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Managing Sales in Tough Times (Part 2)

Assuming you have followed the prescription detailed in the previous installment, you and each member of your sales team should now have:

• Clear territorial responsibilities and dollar goals.

• An understanding of the rewards for exceeding—and consequences for not meeting—their goals.

• A documented plan of how to achieve the dollar goals.

Most sales forces do have a defined process for selling add-ons or follow-on business to existing accounts, yet do not have a defined process for selling new business to new accounts. Putting it into simpler terms, most companies don't have a prescribed method of creating new business, which is the most difficult part of selling and the most critical to making dollar goals in tough times.

Thus, the first step needed is to define this repeatable selling process for new business. Whereas selling definitely is an art form, there are certain key stages in the development of new business that are definable and repeatable (the science of selling).

The key things differentiating this approach from others:

a. Wherever possible, the stages are defined in terms of where the raw suspect or prospective customer is in their buying cycle.

b. Renewal business or add-ons from existing customers could fit into the same process.

Opportunity Tracking

Once this process definition is completed, ask each of your sales professionals to track all of their suspects and known sales opportunities through the defined selling stages. You'll quickly find the salespeople who can do the whole job. For those who had problems, you can organize training or coaching around the specific places where they had difficulty…or in the extreme, remove them from the job if they're still unable to perform specific steps even after training.

Performance and Activity Management

Using the same tool above, and by adding forecast figures and timeframes, it's now easy to compare a salesperson's (or sales manager's) total funnel of sales opportunities to their year-end target. It becomes very obvious whether a salesperson or manager has identified enough opportunities, or not, to make their year-end target; needs help to move across the cycle with specific opportunities; or needs both of the above.

In a tough economy, the number one challenge for most sales people is a. This challenge is often made worse by:

• The "chasing-anything-that-moves" syndrome. Instead of targeting companies and opportunities where there is a higher chance of success by virtue of the prospect being in the company's "sweet spot"—with similar references, etc.—salespeople focus on anyone who happens to call in or who will talk with them.

• Pressure on from managers at all levels to close identified opportunities—at any cost. This creates a bottom-of the-funnel feeding frenzy, which is a surefire formula for long-term failure.

In short, both the quantity and the quality of the sales opportunities identified and targeted are vital to success.

The only way to solve the above syndromes is for more and better targeted opportunities to be developed. This involves either lead generation programs by marketing, quality prospecting by sales, or both.

Quantity of Sales Opportunities

Since many salespeople are just plain scared of prospecting, with its attendant high rate of rejection, the reaction we see most often is the classic stalemate. Sales points at marketing for more leads, and marketing points at sales for not following up on the leads they have already passed.

The only way to break this stalemate is for sales managers to hold regular performance reviews to translate lack of good prospects into prospecting objectives, as well as their associated "top of the funnel" activity objectives—x cold calls per week on targeted buyers of targeted prospects, y seminars per month, etc.

Quality of Sales Opportunities

This starts right at the beginning. It's advisable to do your own marketing segmentation to come up with the best companies to target, then ensure the list of targeted suspects are allocated to each of your salespeople. Using the opportunity tracking system, you can then track progress across the sales cycle for each suspect, developing account strategies for those where some kind of opportunity can be qualified.

This, plus the quantity management, is what's meant by opportunity and activity management, and is enabled by regular, critical reviews between sales managers and their sales staff. The first few reviews are not always much fun, as they are intended to change behaviors. But after the first few, the better salespeople realize this process is focused on helping them be more successful, and is not going to go away.

"Is it guaranteed to work?" you ask. So long as you do have real products, services, or solutions that offer real value to your buyers; do obtain buy-in from your team that all the above is in their best interests; and do stick at the regular reviews and process in a disciplined way, then yes—you can expect to see a significant increase in sales revenues.

Peter Michie is the founder of PERFORMAX. Contact him at 561-202-8163.