While many businesses make efforts to improve production, distribution, and various administrative work processes, it is less common to find organizations that focus on applying the fundamentals of Continuous Improvement to the sales process.
However, our research and experience indicate the selling process is more complex than many people realize. In addition, we have consistently found that the largest waste in most commercial and industrial organizations is lost gross margin that results from sales not made, sub-optimal pricing, and excessive costs in sales-related processes.
So, leaving aside the “selling skills” or “charisma” associated with those perceived as the most successful sellers, when you consider the day-to-day activities required of field-based or outside sales professionals, there are some proven best practices that can help boost field-day efficiency, which include the following five:
- Pre-call planning: by planning each sales call in advance, in writing, sales people can position themselves to accomplish more in less time, thus increasing personal productivity as well as accelerating overall cycle-time. Not only will running more comprehensive sales calls increase efficiency, but the habit will also make a stronger, more positive impact on customers. Many who have embraced this best-practice report that their customers recognize the difference and, over time, become more willing to schedule meetings or sales calls, thus enabling them to more easily make more calls each day, an important part of the job as noted in the next bullet.
- Set a daily call volume goal. This may sound like an unnecessary step, but a surprising number of sales people are unable to quantify the actual average number of sales calls they make each day. As author Jack Falvey has said, “Want more sales? Make more calls.” By setting a personal goal, which will vary depending on the nature of each territory, sellers are often able to self-motivate more effectively and make more calls per day.
- Geo-plan: by creating a strategic geographic or travel plan for each day, outside sales people can minimize drive time and optimize “face” time. The best plans will begin by creating territory quadrants and then mapping the locations of customers and key prospects. The rule-of-thumb is to avoid traveling beyond two quadrants in any given day, so when an appointment is set in one area, try to schedule meetings or plan to visit others in the same general region to enable a maximum number of interactions in a minimum amount of time.
- Bookend each day by scheduling an appointment early in the morning and another late in the afternoon. This will promote “staying the course” as opposed to deciding to drive back to the office early to do administrative work. This best-practice might also help to achieve item #2 above.
- Try to schedule next steps (i.e., follow-up meetings, conference calls, etc.) “on the spot” before the conclusion of each sales call. This simple best practice can significantly boost efficiency for two reasons. First, it helps sales people more easily populate their calendars for future selling days in the field; and second, it can help shorten selling cycles by securing time with buyers sooner than could be done otherwise.
But the sales process extends well-beyond a day in the field, as it encompasses everything from identifying a lead to delivering a solution.
Considering this broad spectrum, it is really not surprising that the largest waste within most businesses can be found in the sales area.
The first step toward improvement – that is, moving from “where we are now to where we’d like to be if everything were right” – is to identify specific areas of sales process waste, and a good way to start might be to answer the following 20 questions:
- What is our current market share?
- What are our customers’ requirements?
- How well are we meeting these requirements?
- What would it take to truly delight our customers?
- How long does the sales process take from lead to sale?
- What is our lead conversion ratio?
- What were the top 3 reasons for lost sales over the past quarter?
- How many calls do our sales people make, on average, each day?
- How much time do we spend talking with uninterested or unqualified leads?
- How do we continually improve our sales team’s skills and habits?
- What percentage of prospects contact us first?
- How does this percentage (#11) compare with industry data?
- Does the sales process take less time to complete for inbound leads? If so, how much less?
- What is our response time to customer or prospect inquiries?
- How many customer complaints do we receive?
- How much time do our sales people spend interceding or responding to complaints?
- What is done with the information associated with customer complaints?
- How do customer complaints or how does customer dissatisfaction impact our ability to make sales?
- How often are discounts extended, and what is the average discount?
- Are discounts offered due to competition or in response to dissatisfaction?
Clearly there are many ways to analyze and improve the productivity of an organization’s sales process, but these five best practices and twenty questions are good starting points.