To protect your company’s future your sales strategy, leadership and execution need to be top management issues. Top performing companies seem to focus their strengths and resources on the business they want while others compete for the business they need. It’s the ongoing tension between process and urgency. While subtle, this can be a powerful difference.
Top management and owners should lead the charge with sales, client relationships and a business development strategy that is repeatable, measurable and on purpose. Historically we’ve seen the responsibility for sales growth delegated to the sales reps. Figure it out and make it happen. The team of reps, who don’t really act as a team by the way, with various levels of selling experience and business acumen, created the sales strategy unknowingly based on which prospective companies they knew, who would see them and where they could get an order.
Orders and Accounts
Ah yes, the almighty order. The company needs orders to survive but yearns for sustainable accounts to thrive. If we only chase orders, we are driven to lower the price until someone says yes. Most business people would say this is not a sustainable business model-in fact a race to the bottom. The reps however will tell you that, “at least it’s an order.” Compensation is usually based on the value of the orders they bring in every day, every week and every month. While logic may tell you that identifying an account with greater potential may lead to many more orders over a longer period of time, most reps aren’t concerned with what happens over time as much as what happens this month. This remains an ongoing battle in the fight between orders and accounts.
Let’s look at why logic doesn’t always prevail in the sales department. One reason is the methods of finding new business and of building relationships has and continues to change. Many of the current sales reps in the printing industry remain ill equipped to tackle this selling environment. A rep with 10-20 years of experience most likely became successful in a much different time. The business climate was less complicated back then, the rules of doing business and seeing people were more relaxed and the buyers often carried much more decision making authority back when these reps were building their book of business. A rep who has built their successful sales experience based on these factors often finds it difficult to navigate in today’s murky structure. Sales force adaptability continues to be an industry-wide concern and a focus should be placed on improving this for your team. You need to understand what’s working for your business in generating leads, scoring appointments and closing business and use this information to help direct the sales group.
Client needs and their buying process today make it increasingly difficult to differentiate your offering using past methods. Printing company websites and marketing pieces tout the firms’ highest standards of print quality manufactured on state-of-the-art technology and backed by the best people in the business. While perhaps true, everybody is saying it. This gives the buyers a feeling that they really can’t make a bad decision – that is, everybody is good and the only differentiator left must be price. While this is indeed a misconception, it’s one that many in the industry wrestle with each and every day. Buyers want to know more about what all your cool stuff can do for them, not just the fact that you have it. Many reps and owners that I speak with struggle to effectively differentiate their business and the services they bring to the table. Adding this to your to-do list will be another step in reducing the variability in your sales efforts.
How do we change the tune of the market? How do we start selling on purpose and capturing the business that we really want? The first step is for top management to accept the responsibility for change and more importantly, lead the way. Several key steps to this initiative include:
6 Keys to Refocus Your Efforts
- Identify the accounts that provide the profit and sustainable relationship that you desire. Know what your best clients look like through developing profiles that include the demographic, geographic and psychographic information of your best clients. During this process you may also uncover accounts that provide volume but may not provide the necessary profit scores you’re looking for. It may be decision time for size vs. profits.
- Within these winning accounts, what industry verticals are you really good at? Which markets do you consistently deliver value to and have a true competitive advantage in? Leverage those in your marketing and account selection efforts to become proficient in that vertical and further differentiate yourself from other buyer choices. Give them a good reason to say yes.
- Ask your good clients why they do business with you. Why did you select me? The more you know and understand why your good clients do business with you the more that you’ll be able to grow your business with new accounts that have a good strategic fit.
- Take control of your lead generation and sales process strategy. Create a clear differentiation between you and your competitors and make it easy for customers to do business with you.
- Evaluate your sales organization. What does your team look like? Do you have one or two reps that are good at identifying new business in your marketplace? You may also have reps that struggle to find new opportunities but excel at managing existing clients. New accounts that involve a technology solution, that are data driven or need storefront configeration may require the assistance of a technical rep or IT person during a presentation and should no longer be simply a transactional sale. Organize your sales department like a team in making sure that everyone is in the role that’s right for them, that they can play their position well and they have the necessary support to be successful.
- Finally, evaluate your sales compensation program. In the battle to become an important resource to your best accounts through the expansion of products and services offered, ask yourself if the comp plan is as effective as it could be in supporting these goals. Does the comp plan support selling transactions, building accounts, cross-selling your services or hopefully all three.
At the end of the day it’s about driving your business to be successful in today’s market. It’s about making choices in all that you do. It’s about taking the leadership role in the direction, strategy and execution of the sales process. Let me know how you’re doing with all of this.