Professional selling in the business-to-business (B2B) marketplace has often boiled down to having people on the sell side who know people on the buy side. One sales person's Rolodex is another company's prospect list, or so the saying used to go. Today, however, that no longer works. Buyers and sellers alike change jobs; companies merge, consolidate or close; industry sectors are shifting in focus and growth potential.
As a result, B2B sales professionals need processes and tools that can adapt to these changing times, and rely less on the cult of personality surrounding a handful of sales 'superstars' and their historic 'black book' of supposedly willing buyers.
That's why now is the time to perform a rigorous sales process review in your company. To begin, focus on these three keys to driving lasting results:
1. The Sales Process Begins Before the Sales Cycle
In the past, the marketing team was somewhat of an also-ran group in many B2B companies, often playing a secondary (at best) role in supporting sales. Leads were generated either through buyer-seller relationships or through direct outreach (cold calls, in-person introductions, site visits) by the sales team.
Now, the tables have turned. Your future customers are beginning the sales process well in advance of any formal decision cycle, budget or timeframe for vendor selection is established. That means that you now need to locate, engage, warm, nurture and build relationships with suspects before they ever become qualified prospects. This realization alone can drive a radical rethinking of the sales process in your business.
2. Commit to a CRM Strategy that Works for Your Team
It's an old story: Your company invests in an incredibly powerful new customer relationship management (CRM) system and spends a great deal of money implementing it, but your 'start performer' sales rainmaker hates software, doesn't like computers, and maintains sales relationships out of a DayTimer or business card wallet. The performer's sales numbers look good, so how much can you really push back? The answer is -- a lot.
That performer will either leave your company some day and you'll have no ability to protect the business he or she built, or more likely that person is sitting on 3-5 times more business that you don't even know about. Sales processes today are far too complicated for any of us to manage in our heads, which is why most sales professionals simply forget, discard or disqualify a great deal of business at the start. They can't afford to track 'warm' leads or 'uncommitted' prospects when they are already overwhelmed putting out 'bigger fires'.
But the reality is that every ember your salespeople ignore will either die out, or become a roaring fire of opportunity for your competition. Through better strategy and effective CRM system consulting, you can make sure that every lead is nurtured effectively, and every sales person performs to their full potential.
3. Rethink What You Do or Don't Do with Weak Leads
Many sales teams do a poor job accurately qualifying sales leads, which means that they often overcommit resources to mediocre opportunities and fail to focus energy on better ones. However, even the sales teams that do a good job qualifying often commit an even bigger error: they let the less-than-perfect leads languish.
Okay, so a prospect says they don't have a budget yet and they aren't sure if they are going to move forward on a decision until next year. Does that mean the only thing you do is put a calendar note in to call them nine months down the road and 'check in' again? Is that really the best you can do? Nurturing leads at all levels of the sales process means giving each lead maximum opportunities to up-qualify into a stronger and stronger sales opportunity for the future.
These three steps focus on fundamentals but they all recognize that you need to start with a strategy. Expert sales consulting can help you perform an effective sales process review that can empower your business-to-business sales team to achieve bigger deals tomorrow. Whether you go outside for advice or focus on in-house improvement, your business will be better off by focusing on the importance of your sales process - and how it can generate real results.
Image credit: JBSD @ Flickr (Creative Commons).