Happy New Year to all. It is hard to believe I am beginning my seventh year of writing these monthly posts. As I looked back over the posts from the past six years, it dawned on me that, despite that without revenue there can be no sustainable business, I haven’t spent enough time exploring sales issues and challenges. Therefore, I plan to take the next several months identifying and presenting many of the challenges facing consistent revenue generation for suppliers in the TD industry. The first three will address how to set up the appropriate sales engine to establish a replicable and effective business development process. Following these will be two more presenting the challenges of sales leadership, what “effective” looks like, and how to select for it. If these don’t cover the bases, don’t hesitate to identify other topics you’d like me to address.
If I had a nickel for each time I heard suppliers discuss how to improve their sales, I’d be a rich man. Without question, the main challenge that surfaces about creating and sustaining a long-term profitable business in our industry is how to grease the wheels to achieve continually more revenue. The challenge, of course, is that this quest almost never ends because once you reach one goal, you tend to appropriately set your heights for the next one.
There is nothing wrong with this approach, but what formula are you using to generate increased sales? There is no answer that can satisfy all firms given so many factors on which they differ, be it their size, nature of their offer, geographic location, industry specialization, length of time in the business, and more. This is not to say there aren’t processes, techniques, and tools that are relatively universal for delivering sales results, but the nature of your business will almost always dictate how you apply these.
The bottom line is that without revenue, you have no business to speak of. This post and the ones that will follow over the next two months will attempt to help you identify what you are trying to achieve from your sales engine (Part I: The Purpose), the elements of that engine (Part II: The Process), and the roles that correspond to each of these (Part III: The People).
Given the holy grail of revenue generation, how can you optimize your internal sales engine to deliver the results you desire? The contents of this and the following posts are not about the varied types of distribution models, which have already been documented in this series. Instead, their focus is on the internal sales structure that has worked for many supplier firms.
Lately, however, I’ve seen and heard more attraction to a multilevel, rather than the one salesperson does it all, approach. This is in part due to technological advances in social media that allow relatively rapid reach and targeting at minimal costs through platforms like LinkedIn and Facebook. And software platforms like HubSpot, Pardot, Salesforce, and others are just waiting for you to hitch your sales engine to theirs. Let’s face it, by the time you have been so lucky as to even talk to a prospective buyer they have most likely vetted you and others down to their top three to five potential supplier options. So, how do you get those clients in the first place, nurture them, and get them to become long-term repeat buyers?
The good news is there are positive sales models to emulate. Otherwise, relatively average quality products and programs would not sell far better than higher-quality offers. And, how many of these high-quality offers are simply gathering more dust than they should from sitting on the proverbial shelf? How can you best structure your sales engine for maximum return?
While optimal sales processes have been documented and often work, perhaps a more appropriate way to structure one’s salesforce is around how your customers can be best served despite their differences relative to what they are buying. For example, a prospective customer interested in an online program can readily access samples online, while those interested in workshops might need to schedule a live pilot or at least observe a session in order to make up their mind. Those looking for consulting services will no doubt want to meet potential consultants to gauge their capabilities and capacity.
When you look at the sales engine from the customer’s perspective, it becomes more evident how you should establish your sales structure. By looking at the customer’s buying journey, you can establish the right steps and teach people to carry them out to attract and retain with whom you want to do business. Not to oversimplify the process, but there are a few key stages that prospects, and eventually customers, work through that should dictate how you structure your sales organization. And these are relatively generic from first acquainting the prospect with who you are to presenting in some fashion what you do, to contracting for services, engaging in an initiative, managing the project, obtaining feedback, and hopefully repeating this process with the same customer or client organization.
All customers, at some point, start as prospects and, you can hope, end up being long-term buyer advocates for your business. What do you have to do to nudge them along this journey? The overall process comes down to seven major steps:
1. Prospect Identification: Identify and reaching your target customers and audiences.
2. Prospect Qualification: Determine who are those most likely to want and need your services.
3. Deal Close: Align customer needs with your solution set.
4. Project Implementation: Deliver your solution.
5. Relationship Management: Manage the customer relationship during the delivery process.
6. Customer Loyalty: Ensure you exceed your customers’ expectations so they continue to work with you.
7. Business Growth: Increase your top-line sales revenue and your bottom-line profitability and improve your overall operations.
These are easier said than done, but they are also relatively basic steps to take in establishing a sales structure and engine that will deliver your desired business results. Next month, I will offer you more detail around each of these steps in terms of the specific activities they require. Then, the third part of this series will reflect on the types of roles required to execute them.
What have you done to establish a replicable sales process in your business? Which steps are presenting the most challenges for you? What are you going to do to address these challenges to improve your sales structure?
For more insight, check out my book The Complete Guide to Building and Growing a Talent Development Firm.