At the early stages of connecting with a customer, make sure that you are dealing with or talking with a decision maker. So many prospects like to think that they are the decision maker when it comes to ‘buying’, but in reality there is a head office or board of directors somewhere that will make the final move on any recommendations.
So how do you get around this? Through ‘selective questions’ you will get the facts; that is the right answer in most meeting and prospecting situations. You can usually ‘read between the lines’ when it comes to the responses that you get.
In saying this, be aware that some prospects are ‘doorways’ to the top people or decision makers. You may only have that ‘doorway’ to use in reaching into a business for a sale or order.
So what can you do here? Set some rules like the following:
- Research the business or the customer on the internet and in any other way possible before you start to approach them.
- Find someone in ‘management’ that can give you relevant facts about the business and the people.
- Get to meetings as much as possible as the personal approach allows you to read and interpret the body language as well as the words spoken.
- Find out what they are doing today and if any of your competitors are active with the prospect. If so, respect the relationship and find out how it works.
- Understand the ‘lead times’ to requirements and if any ‘pain points’ exist when it comes to the business or the prospect using your products or services. Can you save them any money? Can you make their business more productive?
- Practice your dialogue for prospecting and in attending meetings. The practice process will help you lift your conversions.
- Understand that all prospects and customers have pressures and challenges. Speak to enough prospects in the market and you will find that you can ‘open more doors’ on future sales.
Sales and customer service today will always have challenges, but the reality is that the challenges have always been there. Focus on the value that you bring to the market and the sales that you make will escalate.
One of the biggest problems with some salespeople is that they do not have a ‘customer list’. They have no understanding of just what a customer looks like or where to find them. They wait for the customer to call the office or drop into the business. In many respects they wait for the marketing efforts of the business to pull in the enquiry and make the telephone ring.
Without a customer list you are doomed to failure. The customers that find you or call you are to a large degree a result of your actions; everything else is ‘luck’. Whilst some salespeople may be ‘lucky’ from time to time, dominant market share is only driven from systematic actions on the part of the salesperson.
So there is a very simple message here. If you want to rise to the top of your industry and earn a good income, you need to develop your customer list; you will only do that through prospecting every day.
To get things started let’s set up some systems to the process:
- Why do customers need you? What do you do or have available in your business that customers will find useful? Define these things so you can focus your prospecting and marketing efforts. Understand the value that you bring to your customers.
- Given any particular calendar or business year, are there any seasonal sales patterns that you need to watch and integrate into? Most of your marketing should be directed to this time of year; some businesses find that the seasonal selling time is 9 to 10 months of the year.
- Define the ideal customer as to profile, location, cash flow, and value. When you have this information, you can focus your prospecting efforts into a particular zone or territory. You will know exactly who you are looking for and why. You should create a template with those key issues in standard format; it can then be uses as a check-list in any customer contact or prospecting process. Capture key information throughout the day and enter it into your database at day end.
- Understand the impact of your competitors in the market today. Identify their customers, as well as the threats that the competitors impose on your market share.
- Some customers in your market will have pressures of price, timing, product performance, and long term value. Local business sentiment and the national business economy will impose variables on your clients and customers during the year. Whilst some customers will be slower to make a decision in a longer sales cycle or slower economy, you simply need to have a customer list that allows you to act with more people. Maintain regular contact with your customer list will help you build your business in any market and at any time. It is a personal process that requires a special focus and system.
- A daily prospecting process should involve a fixed period of prospecting time, a good dialogue, and a database software program. Every day you should develop your prospecting systems so they improve over time; practice will help you improve your calls to conversions. Devote approximately two or 3 hours to daily prospecting. Maintaining contact with suspects will allow you to turn them into prospects. The object of any prospecting program should be to generate a meeting and establish a valuable customer relationship.
- To a large degree, most of the new business that you generate will come from the long-term relationships that you establish. Your prospecting efforts should therefore be focused on establishing key relationships and building them with the right people. That is why the prospecting plan is so important.
The sales process gets a lot easier when you know a lot of people that can be considered future customers. Constant contact into your database and sales territory will help you identify those people that need your services and your products. Top salespeople understand the importance of prospecting and the customer list they create.
It is a fact that every person knows quite a few other people. On that basis we can use the connections of our clients to grow our businesses and sales opportunities.
So this is the advantage of ‘referral’ business. It’s always there for us to tap into. It’s just a matter of asking the right questions with the right people at the right time. That being said, the client must trust you and fully respect your relevance and experience.
Now it should be said that the process only works when you have served a client very well; when they are fully satisfied with the outcomes achieved. Their great satisfaction will give the momentum to the referral question and the leads to the people that they know.
Would you reward a person in some way for a converted referral? In most cases a simple gift or benefit will show the client that you are grateful for them in passing on the name of the referral. Even something as simple as ‘theatre tickets’, can be a positive way of showing the client that you really appreciate their help.
A good example of how this process works is well evidenced in the use of social media and ‘LinkedIn’. It is a social media platform that is built on the back of relationships and connections. Why not use this idea yourself and network through your good clients to others that they know and that you can serve?
When it comes to building a customer database and contact system, the best way to do so is through a contact and selling process that is focused entirely on the client. When you match your offering to the client, the pitch and sale process is a natural progression. You will get more orders that way.
Most clients hate to be ‘sold’. They have the experience to know when that is occurring and tend to avoid salespeople that ‘push’. Top salespeople do not push on the deal; they position and communicate. They ask the right questions and provide the right answers. The sales process is actually unique to the client. They will accept the offering or they will find another salesperson to help them.
At the base of every client relationship, the client likes to have the ability to exercise choice. If you give them that ability, then the sale is a lot easier. The reason the client will ‘choose’ you or your company in those circumstances is because they know that you are the ‘right choice’.
To solve this ‘choice’ equation, look at your offering of product or service from the client’s perspective. Here are some categories to apply:
- Product or Service that ideally suits the client
- The easiest way to place the order
- Timing of the availability and how it will be delivered
- Criteria that must be satisfied when the order is placed
- Satisfaction from the order to the delivery and after the sale
- Measurement of satisfaction will help you with referrals
- Ongoing contact and availability
If you want to achieve in your industry and territory, look at these factors and work on them from a client perspective. Align yourself to the client; the new business leads and sales will then come your way much easier.
Once every 6 months you should analyse your customers and prospects. When you do this correctly you can stay on target when it comes to prospecting and converting new business. The analysis becomes part of your business plan.
This process is actually part of a Key Account business model, and will produce a list of Key Accounts that will require different response and interaction than ordinary customers. So let’s go back to the process, and here are a few stages that can be optimised for your industry and market.
- Identify all the customers in your market today. You will need to collect the customer information and review it for relevance and opportunity. Look at all the variables and types of customers that you can work with such as existing customers, competitor’s clients, new customers, and old customers. All of them will offer some benefits. Some of your customers today may be working with competitors at the same time, so they should be identified for the special treatment that the ongoing relationship with them will require.
- Review the information for accuracy, opportunity, relevance to your business, and timeliness of the next sale or purchase of goods and services. If your product or service is a seasonal based unit, then you will be mindful of that selling season and you should prepare for it.
- Analyse customer details so that you know of any opportunities to expand your offering
- Segment your customers and validate them into groups that you can act on. Prioritize the members of each group into levels of action and importance.
- Determine your Key Accounts from ordinary customers so that you can service them differently and specifically.
Key account management is not hard; it is just a distinct process that requires a system to take you through important decisions.
When it comes to building your market share or establishing your market share as a salesperson, a good database program or customer relationship management system will help you greatly. Keeping in contact with the right people in the right way is really what this is all about. Systems will help you do that and open the door with more prospects at the right time and in the right way.Here are some rules to establish a contact management program in your business:
- Define your market geographically so you know where your clients are going to come from. Unless you do this first, you could spend far too much time spreading your efforts too broadly and seeing little outcome. You want results as soon as possible and on that basis you should limit your efforts to a defined area at all times. Importantly that area should contain enough clients for you to focus on and convert to new business.
- Establish a list of raw data including a list of companies and people that should be contacted as part of marketing efforts. To keep the pipeline of opportunity moving ahead, this list should be added to daily at a rate of 10 to 20 people from selected businesses. Take care in setting the right level of decision maker that should be approached regards your product or service. Keep the calls going and eventually you will have a solid database of opportunity.
- Suspects are the people that you will be making contact with. They will come from the research undertaken as part of the ‘raw data’ stage above. On a daily basis, ring down your suspects at a rate of 20 per day. You will only reach 5 to 10 on average per day, so those that you missed out on should go back into the call register for another day.
- Prospects will be the people that you have spoken to and identified a need or interest in your product or service. When they are noted to be prospects, you should be moving them towards a meeting with you if and when such can be arranged. This can take time to achieve depending on their business and their need, so keep talking to them on a regular basis until you can the meeting that you require.
- Face to face contact is important in most industries before any orders are achieved. Rarely can you sell your services and products across the telephone. It is far easier to sell a meeting over the telephone and then to get to know the right people. Relationships are everything in business today.
- Hot Prospects are those people that know you and are actively looking for something to buy or sell as part of your industry and market type. Keep in contact with them every few days to open the door on a sale or order.
- Clients that you work with should be kept at the top of your contact register. The contact made will include calls, meetings, conferences, product or service briefings, product releases, and regular client events.
- Your competitor’s clients should get a special category in your database. Over time you can convert some of them to your clients, so a strategy of high priority contact should be established with these people.
Given all of these things, it is wise to ask for referral business whenever possible. Every client and prospect in your database will know other people, some of whom will be valid contacts for future business; ask the question at the right time with the right people.