Category Archives: Sales Management

This Will Help Bring in More Sales Than any Sales Tool or CRM System Available

A customer once told me that his decision to give me a 300k project was based on the fact that I personally responded to his enquiry via my website over the weekend within 15 minutes (note – not an auto-bot response, I typed a proper reply).
No “ten-trillion” customer relationship management system or company-wide 6 month sales training programme provides that advantage.
In today’s hectic world, the mere acts of following-up, returning phone calls quickly, replying to emails, sharing information of value and just being polite goes a long, long way to securing business. It’s that simple.
I often wonder if companies are so focused on implementing complex processes and procedures, creating innovative presentations and rolling out state-of-the-art CRM or lead-gen systems,  that they allow us as salespeople to forget the importance of the absolute basic principles of sales professionalism – responding quickly, showing respect, doing what we say we are going to do, being courteous and keeping the customer well-informed as to what is going on with his or her order/enquiry/complaint before they have to reach out for the answer. Basics that should come naturally but unfortunately don’t.
No crafty content-based marketing system that is triggered to send a series of emails to prospects because of what pages they visited or downloads they requested on your website will help strengthen the personal relationship if that’s what the buyer is looking for.  I download loads of stuff but it means absolutely nothing in terms of whether or not I’m going to buy anything or not from that vendor. It just makes me aware of what they offer. It’s only when I connect with a salesperson that I make the decision.
Heck, we all know that most of these “Dear …” so-called “personal” emails are generated automatically by the thousand and were probably not authored by the person whose name is in the signature line.  We all know that most call centre folk are reading off a screen (i.e. click here if the customer says this … ) and have very little ability or interest in deviating from their prompted script.
Use sales and marketing tools in the interests of increased productivity and service but keep it real.  And above all, get the basics right. The role of the salesperson in influencing the sale is far great that you might think.

Did You Know? Your CRM system will do far more than just manage your sales – if you set it up right.

As you probably know, I’m a huge fan of CRM (customer relationship management) systems in general;  having worked with and implemented many types of sales software systems over the past 20 years.

Right now I do quite a bit of work helping clients implement Maximizer CRM Live. It’s my personal favourite in terms of hosted CRM systems for SME’s.

Interestingly,  I’m finding that more and more business owners are open to using it “to the Max”.

Here’s a few examples of clients who’ve set Maximizer up to manage more much than they first anticipated:

Client A:
– Suppliers of a massive range of high-end security-related items to all business sectors
– Imported and locally manufactured products
– Ex stock and custom made items
– 300 or more customer orders tracked monthly
– Team of 12

This team uses Maximizer for tight management of their sales pipeline, internal and external sales team activity and KPI management, as a customer communications and documents repository and as a platform to manage their email database as well as track and send out their marketing campaigns.

But here’s the “Max-up” part: Once they received those confirmed purchase orders, they  have to track and manage all of those backorders very carefully – those coming in from overseas, those made-to-order bulk shipments and those stock items transferred in from bonded warehouses dotted around Gauteng.

What we did was convert their customer service module into a “Orders-in-Progress” admin system and hey presto – the entire team has access to a “one version of the truth” view of every single order being processed right through to invoicing and delivery. That’s the beauty of a system like Maximizer – it can be customised quite intensively.

On top of that  – we’re busy setting up further admin views to enable the procurement and operations department to easily match up supplier orders with all those back-orders.

Next on the cards is light integration with their customer sales figures from their accounting software.

Client B
– Local manufacturer, importer of parts and exporter of heavy machinery into Africa
– Custom made and ex-stock equipment with a range of add-ons
– Extensive global TV advertising and email marketing campaigns drive large amounts of
inbound enquiries to their website
– At least 200-300 new website enquiries a month
– Regular technical product updates emailed to customers
– Team of 21

Apart from managing their sales enquiry along with sales opportunities, customer information and marketing database very closely, this client asked us to develop a link to their existing custom-built website in order to pull every new enquiry directly into Maximizer as a sales opportunity, and then assign it a unique reference number. A huge benefit in terms of workflow and faster response time. Once the enquiry is in Maximizer, the sales team then takes each enquiry through their sales process.

What’s interesting here is that again, after a sale has been won, the client then needs to track pre-payments and shipments along with the rigorous and lengthy documentation of both imported and exported orders. If you export or import, you’ll no doubt know just how vital it is to track every Bill of Lading, every bank transfer, every customs and excise document along with the final freight costs – from those initial requests for freight or shipping quotes through to the date of delivery. To manage this, Maximizer was custom-configured to help their ops team manage every order seamlessly – right through to it arriving safely and securely at the customer’s premises.

So to sum up:
If you’re investing in a CRM system or already have one that is perhaps under-utilized then I’m recommending that you think further than just getting it to help your salespeople keep track of their sales opportunities. Or for you to manage your team’s activities such as making customer appointments.

CRM software is not just for your sales team. By the way, I must stress that having a sales CRM system in place these days is a baseline requirement – it’s no longer a ‘nice to have’, it’s a must have if you want your sales team to be highly productive and hitting their sales targets. I see access to a well-implemented CRM system as a vital sales tool, much like a cell phone, a laptop or a car. It’s a minimum requirement these days to attract productive sales professionals.

As a sidebar: If you consider yourself a sales professional, my advice is: When you’re looking for a sales position and a potential employer doesn’t have a good sales system in place – keep looking. Unless you want to work until midnight and on weekends, drowning in filing cabinets and pieces of paper.

Over and above it being a sales tool though, a CRM system adds seriously value to many aspects of your business – if you let it. If you’re in the market right now,  take your time to research what’s out there then plan the rollout properly with the right team on your side.

It’s been my experience that effective CRM pays for itself within months. IF and only if you implement it properly.

B2B Sales and Artificial Intelligence … Are You Ready?

Ok so we’re starting to hear more and more about Artificial Intelligence (AI)  in B2B sales. If the word AI conjures up images of Arnie’s “I’ll Be Back” and gives you the shudders, then simply replace AI with the words “new technology”.

The big question is what does AI mean in laymen terms for us joe-soap normal sales folks here in undeepest, undarkest South Africa?

Remember about 20 years ago,  when CRM systems started replacing everything we reps did manually – like handwritten call reports, the A5 tickler box index cards for keeping customer info, the lever arch files of typed correspondence dutifully punched and filed? Took us all a while but many of us embraced CRM in some form or other (having said that, I’m still finding that many poor reps working for SME’s only have accounting software records to look at when it comes to their customer base). Get with the programme guys. Even the most basic CRM system has replaced much of the time-consuming stuff that your (expensive) reps are still doing manually. Free them up to sell more, more often!

All in all though, we’re quite a bit more effective and efficient. But .. still drowning in information, hence everything STILL needs to be simpler and faster – and better of course.   And this is where AI for B2B sales comes in.   AI is designed to further streamline what we do and set us free to do the truly human sales stuff (like talking to customers face-to-face). We shouldn’t fear it, in fact we should all be looking forward to it.

Have a mosey around Google sometime for B2B sales AI some time. Here’s what you’ll find is already out there for you to consider:

Clarke.ai:    No more manual note-taking of telephonic discussions, on Skype or in face-to-face meetings: Just takes a few clicks to add Clarke into your meeting, then “he” silently listens, records and analyses the conversation and instantly gives you (or all of you) a summary and to-do – which I assume of course could be automatically added to the notes tab in your CRM if set up properly.  Clarke uses NLP (natural language processing not the other NLP).  And yes, there is a cost (in dollars).

Chorous.ai:  Does something similar – it listens, records and analyses the conversation and points out key things such as when the prospect asks about pricing and how often – a useful tool if you’re trying to figure out their needs over the phone.

X.ai No more time-wasting email ping-pong on trying to schedule meetings: Just cc in your x.ai email address when you send someone a meeting request and give the programme access to your calendar. It takes over the ‘discussion’ by email on finding a suitable date and time for the meeting. Try it.   I could go on and on but I’m sure you’ve already come across a whole host of them too – especially chatbots and general AI found in B2B lead generation and ‘big data’ marketing. I’m guessing that LinkedIn will come out with a big launch of some brilliant B2B sales tech for us to use locally in the near future.

Want to read a bit more about the future of the sales profession in general now that machine intelligence is chomping at the bit? Check out Harvard Business Review article here

But let’s keep it relevant between you and I on a cloudy Monday afternoon in Gauteng .. on an average sales day … it really won’t be long before Maximizer CRM and many other international CRM systems out there will have a big selection of AI ‘add-ons’ for us to choose from. The future of B2B sales is bright.

Very bright indeed in fact. And we humans still feature in it. I’ve just returned from a CRM conference in London and the focus is B2B sales apps and AI.  It’s all about integration.

‘I’ll be back’ on this topic again soon. I have some AI testing of my own to do  🙂

Why Today’s Sales Professionals Need a Good CRM System

I’ve worked with many companies over the years and have often had to implement a sales CRM (aka sales software) system, simply because what was in place was just not working.

Not working in terms of simplicity, ease of use, speed of response time, ability to analyse and manage the pipeline. In fact,  it was quite an eye-opener for me to see companies allowing their sales execs to manage and maintain all of THEIR (I mean the company’s) precious customer information on their personal laptop or in hard-copy format which meant that no-one else at the company had access to years of meaningful lead, prospect and customer history.

More often than not, when those sales execs left for greener pastures, so too did the precious details of many customer relationships. Their replacements had to start from scratch. Which would be rather annoying from a customer point of view don’t you think?

These days, it’s seriously a no-brainer that you need a CRM system. I’m a huge fan of Maximizer CRM – especially the new hosted version with the quote module now built in.  It’s just over R600 ex VAT per user per month and worth every cent. You’ll easily see an ROI from increased productivity and visibility into where you’re going wrong in your sales process.

Having said that,  I’m still happy to advise customers with zero, zero, zero budget to at the very least investigate some freebie CRM systems that are out there. Anything is better than nothing. The catch of course is that

a) the info you can get out is a tad limited and

b) most are pretty expensive in dollar terms if you want to upgrade to the paid option and

c) you’re literally back to square one if you want to move on again.

Talking about moving on … if you’re In the job market then please, if you consider yourself a professional, then only join a company that already has a great sales system in place. Ask the questions at the interview. Go into detail. It will make a huge difference to your earning potential. If there’s a mention of spreadsheets, paper-based systems or something that still uses on Windows 97, then run for the hills.

With the pace of business these days, you’re seriously shooting yourself in the foot if you are still going ‘old school’ with lists and scraps of paper and/or the company is only keeping track of sales in an accounting system. The days of thinking that a CRM system is there to police you are long gone. A well-configured, slick, streamlined CRM system is an excellent sales tool.

Quality sales tools are as important to a salesperson as razor-sharp scalpels are to surgeons. Sales tech is no longer optional. It’s essential.

Choose wisely. But choose must you. As Yoda would say.

Poor Sales: Useless Sales Reps? Useless Sales Manager or what? Time for root cause analysis!

As many companies are battling on the sales front, there’s always a tendency to immediately blame lack of sales on salespeople. “They can’t sell”, “They don’t close”, “They’re chasing unqualified opportunities”, “They aren’t seeing enough customers” are just some of the comments I hear from sales managers and business owners in general.

Yes, most definitely there may be those on your sales team who need further skills training or an attitude ‘klap’ as we say in SA. However many sales issues stem from other root causes.

Here are the three most common that I’ve come across:

1. Ineffective sales management: If the leader of the sales team doesn’t know how to recruit the right salespeople in the first place, doesn’t inspire or motivate the team, isn’t coaching the team on their areas of improvement, isn’t tracking the pipeline effectively, doesn’t hold individuals responsible for sales results, etc. etc.  this could be the start of your sales problems.

In my experience it often boils down to incompetence – there are so many sales managers out there (with no formal management qualifications, let alone formal sales management qualifications) who end up doing nothing more than put out fires all day, or sit in their offices running reports and doing admin instead of getting out there with each rep and seeing what’s happening at the coal face with their customers.

Apart from lack of sales management know-how, another issue is the management style of the team leader. I’ve previously mentioned my firsthand experience of a sales manager who,  with a hangover, boast about starting a Monday sales meeting with a snarl that he was “in the mood to fire someone today”. Then wondered why he had a constant turnover of sales staff – many of whom had stellar sales track records at other companies and were indeed the right people who should have taken their sales to new heights. He put the high turnover of sales staff down to “slim pickings” or to their inability to sell, not even his lack of ability to recruit the right sales performers. They were all to scared to confront this volatile character. Time after time within months, each person mentally disengaged and focused on finding a new job. The general consensus from those leaving was that he was umm …..  ‘a self-centered, egotistical moron’ (to put it very politely). Sadly, five years later he is still there and the cannon fodder/revolving door approach to sales recruitment continues unabated. The company still putters along, thanks to a few low-profile long-term sales stalwarts who can tolerate the abuse and negativity as they benefit financially from being able to take over the accounts of all those who come and go.

2. Poor product or service quality
Could you confidently sell a product or service with serious flaws to a customer? One that didn’t deliver on the value promise? One that could burst into flames and seriously hurt someone?  One that you already knew wouldn’t do the job? Sadly, products and services like this are sold all over the world but does that make the people selling them sales stars because they made money for themselves and for their companies at the expense of the buyer’s interests? If it does, then no wonder the business world in general has a poor image of the sales profession. No wonder there is such a trust deficit between buyer and seller these days.

3. Systemic issues at the company affecting sales performance
A top new business developer with a stellar track record came to me for guidance on how to get her manager to see that the pure volume of administrative load she was carrying was preventing her from getting out there to make enough sales to hit target. The whole sales team was battling under a mountain of contractual paperwork that kicked in once the sale had been agreed. This was a systemic or structural issue within the sales department – once we put in enough sales support and took the admin burden off their shoulders, sales went through the roof.

Ditto for when we’ve sorted out issues like effective opportunity management, put in sales processes and streamlined CRM input requirements. Sales go through the roof

My message is simple – don’t simply jump to the conclusion that it’s the sales person’s “fault” that he or she can’t hit their target and replace with another warm body. The red flag here for management is the rate of sales staff turnover. The higher it is, the longer it continues, the more likely the root cause of poor or drastically reducing sales revenue lies somewhere else.

Take a step back, apply serious root cause analysis thinking before you go after your ‘non-performers’.

By Suzanne Burgess – please sign up for my free weekly SalesBrief here – quick read on a Monday, filled with tips, ideas and sales insights. In the market for a senior sales or sales management position in Gauteng? Is your company looking for sales achievers? – then get in touch with me too!

It’s Strategy Time …

istock_000000442151smallIn my recent SalesBrief newsletters (hope you’ve subscribed) I have been waxing lyrical about sales strategy.

Tony Manning defines strategy as

“the process of thinking through what today’s business is and what tomorrow’s business should be and then getting there.”

It’s still one of my biggest beefs with sales managers i.e. most don’t have a sales strategy  – and it’s a huge problem. It’s their job to create a sales roadmap, to plan, strategize and guide their team in the right direction whilst making continuous improvements along the way. It’s the documented “who what, why and where” that is the foundation of the “how” we are going to hit or exceed our sales targets as a consequence of delivering value to our customers.

It’s a sales leader’s job to ask questions like:

Where is our growth going to come from?
Which market segments are expanding?
Which markets are declining?
Who are our customers?
What do they need?
Who are our key customers?
Who are tomorrow’s key customers?
What triggers their buying decisions?
What value do we deliver?
What value that we think we are delivering do our customers actually value?
How did we do this year?
Where do we want to be this time next year?
What are our values?
What customer service offering will we commit to?
What do we do better than our competitors?
What do they do better than us?

… and so the list goes on. Strategic sales planning is not a ‘nice to have’ or a luxury. It’s a must have. Even for a sales team of 2 or 3.

Get going on your strategy – the new sales year is just around the corner and you need to hit the ground running. At the very least, work out your personal sales strategy.

 

Relationships First, Sales Tech Second

No matter how sophisticated sales technology gets, it simply won’t work unless you combine it with “real” relationship-building skills and common sense.  Sometimes it’s the gap between well-intentioned marketing staff and uninformed salespeople which can create havoc in companies. And annoy your customers.

It’s all very well having a database, templates and automated emails. However if they are not carefully utilised, they’ll detract from the very thing we want to improve on – the customer’s experience with our company. For instance, I know of a training organisation whose junior telemarketer had made less than complimentary comments in the “notes” field on the database when he was speaking to a client on the phone, who – some months later – just happened to be sitting alongside him when he opened the notes records. Goodbye Mr Happy Customer.  Er.. oops.

Then of course, there’s the ability for anyone to abuse the power of email and tarnish a company’s image for years. I recently received an email blast from a team-building company. Unfortunately, the e-marketing company sending out the newsletter to their client base had duffed up the unsubscribe option – if anyone asked to be unsubscribed, their email was then sent out to everyone on the list, not just to the return address. This resulted in everyone receiving about 20 or 30 emails in a few minutes – including me. Personally, I found it … sadly hilarious reading all the confusion. There was one woman who took major exception to the scores of emails she received and in a rage wrote a rather impolite email back to the company, not realising that many of the other 10 000 people or so were going to receive it too. Seriously bad move on her part. I’ll never forget her name nor the foul language she used.  Eish. Cringeworthy.

Relationships first, sales technology second. Better still, synergise. Get the balance right. All sales technology we use must focus on the value it adds to the client relationship as well as to each of us on a personal level and our sales organisation.

Need a concise burst of sales input every week? Then click here to request our weekly SalesBrief, sent to thousands of sales managers and their teams in South Africa on request.

Sales Targets, Helicopters and Street Views

It’s pretty difficult to distinguish between valid reasons and excuses for not meeting sales targets.

Some may use the prevailing tough economic climate as an excuse for why new sales targets can’t be met.  And yes, there may be valid reasons in some declining business sectors where even hiring ten of the best sales superstars won’t make a significant difference. Another reason might be that those huge new sales targets were thumb sucked out of thin air by a  wishful CEO and/or ‘finance’ instead of through careful and strategic analysis of what existing and prospective customers opportunities could deliver.

Non-delivery on sales could also be blamed on a product/solution being seriously below par in comparison to a competitor’s offering as a reason for their poor sales performance – which may be worth investigating – even when at least one or more of their co-workers is reaching their sales target. Why is that? Better territory? Organic growth in existing accounts? Luck? Perseverance? Sales ability?

Are there as many valid reasons and excuses for making target as there are for not making target?

I recall a conversation with a sales manager who told me that he’d just let go of a few underperforming reps because they had not made target for the past three months (he claimed that he diligently followed the ‘correct’ performance management processes of course). However he couldn’t tell me why they had not achieved the results, but merely that they were full of excuses. Bottom line – he hadn’t taken the time to find out why the sales weren’t rolling in nor had he questioned his ability and skill to recruit, onboard, train or coach effectively. He only had a ‘helicopter view’ of his team and customer base. He didn’t have a clear ‘street view’ (think Google Earth car here).

If a sales manager has a street view and can tie inactivity to poor performance or unproductive activities to non-performance then yes, by all means reach a conclusion that someone might not be worth their sales salt and must be let go.

Having this in-depth understanding of the activity levels and selling ability of each of their team members enables a sales manager to effect positive change where needed.

The bottom-line is, when it comes to holding someone accountable for meeting their sales targets, a sales manager also needs to be held accountable to be really close to what’s happening in each person’s territory.

A sales manager’s failure to develop a ‘street view’ may just result in the loss of really great salespeople for all the wrong reasons.

91 Years Ago in Sales

One of the sales research books in my library was written in 1925.

That’s 91 years ago. Nine-tee-one years ago! Eek! Almost an antique.

“The Recruitment and Selection of Salesmen’ was based on a detailed university study of hundreds of salesmen at two large organisations. Here’s a few of the findings:

1. The records, report system, and other paperwork constitutes a real burden to the average salesman. The better salesmen do not feel the burden keenly.

2. Salesmen’s territorial reports are not accurate.

3. Supervision of salesmen is irregular, unsystematic, infrequent and not pointed to the main job of developing men.

4. The members of the present sales force, while they do not now measure up to the possibilities of the selling job, have the ability, when developed by proper training and supervision to become really effective salesmen.

5. The weakest point in field service is the very high rate of turnover in the sales force.

6. One important cause of salesman turnover is found in the poor selection of supervisors.

7. The company has failed to develop loyalty and enthusiasm in the sales force.

8. Field supervision is concerned too much with a checking up on the performance of routine duties and too little with training in effective selling.

So … apart from the obvious (that we ladies have now joined what was once a profession reserved for men), what has really changed in sales in the past 91 years?

We can optimise productivity using the latest CRM, Skype and Apple tech gadgets but no matter what – if you ain’t got the sales basics right – You. Will. Fail. Yes, money talks but all yours will say is goodbye.

Time and time again, fixing the basics resulted in my biggest success in sales development and sales turnaround projects for my clients.

After all, what more is successful selling than simply having the right people and processes in place?

Improving Sales Performance: Train the “C’s”, Coach the “B’s”, Recognise the “A’s”

Sales Managers are often tempted to spend most of their time in the field with their worst performers, the “C’s” who are always struggling to meet their targets, thinking that they can coach them to achieve greater results. However, many sales managers become more of a crutch than a coach, stepping in to close the deal at the salesperson’s request. If you’re going to invest your time in coaching selling skills out in the field, then do so with your “B” performers who just need to hone their skills to better their performance.

In addition, according to Tony Rugliano, co-author of the book “Discovering Your Sales Strengths”, a key area that sales managers need to concentrate on is building their relationships with their star performers. Rugliano suggests that star performers need your support and recognition of their achievements too. Do you spend enough time with your top performers in the field?