This will hardly come as a news flash, but over the last few months, lots of salespeople and business owners have seen the number of sales inquiries they normally receive drop off precipitously.
Not so coincidentally, many companies now have non-salespeople performing sales activities. This may be due to things bring "tight," a renewed focus on "new business," and/or staff leaving (or being made redundant). Whatever the impetus, the end result is sales activities getting passed on to other people.
Some examples: marketing staff making cold calls for appointments, customer service staff making outbound sales calls, and—worst of all—admin staff taking incoming sales inquiries.
Think about it. You've paid all that money for advertising, networking, marketing, or whatever lead generation method you use to "earn" that inquiry. Then the person taking it has little or no sales ability, little or no training in what's needed to convert it into a sale, and has no idea how much business they could be losing through their lack of understanding.
How scary is that? Even people employed in a sales role don't always handle inquiries as well as they could, so what chance does a non-salesperson have?
More to the point, what follows are some reasons why you're currently not converting as many sales inquiries as you could be…and what you should be doing to get back on track.
1. You don't respond quickly enough. For any incoming sales inquiry right now, responding could mean the difference between you converting that inquiry into a customer, and missing out on the business to one of your competitors.
Right now, people have more choice than ever before, and more companies are desperate for their business than ever before, so are you prepared to let one of your competitors get business that could have been yours?
Ask yourself this: How quickly do you currently follow up on enquiries? Now, how can you improve that turnaround time?
2. You only take the "specification." A textbook example of a poorly handled sales call. This is where the person taking the incoming inquiry only asks questions that get the specification, or the details that they need in order to quote for the work.
Bizarrely, this is what most companies train the staff responsible for taking sales inquiries to do! So these individuals give a quotation without asking anything about buying motivation, current supplier, other quotes, buying timescales, or other information that would help them secure the business.
It's almost like the business equivalent of giving a quotation, crossing their fingers, clicking their heels together three times, and hoping the person on the other end of the line rings back to place the order. Is this really the way we want to courting business in the current climate?
3. You fail to qualify the opportunity properly. Another thing that seems to get missed when staff are handling sales inquiries is understanding the full scope of the potential opportunity. This has been made worse by customer service people and poor sales trainers who have prattled on about treating every customer the same. What a load of rubbish.
Should a printing company treat a customer who buys $50 worth of business cards once a year differently than a company that spends $25,000 on their annual print requirements? Of course they should.
Now of course, both customers should receive good service, but would you want to ask different questions of these two very different inquiries? Would your sales process change based on their potential spend? Would you service the account differently? Of course you would.
The problem is, you need to qualify the potential opportunity first—so start doing it.
4. You don't take control of the situation. Another mistake most people make is not controlling the situation properly. Once the potential customer has put the phone down (or walked out of the store, in a retail context), if you haven't defined or agreed upon the "next steps," you've just lost control of the sales situation.
If you just give them your quotation, or hand/send them your literature and then leave them to their own devices, they're probably going to buy somewhere else—or not at all. If they've bothered to take the time to call you, send an inquiry over the Internet, or arrive in your showroom, then right now is the opportunity. Not tomorrow, not the day after, not next week, but right now.
5. You don't follow up. There's just no excuse for this. "I was too busy," doesn't cut it. "I got caught up with other things," doesn't cut it. "Well, they'd come back to me if they wanted it, wouldn't they?" is just plain stupid.
If you'd bothered to take the inquiry in the first place, and weren't able to convert them into a customer on that occasion—yet you know they're interested enough in what you do to have inquired in the first place—why on earth wouldn't you bother to follow up?
If you're guilty of this one, you might as well e-mail over all of your sales inquiries to your competition, because you're essentially giving them your business. Fortunately, no problem is easier fixed.
Andy Preston is an expert authority on selling for small businesses. Visit him online at www.andy-preston.com and www.salestrainingbreakfastclub.com.