There is no question that in these economically uncertain times, sales leaders will need to get smarter if they are going to keep and grow their existing customer base. Their people will need to be a whole lot more shrewd if they are to win the few opportunities available. That being said, here are three fundamental sales management strategies that, when implemented, will help get sales firing within the next 90 days.

Easy Strategy #1

Your first strategy will seem so simple that you are bound to say to yourself “Is that all there is to it?” Don’t be fooled. While the strategy below may seem simple, when done, it delivers some amazing results. So don’t ponder the whys and hows, just get on with it!

It has been proven that, when effectively applied, the practice of regular one-on-one sales performance coaching is the fastest and most effective vehicle to drive sales productivity, and thereby revenue. One-on-one sales performance coaching is a powerful, time-tested, behaviour-changing, sales acceleration strategy, and is the foundation on which permanent and consistent growth in your sales business is built.

Coaching is one of those absolutely critical skills that you must develop if you ever want to achieve maximum output from your sales team. Whilst there are many different processes and skills you need to get proficient with to be an effective sales performance coach, there are two activities that you can apply now that will have an immediate impact to your sales drive.

The only skills required are those of asking good questions and actively listening to the answers, both of which you already have if you are reasonably successful at selling. You can apply these two practices immediately to begin getting traction with your people. Here’s all you need to do (and by the way, even if you only do a halfway decent job, you’ll begin to see improvement).   

Sit down with each of your salespeople either in person or by phone, ABSOLUTELY NO LESS THAN ONCE A FORTNIGHT.

Depending on the state of your sales pipeline, you may need to ramp that up to once a week. During your one-on-one time together:

  1. Conduct an IN-DEPTH review of the week/fortnight just gone.
  2. Conduct an IN-DEPTH plan of the week/fortnight coming up.

“So you are going to see Bob at ABC Co….”

  • What have you learned about ABC Company?
  • Who are all the ‘key players’?
  • What does your research tell you about the critical issues that ABC may be facing right now?
  • What is the evidence that they are facing these issues? Is there someone other than the key decision-maker you can confirm this with?
  • What do you believe the potential impacts of those issues to be?
  • What are their current constraints in solving that issue (in relation to time, people, money)?
  • Do you know of any current work-around in place that might keep them stuck and unwilling to change?
  • What issues are the users of their current system facing? What is our answer for solving the issue?
  • What are the current market trends in their area?
  • What do we know about other companies that operate in the same space as they do?
  • What are ABC’s key strategic initiatives?
  • How may we be in a position to help them?
  • What questions do you have prepared to elicit needs? How do you plan on positioning the company and what it is we do?

That’s it, that’s all, that’s the lot! I told you it was simple. However, as with most simple things, because they’re easy to do, it’s just as easy not to do them.

What does in-depth mean?

In-depth means just that. You need to unpack the week that the salesperson has just completed. As an example, when prospecting for new business opportunities either with existing customers or new prospects, your salespeople must complete some primary due diligence and be able to answer some or all of the following questions before even fronting up or making the sales call. Having answers to these questions will afford them the best opportunity for success. Your job in coaching them in-depth is to ensure that before they invest their time and your money going to see a prospect, they are extremely well prepared.

Imagine if you asked your salespeople some or all of the questions below before a business development call: what information should you bring back from your call, to move this opportunity to the next stage of the sales pathway? What is the objective of the sales call?

This list is by no means exhaustive. It may have left out issues specifically relevant to what it is you sell. However, it’s a great start. Create your own pre-call strategy checklist and ensure your salespeople are well prepared prior to their next sales call.

That is what I mean by in-depth! Can you imagine just how much better prepared your sales people would be to take advantage of the opportunities out there with this kind of in-depth probing?

Think about how many of your salespeople have empty diaries waiting for them to turn on their voicemails and emails to determine where they should invest their time that week. Turn your salespeople into proactive producers by working alongside them to plan the week/fortnight coming up.

If you follow this simple practice for the next ninety days, you will start to see traction you have only ever fantasised about.

Easy Strategy # 2

Look for sales closest to the bullseye. Imagine standing front on and facing the circles of a target. Imagine the bullseye. Right there in the middle is where the money is. The circle just outside the bullseye represents your existing customers; let’s call them As. They are the ones closest to the money. The next circle represents those customers that have bought from you occasionally; let’s call them Bs. The circle just beyond the Bs are your Cs and they represent those prospective companies you have targeted but have yet to buy from you. Outside of your Cs we have the Ds. These are prospects we have yet to consider.

Once again, as simple as this practice may seem, it is often neglected. When we need more sales, where do we go looking? It’s a sad truth that too many salespeople go searching out there in D, E, F, and G land.

It’s important to start looking for business closest to where the money is. Your best sales opportunity is to expand your influence within your A and B customers’ organisations and earn a higher percentage of their business.

Your role as sales manager is to help your salespeople identify where you have previously left money on the table. What are the opportunities with your A, B and C companies? How can you expand your influence with them? How can you get them to buy more, more often? Can you pick up some referrals from them? Go work there! Let your marketing department figure out how to educate, trouble and inform the D, E, F, and G targeted prospects. Let marketing come up with and implement the strategies to move the D, E, F, and G targeted prospects closer to the bullseye.

By the way, if you’re once again thinking that this is too simple or that you already do this, then let me pose a challenge for you. Take any of your A, B or C accounts and ask your people to answer the questions listed above in Easy Strategy #1. I guarantee there’s work to be done there. Have your people renew old relationships. Have them beat the bushes for new opportunities you have yet to capture with your A, B and C customers. These customers live closest to where the money lives.

Easy Strategy #3

Go to work and re-engineer your current sales process, if you have one. If you don’t, then get one! Research shows that ‘process-centric’ sales teams continue to outperform ‘non-process-centric’ teams for every measurable metric.

Sales team performance and effectiveness has been shown to increase by as much as 40 per cent when sales teams have a clear, proven sales process visible to them. The chances are extremely good that if you currently have five salespeople on your team, you will have five different sales processes going on all at once. What other part of your business runs on multiple different processes? Imagine running your business with half a dozen different accounting processes, or multiple IT or customer service processes? Sounds silly doesn’t it? Yet in sales we do this all the time.

Re-engineering your current selling process is not for the faint-hearted. It may be advisable that you bring in professional expertise to ensure the greatest success. You may just be too close to your own current sales methodology to see the gaps or dysfunction. Having said that, here’s a powerful exercise to complete at your next team meeting.

Firstly get your salespeople to write out the steps of how they sell on a sticky note. One note per step. The exercise itself is illuminating, just to see the differences and gaps.

Then step two, as a group try and identify the steps your buyers go through when selecting a vendor.

Lastly, try and align the way you sell with the way your customers like to buy. Look for the gaps, and build in systems and processes to bridge them.

So there you have it. Three practical ideas you can implement right now to get sales firing again. Start right away and watch your sales production start to flow again.

Ian Segail  works as a strategic sales performance coach across a wide variety of industries.

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