Time management

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:32 pm

Do you ever get the feeling that your salespeople should be parceling out their time a little differently?
Not that they’re maliciously wasting your company’s time on the golf course or the ski slopes. Rather, maybe they’re spending too much time on accounts they’re going to win easily and, at the other extreme, too much time pursuing "opportunities" that they have no real chance of winning?
Take 10 accounts assigned to the typical salesperson, and on average you’ll probably find three that are unwinnable, three a sure bet demanding little sales effort and four for which the salesperson’s efforts truly make the difference between winning and losing the business.
Those 10 salespeople, on average, spend up to 40 percent of their time on the futile three accounts and about the same amount of time on the three easy ones. The result? The four accounts in which the salesperson can make a difference receive far less attention than they deserve.
The trouble is most salespeople don’t have a systematic process for qualifying accounts and opportunities. They either rely on gut instincts, or else limit their analysis to a rather primitive approach asking if the customer is: 1. Able to buy; 2. Ready to buy; and 3. Likely to buy from me.
A more effective and comprehensive process qualifies each prospect with a much different analysis: 1. Should we pursue?; 2. Can we win?; and 3. Will it be good business for my company?
If you want to breathe life into this analysis with your sales team, ask them to answer each of the following seven questions about every account in their pipeline.
1. Do you have access to powerful people? Demonstrate your own sales savvy by avoiding asking your salespeople the question, "Did you get to the decision-maker?" Instead, ask how well your salespeople know the distribution of influence at the customer firm.
2. Does this customer have an existing or past relationship with our company that we can leverage? There are few greater advantages in selling. We’re talking about a business relationship that brings value to the customer, not merely a personal friendship between golfing buddies. But remember, too, that a bad history can still present a great sales opportunity.
3. How deep is your business information about the target company? Customers are more inclined to buy from selling companies based on what they know about the customer and their business issues than on what the customers know about the selling company and its solution. Press your salespeople on their understanding of the target account’s business issues beyond those that relate only to your own product or service.
4. What kind of changes are taking place in the customer company? The savvy salesperson knows that change spells opportunity or danger. One of our clients lost its third biggest customer because the salesperson never knew that the customer was shifting from assembly line to "cell" manufacturing, a change that would profoundly affect the way the customer used this company’s product.
5. Do you fully understand the decision process and its complexity? We all understand how complex decision-making is in our own companies, yet salespeople often ignore that complexity in their own accounts. One client salesperson worked on an account at a major beverage producer with no fewer than 20 locations where people were involved in the decision. His boss had recommended walking away in favor of less complex targets, but he got caught up in the emotional appeal of landing a big sale and wasted several months pursuing the account anyway. In the end he lost it. The moral: The simpler and more centralized the buying decision, the more controllable the sale.
6. How urgent is it that the customer make this purchase? Ask your salespeople, "What compelling event or set of circumstances is causing this customer to have to make this purchase?" Another salesperson we know was sucked into an expensive sales cycle only to find out ultimately that his contact was simply after information to justify to his own management why his department should not be outsourced. Encourage your salespeople to avoid taking information at face value.
7. How strong is your solution to the customer’s problem? Yes, a strong solution is a plus. But this question is less important than the others. Consider how many times you’ve lost a sale to a competitor with a weaker solution.
The bottom line: you need to drill down with your salespeople so that they drill down with their customers. In the end, they’ll spend less time on accounts that are sure losers – or the easy winners that need less time – and far more of their precious selling time on accounts where their efforts can win or lose important business. Sounds like a winning deal for all parties involved, doesn’t it?
Jerry Stapleton and Nancy McKeon are with Stapleton Resources LLC, a Waukesha-based sales force effectiveness practice. They can be reached at (262) 524-8099 or on the Web at www.stapletonresources.com.
December 17, 2004, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI
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