Category Archives: sales efficiency

What’s Next in Communication?

Most people agree, communication is among the most frequently-used tools in today’s business world; and it is a critical component of success, whether selling, managing, marketing or just trying to get along with others.

One Simple Little Habit…
While there are obviously many facets of communication, there is one simple habit that, if well developed and consistently executed, will improve your business communication and success level in a BIG way!

It is the practice of specifically identifying and scheduling the next steps that are consequential to your communication — consequential to your discussions, your meetings, your teleconferences, your interviews, your sales calls, and so on.

The act of setting a date and time for the next step is simple, but not necessarily easy. But once you make it a habit, you’ll be able to enhance your productivity as well as the productivity of others… you’ll save countless hours of trying to connect with others to finalize plans for next steps after sales calls, meetings, or conversations, because you will have already done it!

One Hurdle to Jump…
There is one obstacle of which to beware. This hurdle is often referenced as being the “thief of time,” and it can make it difficult to accomplish this habit and many others. We refer, of course, to the bad habit of procrastination.

If this seems too simplistic, please read on…

Call a Lot of People?

Arthur “Red” Motley was known for his conciseness and, true to form, each section of his famous definition of the sales process says a great deal in only a few words:

“Know your customer, know your product; call a lot of people, ask all to buy.”

In a recent post we shared some thoughts on the first three words of his definition, and today’s focus is on the third component of the quote, “call a lot of people,” which refers to the total number of sales contacts – i.e., telephone calls, personal visits or appointments, and emails – that we make each day; and which brings-about an important question: when involved in professional selling, does call volume matter?

We believe the answer is a most definite, “Yes!”

Making a sufficient number of sales calls is important because without an adequate call volume we are likely to miss opportunities and leave ourselves vulnerable to the competition, which might well be making a stronger impact on our marketplace.

But “call a lot of people” does not mean we should call, email or visit lots of people on a haphazard basis, and it doesn’t mean we should contact a lot of different people once or twice.

In fact, too much focus on top-of-the-funnel call volume can be costly, and it’s important to recognize that “call a lot of people” encompasses “all” sales and follow-up calls – those made to unknown prospects, known prospects, and customers!

To optimize results there are four additional factors to consider.

The first of these factors is targeting, as we must contact those who are likely users of our products and services, and who are in a position to evaluate and buy them.

Then, as the data in the text box shows, in addition to call volume we must also pay close attention to call frequency.

If we make only one or two attempts to reach unknown prospects and then move on, we will be missing-out on most (80%) of the opportunities! Further, if the average frequency needed to make a sale ranges between 5 and 12 contacts, then we must contact “known prospects” multiple times after they are entered into the top of our sales funnel in order to advance these opportunities through our sales process.

But calling the same people over-and-over-again or with too much frequency is not effective either, as we can quickly alienate these prospects or customers.

Thus we must also make every call value-added. Simply making calls or just “showing-up” is never enough; the quality of our sales calls is critically-important, and we must have a value-added message and a value-added agenda for each contact.

This will require a degree of pre-call planning.

Finally, we must keep score! As sales professionals we should establish a goal for exactly how many sales contacts we would like to make, on average, each day – and we should maintain an awareness of where we stand with respect to this goal throughout each business day. In addition, it is wise to maintain data on the various types of calls we’re making, such as prospecting calls, assessment calls, presentations or demos, etc. These metrics are the true measures of our productivity.

Yet surprisingly, a multi-year survey indicates that a high percentage of sales people cannot definitively answer the simple question, “On average, how many sales calls do you make in a day?”

In some cases this lack of awareness is due to over-reliance on CRM systems, which are very effective at managing call frequency, but do little to keep a sales person aware of the actual number of calls they are making as each day unfolds. Similarly, in many inside-sales environments the telephone system keeps track of inbound and outbound calls, but this data tends to be shared with the sales people after-the-fact, thus resulting in the same lack of real-time awareness.

In other cases, an absence of proactive front-line sales management is the problem.

Regardless, the best course of action a sales professional can take is to set a personal standard for call or contact volume, and to also maintain personal accountability for maintaining that “successful” average as well as a successful standard of quality and frequency.

As author and founder of makingthenumbers.com Jack Falvey often says, “This is how the best get better at sales!”

Sales Call Frequency – How Often is Too Often?

customerservice2People often ask, “How many sales calls can we make on a prospect before going over the line?”

Here are a few guidelines…

First, consider the following facts, which we shared last year in a related article – studies show that approximately 80% of those involved in business development approach prospects two or three times and then give up.

Now, consider the importance of these National Sales Executive Association stats regarding the importance of following up:

  • 2% of sales are made on the 1st contact
  • 3% of sales are made on the 2nd contact
  • 5% of sales are made on the 3rd contact
  • 10% of sales are made on the 4th contact
  • 80% of sales are made after the 5th contact

Next, consider the fact that sheer “frequency” does not guarantee success. Each contact must be “value-added” in order to properly impact our target prospects. This requires research, planning and good communication (probing and listening) skills. In addition, if we make better calls (i.e., better quality), then we will accomplish more during each call and won’t need to make as many calls to each prospect!

Considering this information simultaneously, the best answer to the call frequency question is that we “cross the line” when our calls have no value for the prospect or customer.

Sixty-Second Success Tip: Business Development

60secondsuccesstipsHere’s a short (approximately 1 minute) video that is part of our Sixty-Second Success Tips series.

This installment covers some business development fundamentals that might help you grow your sales territory or professional services practice.

As noted in the video, you can also download a free business development action plan from our website, which will help you to balance your approach and set a more strategic course for the year.

 

 

What’s Next in Communication?

Effective business communication is a critical component of success, whether selling, managing, marketing or just trying to get along with others.

While there are obviously many facets of communication, there is one simple habit that, if well developed and consistently executed, will improve your business communication and success level significantly.

When asked to identify this habit, most people think it involves the conveyance of one’s message – either a smooth or powerful delivery, or a pleasant voice tone. Others suggest that the best communicators are good listeners, and some opine that the art of asking good questions is the key.

These are all very important elements of good communication, but none of these represents the habit to which we refer. The critical skill we have in mind is the one that helps you make things happen. It is the habit that brings about action! And, as promised, it is simple…

message_in_the_sand_18916It is the practice of specifically identifying and scheduling the next steps that are consequential to your communication — consequential to your discussions, your meetings, your teleconferences, your interviews, your sales calls, and so on — and doing so while the details of those interactions are fresh-in-the-minds of all parties.

If this seems too simplistic, please think again. Consider the fact that all business communication, regardless of its form, must be purposeful. We conduct meetings to share information on which people must act. We make sales calls so that people will buy. We run training sessions to help people perform better. We go on interviews with hopes of being hired; we conduct interviews with hopes of hiring. Each form of business communication has a purpose, and that purpose involves action.

So, for example, at the end of each sales call, what can we do to make something specific happen… the next step in the process? What can we say at the end of each staff meeting to make sure everyone is on-board with the conclusions drawn and that each participant is clear on his or her role in implementing agreed-upon solutions or processes? After meeting a new prospect at a networking event, is there a way to end our conversation that will result in a meaningful future discussion about a business relationship?

The answers to all of these questions may vary in content, but in principle they’re all the same – we must identify and then arrange the next steps, and we must do so definitively.

For instance, after meeting a good prospect at a trade show, it is far better to arrange a specific follow-up plan such as, “I’ll call you Monday at 3pm,” rather than a vague plan such as, “I’ll call you next week!”

“It has been nice meeting with you today, Ms. Buyer. Based on the information you’ve shared, I’ll put together a formal proposal for outfitting your facility with widgets. Can we schedule a brief meeting to review the proposal’s details? How about next Wednesday or Thursday…?”

“OK sales team, our goals for the upcoming week are clear. Along with our regular sales calls, each of us will make twenty-five additional courtesy calls to current customers because we’ve all agreed that retention levels must be improved. These calls will be documented in the newly-created section of our CRM program, and we’ll get together on Wednesday at 4pm to discuss progress – any questions?”

 

 

Ask All to Buy!

salesOur previous post referenced a well-known quote in which Arthur “Red” Motley defined the selling process in fifteen words: “Know your customer, know your product, call a lot of people, ask all to buy.”

That post focused on the quote’s opening three words, “know your customer.” Today’s focus is on the ending… “Ask all to buy.”

Clearly this part of the definition is all about closing the sale; but there is more to it than just asking for the order. If we consider the various steps in today’s consultative selling models and extended business development processes, the “close” might be better described as a “call to action.”

Further, if one is to maximize effectiveness, then every prospecting call, selling appointment or business development interaction should include a call to action.

Since many of these conversations with customers and prospects are not “transactional” — i.e., they do not involve the execution of an order — the “call to action” frequently does not take the form of asking for an order but rather asking for a next step; some type of action step that keeps the overall process moving forward.

These next steps might include a follow-up meeting, an exchange of additional information, a time to present a proposal, a subsequent appointment or conference call involving higher-level managers, or a follow-up telephone call. Of course there will hopefully be instances when the next step will involve the completion of an order but, as a general rule, we typically suggest a next step based on the relative success of the interaction; in other words, we ask for whatever it is we believe we have earned the right to request during the sales call.

Fore-armed for Success!
To enhance the quality and execution of sales or business development calls, it’s best to anticipate the possible calls-to-action or next steps that we might request during upcoming calls, as pre-call planning is a best practice shared by the most successful sales professionals!

In addition, the ideal call to action will include a commitment of some kind or an agreement-to-act made by the buyer. For example, there is a big difference between ending a sales call by saying, “I will call you next Tuesday” versus “Can we schedule a follow-up cal for next Tuesday at 2 o’clock?” If the buyer agrees and schedules the follow-up call, then he or she has agreed to take action.

Read the full article… for a few guidelines you might consider when crafting your list of possible outcomes and when proposing them to your customers and prospects…

And also for a “top 10” list of the most common things a buyer is likely to think if we FAIL to ask for a next step or commitment! (HINT – none of them are good…)

How Do You Know Your Customer?

questionmarkwordsIn a previous post we referenced Arthur “Red” Motley’s well-known and frequently cited fifteen-word definition of the selling process, noting that it was probably not by chance that the quote begins with a reference to customers:

“Know your customer, know your product,
call a lot of people, ask all to buy.”

In a more recent post by Jack Falvey, founder of makingthenumbers.com,  referenced some good sales advice from Rudyard Kipling, who wrote, “I had six serving men.  They taught me all I know.  Their names are Who, What, Where, Why, and How, and When.”

These words are are ageless, Falvey explains… .

“We are so busy telling people about what we sell and who we are, we lose sight of who they are…”

“Let’s find out what is going on in our customers’ world before we try to change it.  Who is doing what? Where are they doing it, and why?  How are they getting it done, by when?”

Falvey suggests writing specific informational and directional questions for each sales call.  A directional question is one you think you already know the answer to but is asked to direct the conversation along the lines you hope to take it.

For example: “When is the current contract up?”

You know the date, but want to move toward refining next year’s specs in your favor!

“Who is the most important person in the process?”

You know you are talking to them, but they would like to tell you how big they really are.

Use all six “serving men” every day on every call.

Good advice, we think!

No One Ever Listened Themselves Out of a Job

listen2Following-up on our previous post about the power of questions, it only seemed right that we address the other ‘half’ of the probing equation: LISTENING.

In an earlier post we shared some facts about listening; and as you may know, most communication experts consider it to be the most important communication skill. Unfortunately, listening also tends to be the communication skill at which most of us are the least proficient.

A well-known quote from Calvin Coolidge exemplifying this perspective: “No man ever listened himself out of a job!”

If we’re able to enhance our probing skills and, as a result, ask better questions during sales calls or important meetings, it is important that we effectively listen to the answers to those questions.

Here are three best practices for improving our ability to listen:

  1. Prepare for sales calls or important meetings in writing. As noted in the previous post referenced above, is best to put an equal amount of focus on what we will “say” as well as what we will “ask” when preparing ourselves. However, one of the key benefits of preparing ourselves in this fashion (in writing) is that it eliminates the biggest obstacle to good listening – that being the distraction associated with thinking about what WE will say or ask next while others are speaking. If we’re distracted in this way, we cannot listen effectively.
  2. Set a desired TALK / LISTEN ratio as part of the pre-call or pre-meeting plan outlined in item #1. Most people agree that they communicate differently (and more effectively) when they have given themselves a target to “only talk 40%” or to “listen at least 70%” of the time during interactions with others.
  3. Take notes during sales calls and meetings – and to be clear, these notes are not the same as meeting minutes, as the intent is to capture highlights rather than everything that is said.  Wondering why? Well, note-taking helps us to maintain a stronger focus on what others are saying because it keeps our mind from wandering. It also turns our listening into a multi-sense activity (i.e., we listen with our ears, our sense of touch and our eyes).

 

Who’s In Charge of Our Sales Calls?

sellwithconfidenceWe all strive to take control of the sales calls we make, hoping to comfortably lead each conversation to a productive conclusion i.e., closing or advancing the sale.

But many sales people struggle to articulate exactly how they go about controlling their sales calls, often confessing that they more-or-less go with the flow.

If this sounds familiar, you might consider making a more strategic approach to taking charge during sales calls by applying two simple principles:

  1. Ask more questions. Consider that the person asking the questions tends to be the one in control of most conversations. This can be challenging for some of us because we tend to talk too much! But, truth be told, we’re better-off asking questions and listening before we speak.
  2. Commit to the practice of pre-call planning, and do so in writing! Be sure to identify multiple objectives, list benefit statements you’ll make and, to support the suggestion made in item #1, make a list of the questions you’ll ask. Make sure to include both open-ended and closed-ended options, which can be used strategically to either promote or control the flow of conversation.

Those who have been able to apply these two simple suggestions have consistently reported significant changes (for the better!) in their sales calls, indicating not only improvements in maintaining control but also in optimizing results.

But more significantly, we’re not the only ones who will notice the difference in the quality of our sales calls our customers and prospects will notice the difference too!