Want To Light A Fire Under Your Sales Team?

We recently wrote in Minnesota Business about how to increase sales without increasing your sales staff.  We mentioned that, when it comes to selling, many of us have operated under the old rule of thumb that it takes three contacts to get on our prospect’s radar screen, and at least seven before he or she is ready to consider us as an option.  We have all heard stories that up to 90 percent of leads are never even followed up on and that most sales people, under the pressure of delivering results NOW, don’t ever reach the third contact let alone the seventh where all the action is supposed to happen.
Today, in a world of challenging economic conditions and complex sales cycles, the new rule of thumb is more like 10-12 contacts to be recognized, and 16-18 to be invited to the party.  At the same time the pressure for immediate results has not gone away.  In many cases, the direction from sales managers is simply to work harder and make more calls, which is not a long-term solution to the challenge facing us.
Clearly we cannot continue to operate the way we have in the past and expect, or hope, for better results.  And the answer is not in adding staff to recognize the additional number of contacts required to make a sale – – let alone continue to support and expand the relationship with a new customer so they won’t bolt at the first hint of a better deal.  So what is the answer?

We remind our clients that most salespeople chase the 5% of the market that is looking to buy right now.  On the other hand, 75% to 100% of their prospects will buy over a period of time.  We ask them if they were given the option, would they like to chase the 5% along with everyone else, or be part of a very small group establishing a relationship with the 75% to 100% who eventually will buy.  While the answer may seem obvious, strategies and tactics to accomplish this seem to be beyond what many are willing to take on after a hard day trying to make more calls.
In all fairness, top sales professionals are excellent creative thinkers and communicators.  They emote, relate and empathize.  They know how to sell value and how to become a trusted resource.  However, their gifts are not always in the area of organization and details.  Those who are successful have either developed passing skills in this area, or they have figured out how to cover their blind spots.
But now for the good news!  Today technology offers the tools to do the heavy lifting in the new sales process.  This is a tactic that uses technology in addition to personal contacts to educate a prospect over time as to why they should choose you when it comes time to buy.  Over time, by supplying the prospect with helpful, relevant and timely information, the salesperson’s credibility begins to build so that, when they actually make personal contact, it is not seen as a cold call at all.
Technology offers the opportunity to take time-consuming letter writing and follow-up off the salesperson’s plate and allows that person to spend more time closing deals.  Since technology never has a bad day, predetermined follow-up contacts at all phases of the sales cycle are never left to chance.  Each contact has been thought through as part of an overall strategy, and each piece has been written with a specific hot button of the prospect in mind.  This helps make average salespeople good, and good salespeople even better.  It helps make salespeople successful which aids in retention and recruitment because salespeople get to do what they love most.
What it does require is the time and effort to think through a longer-term comprehensive, integrated strategy – – one in which all components work together to deliver a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.  Like most good solutions, it requires more work invested up-front, but offers bigger payoffs for years to come because the same strategy can be used to remind current customers why they should continue to do business with you.  While common contact management programs such as ACT! or Goldmine offer a good starting point, more sophisticated options and add-ons are preferred by many in order to support the expanded needs of most companies today.  The good news is this does not have to translate to “very expensive.”
Whether you call it “Nurture Marketing” or “Relationship Marketing,” if done correctly, your salespeople will build greater credibility with prospects, be perceived as more professional, with the result that you will distinguish your company from your competitors whose only strategy is to make more calls.  Meanwhile, you have the opportunity to double or triple the productivity of your sales force without adding one extra person.

Posted by Barbara Hoganson  February 26th, 2009

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