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Recently, we had a great outcome from applying a counter intuitive solution to what looked like “not a problem at all!” My prospect didn’t want to speak about sales training or optimised revenue generation tactics, changing business processes or additional world best practice methods and tools. Their problem was they had too many opportunities breaking down the front door and they required a way to stem the flow.

That’s a nice problem to have I hear you say, but let me sketch their toxic sales floor.

They had 80 salespeople team that was populated by boys and girls straight off the street hired for a high energy competence. They were given 2 weeks or orientation and product training and let loose on the flow of suspects. The sales eco-system had 5 highly trained (expensive and scarce) engineers that would “craft” the solution for the complex offering that the salespeople highlighted from their initial contact with the “UN-SUB” a sales moniker we use, taken from the TV series “Criminal Minds” to describe the unknown subject. This crafted solution was thrown to a bid processing engine that turned the customised solution into a very professional document containing a covering letter, signed by the CEO, a management overview stating the benefits for the prospect and volumes of collateral pages describing the technicalities of the solution. Lastly, a price and delivery statement.

The sales floor was abuzz, high energy expended, voices raised and burn out was accepted as being about 6 months, engineers on the other hand, hardly managed 3 months and the ratio of quotes to orders was approaching 50:1! Customer satisfaction was low with the most common complaint ~ they didn’t call me back. Analysis of the 50 showed that a staggering 80% were “need gone away,” not a NO, not a MAYBE, but, I’ve gone elsewhere.

Counterintuitively we halved the number of engagements, which doubled their revenue and brought close ratios to 3:1 while more than quadrupling their margins.”

How? By filtering the engagement of suspects and quality of prospects. The unintended consequence was a Cost of Sales that was producing a shrinking margin of <5% which improved to >30-40% basically by using one of only two management “levers” that can be used to defend or improve CONTRIBUTION. Higher selling prices or lower cost of sales.The most effective tool was a PqP – a Project Qualification Profile that filters out suspects that DO NOT pass our engagement criteria, “I want to do business with this suspect and they want to do business with us!” To get to that state, requires the art of selling applied, but also the dispassionate science of the Qualifying Step in the Sales Process. We use a simple acronym which takes a morning to teach, but a couple of months to roll-play and practice to perfect.

  • M=Money, of course, you can’t just ask, “have you any money?” because the answer will always be “plenty,” but you have to navigate to the “owner” of the money, not the budget owner but the person who will sign off – and commits the money to the project.
  • A=Authority, the buying centre persona’s often represent themselves as having the authority to commit their company to a costly project, but hidden in the trees is someone who’s nod will make it happen.
  • N=Need, need is a funny one because often what is stated in the RFP or “problem statement” has nothing to do with the real need. It’s like saying we need more orders when we don’t have the stock to fulfil the ones we have! PAIN needs, like an obvious burning platform, close quickly but GAIN needs require a full understanding of the politics and support for the outcome in the extended “buying centre.” Anyone who can positively or negatively effect the probability of this project “closing!”
  • E=Enthusiasm, most prospects in the first blush of engagement are enthusiastic about the project and ALL salespeople, by definition, are as well. Unfortunately enthusiasm is a fickle emotion and can disappear with the new day sunrise, so it has to be nurtured and continually fanned into life.
  • A=Areas of uniqueness, these are our areas based on the customers perception of things that they can only get from “us!” Especially if you sell a commodity, i.e. you are not alone in providing this product or service, differentiation are wings you build in training, roll-play to become second nature and don’t try to build as you jump off the cliff of the question, “why should I buy from you?” Different personas in the buying centre require different answers to this question and feeds-’n-speeds answers used to the wrong persona will produce glazed eyes and never being allowed through the front door again
  • C=Commitment, Hens are enthusiastic about giving us an egg for breakfast but the poor ol’ pig has to give their life for us to enjoy the bacon. That is the difference between enthusiasm and commitment. We look for the buying centre to have this commitment, especially the decider when standing before the money owner to represent the solution provider among the competing offerings. “This is my recommendation and unless it is ratified you can have my resignation.” That’s commitment which will allow us to forecast a close!
  • T=Time, is about the now, will this sales opportunity close in this financial year, or quarter or bring that special bonus my way? If not, try to keep the kettle boiling until the time is right so you can work on those prospects that do fulfil this criteria. Resist the vertigo of being sucked into projects that have to close in a timeframe that will kill your extended team.
  • S=Size, huge opportunities are a moment where we can let our hair down and celebrate, but they are often the harbinger of days and nights of regret. Too small and it won’t pay the bills and sustain effort, but too big means we can repent at leisure.

So, why should we bother with continual qualification throughout the sales process? The eco-system of a sales project changes through time and qualification must help us engage, stay engaged or cut our losses. If the initial anecdotal story doesn’t motivate you to bring to the bottom line more cash than doubling your sales team, or controlled opportunity inflow then how about this stylised picture. 

Both sales-teams engage 15 opportunities and both close 3, a 5:1 close ratio, however one team “looses early,” that is, kicks into touch opportunities that are ”unworthy” of their effort. The Cost of Sales is an exponential line that grows through time the longer a sales process takes. The longer it takes the more variable cost is expended in management time, unnatural gifting, entertainment and sales attention. This extra time also has a component of lost opportunity cost which is not even factored into this example.

Conclusion

  • Filter, filter & wisely filter again, throughout the process
  • be aggressively consistent in saying NO!
  • spend cost of sales that accumulates as you pass the crafting bucket only on opportunities that you can win
  • drive, through time, a 1:1 close ratio from craft to delivery by utilising a digital dashboard discipline (benchmark and monthly achievement)

 Follow this advice and add revenue to this year that far outpaces that “lets uplift by 20% our sales targets this year!” Want more without changing what you’re doing? That is the definition of a maniac.

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Peter French

Business Coaching is not consulting, it's also not therapy. It's a unique profession that lives somewhere in between these two poles - structured to leave lasting life and business value!

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