How to save valuable time, and focus on people who will buy
By: Nigel Swaby, a fellow of the former Institute of Sales Management that recently merged with the Association of Professional Sales, is a business leader with over 35 years commercial and business development experience across an array of sectors.
When I became managing director of an IT recruitment business, I was keen to find out how much my sales force knew about the sales process. I recall asking a simple question: "How do you spend most of your time?" Some said, writing proposals; others mentioned prospect or client meetings. A few replied that they focused on getting to know their candidates while keeping an eye on the competition. All worthwhile activities, but the answer I was hoping for was more of an admission: "I waste too much time with people who aren't going to buy."
It's easy to forget, but unlike other factors, your time is finite.
How often do we hear the phrase: there aren't enough hours in the day? It?s tempting, but we should try not to use this as an excuse. We all get 24 hours a day, and in sales, one of the very best ways to manage your time is in the art, and science, of qualification ? making sure your prospect is a good fit for your product or service, so you know who is worth your time and energy, and - in the nicest way - who is not.
With today's technology, companies can have the best systems for assessing prospects, sales performance, and customer relationships. There is no doubt that social media's analytical tools can help with marketing efficiency, measuring the return on marketing investment. All great and useful stuff, but let's not forget the human element in situations where it may not be practical to market your company's products or services through social media alone; where only face-to-face will suffice. Try selling a multi-million-pound investment-bank trading-platform through Facebook and see how you get on.
For me, the bedrock of successful selling is to qualify, qualify and qualify, throughout the entire sales process, and to do that you need to become something of a sales detective. Your forensic research will give you the edge over the competition and you will invest less time with those who aren't likely to buy.
I would not wish to insult anyone's intelligence, or waffle on about basic sales techniques or sales qualification, but my aim is to make you think about your own environment, and the way you, or your company sells. It's easy to say you have identified a prospective customer, and believe your company has the perfect solution for their needs, but make sure you've assessed all the angles, and mined any diamond bits of information. Don?t let your qualifying process be dull and mechanical, because there is a danger you will miss a real gem. Believing that your company?s offering is a neat solution to your prospect?s needs isn't enough.
Look for the diamond in all areas of qualification. Think of all the dynamics and angles surrounding each qualifying parameter.
Let's take just one simple example: people. Build up profiles of all the players involved, their backgrounds, likes, dislikes, hobbies and other interests and so forth. Perhaps some key influencer used to work for one of your current clients? Find out more about this person and, if appropriate, ask for a recommendation. What about the key contact, your prospect, do they have a good reputation? Perhaps they are just scouring the marketplace to amass ammunition to beat down the incumbent supplier?
When you are face-to-face with your prospect, immerse yourself in the environment, absorbing all you hear, see and even smell; taste the air!
Always look out for a clue, the angle, ways to hone and refine your questioning. Are you feeling at ease or a little awkward? They will probably be mirroring the way you feel. Notice the body language, body twitching, feet moving. Is your prospect agitated, and where are their eyes directed? What type of personality are you dealing with: the nervous, shy, retiring type, or Mr Ego who lies back in his chair with hands clasped behind the back of his neck?
Adapting your approach to each personality type will enhance your chances of a successful outcome. Become an expert in human behaviour. You?ll invest less time with those that aren't genuine prospects. The detective work goes on and on.
Of course, this strategy may be overkill if you are selling low-value, high-volume commodity items, but it is crucial for successful selling into high-value major accounts. There's nothing really intellectual about sales qualification, but it is a thoughtful discipline which must be structured and measured in a systematic way to ensure time is optimised, rather than being relegated down the list of things to do.
Remember, it all comes back to one thing: your time. The better salespeople are at qualifying, the more time they have to focus on legitimate prospects, maximising conversion success rates, ultimately resulting in generating greater profits.
If you?ve found this article thought provoking and of value, then the invested time spent with me writing it and you reading it, has been worthwhile.
One final thought, in UK average-life-expectancy terms, the value of one hour to a 50-year-old, has the equivalent value of two hours to someone who is 20. Time gets more precious year by year. To reiterate, your time is finite. Don't waste it.
© Nigel Swaby, March 2021.
Nigel Swaby, a fellow of the former Institute of Sales Management that recently merged with the Association of Professional Sales, is a business leader with over 35 years commercial and business development experience across an array of sectors, including film, music, childcare, education, financial systems and software.