There’s an old saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But how do you know whether or not your sales effort is broken? Many sales organizations keep trying to do the same things that worked in the past without facing up to the new realities of their industry – or they get complacent with a certain level of success, not realizing that their organization is at risk for decline if they don’t keep adapting along the way.
Here are five questions to find out whether or not your sales effort is broken – so you can start fixing what needs to be fixed:
1. Are You Filling The Pipeline? Sales is a business of ups and downs – some days customers are ready to talk, available to meet and eager to buy, while other days it every cold call feels like talking to a brick wall. But no matter what the customers are saying or how they’re responding, every sales organization needs to build prospecting time into the daily schedule – every single day. Sales people are often reluctant to spend time on prospecting, because it can be less enjoyable and less instantly gratifying than closing deals. But the best time to prospect is when you don’t need new business. It’s easier to keep a steady pipeline of new opportunities flowing, rather than have your sales cycle suddenly grind to a halt because you didn’t keep nurturing your sales leads through the ups and downs of the business year.
2. Are You Listening? Sales success is not just about talking, it’s also about listening. Every question that you ask to a customer will provoke significant answers, and what your customers say matters more than what you and your sales people say. Make sure you don’t have any misunderstandings. Guard against making assumptions or only listening to what you want to hear. Every bit of feedback you get from customers – whether it’s positive, negative or non-committal – is a valuable way for you and your sales team to evaluate your sales efforts and adjust along the way.
3. Is Your Sales Team Winging It? Sales presentations should not be an exercise in improvisation. More importantly, the sales presentation needs to have a well-organized structure and a steady focus on the customer’s needs and interests. Giving a sales presentation is not an opportunity to talk about you and your company; instead it’s a chance to focus on the specific needs and pain points of the customer. Every sales presentation needs to answer, from the customer’s perspective, “What’s In It for Me?” Customers want to know how you can help them solve their problems. They don’t need an elaborate backstory about the history of your company and how many other clients you serve. Instead, keep it simple. Keep it concise. Show the customer that you understand their needs and are ready to deliver specific solutions that add value.
4. Do Prospects Trust Your Team? One of the biggest challenges facing every sales team is the challenge of building trust with customers. The reason, unfortunately, is that too many other sales people have undermined the trust of customers by making indiscriminate cold calls, wasting people’s time by showing up to sales meetings unprepared, and offering solutions that aren’t the right fit. You can build trust by treating your customers with respect (by valuing their time), by acting as industry peers who know the customer’s business and can sympathize with their challenges, and by being generous with ideas and advice (even if it doesn’t directly lead to a sale).
5. Are You Living In A Sales Purgatory? Too many sales organizations don’t know when to give up on an unpromising prospect. They keep trying to close sales, month after month, with prospects that just aren’t interested. Part of your sales cycle needs to include filtering out the lower priority sales leads that are less likely to convert, so that you can focus on people who are more likely to buy. You can still follow-up periodically with people who said they were “Not Interested,” because conditions do change and some prospects will eventually be interested as their business needs evolve. But this needs to be done in a methodical manner as part of an overall sales lead nurturing program. Don’t just keep mindlessly calling people who say they’re not interested.
Even if your sales effort is broken, there is still hope. Most sales challenges can be fixed by redirecting your team’s daily efforts. Spend more time on prospecting to generate new sales leads, and less time chasing after unpromising sales leads. Plan your sales presentations with a focus on the customer’s specific needs – do your homework. Train your sales team to treat customers with the utmost professionalism and respect, listening to the customer’s needs (and “reading between the lines” to find unspoken needs), while building trust for longer-term customer relationships.