In our last article, we discussed the importance of moving forward with new business development despite the ongoing pandemic. With traditional sales tactics (trade shows, in-person meetings, etc.) being put on hold, we discussed toning down your sales pitch, focusing on essential industries that had an immediate need, and using virtual sales tactics and phone calls to reach prospects. This article discusses how to keep your momentum as businesses discover their new normal.
As many states have reopened, some traditional sales methods can be reintroduced. However, new waves of the virus may have companies exercising extra caution with social distancing measures. Therefore, having a wide range of tools available to accommodate your prospects’ needs will be essential moving forward.
Virtual meetings and plant tours, inbound marketing (SEO, engaging content, social media, etc.) and outbound marketing (email campaigns, direct mail, etc.) will continue to be essential to successful new business development strategy.
Equally important will be having a process around your business development activities—activities around maximizing the flow of leads into your sales pipeline and moving them through to resolution. A defined process with a wide range of tools for connecting with prospects will ensure that you can meet those prospects’ needs.
As with any process, consistency and follow-through are essential. Can you imagine manufacturing corrugated products by following your process only sometimes or completing a job when it’s convenient? Can you imagine not using metrics to ensure your products meet customer expectations, or can you imagine knowing a process is creating high scrap rates and not taking corrective action? The results would be disastrous. But this is how many companies operate business development activities.
Creating Your Sales Process
A sales process provides a steady flow of qualified leads into your sales pipeline and moves them through to resolution; it may also include increasing sales with current customers. Your sales process should consist of how to determine the number of prospects to target based on the stages and conversion rate of your sales cycle—how you define your target market and how you define a qualified lead. It should also include tools for reaching your prospects based on where they are in the sales cycle. Once you know how many companies to target monthly or weekly to reach your sales goals, you can determine how much time you will need to commit to actively selling through calling, emailing, and meeting (virtual or in-person). A successful process will also include a nurture program for future interest opportunities, metrics for measuring success, and a method for process improvement.
Benefits of a Well-Designed Sales Process
A study done by Harvard Business Review shows, on average, B2B companies that have an effective pipeline process—which includes a defined sales process, time allocated to pipeline management, and trained sales managers to manage it—see 28% higher revenue growth over those with ineffective pipeline management.
A well-defined sales process is predictable, repeatable, and results-driven. When it is implemented, companies will see many benefits, which will lead to increased efficiency and revenue growth.
Additional benefits include:
- Sales Forecasting. When you are working from a defined sales process, you know precisely where every prospect is in the sales pipeline. If you have measured your success and have calculated your hit rates, your sales forecasting should be much more accurate. Having a defined process with visibility is even more critical when you have many sales reps. If each sales rep is doing something different and leads are not being consistently followed up on and tracked, it can be challenging for a sales manager to provide an accurate sales forecast.
- Focus. A structured sales process provides focus for the company and the individual salespeople. It helps the company create structure around the types of prospects it is interested in engaging with based on specific criteria, such as annual spend, industry, or geographical location. This provides salespeople the tools to focus on leads that are qualified and not chase those that won’t add to your overall sales objectives. Salespeople are juggling many tasks throughout the course of their day. It is human nature to focus on the easiest tasks that create the least amount of resistance or to push off something that doesn’t deliver immediate results. For a sales process to run efficiently, all components must be executed as planned. A systematic approach with sales prospecting key performance indicators (KPIs) will help staff to prioritize tasks so that no tasks or components of the process are neglected.
- Accountability. A well-executed sales process provides accountability. Often the word accountability has negative connotations, driving fear throughout your organization, which is something you want to avoid. Accountability helps your sales team to achieve their goals, presumably driving higher commissions for them. Your process should have communication built in so that everyone knows exactly what to do, how they should do it, why it is important, and what to do if something isn’t working out. Tools such as a CRM and a marketing automation system can provide visibility and allow for easy tracking and management of goals. Instead of using accountability to drive fear and punishment, it should be used to see where process improvements can be made.
- Ease of Onboarding. Onboarding salespeople and integrating them into your organization becomes consistent with a sales process. When expectations, responsibilities, and outcomes are clear, getting new employees up to speed is faster, and employee retention improves.
- Continuous Improvement. Similarly to your manufacturing processes, when KPIs are set, measured, and monitored for your sales process, any inefficiencies, bottlenecks, and issues become apparent. This allows you to take a step back, review your processes, and course-correct before you get too far off track. Encouraging your salespeople to share any market intelligence they receive will also provide insight into whether you are resonating with the market.
When the pandemic hit, we were all left scrambling to find our footing. Now that states have reopened, it’s time to ensure that you have all the tools you need to feed your sales pipeline and minimize any setbacks. Some things you might want to investigate are ensuring your video capabilities are sufficient for meetings and tours when required, investing in a CRM and marketing automation system, updating your website and optimizing it for SEO if it’s outdated, but most importantly, developing and executing an effective process around your business development activities.