I'm a big fan of building repeatable systems into small businesses. I'm not referring to the kind of corporate, mind numbing, paperwork and data collection systems that can sometimes appear in very large businesses. Instead, I like simple processes that everyone can use to get goals accomplished; the kind of systems that are easy to communicate with staff, and on which small business owners can rely on to get done, every day.
When it comes to sales efforts, however, I rarely see small business owners put systems in place. I see peaks and valleys of proactive sales generation, usually inspired by a slow month and a panicky owner or manager.
My preference when building simple sales systems is to keep the frequency high and the time investment low. Put another way, I always look for ways to do less more often, as opposed to periodic batch work. This applies to work flow on the factory floor, bookkeeping and administrative tasks and yes, sales systems.
While certain cycles in your business might create peak periods of sales activity, like back to school or Christmas, that doesn't mean the rest of the year is a wash. The best way to set yourself up for success is to build a routine that keeps your business top of mind all year long.
Let's look at one example of a sales system: outgoing customer telephone solicitation. The first step is likely data collection. I have written about this important business asset before. If your company is B2B (business to business) you probably have loads of contact information about your customers at the ready. If not, what are you waiting for? You need to populate contact management software, even Microsoft Outlook's Contact Manager will do, with names, numbers, emails and addresses.
Next you need to track all communications with each customer. This may sound a little over the top to some, but I've been blown away by the value that comes with tracking interactions in customer management software. It's especially beneficial if you have multiple people in your office that communicate with customers, even if only to take messages. A shared contact management program lets anyone who answers the phone to see a history of previous interactions with that customer, which means that if you lose an accountant manager you don't have to lose the customer interaction history when that person departs.
Don't attempt to track customer interactions word for word, just one or two lines to sum up the gist of the conversation or copy and paste a few key lines from an email. Customers will be very impressed when details of their previous conversations, requests and comments are dictated back to them from your records.
This is all laying the foundation for proactive sales system implementation. Now that you have a reliable contact list and an understanding of current customer's activity, you can divide and conquer.
Among your sales team, divide the list as you normally assign accounts whether geographically or alphabetically, so that each sales person has an equal number of accounts. Among those accounts, divide the sales team by time zone, if applicable, so that outgoing calls are made intelligently based on the likelihood of reach, for example.
Within each person's list, determine how often the customers should be called. Depending on your business, that might be quarterly, monthly or weekly. The end goal is to work the numbers backwards and to see how many calls you need each sales person to make every day to make it through the list at your desired frequency. Keep in mind, it may take several calls to make one connection, so budget time for call backs and use the To Do List or Calendar in Outlook or you customer management software to set reminders.
Next, decide on key talking points for this series of calls. You're reaching out to these customers for the purpose of generating sales, not just having a pleasant conversation, so be sure to detail what's newsworthy and your call to action.
Selling is mostly about overcoming objectives. Meet with your team about this series of talking points and role play your way through likely objections so that everyone is armed with a proactive response. And while there are many ways these days to reach out to customers, real-time phone calls by a real person are still the most effective by a wide margin. It's a lot easier for your customer to say no in an e-mail than it is on the phone.
Putting a simple system like this in place allows your sales team to have a predictable road map for reaching out to customers on a regular basis and helps keep your business top of mind. You'll get results in the form of sales, or at the very least, real-time feedback and communications from the people in your business who ultimately pay the bills: your customers.
Chris Griffiths is the Toronto-based director of fine tune consulting, a boutique management consulting practice. Over the past 20 years, he has started or acquired and exited seven businesses.