Keeping track of sales activities can be difficult.
One moment you’re having a leisurely cup of coffee with a prospect. The next, you realize that you’ll miss the sales target by a mile. You had a great pipeline at the beginning of the quarter but still ended up short — and exhausted. What did you miss?
If you think you did miss something major, you’re hardly alone. A study cited in the Harvard Business Review found that nearly half (44%) of B2B executives believe their organizations blunder at managing their pipelines. The bad news is that the more they mismanaged their sales process, the less they are able to achieve their revenue growth potential.
But there’s an upside: A finely tuned sales process help drive annual revenue growth to as much as 28%!
Make no mistake, though. There’s no real secret or shortcut to sales success. Excellent sales performance always will require hard work. But systematizing your sales process makes things a lot easier and brings a higher level of consistency in achieving success. After all, the science behind selling is nothing more than an efficient process, and the amount of time and effort you’re willing to invest. Put more work and time into the process and you’ll have greater chances of success.
You can move forward by examining your existing process and squarely addressing sales mistakes that your team regularly encounters.
Among the key challenges sales professionals commonly experience:
- Poorly Defined Sales Process. Ideally, this should be encountered only in early-stage startups or for newly launched products. While elements of your internal operations and resources can be included, your sales process should focus more on your customers and reflect their purchasing behavior. Never be content with generic process templates. Moreover, industry landscapes, market forces and consumer behavior change over time, sometimes at a quicker pace than everyone has expected. Evolve and iterate your sales process as needed.
- Shallow Understanding of Customers and Their Needs. If there’s one factor that makes or breaks a startup, this is it. Some products or services that have been developed in the past had far more ambition, promise and creative or technical sophistication than their competitors but they still failed for one simple reason: They don’t appeal to customers. The same goes with your sales process: If it ignores how your customers feel, then selling even an intrinsically awesome product can be a lot tougher than expected. Talk with customers and build conversations around what they need or the problems they need to solve. Then engage your sales team to properly identify each stage in the sales cycle based on customer feedback. This will help you draw up a more accurate sales pipeline that will tell you where a customer is — as well as their likely behavior — at each stage of the process.
- Having the Wrong Prospects in Your Pipeline. Once you have established ongoing conversations with customers and logging closed deals, you should be able to establish an ideal client profile as well as a rough profile of customers who are likely to just take up much of your time and leave you hanging. Because you need to close deals as fast as possible, stick with customers who fit the ideal profile and spend far less time with the wrong type of prospects.
- Lack of Understanding on How Deals Are Won or Lost. Selling is a lot more than just closing sales or failing to make a deal. It’s important to understand what factors led to either outcome and incorporate this intelligence in your sales process. Review your activities and correspondence with prospects who purchased your product and those who did not, taking note of activity details that could lead to insights on the right timing, selling approach or pricing that might move prospects in your favor.
- Lack of Focus/Prioritization. You or your sales team may lose focus, spending a disproportionate amount of time and energy on tasks that have minimal impact. Consider the timeless wisdom of placing rocks, pebbles and sand — in that order — into a jar. Apply the principle in your sales process, making it clear to your salespeople which specific deals need a follow-up or which specific activity needs to be initiated at the moment.
- Focusing on Results Instead of Activities. There was a time when being described as “results-oriented” meant you were fantastic as a leader or a professional. It may still mean something positive today, but in sales being “activities-oriented” can deliver better results (read: higher sales). Why is that? Research shows that setting results-oriented targets is less achievable than setting activity targets. The trick then is to set the matching level and type of activities to achieve the results you want.
- Disconnect Between Key Sales Activities And Goals. Since activities trump results as the more viable factor to set targets for, it’s only logical to transform key specific sales activities such as client calls, demo meetings, correspondence and other events as goals in themselves. This way, you are putting a definite number on sales opportunities to establish an acceptable success ratio for a given period. For example, if you need five closed deals to reel in your target profit and your sales success ratio is one in five, then you need to set an activity goal of at least 25 leads for the period.
- Time Not Allocated Efficiently. Since selling is largely a numbers game (that is, the more deals you close in less time as possible, the higher your sales figure), your success depends heavily on how fast you close deals. That means you need to budget your time across all activities in your sales process, trimming the time you spend on the wrong prospects, prioritizing activities that generate the best results, and finding the most effective time frame for demos, initial calls, follow-ups and other activities.
- Tools/Technology Mismatch. Depending on your industry, business model, and sales team size, you’ll need the appropriate tool or technology to help drive deals. If you have a small team and implement a simple process, a no-frills sales pipeline template might be enough. Otherwise, you need to examine whether the tools you use (or lack thereof) match your operational and strategic needs. As industries become more competitive, the type of technology or specific tool you adopt often serves as a game changer, tilting the odds in favor of companies which have tapped resources that perfectly match their business models. As a rule of thumb, go for cloud-based, collaborative and mobile-enabled solutions that have robust analytics capabilities.
- Unwieldy Business Intelligence Support. You might be surprised, but some sales people complain that their CRMs demand huge amounts of data (some of it unnecessary), which compromises the speed and sometimes the accuracy of business intelligence delivery. While it’s a good thing to know as much information relevant to a deal or prospect, streamlining the process to focus more on closing sales will have a higher rate of return in the long run. Go for sleek solutions with accurate forecasting abilities; strong collaborative features that allow all stakeholders to help build data around an account; and intuitive interfaces for presenting statistics and actionable business insights.
- Not Using Data to Improve Process. If you’re not periodically revisiting your successes and failures to gather insight from both, you’re neglecting a critical activity in the sales process: learning. Business intelligence and analytics allow you to streamline your sales process, which in turn enables you to achieve more with less. By using data to improve process, you are drafting the blueprint for business growth.
It's Never Too Late To Fix Your Pipeline
For your company to remain successful, you need to retrace your sales process and align it with the changing behavior of your customers. Verify whether you need to alter the stages that make up your sales cycle, then iterate your process as necessary. Identify choke points in each stage and address them as efficiently as you can.
To help your company achieve higher sales, translate your sales process into a goal-focused, collaborative pipeline that will drive your team to make the right moves at any given moment. Remember, there’s a science to tracking sales and it starts with efficiently managing each stage of the selling process.