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How to Create Sales-Boosting Case Studies

Do you use case studies to help you get more sales?

If not, start right away! 

Like testimonials, case studies are a powerful way to grow your client base. As an added bonus, case studies, unlike testimonials are effective even if they are anonymous.

If you work in a highly competitive industry where your competition is always attempting to poach your client list, or if your clients will not let you use their names publically case studies citing the industry only (and not the client’s name and company) are the best option for you.

People Only Care about Results

People aren’t interested in the products you sell, they are only interested in the results those products create. These results are the center of your case study.

As your hottest sales leads are those with problems you can your case studies must highlight other clients with similar challenges, the solutions you provided and the results the client achieved.  Solid case studies tell a story providing proof that you are a credible company in your markets.

The Perfect Case Study Formula

A case study is a publication that illustrates a success story or the resolution to a problem. The best are written strategically following a specific formula.

Problem

First, outline the problem your client was challenged with. Use specific details and describe the situation a client was in, what challenges and obstacles he was facing and what negative effects he was experiencing because of the problem. For example you might say:

“A large insurance company was facing declining sales due to customers defecting to the competition at a higher than usual rate

Solution

Next, present the solution your client bought and implemented to solve the problem. The solution should be clearly written and described so that the reader can understand exactly what actions were taken and how your solution was invaluable to the client. For example:

“They hired ABC consulting company to conduct a time audit of their sales reps and customer service teams over a period of 3 months”

Results

Finally, showcase the results of your solution. This is the section contains two parts. First it allows you to prove how your product or services solved the client’s problem. A second, you can highlight the results that were achieved.  For example

“As result of this audit we noted that the time sellers spent nurturing their client base was far below industry average leaving their clients open for competitive calls. They were able to rectify this by implementing an account strategy that decreased customer churn by 50% in one year saving them $1,000,000.  . 

Your case studies should paint a picture of what solutions you can provide and examples of the Return on investment.  They should highlight results and value.

Publish Everywhere

Once your case study is written with a clear problem, solution and results description, publish it everywhere.  Here are some must publish locations:

·         Your Website

·         Your Blog

·         Marketing Materials

·         Social Media Accounts

·         Third-Party Websites

·         Professional Communities

·         Proposals

·         Telephone “Hold” Messages

·         Marketing Emails

The more places you publish your case studies, the more likely they will be seen, read and acted on!

You don’t have to publish your case studies in their entirety in all locations. In fact, in some social media, it makes more sense to publish portions or summaries of your case studies. You can also publish “teasers” or snippets that entice your audience to read the entire publication

When you chose to publish only  parts of your case study, be sure that you are telling the reader enough information to make the case study compelling. Condense your problem, solution and results into a smaller publication, but don’t leave any vital information out. AS well, always include a link back to the site of the full case.

When written with this key formula, case studies are an excellent way to attract new opportunities and increase sales. To use case studies to their fullest potential, publish them generously in every marketing channel available to you and use them to highlight current, compelling and credible results.

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Good Testimonials Sell. Bad Testimonials Repel!

When we receive positive testimonials from clients, it might seem difficult to ever find fault with them.

After all, if they’re saying something positive, it has to be a good thing, right?
The truth is, there are three vital components that make an effective testimonial. Without all three of these important elements, the testimonial may actually repel potential clients from working with you.

Curious to know what these three important keys are? Your testimonial must be credible, current and compelling. When all three of these elements are present, the testimonial is most likely to convince prospective clients that you’re the real deal.

Current

Testimonials aren’t persuasive if they don’t contain current information. Make sure the testimonials reflect your current products and services and that they represent current clients who are still in business! 

Also make sure that the testimonial is fresh, recent and pervasive. If you’re still flashing around a 10 year old testimonial from a business that shut down years ago, it does very little in solidifying your own abilities. Review your testimonials annually to check for current information and make changes.

There will be times when you will have to stop using some testimonials (even some of your favorites!) and gather new ones. A good habit to develop is to ask for a testimonial from each client. Doing so will ensure you always have a batch of the most current success to share with new prospects.

Credible

Ensure your source is relevant, and from an industry that is similar to your core client base. If your testimonial comes from an irrelevant or less than credible source, it damages your credibility as well.

For your testimonials to be credible they need to be from respected people and businesses, real (never fake a testimonial or endorsement), and in alignment with the products and services that you are selling.

Only when testimonials credible are they a powerful selling tool. Credibility is decreased when the testimonial is attributed to a vague name such as “Bob” or to simply a title. Even worse are testimonials with no attribution.

Credibility is increased when you use your client’s name, business, title and picture. You can also increase the credibility of your testimonial by using a video or audio clip of your client sharing their success.

Compelling

A testimonial does little good if it doesn’t outline a specific gain that the client obtained by working with you.  Compelling testimonials are objective testimonials.

A tangible and measurable benefit should be outlined in the testimonial for maximum effectiveness. These benefits can include:

·         Revenue increases. For example, “our sales increased 50% when using Colleen’s referral scripts”

·         Time savings “ABC’s online ordering system saved us 40 hours a week in data processing”

·         Productivity increases “The ABC product increased our machine’s output by 20% in one week”

·         Cost reductions “This new oil reduced our annual costs by 15% because it lasts longer than other products we used in the past”

Your testimonials must be specific to speak to and persuade your market.

Here is another example. A testimonial that simply states: “Company ABC is great to work with!” Doesn’t capture a buyer’s attention, create emotion or encourage anyone to work with you. Instead, use a testimonial that is more detailed information.

Made over, the ineffective testimonial above would be: “Working with Company ABC has saved us time and money. Our teams work one hour less a day because we have reduced duplication and all corporate files are in one central location that everyone has access to.”

This testimonial is compelling because it fully describes the benefit the client received as well as objectively showcasing the tangible value.  

How to secure the best testimonials

Businesses of all sizes can produce high-quality testimonials in text, audio or video format. Here are four ways to secure more of the best testimonials for your business.

Contact your passionate newer clients. Get on the phone and call your newest clients. No matter which industry you serve, the most passionate praise you'll find for your work and the service tends to come from clients with whom you have only recently started doing business. Follow the lead of Audi. Less than 30 days after a new car purchase an Audi representative will call to confirm you are happy with your purchase and ask for feedback on the dealership. If that feedback is positive the surveyor asks if that information can be shared.

 

Contact your wise and insightful repeat clients. Your repeat clients provide prospects with important insight about what makes your product or service worth buying. Make a point of calling up those that you have been doing business with for a long time and ask them why it is that they call on you. The answers you get will often include a great sentence or two that can be added to your testimonial collection. Again, all you have to do is ask.

 

Make it easy for people. One of the most common comments you'll hear from clients when asking for testimonials is "Well I'm really not much of a writer, so it's hard for me to put it in words." The real power of testimonials comes from the fact that they're not polished...they're authentic and from the heart. Show the client other client testimonials as an example. That should set the table for them. Next, ask your client the following: 'Finish this sentence in 25 words or less: I really like (product/service/person) because…' This really works because it gets right to the point about the feelings people have for you, for what you do and for what you're selling."

 

Do unto others. Write testimonials for others in your client community and whose services have impressed you. This creates reciprocity, and sends an important message to everyone about the high standards you have not only as a supplier, but as a buyer, too. You will find that they will return the favour with glowing references for you too.

If a client is prepared to present a testimonial to you, chances are you’ve done something well!  Leverage that success by ensuring the endorsement is current, credible and compelling and you will grow your sales faster and with less effort.

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Using Internal Referrals to Grow Sales

You will grow revenue more quickly and profitably by leveraging your current clients for referrals.

Let’s look at the facts:

1.    A cold lead, or an inbound lead from a random source, has a closing rate of around 25% to 30%.

2.    In contrast, you double your success with a referred lead, which traditionally has a closing rate of 50%.

With referrals you’re not taking any additional time with the sales process and probably less time to prospect, with results that are leaps and bounds better. Accordingly, by simply switching to a referral-based sales process, your team will see a dramatic increase in their sales numbers.

There are two sources of referrals: Internal referrals from a client to other buyers in their business such as to other buyers, divisions, or departments; and External referrals, introductions to friends, family, suppliers, vendors, and partners outside of their business.

In this article we will look at one effective way to gather internal referrals.

To find the best internal referrals start with identifying the key new contacts you want to meet:

1.    Work from you client’s organizational chart. If you don’t have one ask for one, or find one online.

2.    Sit down with the client to review the organizational chart with names and titles. Engage client, Mark, reports that, when faced with blank spaces on an organizational chart, his clients pick up the pen and start filling in spaces.

3.    Decide whom you want to meet. You can either decide quickly in that meeting or take the organization chart away for more research. Either is fine as long as you eventually get to step four.

4.    Ask for a specific introduction. “Bob, you mentioned Andy is the VP of sales for South America. Do you mind if I call him next week?” Or “Sarah, I will be calling Mark next week in your finance department. Can I tell him we do business together?"

Next, conduct a business review on site with your client to meet these new contacts in a non-threatening way. At a minimum you should be conducting them twice per year.

Business reviews are critical to internal referrals because they ensure you are in front of the client more often than the competition, building deeper relationships with increasing numbers of people and delivering them value beyond the expectations of the project.

A business review is NOT a sales meeting. And, this is precisely why it is such a great tool for referrals. Business reviews are your opportunity to have a value-based discussion focused on the client’s needs and interests in four areas:

1.    The current levels of value that the client is receiving from you now and how that value compares to the expectations that were set at the start of the relationship. In other words are you performing below, at or above expectations?

2.    What the future holds for your client. What are their strategic initiatives for the next year?

3.    What your company is planning for the year that the client needs to be aware of. This is your chance to share product and service enhancements, expansion plans or other key initiative relevant to the client’s relationship with you.

4.    The industry in general.  This will allow you to showcase your expertise in their business and industry by sharing insights from your unique vantage point. Specifically, what trends do you see coming that the client needs to either leverage or de-risk for?

Business reviews must be attended by your buyer, as well as any key stakeholders and project participants. This is also your opportunity to add new relationships by identifying people you have not met and inviting them to the business review. You will find that it’s easier to both get new contacts to meet with you the first time, and get your clients to refer you internally to other people, when you are requesting they attend a group meeting. Simply put, meeting in a group is less threatening than meeting one on one with a sales person!

Treat internal referrals as something you obtain from clients as a rule—not as an exception. They are vital to growth. Not only do they help attract new projects, but they also help you broaden your network and maintain customer loyalty.

Current clients who refer you consistently to new business tend to stay clients for a longer period of time. They want to stay because their entire network is in your community and/or because you have become a high trust and pervasive supplier to their organization.

I suspect over the next years we will see an even greater disparity in results between making cold calls with and without referrals. The perceived risks associated with buying from a stranger in the mind of buyers aren’t going to go away and as a result, people are going to be more prone to sticking with whom they know. Referrals keep you in the “know and trust” category in the minds of buyers.

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Customer-to-Customer Selling: 9 Ways to Leverage Your Client Base

The fastest way to grow your business is to leverage your current client base. By leverage, I mean that with some strategic planning your clients will introduce you to new opportunities to increase sales.

This article is the start of a series. It is your guide for 9 ways to leverage your client base. In subsequent articles we will look at each strategy more in depth.

1. Secure Internal Referrals

Internal referrals are referrals that happen within one business. For example, your current buyer, who is a client, could refer you to another executive, employee or department at his business who could also become a client.

You gain internal referrals by holding cross department meetings such as business reviews, or lunch and learn gatherings, and by asking for direct referrals from your original buyers. Start to develop an organizational chart now for any existing client. Map out the people, department or divisions you want to be introduced to and start asking to meet them.

2. Ask for External Referrals

External referrals are referrals that are obtained outside of your current client’s organization. One of the most effective ways to secure an external referral is to call your client and ask “I will be speaking to (name) at Company X. Can I tell them we do business together?”  

You can also ask your client base directly for introductions to expand your network of potential clients. The key is to always know who you want to be introduced to. Try: “I would like to meet Bob Smith. Can you help me with an introduction?” You will receive a more favorable response to this specific request for introduction rather than a general request such as “Who do you know?”

3. Ask for Testimonials

The third way to leverage your client base is to ask for testimonials. Produce video, audio or text testimonials that will influence sales leads and encourage them to become clients.

Sharing testimonials will showcase your brand as successful at helping others achieve great results. To do this effectively, all testimonials need to be current (with companies that are still operating successfully), credible (with buyers that have a good reputation in the marketplace), and compelling (showcasing objective performance improvements). Publishing testimonials will increase a prospects trust in you, leading to more sales.

4. Publish Case Studies

Case studies are a powerful way to illustrate what you can do for a potential client. A high-quality case study will show people what kind of results you can help them achieve and what you are capable of accomplishing. As an added bonus case studies, unlike testimonials can be effective anonymously. If you have a highly successful client who wishes to keep their success a secret, a case study can be a great compromise. 

The key to publishing effective case studies is to highlight the results your products create. They need to outline a problem, solution and the result of your work with the client.

5. Hold Client Conferences

Client conferences, or events where you bring together key prospects, current clients, partners and vendors, are the perfect environment for solidifying relationships and opening new opportunities. When buyers and prospects talk to each other, network and get together, they create tight networks that help you grow your client base. Bringing clients together for a live event also increases loyalty because they create a sense of community.

6. Have a Power Lunch

A power lunch is a lunch you orchestrate for two clients to meet, and where you facilitate client-to-client business. To do this, pick two clients who should meet each other, invite them out for lunch and facilitate the interest and introduction. Pay for this lunch, and let your clients talk about their businesses and expand their networks.

The goal of a power lunch isn’t for you to reap immediate sales; it is to increase the intangible value your clients receive from you. When you do this, your clients will be more likely to invest more in your business and become bigger clients.

7. Host an Advisory Panel

Hosting an advisory panel, where you invite multiple people from your company as well as some of your clients to discuss a specific topic, gives you the chance to hear what the client and industry wants and needs. Besides creating a future opportunity to sell your products to people who already know they need them, advisory panels improve loyalty because your clients feel that you are listening to them

8. Put Together an Educational Event

Educational events can be internal or external and they can be live or virtual. Invite some current clients and some prospective clients and make sure they have a chance to interact with each other. The idea behind an educational event is to help keep you engaged with your clients, let your clients hear what other clients are doing and bolster your standing with new prospects.

Even better? Host an educational event that includes a case study!

9. Nominate Clients for Local Business Awards

When you nominate your clients for local business awards, like “fastest growing business,” “top managed business,” “top CEO,” or any of the dozens of other local business awards many cities have, you strengthen relationships between you and buyers.

Any buyer you nominate will invite you to the award event and introduce you to their friends and promote you to their connections, which are all prospective clients. They will invite you to their table and promote as “the person” who “made this happen.” Everyone loves to feel appreciated and when you promote your client’s success publically and in a genuine manner you are rewarded with reciprocal genuine support. This is what creates leverage.

When you have achieved leverage, your client has been transformed into an advocate. They provide testimonials, references and case studies powerful enough to attract other prospects to you without you asking them to do it. In this way, they become your secret sales force. The leverage state can yield an incredible amount of power and so, in the coming articles we will detail how to make each of these strategies work for you profitably.

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Why Measuring Customer Growth Matters

Measuring customer growth regularly and consistently will increase sales. How? Because measuring customer growth allows you to find accounts that can grow, buy more products and become even bigger customers.

The best, fastest way to increase your sales is to work within your current customer pool. You already know that incremental sales opportunities (selling up and cross selling) are effective ways to make more sales, but how do you know which of your customers will be most likely to respond to your sales pitches?

Measure customer growth.

Without consistent measurement, you have no way of finding these prospects and risk missing out on a lot of sales.

The Sales Leader Classification System

The Sales Leader Classification System we discussed in a previous article is a process of identifying key traits in customers and then classifying accounts into one of four segments. It allows you to manage your time more profitably and also helps you measure customer growth more effectively.

As we discussed, you will use engagement and potential growth opportunities to analyze each of your accounts and classify them as a Maintenance, Key, Service or Growth Potential Account. Each of these accounts has different characteristics and requires differentiated attention.

While these classifications will help you find the best ways to manage each account profitably it’s not all the system can do. It can also help you keep tabs on your accounts and measure their growth so you can expand them even more, making more sales.

Measure Consistently

Measuring customer growth entails spending time internally with your sales team monitoring your accounts. Each type of customer should be reviewed at a different time so you can see what goals are being met and how the account is growing.

My suggestion is to measure your accounts as follows:

·         Maintenance Accounts – Quarterly

·         Key Accounts – Quarterly

·         Service Accounts – Annually

·         Growth Potential Accounts – Monthly

What is the point of measuring your accounts?

Besides giving you the ability to see how well you are servicing each account, this practice allows you to see how accounts are changing and how they may be growing into different segments of the classification model. Remember that it is possible for some of your customers to start in one segment and grow into another. In fact, this is very positive and being aware of it will help you grow your business.

Measuring regularly also allows you to get ahead of any issues, slowdowns or losses quickly. When you discover growth is not happening as expected quickly, you can make changes, adjust your approach and find new opportunities. If you wait until the end of the year to measure progress it will be too late!

When you measure accounts, reevaluate their classification and decide if they should be moved into another segment. But, don’t stop there. After you measure growth and move customers into new segment, make the necessary internal changes to better service those accounts.

For example, maybe you weren’t spending much time on one of your Service Accounts, but now that account has grown and is a Growth Account. These two segments require differentiated attention, and Growth Accounts deserve more of your time. By changing the way you work with growing accounts you will be able to leverage current customers and increase your sales.

Measurements allow you to see what is in the sales pipeline, what opportunities are active, and what resources you need to grow your accounts. Constant measurement also gives you a chance to reassess account classifications and make changes so you can spend your time and resources most profitably. Consistent measurement makes it possible for you to fully leverage your customer base so you can sell more in less time while making more profit!

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Playing Favorites: Which Clients to Focus on and Which Ones to Let Go

In order to be profitable, you need to know which clients you should spend your time with and which ones you should let go. Because let’s face it, not all of your clients are helping you make more money. In some cases, it is best to let a client go so you can spend your time and other resources on a more lucrative account.

Use the Sales Leader Classification System we discussed in our previous article to help you determine which clients have the potential to benefit your business most. The key to understanding which clients to focus on and which ones to let go is being able to correctly identify and categorize each of your clients.

Playing Favorites

In the traditional sales model, you identify potential prospects, attract them and then close sales. Next, you get them using your products and engaged with your business. Once they have become engaged, you need to grow the accounts. This last step is where your time becomes crucial. Time is valuable and you need to use your time very wisely if you want to make your business more lucrative.

One of the biggest mistakes businesses make is failing to play favorites with their current clients. This may sound counterintuitive, because you value all your clients, but to really be successful you need to spend more time with the ones who have the most potential to help your business grow. In the Sales Leader Classification system these are labeled your Growth and Key Accounts.

Most companies make a huge mistake when it comes to classifying their clients: they assume their best accounts are the ones that are the biggest. The truth is that your best accounts are the ones that have the most potential. If you don’t make this differentiation you will end up wasting your time with clients who can never grow.

The Sales Leader Classification System will help you discover which accounts have the most potential by helping you classify each as a Maintenance, Key, Service or Growth Potential account. When you have this information you can spend the most time with the clients that are truly your best ones and will help you make more sales.

Divide Your Time Profitably

After you have analyzed your clients and classified them as one of the four account types, calculate how much time to spend on each in order to be profitable. For example, it wouldn’t be wise to spend most of your time on Service Accounts, because those accounts will not help you increase your sales.

 

I suggest you divide your Account management time as follows:

·         Maintenance Accounts – 20%

·         Key Accounts – 30%

·         Service Accounts – 5%

·         Growth Potential Accounts – 45%

I need to make a quick important clarification. You also need to be spending some of your time of new opportunity development. So when I say “Account Management time” I mean only those few hours that you have allotted to client work NOT the entire workday!

Spend the majority of your account management time with your Growth Potential Accounts. These clients have potential to grow and become more lucrative. When you foster these relationships you will increase your sales and your business will grow.

Next, you should spend about 30 percent of your account management time with Key Accounts, because these clients have high levels of engagement and potential. And as they grow they will spend more money on your business. Your Maintenance Accounts also deserve a substantial amount of your time because they have high levels of engagement and are helping you hit your sales targets.

Spend very little of your time on Service Accounts. The fact that these accounts have low levels of engagement and little potential means that they won’t help you increase your sales. If it comes time to let some clients go, Service Accounts are the ones to go.

Remember, you have to let go to reach out. I believe every business should be letting go of the bottom 10% of their clients each year in order to make room for better, more profitable ones.

The Sales Leader Classification System helps you identify which of your clients have the potential to help you grow and which ones you should let go. Once completed you can focus your time most profitable on the clients that will help you make more sales, and grow your business

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Identifying Lucrative Prospects

You already know that making money in business is all about making sales, and the sales process consists of finding prospects, attracting them, and closing a sale.

So what’s next?

Finding Incremental sales opportunities.  I call these ISOs. And, after the initial sales is done the most profitable next action is to spend time fostering relationships with your clients and engaging them, so they will spend even more money on your business.

But first we have to take a step back because not all clients can grow.  

Sadly, many sellers don’t prioritize their clients correctly and end up wasting time that should be spent with those who have the largest ISO potential. So, how do we fix this?

With the Sales Leader Classification System.  Here is how it works.

Engagement and Potential

The Sales Leader Classification System divides your clients into four different segments based on two criteria, current levels of engagement and potential to grow.

Engagement

How engaged are your clients? A simple way to measure engagement is to see how many of your employees are working with you client’s employees. Consider engagement like infiltration. If a many of your team members work with several of the client’s team members, there is a high level of engagement. If your client treats you more like a vendor, doesn’t call often, and isn’t proactive, there is a low level of engagement.

Potential

The next characteristic you will use to analyze your clients is potential. Look at each of your clients and decide if they have a low potential or a high potential to provide more revenue.

You can measure potential with pure revenue or likelihood of expansion. A client with high potential might be one that can spend more money on one product, or it might be one that may be interested in more of your products or services.

 

Four Client Categories

Now you can use levels of engagement and amount of potential to divide your clients into four different categories. These classifications will tell you how much time to spend with each client to make your business more lucrative.

Think of your clients’ level of engagement as the vertical axis and their amount of potential as the horizontal axis on a graph. Each of your clients will fall into one of the quadrants on the graph.

Maintenance Accounts

The first classification, Maintenance Accounts, includes clients with low potential to grow but high levels of engagement. These accounts are worth maintaining because the clients are buying a product from you and helping you make more money.

Key Accounts

Key Accounts are those that have high levels of engagement and increasingly high potential. Usually these are clients that are innovative and expanding. These clients have high potential to spend more money on your business and they are already highly engaged, which makes them an excellent source of revenue.

Service Accounts

Clients that treat your business as a vendor and don’t have much room for growth or more engagement are classified as Service Accounts. Generally these accounts don’t expand very much.

Growth Potential Accounts

Finally, there are Growth Potential Accounts. These clients are not buying much your business now, but there is a lot of potential for increased engagement and more sales. Don’t confuse these with Service Accounts, which don’t have room for growth.

When you use the Sales Leader Classification System correctly you can easily divide your clients into one of four categories. This will help you prioritize your time increase your sales making your business more effective and lucrative.

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Sure Fire Ways to Build a Successful Sales Force - Part 4: Plan, Fine Tune, Repeat

So far in this four-part series on building your successful sales force, we’ve looked at how your use and understanding of data (http://www.engageselling.com/articles/article-importance-of-data), people (http://www.engageselling.com/articles/article-work-smarter-with-people) and landscape (http://www.engageselling.com/articles/article-know-the-sales-landscape) can have a significant bearing on how well you grow your team and your organization.

Even after you have engaged all these steps, however, you still have more work to do. It’s not enough to just go looking for success. You have to plan for it, too. Just as important, you have to go back and measure your results, fine-tune your approach and repeat as often as required.

Planning for success

One of the biggest mistakes I see companies make when building their sales force is that they don’t fully anticipate how they are going to deal with the influx of new business. Sure, it sounds like a great problem to have, but if you fumble the ball at this point, all that effort can wind up leaving with no points on the scoreboard.

Consider this example: a small but growing company that has skyrocketing sales decides to divide up their sales territory. Where they once had a single sales rep looking after every market, they now have four. More sales growth follows, and again they divide up the territory evenly among the growing number of sales reps.

All sounds great so far, right? Wait a minute! What about that sales rep who once had the market to himself or herself? Not such a great deal for that person, who’s now disgruntled because they see their territory shrinking (and maybe their income too) as a result of the company’s success.

A wiser strategy here would be to anticipate your growth and plan ahead to divide your market into as many territories as required. That way, you can show that one hard-working sales rep where you are going in the future and what they also can be responsible for as part of your growth strategy. Suddenly you have a highly motivated sales rep on your hands who has a growing stake in seeing you succeed.

Don’t forget succession planning! As a rule of thumb, you should be looking to replace about 20% of your sales team at any given time. That might seem high to you, but in my experience even the top performing companies have close to that percentage of underperformers in their ranks. There are often plenty of sensible reasons why people underperform, but there is never a good reason why you should tolerate it in your growing business. At the same time top and middle performers leave unexpectedly and you certainly don’t want to be caught with a weakened roster.  My mantra for sales leaders is to “Always be recruiting”

Measure to find meaning

Throughout this series, I’ve talked about the importance of data as your guide to making good decisions. It’s not just something you do at the planning stage. Data at the evaluation stage can tell you many things about how well you’ve implemented your plan and whether fine-tuning is required. My recommendation is to measure your expected plan against your actual results weekly, monthly and quarterly. This way you are always able to stay ahead of problems and course correct quickly once you spot an unappealing trend.

The best managers we work with spend 30 minutes a week reviewing their results against plan, one hour a month and two hours a quarter. At the same time they spend 30 minutes per each rep coaching them on their results and their plan. While all this measuring may seem like a lot of thinking time to you, the combined results of these companies is 106% of quota and 25% less turn over than average sales teams. Measuring regularly defiantly pays off!

Pay attention. Your territory plans don’t have to stay the same year after year. And if you find yourself making a mistake, fix it. Markets are forever changing: that’s their nature. So it’s up to you to measure regularly, stick with what works and be ruthless about doing away with what is not working for you.

Summing up

To recap, your seven sure-fire ways build a successful sales force are as follows: make good decisions based on data; assign the right number of people; identify roles; plan compensation strategically; know the sales landscape; plan ahead; and fine-tune regularly.

Implement all seven of these steps and you will find yourself with an organization that grows and sells on a steady upward curve.

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Sure Fire Ways to Build a Successful Sales Force - Part 3: Know the Sales Landscape

English navigator Henry Hudson learned the hard way in the 17th century what can happen when you don’t know a landscape well.

His ill-fated fourth voyage to the arctic ended when his ship became locked in ice for months. As supplies dwindled, the ship’s crew mutinied, casting out Hudson onto an ice floe…and that was the last time anyone saw him alive.

I’ve met plenty of sellers who have made that mistake. Sometimes more than once!

Your sales landscape is something you need to know intimately, such that you can plan carefully how you’re going to cover it thoroughly and not miss out on important opportunities within your market to sell more.

To be clear, the landscape I am talking about here is more than just geographic boundaries. It’s also defined by the measurable preferences and choices that your customers make on an ongoing basis, as well as important trends that you see your competitors embracing in the marketplace.

Developing a deep knowledge of your sales landscape helps you sell more in less time. Just as important, it is what can help you avoid the risk of getting caught unexpected like poor Henry Hudson did.

So far in this series on building your sales force, we’ve looked at how important it is to use data to help guide your decisions and to work smarter with people so that you get optimal performance from them. Both of those points feed into your sales landscape.

Your work doesn’t end there. Have a look at the sales structures you are using in your market and compare it to what others are doing. Consider separating the inside roles and the outside roles, adopting different management structures. Recently an industrial oil reseller client added an inside sales team to compliment their field. As a result they were able to engage with customers more often. Within 12 months their profit margin had increased 45% and their overall sales revenue 140% all in a market that is declining nationwide by 2% per year.

Consider separate channel and direct teams so you have one person selling directly, one person selling through a channel or a reseller. This way you eliminate conflict and serve the customer more closely. I also suggest integrating the hunter and the farmer roles into one person to have one seller in charge of building the relationship, closing the relationship and nurturing the relationship. Doing so allows that person to leverage the trust built during the initial sales process into massive incremental sales.

But, don’t just try new things for the sake of trying. Your sales landscape is not the place to “wing it!”. Go on a data mining expedition and see what it tells you about your sales landscape. Conduct research on how your market could respond to changes you make to your selling approach.

Here’s a good example to illustrate how this works. A client of mine here at Engage Selling in the paper business operates within a well-defined geographic area but they serve their customers via a sales force of reps who come from outside of that area. Their competition, on the other hand, was using an inside sales team. Did that give the others a competitive edge? We did some digging and looked at the data and the results were not what you might have expected. We conducted a survey and found that the client’s customers liked the way they were doing business. Not only that, they also said they’d like to see more of their outside-in approach, rather than choose what the competition was doing.

As a result, my client ended up winning more business and standing out in the marketplace, just by doing things differently. That started with knowing the sales landscape and being sure that their approach was best and making sure we didn’t just follow their lead.

Know your sales landscape and use what you know to create the right sales approach for your market. Be open to new approaches and be prepared to test and fine-tune your methods of connecting with customers in your market. As a result, you’ll lead with confidence knowing the land under your feet as well as what’s just over the horizon.

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Understanding the New Sales Process

Welcome to a new year! One that I think demands a new understanding of how we sell, and how buyers are buying.

 In recent years, buyers in the sales process have become increasingly educated, and with that, the sales process has undergone a transformation. In order for your team to be successful in selling, it’s essential to understand and adapt to the new buying and selling process, which is now driven largely by the seller. The sales team has transitioned from leading the sales process to guiding it, and understanding this change helps to provide guidance for your sales reps in their role in the process.

 

 The Old Sales Process

Let’s start by taking a look at what a standard sales process used to look like. In a standard selling process, the salesperson was typically in control, driving the sales process from finding the right prospect through to the close. In the old sales process, the selling organization controlled about 70% of the sales cycle, with the client participating about 30% of the time through giving the selling organization information and helping to guide the development of the solution.

 A sales rep would begin with prospecting and research. By going online, looking for information and networking, our sales team would identify our targets in a process completely driven and controlled by the sales side. We’d then build rapport with our targets through smart, well-researched conversations.

 The next step for a sales rep was always qualifying the prospect. Through a variety of questions, sales reps would determine whether the prospect was a good fit for the product or solution and, if so, would move forward with developing a solution. This qualification was done from the sales side; knowing our solution, we’d research the prospect’s business and determine whether the solution would work for them.

 The sales process would close out with a presentation and the closure of the business—a 50/50 give and take between the prospect and the salesperson.

 For years, this was a standard sales process, but in today’s selling market, things have changed dramatically—and as a result, sales teams must adapt in order to fit the buyers’ expectations and needs.

 

The New Sales Process

The new sales process still begins with research and prospecting, but an important transformation has taken place. Today, the research and prospecting process is dominated by the prospect. They go online, research who has solutions for the problems they’re facing, read case studies and talk to their colleagues.

This shift is so dramatic that recent studies show that only 3% of all sales transacted are resulting from an outbound sales call from a salesperson to a buyer. Instead of waiting to be contacted by a sales rep, the prospect visits your website and determines whether or not you’re qualified to do business with them, not the other way around. They request information, fill out “contact us forms” and download free materials. Prospects are taking action and reaching out to us more than ever before!

As we move through the middle of the new sales process—qualification and solution development—we also see it is largely controlled by the prospect. Why? Because they have a better understanding of what they’re looking for and what’s available on the market than they ever have had before.

Instead of leading the process, it’s now the job of a sales team to guide the prospect through the process. A smart sales team will simultaneously make sure the prospect is a good fit for their business, but the new sales process dictates much more give and take at this stage.

Presentation and closing phases still require a 50/50 effort from both the prospect and the sales team, but the tenor of closing a sale now involves guiding the buying decision instead of leading it, or facilitating instead of selling.

By understanding the shift in the sales process and the increased control of the prospect, sales teams can better leverage this new decision-making and buying process. Solution selling is dead, and agile, engaging sales teams are the way to sell in the future.

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