How to be amazing at sales
Every agency owner I speak to wants more new business and there seems to be an on-going mystery around how to make it work. It's a much-discussed topic. As of right now, Amazon has nearly 300,000 books dedicated to the subject.
I've been in sales a long time and I've worked alongside a significant number of other salespeople during my career. I've observed the good, the great and the catastrophic.What I know is this: People who are good at sales are charming and personable. People who are amazing at sales are charming, personable and organised.
To be effective in sales you need to understand your desired outcomes and identify the necessary steps to get there. In my experience, skill will only get you some of the way. The larger part of success is in the planning, organisation and strategy.
In this article I’ve outlined some of my best-practice basics. By getting your processes in line, you’re setting a strong foundation for success.
This is the bit that I know a lot of agencies struggle with – and needs addressing up front. Sales activity is usually inconsistent because
a) it’s not prioritised
b) it’s not resourced
c) people hate doing it.
The trouble with most business development is that it takes time. You don’t get many instant wins. Only 2% of sales happen at the first meeting.
Now I’m not talking about the clients that walk up to your door and offer you projects. Taking orders is not sales.
The process of ‘selling’ has several phases. Turning cold leads into warm prospects and finally into clients takes time. And you have to be persistent. From the first contact to the close can take dozens of calls, several meetings and months of discussion and negotiation.
If you’re not prepared to dig in and follow up again and again until you win the business, is it any wonder leads aren’t converting?
This is just straight-forward time and effort. If you don’t have the time or inclination to persevere with deals, make sure you have someone in your agency who can. Otherwise, it doesn’t matter how many leads you have – you’ll struggle to get any of them over the finish line.
If you can’t set a target and commit to it, you had just as well give up now. You can’t possibly reach a destination if you don’t know which direction you’re moving in. Have you been bobbing around on the same turnover for the last 3 years? I’ll bet it’s because you don’t have a target. Good salespeople live and die by their targets and so should successful business owners.
I use the good old-fashioned SMART model – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound (or some variation of the original.) To give you an idea, here are some of the questions you should be able to answer:
• What are my monthly revenue targets?
• What are my profit targets?
• What are my growth targets?
• What’s the timescale?
• What impact will this have on my resource capacity? When I reach my revenue target, what will my team headcount look like?
• Where do I want new business to come from? New clients or existing accounts? In what percentages?
• What kind of projects do you want to be earning revenue from?
When setting targets it’s not just about revenue. Consider the kind of business you want to create. Call it ‘vision’ if you will. By outlining every element of your target company, you’re one step closer to achieving it.
Part of the target-setting process is identifying who your ideal customers are. I’m sure you’ve heard that specialism is key. Think about your favourite brands – would you buy Apple technology if they also professed to be experts in coffee machines? Or Nike sportswear if they had a side business in medical devices? Unlikely. Leading brands are successful because they position themselves as experts in their field.
I’m familiar with the standard objection to this – ‘if I limit myself to a specific field won’t I miss out on lots of other lovely business?'
If you’re looking at your inbound business, sure – you’ll have a hodge-podge of all sorts in there. But remember we’re talking about outbound activity. You get to choose what you go after. You cannot possibly chase every industry sector all at once. By focusing on an Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) you’ll be able to create a target database, focus your marketing content, build a reputation as experts and take a larger portion of your target market.
Your ICP will be based on questions like:
• What skills do we have in the agency?
• What are my own passions, beliefs, interests and ideologies? What kind of projects / initiatives can I get really excited about? (You’ll deliver better on projects that you enjoy after all.)
• What industry sectors do we want to work with?
• Who are our top 20 ‘dream clients’?
• What size project budgets do we want to win? What size companies will have those budgets?
• What business challenges can we solve for our clients?
• Who are the usual decision-makers / budget-holders in our target companies? What are their job role titles?
• Are we skilled at delivering projects that engage a specific audience type?
If you’ve got half an eye on a future exit strategy, specialism gives you a huge advantage here too. More about that another day.
This is important. Structuring your activity with a strict set of processes means you can be far more efficient and gain absolute visibility to results. I’ve seen it all - from the elaborate to the non-existent. The key to good process is ‘keep it simple.’ Draw a direct line from where you are to where you need to be and include only the necessary steps – otherwise you’ll end up spending 90% of your time stuck in an admin rut and getting others in your business on board will be an insurmountable challenge.
So what comes first – process or systems? I believe that you should find the system to suit your needs, not the other way around. If you can first of all outline your process manually then systems should enhance things by organising and automating. They should not dictate your process and add unnecessary steps.
Here’s my sales process best-practice:
• Get a CRM. I’ll go into this more another day. We’ve got a few favourites and we know a few that belong on the scrapheap! Keep an eye out for our review of the best CRMs and how to get the most out of them.
• Clean your data. As soon as you have complete and accurate contact records, put them in your CRM. When you start contacting the data in your CRM, it’s very frustrating when data is incomplete and wrong.
• Separate your data into four categories:
Customers should of course be recorded in your CRM. It’s good practice so anyone new joining the business has all the information they need in one place.Prospects are companies where you’re in the process of selling. You’ve met them, you’re talking about services, discussing the brief and negotiating fees.Leads are those that you haven’t yet engaged in a sales conversation. You may have made contact, but leads only become prospects when you’re having a business conversation.Dead – like customers, also track companies that you’re not going to engage with. They might be ex-clients, or someone who has expressed they don’t want to work with you (or indeed, you’ve decided you don’t want to work with.) Keep track of them so everyone in your agency knows not to contact them• Log details every time you make contact. Every conversation, update or change – make a note against the company in your CRM. It keeps all communication consistent and ensures all information is visible to everyone in the business.• Schedule follow-up tasks and stick to them. Managing your contacts means nothing gets missed and you can get through your to-do list quickly and move onto other things. Make it a priority for an hour each day to complete the activities on your task list.• Keep your pipeline visible and updated. Visibility to your pipeline means you have all the information you need to focus on progressing opportunities and closing deals.• You should always have at least 4 times more in your sales pipeline than your sales target. E.g. if you need to turn over 50K / month, you should have £200k in your pipeline every month.• Prioritise sales. If you’re the business owner and you’re fulfilling the sales role, this is important. Your company needs new business. It’s high on the priority list so it should be treated as such. If you can’t make the time to prioritise sales, then enable someone else in your business who can. As mentioned earlier, it’s a full time job and needs consistent activity.• Know what ‘the close’ looks like. A signed agreement, a contract, a purchase order – having a tangible ‘close’ gives you something clear to work towards.
My rule of thumb is to prioritise closing before all else. If I have deals I can close, that’s my number one focus of the day. After that, I work my way down through the pipeline to move any other opportunities towards the finish line. Only then do I start working on cold leads.
If you can structure your activity according to this framework you’re halfway there. Now you just have to work on being charming and personable!