present to new prospects, do you have this covered?

What you need in a Sales Manager

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By Evan Rubenstein

Of the myriad issues faced by business owners, the job of sales manager is the one that most think they have under control, where in fact this can be very far from the truth. Depending on your business and the type of selling required, this could be an issue of major significance. Whilst not always easy to achieve, a professionally run sales operation is a thing of beauty.

 

In may cases, the sales manager often ends up being promoted from the ranks of the sales team. But as many have learned, the skill set and often the personality profile required to be a good salesman is very different to that required for sales management. In many cases, previously successful sales people fail to make the transition into management. In many cases training, education and coaching may be necessary to accomplish this; in others it may never work out.

The job of a sales manager is understood and practised differently by different people, and differently by different organisations. The parameters and philosophies of sales management vary a lot depending very much on the knowledge and experience of those practising it. If you were comparing sales manager training programs, you would find a great deal of variation between the various offerings available. So what is right for your organisation? If the sales manager reports to you, then what do you need to know to provide the leadership required to ensure that you are getting the best from your sales manager?

Wikipedia defines sales management as “a business discipline which is focused on the practical application of sales techniques and the management of a firm’s sales operations.

It can be divided up into the following main areas:

  • Sales Strategy and Planning
  • Sales Team Recruitment
  • Sales Training
  • Sales Performance Improvement

These are in themselves big topics.

Sales Strategy

As with most things in business, getting the strategy right is crucial. Many do not.  Most sales managers when asked to articulate their company’s sales strategy will fumble. The real pro’s will not.  In general, sales strategy tends to be addressed “after the fact”; meaning that only once it has become clear that sales efforts are not yielding the desired results does strategy receive proper attention, and even then may not past muster.

To get this right, the sales manager must address at least the following:
  • Territory management
  • Remuneration structure and incentive plan
  • Activity and Performance Standards
  • Measurement and Reporting
  • Meetings and Communications
  • Prospecting systems
  • Sales Conversion process
  • Average sale value maximisation
  • Repeat business maximisation
  • Management intervention triggers and steps

Members of a sales team can change; sometimes quite rapidly. The business needs consistent and predictable sales results. This means that a structured and consistent management approach is required and that all team members work in a similar way, otherwise the team and its outcomes become very difficult to manage. This is very much part of the sales manager’s job.

Clearly there are important decisions to be made in developing a good sales strategy and in many cases this ends up being a matter of evolution. In others, for various reasons, it remains static and business plateau’s and eventually decline in the face of stronger competition.

Sales Team Recruitment

There is no denying that certain personality types are better at sales than others. Understanding exactly what your business requires is key to building an effective sales team. An effective team takes time to build and become effective and to some extent will depend on the nature of the sales strategy being used. This aspect of sales management requires a systematic approach for consistent and reliable results.

It remains quite difficult to predict success in a sales person when recruiting. Sales roles often end up being the default career of some candidates, but for others it may be a very deliberate career choice. For the good ones, a career in sales can be extremely lucrative and a stepping stone to a business career. The really good ones, may outgrow you and leave; the poor ones will hang around too long. The reality is that selecting a good candidate that will perform and be loya,l in an interview, is not at all easy. Having candidates psychometrically tested is a very good idea. This will give you insights into how they are hard-wired and how well suited they are to a sales role.  Even then, your recruitment system should incorporate a “blow off valve” component so that you can rid of dud’s as quickly as possible.

Sales Training

Proper and ongoing sales training as an absolute must for any sales professional. Success in sales requires product knowledge, knowledge of sales techniques, a range of sales tools and aids, and a good understanding of the customer’s buying psychology.  It also requires that sales people understand and can manage their own emotions and mindset. Without the tools and techniques that training can provide, consistent results, let alone growth may be hard to come by. Continual re-education is required simply to keep up with market developments.

Sales training can take place internally or through external organisations, of which there are many. There are also many sales philosophies. You will need to make sure that the external training you choose is a good fit for your business and how you like to sell.

Sales Performance Improvement

No business wants sales to remain static. Growth is always a requirement. Without an ongoing focus on continual and never ending improvement, most sales teams will plateau at the point where their systems, knowledge and ability, reach equilibrium with market competitive forces. A good sales manager will understand this and will vigorously develop systems to keep growing.

A big role for a sales manager is to keep raising the bar on the one hand but on the other, developing the team’s capabilities through training and coaching. In fact coaching is one of the major components of a sales manager’s ongoing duties and is a powerful tool for ongoing improvement. Coaching will help the sales person to narrow the gap between how the business expects them to perform and their own ability to do so. Today’s successful sales manager should have good coaching skills as this will produce a great return for the business.

These are the basics. Many business owners do not pay enough attention to sales. Getting the sales machine working properly is arguably the most important focus for a business owner. A good sales organisation will provide good revenues. Good revenues are the precursor to good profits and with good profit comes the reward of being in business.

Beware the discounting trap

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The term “Discounting” in its common usage, refers to a mechanism used typically to stimulate business. It is commonly used, but generally poorly understood.

Understanding how discounting works at a financial level is key to using this successfully as a tactic for stimulating business. Simply discounting prices without proper thought and analysis can be a recipe for disaster.

For a business to be a business it needs to make a profit. This means that your revenues must exceed your expenses by your profit margin. Discounting reduces that excess and can reduce it to the point where is is zero or less than zero. This can easily catch the unsuspecting business person out with costly consequences.

Don’t get the wrong impression. Sometimes discounting can be a good idea. Often it is used in a “Loss leader” strategy, where customers are lured into a store by a low priced item, in the hope that they will make additional purchases, where the overall transaction value is profitable. Even in this case it needs to be carefully analysed, monitored and controlled. Hence the limit-per-customer type of rule that one commonly sees in conjunction with discounted items.

If the discount is applied across the board then here is the information you should understand:

If your present margin is

And you discount your price by

20%

25%

30%

35%

40%

45%

50%

55%

60%

Your sales must INCREASE by the amount shown to keep the same Gross Profit

2%

11%

9%

7%

6%

5%

5%

4%

4%

3%

4%

25%

19%

15%

13%

11%

10%

9%

8%

7%

6%

43%

32%

25%

21%

18%

15%

14%

12%

11%

8%

67%

47%

36%

30%

25%

22%

19%

17%

15%

10%

100%

67%

50%

40%

33%

29%

25%

22%

20%

12%

150%

92%

67%

52%

43%

36%

32%

28%

25%

14%

233%

127%

88%

67%

54%

45%

39%

34%

30%

16%

400%

178%

114%

84%

67%

55%

47%

41%

36%

18%

900%

257%

150%

106%

82%

67%

56%

49%

43%

20%

400%

200%

133%

100%

80%

67%

57%

50%

25%

500%

250%

167%

125%

100%

83%

71%

30%

600%

300%

200%

150%

120%

100%

So for example, if your margin is 35%, quite typical, and you give a 10% discount, then your sales need to increase by 40% to make the same amount of gross profit. It is quite easy to see how risky this proposition could be.

There are scenarios where this effect can be catastrophic. For example: there are many businesses who have used “coupon sites” in their marketing mix. The discounts offered are usually high, often over 30%. In some cases where insufficient analysis has been done, not only has the business that has been generated been very unprofitable , but where volumes are are high, an “overtrading” situation results from which some businesses never recover.

Are you harnessing the power of referrals?

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By Evan Rubenstein
Clever marketers understand that every new customer costs money, and one sure way to diminish that cost is to get referrals for new customers from existing customers – at virtually no cost.
Contemplate this: If every customers introduced you to only two more customers, how long would it take you to have an enormous business? Not long. The simplest way to do this is to ask. The trick is to choose the right moment; when you are in credit in their emotional bank account.
So when are these moments? Well, there are several.
Obviously the best time is when the customer is feeling great. This could be straight after they have made their purchase. At this time they are likely to be very enthusiastic about the product and eager to have their own ego’s stroked or validate their purchase by spreading the good word.
Another good time to ask for a referral is after you have delivered. This could take place either at your place of business or at theirs. As soon as they grasp the reality of being in possession of the new product, that’s the time to ask the question. Their feeling of satisfaction can be shaped into one of appreciation and the referrals will flow.
Surprisingly, a good moment to ask for a referral is if your prospect does not buy.  It may be a feeling of guilt or inadequacy, but you will have the psychological advantage. They will try and make themselves feel a little better by giving you some names of people who may be interested in your product or service.
If you do it right, you can revisit the question of referrals several times during the lifetime of your relationship with your customer. Often they will not be able to think of anyone when put on the spot. Over a period of time however, as they go about their business, their memories will be triggered. As long as you have told them how important referrals are to you, and that you will be following up and asking them. In most cases, when you do, you will be pleasantly surprised.
One of the most important techniques for getting your customers to think of names for you is to use prompters.  The first type of prompter is categories. Have a list of likely categories to go through with them to prompt their memory.   As you run through your list, they will make the associations you need and the names will pop right out. The next prompter is to ask for them using emotional prompts such as: “Who do you know that has been really successful?”, “Who are your closest friends” etc etc.
The last form of prompting is to show them you mean business, When the subject of conversation turns to referrals, take out a pen and paper in anticipation. Get them to brainstorm names – don’t ask questions about each one until you have exhausted their list.
Whenever you get a referral, keep the referrer informed about the progress that you are making. They will feel appreciated and often give you more names. Show your gratitude and appreciation by rewarding the referrer with a gift. If business results from a referral, make it something special!
Make referrals a habit. Practice obtaining referrals on an ongoing and regular basis. Teach it to your staff and make sure that they become enthusiastic about it too. Set some goals with them and track the progress. It will be well worth your while.

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