When it comes to developing a sales team there are some real challenges in getting old habits out of the way and new patterns of work established. Old habits in a sales team take significant effort to reprogram and reposition. That is the job of the Sales Manager or Team Leader.
Many salespeople may not feel that they have a performance problem and they have been doing the same good things for years. ‘So why should they do something new’, they say. With limited thinking and old habits, a business will go nowhere fast.
The reality of the matter is that many sales teams need to adjust their focus and their actions regularly. The selling season is real and unique to all product types, customers and services. The selling team just have to adjust.
So what are the key issues in the selling season for your business? Try some of these:
- Lead time for the orders for your clients
- Supply of goods from your main factory or central supply source
- Pressures on your clients manufacturing or supply
- Economic changes in the regional or local economy
- Changes to infrastructure
- Changes to transport and delivery corridors
- Impact on technology for you and your clients
An open and questioning mind will help your sales team adjust to the aspects of the market and the clients business. The market and technology is changing so fast that the market and your business this year will not be the same next year. Help your client move through this change.
Improve your services to all of your clients in small increments; that will allow you to consolidate the change in a meaningful way.
In business today I see far too many sales people that take things the way that they are. These salespeople fail to adjust to the market and learn more skills to build better market share under changing market conditions.
Let’s face an important fact here; the market is always changing, and yet if you keep doing the same old things, nothing will change for you. One of the toughest things to change in business is your habits. You have spent years building on your habits; whilst that can be a protection process to keep life under control, it certainly does nothing for you in getting more sales and better customers.
The best salespeople know that adjustment is a wise process; everything we get out of business and our market will come from our efforts. They are the only things that we can control.
In most locations, towns or cities, the selling season is limited to no more than 11 months of the year. In some cases it is far less than that. All of your effort has to be directed into the core selling time in the best possible way. That will include the right factors of:
- Target market in your town or city
- The right products or services
- The right time of day
- Product and service knowledge
- Knowing what people will want and when
- Building strong relationships with the right people
- Keeping on top of the competition and their activities in your area
- Capturing all of your contacts into a database of relevance and quality
- Communicating frequently into your market and customer base
Now would be a good time to look at just what you are doing in your business and customer base. Can you improve any of the above items? What will it take to change old restricting habits to a new process of growth and change?
As a final tip in this topic it is worthwhile noting that most customers will move on to others at some stage; you cannot keep the same customers forever. All things being equal, some of your customers will move location, change business focus, or be attracted the competitors in your market. On that basis it pays for you to develop a process of new client growth as part of your prospecting processes.
Plan to lose some of your current customers each year, so you then fill the void with new customers. It is a fact that new prospects and customers in some industries will take time to nurture and convert. Top salespeople know how to do this; they have a system to support the entire process. Develop the focus and start to build your market for the long term.
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In business today there are many types of customers and yet we forget to handle each of them separately and specially. It is important to have a customer communication and contact system specifically designed for the different types of customers.
This then says that every customer type should have a dedicated part within your customer contact program. The strategies between customers types will differ based on some of the following criteria:
- You will have some loyal clients that have been working with you and purchasing your products or services for many years. They will bring stability to your business with consistent purchases and orders. Some of those loyal clients will be key accounts by definition, and also by volume of sales and orders.
- Your service and response should be different between ordinary customers and key accounts. Differentiate the ways in which you will work with key clients. Senior sales staff should be dedicated to each particular key account to ensure relevance and responsiveness when it comes to the supply of goods and services.
- From time to time you will get referral business and new clients from a number of sources. Referral business is built around the relationships, leads, and opportunities that you have with other people. When you have been given a referral, it is necessary to specifically and productively work through the referral opportunity. Only your best salespeople should take on the referral contact and potential conversion. It may also be necessary to give feedback to the person that made the initial introduction as the referral relationship changes and grows.
- Some of your existing customers will benefit from an improved version of your product or service. Working closely with your clients throughout the year will help you identify these special customers. Over time they can be converted to key accounts.
- When any new versions of your product or service are being considered for release, an industry briefing or prelaunch presentation can be organized for your key customers.
- Some of your current customers will be very happy with the existing levels of product supply and service. They will however never reach the purchasing or order levels of a key account. They still require special attention to ensure stability of customer relationship and ongoing sales.
- The profit margins that may exist on a typical customer sale will differ when it comes to a key account. Purchase volume and purchase amount has a lot to do with setting the lower margins for the key customers. To simplify the matter, set 3 simple levels of key account profit margins based on levels of sale and volumes of purchase. It is usually sufficient to have three levels of pricing relating to key account interaction. As part of this process it is important to understand the orders placed and purchases made by each key account throughout the year.
- Some of your customers will be seasonal in their purchasing activities. They may only require your product or service once a year. That being said, when they place an order and purchase it is likely to be in large volumes for a short period of time. They can therefore place special pressures on the staffing and supply chain, and on that basis will require unique understanding and communication systems.
Protect the relationships with each and every client within your business. Competitors will be chasing your clients and threatening your market share most of the time. It is quite easy for a client to move their product or service requirements across to another supplier. Business today is quite dynamic and demanding. Ensure that your product and or service are of the highest quality at all times. Any weak links need to be removed or rectified.
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In selling or negotiating anything, it is really important to get to the facts and understand the other party. When you do this well, you can match your dialogue and your ideas to the right outcome. Your questioning techniques are really important.
There are 3 basic types of questions or probes that can be used in negotiation; they should be used in balance to the discussion on the product or service. You should select the right type of questions with care because they will have direct impact on the response of the other party. Here are those question or response types:
- Open Questions – this type of question will require a factual and detailed answer. For example, ‘How do you see this tractor being used in your current harvesting program?’
- Closed Questions – this process is suitable when you want a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response. For example, ‘Can you see this tractor helping your harvesting program this year?’
- Extended Statement – this is a process of going further into a subject or discussion of the other party. For example, ‘Please tell me how the tractor will be used in your harvesting program.’
It is interesting to note that many salespeople do not use the third example above much at all. They do not probe deep enough into the issue or deal. Lack of information will make it harder to get a result or positive outcome. The open or closed question can always lead to the ‘extended statement’. It takes practice but the extra time spent in finding out all of the facts will always help you with your negotiation.
The more that you can move the discussion into the subject and need, the easier it is to understand exactly what they require and create agreement with the other party. The real facts of the matter will always help you in any negotiation; for that reason, remember that the negotiation is about them and not about you.
Here are some good question starters that you can use at any time with clients and customers:
- Tell me
- Couldn’t we?
- Shouldn’t we
- Didn’t you?
- Don’t you?
- Haven’t they?
- Doesn’t it?
- Hasn’t he?
- Isn’t it?
These statements will help you tie down the detail and move to a solution for the customer. They say that practice makes perfect, and that is certainly the case in professional selling and negotiation. Asking questions and getting closer to the requirements of the customer will always help you through the negotiation with greater efficiency.
Asking the right questions is a form of customer qualification. It pays to have a checklist designed for your product or service so you can really get to the important points quickly and effectively.
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Negotiation is one of the great skills that a good salesperson should develop and practice. We are not all great at negotiation when challenged; it takes a mindset and a skill base that can help us work with the great number of variables that can apply in selling today.
Here are some tips for improving your negotiation skills today:
- Know your product or service comprehensively. That will help you with your dialogue and the variables that may come into the negotiation.
- The possible characters and position of the parties to the negotiation will vary greatly and you have to master all of them. A good negotiation is the result of careful planning and communication.
- Always see the negotiation as a series of small steps to the end result. Rarely will the outcome be achieved in one decision.
- If the parties decline to agree, take the time to know their ideas and restrictions. Something will be holding them back and will require understanding.
- Leave emotions out of the negotiation; they do not help. If the other party gets emotional, it will be a strategy and they are seeking to manipulate the circumstances for themselves. Do not let the other party’s emotion undermine the base plan or the momentum.
- Know where you must start the negotiation and where it should head. In saying that, you will also need to know the variables that can arise in the typical negotiation and have a strategy to work through them.
- When you find that there are differences between the parties, define them and then work through them individually. Focus on the interests and outcomes of the parties concerned.
- Be respectful throughout and after the negotiation. Follow through to the very end so that the parties do not feel that they have been taken advantage of.
- Creative thinking will help any negotiation move ahead. Sometimes the parties need to know more of the situation or maybe even want time to fully think through the facts.
- If either party produces obstacles to the transaction or the deal, ask them about the ideal solution and get them to talk about it in great detail. This process is called a ‘Freudian slip’ and will usually help you move the other party forward with facts and solutions.
Good negotiators are experts at their craft and their product or service. They practice and plan how they will communicate and build on any product or service offering. Over time they build an exceptional set of sales and negotiation skills. You can do the same.
A sales attitude is required to create better market share and more business. When you look at the average sales team, there is a significant difference between all members of the team and on that basis they will need to be individually managed and encouraged.
There are many different performance models available for sales team analysis. Essentially there is one of the clear fact that is common to all. Some salespeople are good on building relationships with customers and people generally; other salespeople will be good at closing the deal then moving on. For this reason it pays to have a variety of a good salespeople of both types in your team.
It is a notable fact that these two types of sales characters are distinctly different and approach prospecting and selling from different angles. Your sales manager or team leader is likely to be one of these characters; they will not normally relate to the other sales character well at all. That will then alienate and frustrate the other part of your sales team.
This is where the team leader needs to carefully manage the two different sales styles regardless of their personal selling style or bias.
Here are some other tips that can apply to the establishment of a solid sales attitude within the business team:
- Prospecting for new business should be the number one event in every sales person’s diary each business day. There is simply no excuse for not prospecting. A good sales team is built on business generation and not order taking.
- Customer contact and customer service follows as a close second to the prospecting process. In this economic environment, customers need to be encouraged and nurtured through the sales cycle.
- There is a real difference between ordinary customers and key accounts. Importantly, your business and your sales team needs to differentiate between the two and service them differently.
- Every salesperson should be responsible for filling and maintaining their sales pipeline. Over time the pipeline should be growing in your prospects, customers, and quality of sales.
- You will need a good customer relationship management (CRM) software program to help with your sales pipeline. In only this way can you track the relationships with suspects, prospects, and clients. The selection of software for your business will normally be based on the product or service type, and the contact methods that you use. Also give some due regard to the ongoing customer interaction and the other departments in your business that will be contacting the same customer over time. Every stage of the customer contact cycle needs to be entered into the CRM system.
As a final note, your best salesperson should never be promoted to the level of sales manager. There is a lot of difference between managing salespeople and achieving results.
The best salespeople do not normally make good sales managers as they simply cannot explain their methods to the sales team and encourage the right type of action to be taken.
Good sales management is a very specific process requiring a very skilled professional that understands your business.