This is a truly amazing period of history for sales professionals. The information tools that help us to identify, connect with, and sustain ongoing relationships with buyers are more powerful than ever, and they allow us to do things few could have imagined just a few years ago. But there's a challenge we all face: We mustn't let the extraordinary technology we now have blind us to the importance of having a clear sales process.
It's part of our job to document and follow a playbook – an effective, proven process for identifying qualified buyers and securing commitments from them. That means using our powerful information tools strategically, as a means to an end, in a way that supports the goal of qualifying and disqualifying the people and groups who do and don't really belong in our pipeline. Technology that distracts us from that goal isn't serving us.
Below are three powerful ways you can make technology support your selling process. As you read them, bear in mind that the whole reason to use technology in the first place is to spend as little time as possible with leads that aren't truly qualified.
Whatever system we use for keeping track of and prioritizing business opportunities must synchronize precisely with our team’s sales process, and must support that process at every stage. So for example, if we sell into enterprise accounts, and we use a CRM tool, and our CRM platform keeps track of which accounts we’re about to deliver a presentation to, then the CRM tool should also prompt us to complete any necessary action items before we schedule that presentation. For instance, if our team requires that we identify at least one sponsor and three business allies within a target company before we present a formal recommendation, and we haven't done either of those things, the CRM should alert us and leadership to keep us from scheduling the presentation meeting… until we have fulfilled those requirements.
Any contact management system that doesn't synchronize with our sales process in this way, and doesn't also serve up the tools and resources we need to interact effectively with a customer at a given stage, needs to be reconfigured… or replaced.
TWO: DON’T TRY TO TRACK EVERYTHING
It’s sometimes instructive to compare salespeople to doctors. Medicine is a science, but it's also a bit of an art form, because there are any number of judgement calls that are going to come up. Sales is precisely the same. It's a balancing act between art and science. We have judgement calls to make in “grey area” situations that sometimes call on us rely on our own intuition… but we also have plenty of situations where hard numbers can point us toward the best decisions and the best processes.
Here’s the challenge. Today's powerful data collection and analysis tools may sometimes tempt us into trying to track everything, or nearly everything, there is to track about our prospects, our customers, and our own activity. The problem is, we only have so many hours in the day. So no matter how much we may want to serve the “science” component of our job by tracking down all the potentially relevant information, we have to prioritize our efforts.
We need to limit the amount of data analysis in our daily and weekly routine so that it doesn't interfere with our pay time – the time we have set aside specifically for activities that are proven to directly generate revenue. Spending four hours a day tabulating and categorizing the hits your LinkedIn posts receive may not be the best investment of your time, and odds are it’s not something you should be doing during pay time. Set scheduled time limits on your number-crunching sessions.
THREE: TRACK THE RIGHT DATA
Once we are in analysis mode, there are certain kinds of things that we should be measuring, based on the data our tools can gather for us during our selling day. Here’s a possible list.
- What activity and/or lead source most predictably leads to business discussions with a targeted decision-maker... and how often does it do that?
- What is the ideal next step following our initial positive discussion with a decision maker… and how often is that next step being requested based on our playbook?
- What percentage of prospective buyers typically move forward from any given stage of our sales process to the next? How do our “graduation” numbers in each stage compare with the numbers of others on our team?
- How many discussions with a decision maker does it typically take for us to generate a “Yes, we want to do business with you” response?
- How long does an ideal prospect spend in each stage of our sales process? This is a vitally important number. Once we know the answer, we can get a clearer sense of when someone is exceeding the ideal amount of time in any stage... and we can make better decisions about who is, and is not, qualified to buy from us. Someone who dramatically exceeds the optimum time in any given step of our sales process is not a qualified buyer!
We need to know the answers to all of these questions, and this is only the tip of the iceberg of things we should know. With just a little practice, we can learn to set up today's data-rich selling tools to generate the latest, most recently updated data in these and other areas automatically to support our sales process. And this will allow your company to remain competitive in the industry.