Tag Archives: how to improve the sales process

Improve Sales by focusing on customer/supplier relationships

sales

Continuing with the theme of improving our sales process, it’s important to remind ourselves that satisfied and delighted customers are the lifeblood of any organization.

Providing customers with the highest quality products and services at the best possible price starts with clearly understanding the customers’ needs and requirements and then designing and implementing processes that consistently deliver value.

But there are two types of customers:

  • external customers
  • internal customers

It’s important to recognize that both types of customers are important and have needs that must be met. External customers are the people who pay for our products and services. As Dr. Deming said: “No customers, no orders, no jobs!”

Paying attention to the external customers’ requirements is essential and helps us keep the entire organization focused on doing value added work (i.e., “work the external customer would pay for if they know what we were doing”).

However, to effectively meet the external customers’ needs, we must also work with our internal customers. Understanding and meeting our internal customers’ needs and requirements helps the process of producing our product or service to flow smoothly, be problem-free and deliver the highest quality at the lowest total cost. When we work with our internal customers we are, in fact, “internal suppliers.”

Of course, this customer-supplier relationship extends to our external suppliers as well. From our external customer’s point of view, we are responsible for what they buy from us; and our suppliers are part of the system.

It is increasingly important to build strong customer/supplier partnerships that ensure that we get exactly what we need, in the right quantity, at the right price to be able to meet our external customers’ needs.

Studying Our Work to Improve…

If we’d like to increase sales by improving our “sales” process, we should begin by studying our work. As a first step, identify our top customers’ 3-5 “must-have” requirements. As requirements are identified, it helps to understand their relative importance. What requirements does the customer consider “musts” versus “wants?”

Keep in mind that customer requirements are constantly changing as well, and yesterday’s “wants” may become tomorrow’s “musts.”

Sales Process Improvement: 5 best practices & 20 questions!

sales

While many businesses make efforts to improve production, distribution, and various administrative work processes, it is less common to find organizations that focus on applying the fundamentals of Continuous Improvement to the sales process.

However, our research and experience indicate the selling process is more complex than many people realize. In addition, we have consistently found that the largest waste in most commercial and industrial organizations is lost gross margin that results from sales not made, sub-optimal pricing, and excessive costs in sales-related processes.

So, leaving aside the “selling skills” or “charisma” that is often associated with those perceived as the most successful sellers, when you consider the day-to-day activities required of field-based sales professionals, there are some proven best practices that can help boost field-day efficiency, which include the following five:

  1. Pre-call planning: by planning each sales call in advance, in writing, sales people can position themselves to accomplish more in less time, thus increasing personal productivity as well as accelerating overall cycle-time. Not only will conducting more comprehensive sales calls increase efficiency, but the habit will also make a stronger, more positive impact on customers. Many who have embraced this best-practice report that their customers recognize the difference and, over time, become more willing to schedule meetings, thus enabling them to more easily make more calls each day.
  2. Set a daily call volume goal. This may sound like an unnecessary step, but a surprising number of sales people are unable to quantify the actual average number of sales calls they make each day. As author Jack Falvey has said, “Want more sales? Make more calls.” By setting an average personal goal, (or company requirement) which will vary depending on the nature of each territory, sellers are often able to self-motivate more effectively and make more calls per day.
  3. Geo-plan: by creating a strategic geographic or travel plan each day, outside sales people can minimize drive time and optimize “face” time (Or, in our current situation, “virtual face time.”). The best plans will begin by creating territory quadrants and then mapping the locations of customers and key prospects. The rule-of-thumb is to avoid traveling beyond two quadrants in any given day, so when an appointment is set in one area, try to schedule meetings or plan to visit others in the same general region to enable a maximum number of interactions in a minimum amount of time.
  4. Bookend each day by scheduling an appointment early in the morning and another late in the afternoon. This will promote “staying the course” as opposed to deciding to drive back to the office early to do administrative work. This best-practice might also help to achieve item #2 above.
  5. Try to schedule next steps (i.e., follow-up meetings, conference calls, etc.) “on the spot” before the conclusion of each sales call. This simple best practice can significantly boost efficiency for two reasons. First, it helps sales people more easily populate their calendars for future selling days in the field; and second, it can help shorten selling cycles by securing time with buyers sooner than could be done otherwise.

But the sales process extends well-beyond a day in the field, as it encompasses everything from identifying a lead to delivering a solution. Considering this broad spectrum, it is really not surprising that the largest waste within most businesses can be found in the sales area.

The first step toward improvement or to moving from “where we are now to where we’d like to be if everything were right,” is to identify specific areas of sales process waste, and a good way to begin might be to answer the following 20 questions:

  1. What is our current market share?
  2. What are our customers’ requirements?
  3. How well are we meeting these requirements?
  4. What would it take to truly delight our customers?
  5. How long does the sales process take from lead to sale?
  6. What is our lead conversion ratio?
  7. What were the top 3 reasons for lost sales over the past quarter?
  8. How many calls do our sales people make, on average, each day?
  9. How much time do we spend talking with uninterested or unqualified leads?
  10. How do we continually improve our sales team’s skills and habits?
  11. What percentage of prospects contact us first?
  12. How does this percentage (#11) compare with industry data?
  13. Does the sales process take less time to complete for inbound leads? If so, how much less?
  14. What is our response time to customer or prospect inquiries?
  15. How many customer complaints do we receive?
  16. How much time do our sales people spend interceding or responding to complaints?
  17. What is done with the information associated with customer complaints?
  18. How do customer complaints or how does customer dissatisfaction impact our ability to make sales?
  19. How often are discounts extended, and what is the average discount?
  20. Are discounts offered due to competition or in response to dissatisfaction?

Clearly there are many ways to analyze and improve the productivity of an organization’s sales process, but these five best practices and twenty questions are good starting points.

CI & Sales “Leads”

How does your leadership style impact sales?

As noted in a previous posts, it’s important to recognize that the culture of any given enterprise is a reflection of its leadership, and that people at all levels tend to mirror that culture when interacting with one another as well as with customers and prospects.

The impact of this “mirroring” can be significant, especially as it applies to the sales force as it influences the way in which sales people interact with customers and the marketplace each day.

Consider that both the direct and implied messages your sales team conveys to others are, to a great degree, based upon the impressions they have of your business philosophy and your day-to-day behavior — ranging from how you manage and treat the team to how you talk about and treat customers.

As organizational leaders, here are seven things you can do to positively support, improve, and “lead” the selling process:

  1. Know your customers and maintain an understanding of their true interests, needs and priorities, taking each into account when setting policies and procedures. This alignment will send a strong message to the sales people that you are, in fact, a customer-centric organization.
  2. Maintain consistent two-way communication with the sales force, keeping them well-informed with respect to the organization’s mission and vision. Encourage them to deliver or reaffirm that message in the marketplace. As summarized by a recent American Management Association article, “Leaders must develop and communicate a compelling vision that inspires people.”
  3. Provide regular development and feedback — considering that the marketplace is in a constant state of “change,” the sales team must also continually improve and evolve. It is vital, the AMA states, “to share both motivational and developmental feedback.” People need to know when they’ve done a good job and when there is room to improve.
  4. Sell to the sales force — make sure they understand that the job can be done and that you and the organization have faith in their ability to do it; make sure they understand that the grass is, in fact, not greener “across the street,” and that there is a secure future for them if they work hard to earn it.
  5. Create and implement a formalized sales management / performance management system that consistently and fairly inspects what it expects, and holds the sales force accountable for activity as well as results.
  6. Recognize and reward desired behaviors and success as part of a formalized plan plan to engage and motivate the team, and to retain good performers. If the team is exceeding expectations, be sure to share in their celebration as opposed to intimating that the quotas might be too low.
  7. Similarly, if the sales force is not enjoying high-levels of success or is struggling to meet expectations, provide solutions and support — build upon strengths versus focus on weaknesses. A constructive approach to improvement can significantly impact their success, while a more critical or negative approach tends to promote continued failure.

The Waste in Your Sales Process?

ChasingWasteOutOfSales2The largest waste or opportunity in most commercial and industrial organizations is the lost gross margin that results from lost sales, sub-optimal pricing, excessive costs, and unnecessary costs in the sales and marketing processes.

Some of the most important processes in need of improvement include the process of selecting target markets, identifying prospects, connecting with those prospects, identifying needs, presenting the right solutions, closing sales, and retaining customers.

All of these can be systematically studied and dramatically improved.

We developed Chasing The Waste Out Of Sales to help every organization  create a high performing culture that produces increased sales dollars.

The book explains tools and techniques that will make real differences in your bottom line.  It’s the first and only book available to teach those in customer-oriented and management positions how to:

  • Collect and analyze key data
  • Share the information on a macro level
  • Study and improve processes
  • Make the changes in your organization that count

Read more…

Where is the Waste in Your Sales Process?

As you may have realized, the largest waste in most  commercial or industrial organizations
is in the sales area.

This perspective is explained in much greater detail in our handbook, Chasing the Waste Out of Sales,  But simply-stated, this waste tends to be a result of:

  • Lost gross margin that results from sales not made
  • Sub-optimal pricing
  • Excessive costs and unnecessary expenses in and affecting the sales process

Yet we’ve found that most companies working on process improvement tend to focus on manufacturing or administrative functions, either because they think there is more to be gained by improving these processes or because these are areas in which activity metrics and similar numbers are more readily available.

But the sales process can (and should!) be treated just like any work process; and whether you are a sales professional, sales manager or business owner, identifying and quantifying the waste in your sales process could be the best way for you to significantly impact this year’s revenue and profit numbers. To begin, consider the following questions:

  • How much time is spent speaking with or pursuing uninterested or unqualified leads?
  • How often are discounts given because of delivery delays or quality issues?
  • How often are discounts given as enticements because buying criteria are misunderstood?
  • How often are proposals rejected because they fail to align with customer needs?
  • How much time is spent expediting orders or handling errors?
  • How much time is spent dealing with customer service issues due to misunderstandings or fulfillment process complexities?
  • How much time is spent trying to collect on unpaid invoices due to incorrect addresses or discrepancies in the amount billed versus what customers expected?
  • How much time do sales personnel spend working on administrative tasks versus selling tasks?
  • How much money is spent on marketing materials that end up in the trash or don’t generate expected results?

All of the above-listed questions refer to process waste or, more appropriately stated, opportunities for improvement.

Of course other opportunities for identifying and eliminating sales process waste exist within account management or territory management plans, as evidenced by research presented in The New Rules of Sales Enablement, by Jeff Ernst, indicating that 65% of the average sales rep’s time is spent not selling .

In addition, beyond considering the number of sales calls that are made each day (we are keeping track, right?), what about the effectiveness of those calls?

What are the variables that impact the quality of each sales or business development call?

Why is it that some calls work out better than others, even when the customer profiles, needs and circumstances are similar? What causes the variation? How can we measure it? How can we reduce it, so that we can improve conversion rates of benchmarks such as calls-to-identified-opportunities or quotes-to-orders ratios?

If these questions have convinced you to take action, here are a few ideas for first steps:

  1. As with all improvement efforts, begin by gaining senior management’s backing and visible support.
  2. Gather data on sales-related activities to identify and chart waste of time, waste of material, waste of capital or waste resulting from missed opportunities.
  3. Use the charts to identify and measure direct and related process variation.
  4. Gather customer feedback to better understand how the process can be improved to better meet their needs and priorities. For example, we may find that our proposals are not being accepted because our offers don’t ideally-address customer needs; this would be a good thing to know so that we don’t decide to unnecessarily lower prices instead of improving our need-assessment process.
  5. Create a culture of improvement with the sales organization by raising awareness levels with respect to the above-referenced metrics and by measuring and rewarding desired behaviors.