The game of sales can indeed be a complex one. With rampant competition in many sectors, game-changing technologies more commonplace, and shareholders eager for above-market returns, the pressure to increase sales is stronger than ever. But how many people understand what’s involved in winning a sale, and then to keep a customer happy for the longer term? This question becomes even more important if you move into senior management and have direct or indirect sales responsibility. So, are there some things that can be learned quickly to help increase the chances of sales success?
After almost 30 years in Sales and Marketing, I can honestly say sales is both a science and an art, and is occasionally sprinkled with a bit of good old-fashioned luck. Luck happens when it does and can’t be relied on, and the art of sales is when someone develops a keen ability to read a situation and people, and it becomes second nature. But the science of sales is really well understood and has been for a long time. In fact selling is a process that can be learned and embraced by anyone in a company, at any level. And of course, depending on what level in an organization you are, you may have different things to sell to different types and levels of people. But again, the eager student can learn all the skills quickly. Before diving into the sales process, it’s wise to understand there are actually three distinct sales areas: pre-sales, post-sales and the bit in-between.
Most people of course think sales is the bit in-between and don’t give proper attention to the pre- and post-sales areas. So let’s investigate since they are often the poor cousins of the bit in-between.
Pre-Sales: is often misunderstood since many people automatically assume it’s marketing. For me however marketing is a different function with different goals. I normally consider the key goals of marketing to be brand creation and recognition, and through this the generation of leads that can then be serviced by the sales department. If done well, the sales team can have a steady and high-quality stream of leads from which to qualify and subsequently convert to revenues.
So, for me pre-sales is the pro-active work that all salespeople must embark on when there is no opportunity immediately evident. It’s the time and effort it takes to build a relationship through connection. It’s the time and effort it takes to learn about the customer, the people you are networking with, and what challenges or opportunities they have - all with a hope there will be a sales opportunity at some point in the future. But, you are also cognizant of the necessity to bring in the bacon and win sales! Here are my Top 5 tips for pre-sales success:
1. Don’ rush it: since potential customers will always be able to spot this and feel suitably uncomfortable. The most experienced salespeople I know take their time here and by doing so, secure even stronger customer relationships.
2. Research and become knowledgeable: before visiting! There is much information available on the Internet (LinkedIn, company web sites, news forums, etc.), so take time beforehand and learn what you can - you will come across more prepared and a lot more professional.
3. Work to a plan: rather than just shoot from the hip. Plans allow focus and time-efficiency, so take a little time and create a winning plan for achieving what you want. It can always be changed and likely will, but experienced sales campaigners know the merits of investing this time up-front.
4. Allocate enough time but not too much time: since you still need to make sales after all. Strike the right balance between pre-sales, sales, and post-sales. All are important and maximum results happen when there is equilibrium between all three.
5. Give as much as you get: so it’s not one-sided. For sure, ask questions, but not too many that your prospective customer feels taken advantage of. Besides, sharing quality snippets of information positions you and your company, and helps build credibility for future sales.
Post-Sales is the area that is most often forgotten about in sales, and clearly the one that separates average companies from great ones. It’s well understood that the cost of finding a new customer is many times more expensive than the cost to keep a current one. I have seen time and again companies who put great effort into post-sales and genuinely looking after their customers, being the ones who seem to have the most loyal following, and a revenue stream that stands the test of time. Incidentally these companies more often than not are also the fastest growing companies. I suspect no coincidence here!
Of course post-sales efforts cost money. These expense dollars can often be overlooked in favour of incremental marketing dollars, or some necessity to save more on the bottom line. In my experience the best sales ‘systems’ are the ones that are suitably balanced across the board from pre-sales all the way through post-sales. It’s this balanced approach that develops customer relationships, creates and converts opportunities, and then ‘loves’ the customer enough to secure follow-on and repeat business.
Consider my Top 5 tips for post-sales success:
1. Measure customer satisfaction: but not in an onerous way. Make your process consistent, light, and of real value to the people who take the time to complete your questionnaire.
2. When something goes wrong, react fast and over-compensate: always! A relationship can often (most often) be strengthened if you react positively to something that has gone wrong. Compensate quickly and appropriately, and if possible go above and beyond the call of duty. Otherwise you might just need to find a new customer!
3. Be pro-active in at least one strategic area: whether it’s with a future price-reduction, a higher spec-version at the same cost, or a faster shipping method. Know what’s important to your customers and nudge the lever forward pro-actively.
4. Institutionalize Executive-to-Executive post-sales calls: since it makes customers feel their opinions matter, and treats them with the importance they deserve.
5. Measure customer retention and have initiatives to increase: as this will surely keep your post-sales focus firmly in place and thus be seen as vitally important by all concerned.
Hopefully the moral of this article is abundantly clear - the bit in-between (selling) is extremely important since that’s when a sale is actually executed successfully; however with proper balancing of both pre-sales and post-sales your overall company revenues will surely benefit. Just think of it like a really well planned dinner: kick-off with a really great starter. This is both satisfying in itself, but also sets you up really well for a great main course.
Then, it always makes sense to leave a bit of extra room for a not-to-be-forgotten-about desert. All three courses are very different, but ordered and eaten in the proper sequence, can be quite memorable indeed! Then of course its time to crack open the champagne and celebrate - just like in business:)