Last year was quite the interesting one for many salespeople and business owners I've spoken with recently. While a lucky minority had a successful year, many others were grateful for making whatever sales they did…and some were grateful just to make it through the year at all.
2009 had some interesting lessons to impart in terms of sales and sales tactics—things we should all learn from whether we're a salesperson, sales manager, director, or business owner.
1. Prospect continuously. If 2009 only taught you one thing, it's that you that you can't always rely on your existing customers to hit your sales targets. 2009 was the year existing customers were looking for ways to cut costs in their businesses, and your product or service may well have been one of those costs.
The takeaway? Prospecting should be done on a continuous basis, not just when you're quiet.
2. Control the sales cycle. 2009 highlighted the need for salespeople to control the sales process more than ever before. It was the year where customers started asking for quotes regularly, yet didn't seem to proceed with the order quite as fast.
In a lot of cases, prospects were trying to get a feel for how much your product or service would cost before trying to get approval for the spend. Quite often, that approval wasn't forthcoming. Thus, if salespeople weren't careful, they'd end up doing lots of running around for very little reward.
3. Know more about the competition. Again, 2009 illustrated the need to be sharper in this arena. Many companies were finding increased competition when trying to sell their products or services. This was often taking place in existing accounts, as well.
If you truly want to be able to sell against your competition, you'd better know them inside and out. You want to know about their marketing and promotion, their sales campaigns, their products and services, and where they're strong (and weak).
Also, if you're based in a regional area, familiarity with your competitor's sales rep for that territory—and that rep's selling style—is a must.
4. Write a sales plan. Whenever I mention this topic at a speaking engagement, I'm amazed at how few people have a proper sales plan in place. I mean a specific document, written down, with a focused plan of how the individual, team, or business is going to win business for the forthcoming year.
Without a proper sales plan in place, most people will miss opportunities they could have converted and miss other opportunities they weren't even aware of. Not the best thing to happen in a tough market, is it?
5. Examine your selling level. 2009 was the year purchasing responsibility shifted somewhat. Managers or department heads who previously were able to sign off on large sums found themselves reigned in, while higher-ups started taking more interest in exactly where the company's money was being spent.
In other words, all the salespeople who were selling at the managerial level discovered decisions we're going "above," and they weren't coming back as positively or quickly as they had in the past.
6. Ask better questions. If you or your team are still asking mainly "fact-find" questions of prospects you're calling or going to see, you'll probably be one of the first to get left behind in 2010.
If your prospects and clients are looking at other vendors, and your phone calls and meetings are conducted knowing you're not the only supplier they're talking to, one of the biggest things that will differentiate you is your questioning ability.
How does yours (or your team's) currently measure up?
7. Look at who's involved. As businesses have "re-engineered" themselves and their offering over the last few months, a re-shuffling of staffs and their responsibilities has often followed. This is worth looking at closely from a sales point of view, as you want to ensure you aren't losing opportunities.
Who's making the calls to try and get appointments for the field sales team? Highly sales trained individuals, or people from marketing or sales? How many meetings could you be missing out on right now?
Or how about the incoming sales inquiries? Are they being handled by a highly trained sales staff with an incoming call structure and questioning process…or by the admin staff?
8. Don't miss existing opportunities. 2009 taught us far too many people took their existing customers for granted. Never forget your customers could well be on your competitor's prospect list.
Are you regularly in touch with all your existing customers? Are you up-to-speed on what their plans are for the next few months as they re-focus their businesses? Are you working to increase your number of contacts in each of your clients? Are you on top of every single potential opportunity?
9. Focus on your pipeline. 2009 was the year whoever was in charge of the sales team realized just how lazy they'd become. I've spoken to sales managers who had stopped conducting sales meetings, stopped doing field visits with their team, and stopped checking their sales reps pipelines! How crazy is that?
10. Work on your sales skills. 2009 taught us many of the basic skills needed for sales success had been taken for granted, yet were lacking in a large number of companies and salespeople.
Last year was the year where sales skills mattered far more than in years previous. Prospects were taking longer to make decisions, higher0level decision-makers were getting involved, ROI needed to be proven at every stage, more competitors were involved in every sale, and prospects were looking to negotiate all your profit out of every deal.
How did you and you team's sales skills measure up? And what are you going to do to improve them this year?
Andy Preston is an expert authority on selling for small businesses. Visit him online at www.andy-preston.com and www.salestrainingbreakfastclub.com.