The role of sales in any business is to develop prospects and close new business. It is the primary source of revenue, and though expense management also plays an important part, the sales function is the biggest contributor to the “bottom line” of profitability.
The role of sales can be distinguished from the role of business development. Business development typically looks at more non-traditional ways to drive new business – strategic partnerships, referral sources, or perhaps wholesale arrangements.
Salespeople thrive on “closing,” and they work primarily with the end customer. Business developers, on the other hand, create and nurture relationships with other organizations. These activities can actually have a greater sales impact, but usually have longer timelines as both parties assess the value of the other to their organizations. Once established, these relationships usually last for an extended time with most of the work taking place during the initial start of the relationships, and residual benefits lasting indefinitely.
Both sales and business development are essential to the health of an organization. While the approach is different, they are both focused on driving revenues.
Measuring sales performance is the easy part. Track progress against goals. Make sure that goals are measureable and benchmarks can be quantified. The more progress benchmarks you can quantify, the better your ability to forecast results.
Benchmarks include such things as:
- Number of leads generated
- Number of outreach calls made to target prospects
- Number of proposals issued
- Number of presentations made
- Number of trade shows attended
- Number of new referral sources developed
- Attainment of monthly, quarterly goals
A top salesperson may hold themselves accountable more strictly than you do as the business owner. After all, salespeople have egos. They thrive on performance and want to succeed. Most enjoy being showcased. The last thing a true salesperson wants is to be embarrassed for underperforming. If you have a salesperson that seems to shrug off failure, then you don’t have a winner.
Like every trade, salespeople need tools to do their job. It is the responsibility of the business to provide the tools that will equip salespeople to sell. Sales tools include:
- Facts and statistics – To be an expert in the field, they need the facts; it is the responsibility of the firm to find the facts, package them, and train the salespeople, so that they are established as experts. Knowledge transforms the salesperson from someone having a linear interest in the customer, into an industry authority with a thorough understanding of the products and services, and the value they provide.
- Message – The firm must convey who they are, what they do, how they do it, why they are in the business they are in, and how they are distinguishable from the competition. It is the responsibility of the firm to provide the salespeople with the message script (tagline, elevator pitch, presentations, proposals, etc.); delivery of the message should be part of the skill set of the salesperson.
- Marketing Materials –Salespeople need to be equipped with outstanding marketing materials (website, brochure, business cards, samples, videos, CD, newsletters, white papers, etc.). It is the responsibility of the firm to provide outstanding marketing materials that present a professional image and reflect key messages that support the salesperson’s discussion or face-to-face visit. Even in today’s technologically sophisticated environment, people are impressed with graphical presentation and will often make decisions based on a brochure, website or other marketing piece.
- Marketing Programs – Promotions, advertising, direct or e-mail communications, online contact with prospects, and social media all support the efforts of the salesperson. It is the responsibility of the firm to be engaged in marketing programs.
- Technology – Today’s business is powered by technology: laptops, cell phones, fax capabilities, video-conferencing and webinars all provide the salesperson with the ability to communicate instantaneously according to customer preference, and are essential tools for a successful salesperson.
- CRM (Customer Relationship Manager) – One central repository of information on prospects and customers keeps the salesperson organized to manage phone calls, meetings, and other responses that are required to appropriately maintain communication. It also allows the firm to monitor and measure the quantity and quality of communication with prospects and customers.
It is a positive customer experience that will keep them coming back for more products or services, and that will help your company develop a positive image and buzz to attract new customers.
Measuring the customer experience is simple, but it’s not easy! Basically, all you have to do is ask. It is the asking that is more difficult.
Worldwide competition and a tough economy awoke many a sleeping company from the complacency they had toward their customers. Today, it seems like every one is asking for a survey to be completed to ensure customer satisfaction. Instead of being a positive, this has turned people off. People are now are being asked to respond to a survey even before being serviced. So, a little creativity and a personal approach to obtaining feedback will be necessary.
There is an entire industry (an arm of market research) that focuses on documenting the customer experience. Here are some of the basics:
- Have someone other than the salesperson interview the client
- Call the customer on the phone and ask for seven minutes of their time (make it an odd number, so they remember it and understand that it will be short)
- Ask what you want to know about (for example, the sales experience, the transition to account management, the value they saw in your products or services)
- Limit yourself to 5-7 questions
- Ask open-ended questions to get them to open up to the interviewer
- Once they start talking, you can probe deeper in an area that seems to be a highlight or a concern
- Ask if you can use their feedback for a testimonial (which they would review and approve before you publish)
Relationships are developed by becoming a resource to customers in areas of your firm’s expertise, fulfilling obligations beyond those required contractually, and being responsive and anticipating changes in the business landscape. Once you determine the quantifiable value your firm can provide to clients, demonstrate that value repeatedly, and spend time getting to know your customers with a healthy exchange of information and ideas, solid relationships will be developed.
The days of back-slapping “two-martini lunches” are gone. Competition is fierce and clever. And, competition is global. In a technology-driven business environment, customers are no longer limited to local or regional solutions. A solution 5,000 miles away can be easily delivered. This type of competition focuses on price and perceived value. This is when the value your firm demonstrates will set you apart from the rest of the pack.
Developing strong customer relationships that positively impact the bottom line takes time, determination, ingenuity, and good old fashioned one-on-one attention. Be aware that even strong relationships can be disrupted by price considerations if you’re dealing with a commoditized product or service. But when your pricing is competitive, and your sales team can quantify the value your company brings to the relationship, price becomes neutral and the relationship and value will prevail.