Turning your salespeople into order takers


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In the beginning of my career, I sold the hard way (cold-calling - on the phone, by car, and on foot). Now, I sell the easy way (call comes in, customer is ready to buy, only has a couple of questions, answer them, close the sale).

Cold-calling is a terrible way to make a living. Your entire day is filled with "No." Even if you hear "maybe," you still have to overcome dozens of objections. It's also the least-efficient way to generate revenue.

The other end of the spectrum, where you are answering a few questions and then closing the sale, one call after another, is much more fun - and profitable.

What's the difference? Customer-centric marketing.

Clueless managers set salespeople to work, cold-calling, then complain when the results are disappointing. Instead, marketing efforts should be bringing in pre-qualified, pre-sold leads - people who have already found the company, gotten most of their questions answered online, and are ready to buy as soon as their last few questions are answered to their satisfaction.

Is this even possible? Yes. My own closing rate averages around 90%. (The other 10% are usually people who don't want to do whatever it takes to succeed. I'm not the right consultant for them.) Prospective clients find me, they go to my content, they get most of their questions answered, then they contact me.

A recent email: "I came across your Revenue Journal site recently and was immediately intrigued. After spending a few hours reading, I ordered your book. When it arrived, I couldn't put it down. As soon as I finished, I passed it along to [our sales and marketing manager]. He felt as positively as I did...it's a great book. I'd like to take you up on your 'first hour free' offer...[to] discuss how we could work together to gather customer data, coach key players, and develop specific strategies for growth." Order. Taken.

The email I just quoted is the kind of email your salespeople should be getting, all day, every day, if marketing - and management - are doing their jobs. Sure, it might be a white paper, instead of a book, but the concept is the same. By the time they call you, they are almost sold.

You have to have a good product; bad products take a ridiculous amount of pushing, and they ultimately fail anyway. Your content must be helpful and relevant. You must answer the majority of your customer's questions on your website and everywhere else you appear, including social media. 

You can only do all of this successfully if you invest some quality time understanding your customers. Your own customers can tell you the problems they were hoping you'd solve, what they wish a company like yours would create, how they buy your type of product or service, what you're doing right and what you could be doing better.

Then you must put what they've told you to work. You have to face up to the deficiencies in your current product line, your processes, your policies, and your service. You have to fix whatever isn't working well. You have to move people around - or move them out, depending on their willingness to help customers. You have to be ruthless about improving your website, search engine strategies, and social media, organizing all of it around what the customer wants, rather than what is easiest for you to do, or what makes you feel good.

The most efficient sales processes start with developers, managers, and marketers getting to know customers. They then use this knowledge to guide all product, process, and promotional efforts. By the time the customer contacts a salesperson, he is almost ready to place an order.

Your salespeople must be able to answer those last remaining questions, whatever they may be. And they will be able to, if managers and marketers have interviewed people who have already purchased, and then trained the sales force accordingly.

This is how to make salespeople more efficient: Inject customer reality into every aspect of your business. This is how to turn your salespeople into order-takers.

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This article has been selected for the DeFinis Communications' Blog Carnival on the topic of "Sales Coaching: Top Tips for Increased Productivity." Here are more blogger posts on increasing sales productivity.

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Turning your salespeople into order takers

Interesting article, you assume that the company has a very strong marketing department. What about a company that has a ineffective marketing department? If sales is that easy for your sales reps then hopefully you don't pay them much. Cold calling can be very effective if your sales reps have proper training and are compensated for peak performance. If your sales reps are not performing then mabey you're hiring process is completely ineffective.

Amen, sister!

Kristin,

Another great post! I found myself nodding in agreement throughout.

Management consultant Peter Drucker said more than 20 years ago that the purpose of marketing is to make selling unnecessary. Yet so many companies, especially in technology industries, act as if good sales people can make marketing unnecessary.

Having sold software for more than 25 years, I can attest to how awful most tech companies are at marketing. It wouldn't take much for them to become really good at it.

Reading your excellent book would be a great place to start.

Regarding the prior comment from a reader, I would say that cold calling or telemarketing may still work in some markets, but it is extremely ineffective in all the markets that I've worked in for the past 10 years. It's not the fault of hiring process or selling skills. It's that most of the people I called didn't want to be interrupted, and they went to extraordinary lengths to prevent themselves from talking with sales people.

Thanks for your contributions to more enlightened thinking about how to develop a more productive relationship between Sales and Marketing.

Dave Vranicar

Amen, sister!

Most people don't want to talk to sales reps because most sales reps are really bad. I feel most sales reps have very poor selling skills and the proper hiring process would help a company determine if a potential candidate can succeed. Sales is the highest paid profession for a reason.

Why prospects don't want to talk with sales people

Mark,

I agree that most sales people -- especially those doing cold calling -- lack the training they need to do it effectively.

The most effective training I've found in cold calling comes from a guy named Ari Galper. Taking his classes greatly improved my success.

But I disagree with your comment that poor training or selling skills is the main reason prospects don't want to talk with sales people.

Again, it depends on your industry. In the industries I worked in -- big retail, I was selling complex, high-scrutiny software products that required me to connect with senior executives in multibillion-dollar companies.

An energy director in one of the biggest retail drug chains in the world recently told me that she personally gets 30 cold calls a day and about 100 sales-related e-mail messages. She simple can't do her job if she talks with sales people. She and her staff literally hide from sales people.

In another industry, I have a good friend who is now vice-chairman and former CFO in about a billion-dollar multinational concrete company. He built elaborate defenses against having any sales person reach him, making it almost impossible.

People who are this busy prefer to do their own research until they've decided to buy something. That's when they'll talk with a sales person, on their own terms.

All the sales training and skill in the world won't help a cold caller get through these defenses with a reasonable percentage of success, though it may make the recipient a little more receptive when the caller does get through.

Effectiveness aside, the bigger question remains: How ethical is it to hound busy people who don't want to be hounded?

Dave Vranicar

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