Beware of tunnel vision. It can drag revenues down, as your sales team fails to spy the opportunities around them.
That's the message of Colleen Francis, who consults internationally to companies out of her home bases in Ottawa and Florida. She often finds her clients suffer through boom-and-bust cycles, with fabulous sales periods followed by dismaying plunges, the latter caused by their failure to maintain proper sales procedures during the high periods. Indeed, sometimes sales are so marvellous, prospective clients will wave her off, saying she isn't needed. Then a few months later they call, desperate, because sales have plummeted.
It's invariably a self-inflicted wound. The most common precipitant is a focus on closing new sales to the detriment of other aspects of the sales process, notably securing new prospects for the client pipeline. When those enticing sales are completed, there is nothing imminently ready to flow.
Another problem can be too much devotion to "farming," getting current clients to buy more. Such activities can be very helpful, but eventually the possibilities can dwindle if your company's customer base is not expanding.
A third error can be getting so deeply behind one element of a product line that other offerings are ignored. One of her clients, a Canadian software company hugely dominant in its market, acquired another firm and offered its salespeople such great incentives to sell the new products, they forgot about their market-leading wares and were soon overtaken by a once-distant competitor.
To fight such tunnel vision, she introduces in her book Nonstop Sales Boom the idea of a sales radar that can provide a holistic picture of everything available to you. The radar has four elements that are part of other sales approaches, but she believes seeing them like radar sweeping around in a circle more appropriately reflects the opportunity-seeking of the sales effort. The elements are:
You need to continually be attracting new clients to your sales pipeline and moving them toward providing revenue. But not anybody will do. You need to ensure they are qualified – people who potentially will buy and won't cause so many headaches that they erode rather than increase your profits. In recent years, salespeople have had to become hybrids, not just selling but also marketing themselves and their company – trying to get their message into a multiplicity of areas so they can be found by prospects. It used to be that salespeople found clients, they bugged people to see them. But during the recession, companies put up barriers and those have remained. These days when a firm wants to solve a problem that may require a new product, its officials research the possibilities before inviting anyone in to talk. "Buyers are qualifying us before we qualify them," she says. If you're not seen when they search, you're in trouble.
Selling means never saying goodbye. In particular, when the contract is signed, the salesperson should not disappear as the implementation team takes over. That limits the opportunity for the salesperson getting further revenue, as the implementation team may not be attuned to the possibilities that arise (and, indeed, may even okay improvements that were specifically not part of the sale). Or, as happened with one of her clients, an office furniture supplier, when parts of the assembly didn't fit perfectly, the installers would badmouth their product – not exactly a base for future sales. New opportunities arise in this phase. Make sure your salespeople are around, working with the implementers, even if others are carrying the load.
You can grow with clients as they need more of your products. You won't get that growth, however, unless you expand your contacts within the firm beyond the initial champion – even if that's the CEO. Eventually faces change at that company or, indeed, your own, as acquisitions are made or individuals drift off to other ventures, so it's important that you have multiple contacts within the client's firm and the client has multiple contacts within yours. "Once you develop these relationships, you can spot other opportunities in other departments or worldwide in the company or new things you can sell them," she said in the interview.
Ultimately, you want the clients to join your sales team, by referring you to colleagues and friends, giving testimonials, or allowing you to include them in case studies for promotional literature. "You can't overdo success stories. They are your best sales tool for attracting clients and closing new business, yet most companies don't give them enough attention," she said. If you already have some, make sure they aren't ancient. Have someone overseeing this vital function, keeping them current.
Pay attention to your sales radar and you won't crash.
Harvey Schachter is a Battersea, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online work-life column Balance. E-mail Harvey Schachter