Editor’s Note: This is a guest post written by Steven Quinlan – founder of The Sales Desk. His opinions are his own.
The fact is that between 40% and 80% of all small businesses fail within the first 3 years. Reasons are varied, but most come down to not generating enough revenue to keep the business moving forward; and that translates to poor sales.
Most business owners are too busy to maintain focus on generating leads, following up on enquiries and building a sales team that fits their business needs. When they see trouble ahead it’s often too late to navigate around it without major disruption to their business.
Let’s take a look at some of the common sales mistakes businesses make, and ways you can avoid them.
1. Sales planning prevents poor performance
Most businesses owners start with a vision. Some have a business plan, but few have a sales plan.
Without a sales plan that breaks down your financial goals into activity – emails, telephone calls, meetings and networking – you have no way of measuring your progress. More importantly, your activity is the lead indicator for success.
No calls this week means no meetings next week.
Being clear where your client is at each step of your sales process is critical to planning how to advance your customers to the next stage – and you should be communicating with your customer throughout.
Throw away spread sheets and paper lists for recording leads and client data – in sales you really want to become a paperless office. A good CRM system will improve your productivity, customer engagement, sales management and revenue enormously.
Keeping your sales pipeline active without clear visibility of the sales activity will be near impossible to sustain without a CRM system.
2. Create a sales team that fits your business
It isn’t just about finding great people; it’s about creating a team that supports your goals, is enthusiastic about your vision, and demonstrates the right behaviours, skills and capabilities to sustain the business.
Many small businesses don’t have the capacity or experience of hiring effective sales people for their particular industry; and sales people can talk even the most experienced interviewers into giving them the job with their pitch – that’s what they’re best at!
Effective and loyal employees take time to develop and need direction to be able to support your business. 50% of sales managers are just too busy to train and develop their teams, meaning that good sales people are left to stagnate rather being developed into your dream team.
Identifying, attracting and recruiting top people is a great start, but don’t forget on-going development and coaching support is critical to ensure improvements year on year.
3. Don’t leave lead generation to your sales team
Be disciplined and efficient with your sales people’s time.
At the very least you need a good quality lead list for a sales team to call and follow up on. This creates the best foundation for creating the sales you need. Don’t leave lead generation to your sales team though, as they will waste as much as 40% of their time looking for someone to call, rather than calling and converting a qualified lead into a customer.
If you don’t have time or the skills in-house, consider using a specialist resource to generate and allocate quality leads for your sales teams. Don’t waste your money on purchasing lists without direct numbers, emails or job titles. The additional work involved makes the conversion rate for these lists an outrageous waste of money, time and resource. Instead try looking through your own client base and approaching similar businesses and contacts that you haven’t already qualified. Often your own customers will refer you to your best prospects, if you just ask.
4. Be clear with your sales people about what you want from them
A clear sales plan with realistic, achievable goals and a distinct outline of what’s needed to get there helps keep your sales people focused and generating the revenue to sustain and grow your business. Teams that don’t have activity plans flounder and waste time that could be spent on contacting warm leads, thus letting them go cold and ultimately losing the prospective client to your competition.
Communicate regularly and be clear with your sales people about what you want from them, how you expect them to reach their goals and what rewards are waiting for them when they do.
Unrealistic targets and poor leads, lack of skills and support sap motivation and turn your sales team off rather than motivating them to reach and surpass what is expected from them.
Be realistic in your expectations. Don’t expect 100 calls to instantly generate 100 sales. Look at your history – there are calls, follow ups, relationships to build, incumbents to overcome and meetings to attend. It takes time, and focus, to build the rapport required to turn a lead into a customer.
In many companies a dedicated sales team is a major overhead and often it’s just 20% of the team who deliver 80% of the revenue.
Sales people need to make every minute count. In a lot of businesses, a sales person can hide the fact they are spending less than 30% of their time on sales while others are being driven to spend between 60-80% of their time on activities like calling leads, following up contacts and attending new client meetings.
If your resources are like this, consider outsourcing the sales to a specialised team so you can essentially employ just the best 20% to receive the largest portion of your revenue, in less time.
5. Prospects aren’t waiting for your call
98% of customers will only buy once a certain level of trust has been built up – usually after 5 contact touch points over time. That allows for time to communicate with – not talk at – potential customers.
Meaningful contact and nurturing the relationship helps build this trust. A business needs to be able to take the time to engage with customers and potential customers, understand their problems and engage in an ongoing conversation to be able to convert a ‘lead’ into a loyal customer account.
You can identify what your typical responses and contact points are to create templates and streamline this process. These don’t have to be automated or pre-recorded impersonal messages; with a little thought, a plan for regular contact can be created to have it appear as a personalised and individual piece of communication.
6. Measure sales activity; don’t just track sales revenue
A good sales team will not only track sales revenues (from new accounts and products), but also the number of calls that turn into meetings, meetings that turn into proposals and sales along with the success rate of different lead sources and communications. These figures help a team to stay focussed on daily activities that drive their performance.
You should also be monitoring your communications – especially the call guides, pitches, presentations and proposals you have created to see what works best, what’s not so hot, and where you can improve on them to convert more sales. This saves your sales people precious time and improves their skills so they can focus on the critical areas of closing the deals and nurturing your customer relationships.
With the right people, clear focus and planning, discipline, great communication – both internal and external – and the right measures in place, you’ll be on track to make your business a resounding success.
Steven Quinlan, founder of The Sales Desk, is a business development manager with nearly 30 years’ experience in developing and executing strategies that drive business growth. Steve works with businesses across a variety of sectors including Community, Education, Medical, ICT, Wealth, Professional and Personal based services.