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The Future Of Sales

A number of signs point to an inconvenient truth for many businesses: Traditional selling is on its way out.

Hiring sales reps, providing some training and throwing them out on the streets to round up clients isn't coming up with the same results it did 10 years ago. The sluggish economy, the Internet, high unemployment, an abundance of choices, etc., all play a role in the demise of traditional sales.

 

"There is a change in the way people buy things," says Allen Minster, partner at More Prospects, a Frontline Advisors company. "Today there is so much information at the customer's hands. When I call someone on the phone and start talking to them, they are already Googling my name."

The old sales paradigm was simple: Hire sales reps and send them out to persuade buyers to purchase your products and services. That strategy doesn't work so well today.

"A buyer today is armed with knowledge," Minster says. "Businesses need to start thinking differently about the sales process. If we continue to drive the round hole in that square peg, it's just not going to work. The new sales model is one of intent and purpose."

Not all companies are stuck in the past. Some innovative companies are implementing new sales strategies based on honing in on their niche customers and regularly staying in touch with them.

In order to adapt your sales system to meet future needs, Minster says, you should do the following:

Find Your Ideal Prospect

The days of sending reps into the street in an effort to turn suspects into prospects are over. A critical step is to define your ideal (most profitable) customers and circle the wagons. The goal is to segment them into geography, industry, revenues, etc.

"I define ‘profitability' with three elements: margin, volume and emotional cost," says Minster. "These three elements need to be in balance. That's how you'll figure out who your ideal customer is. Then you can maximize retention because by knowing who your ideal customer is, you can allocate resources to them. You can also use this knowledge for new account acquisition. If you know who your ideal customer is, then you can look for new customers by identifying the thread going through them.

"The biggest expense in business is missed opportunity. The bottom line: Business owners need to make certain they know the profile of their ideal customer to allocate resources and market to them," he says.

If companies fail to target their ideal prospects, they risk losing valuable time and money in the sales process.

Identify Prospects in Selling Cycle

If sales can be broken down into three elements (prospecting, selling, and fulfillment and customer service), Minster believes most companies do a good job of bringing in prospects and serving them after the sale. Where they lack, he believes, is in the selling process.

"The most important questions sales reps can uncover from prospects are: Where is the prospect in the selling cycle? And, is there a fit?"

The answers to these questions play a key role in building a marketing program to stay in touch with the prospect.

If there is not a fit, turn the prospect loose. If there is a fit, it is critical that reps find out where the prospect is on the selling cycle.

"If a prospect is satisfied with a current vendor, he or she will need to be nurtured until there comes a time for a change," says Minster. "If they are dissatisfied, they may be in decision-making mode."

Minster points out that even though a prospect may contact you, only 73% of those contacts are ready to buy. "That's one of the reasons for the disconnect between marketing and sales," he says. "Marketing drops off leads to the sales reps, and the sales reps complain the leads were bad. The fact is that those contacts weren't ready to buy yet."

Allow Sales Reps to Sell

The role of the salesperson has expanded over the years. Instead of just selling, sales reps are doing everything from prospecting to mailing marketing materials. According to Minster, that's a mistake. "Let salespeople do what they do best – sell," he says. "The goal should be to focus sales reps on prospects that are actually ready to act."

This is why it is important to know where the prospect is in the selling cycle.

Build a Nurturing Process

"There is a very small window when buyers are ready to purchase, and companies need to be ready for that opportunity," Minster says.

The nurturing process comes in the form of a marketing program that continuously reaches out to the prospect.

Some companies set up several different programs, such as e-newsletters, sales rep contacts and direct mail, and can decide which to use based on where the prospect is in the selling cycle.

"Less than 20% of businesses have any type of process in place of actually staying in touch," Minster says. "In place of a process, they have salespeople running around town trying to figure out who is ready to buy. Some companies advertise and are not happy with the results. In some cases they generate leads but the leads are never followed up properly. This system will help companies work on their leads properly."

Have Patience, Patience, Patience

Once you've designed a marketing system that touches these customers, it is time to work the plan. Keep in mind that it takes time.

"For most, it takes between eight to 10 contacts for a sale," Minster says. "I think that could go as high as 20 in the future."

One thing is certain: The sales environment is changing. "Sales and marketing are changing forever," says Minster. "Companies that adapt will flourish. Those unwilling to change will languish and ultimately fail."

Submitted 9 years 238 days ago
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