When times are good, it’s easy to push any issues around sales aside because sales are up, revenues are up, and life is good. But this happy-go-lucky feeling will collapse as soon as even a small disruption occurs in your sales pipeline. With no sales forecast, no sales process, and no marketing plan, sales can evaporate overnight, and the company may be forced to close its doors.
Continued company growth relies on a strong sales forecast.
Being able to forecast what you expect to bring in over the coming months lets you plan for growth. Forecasting sales isn’t optional. You must make it a strong discipline in your company. Simply reacting to sales as they come in is a sure-fire way to run a company into the ground. It’s wonderful that you have sales rolling in the door, but while you’re reacting to those easy sales, your company can lose its connection with the consumer. Employees may start to take customers for granted. Processes get ignored. The whole sales function falls apart.
Sometimes success allows this to happen. Businesses fall complacent to, “The product was selling so well, we never had to put a sales plan in place.” But if you’re not prepared for the day the product stops selling, your company is destined to fail.
Taking the time to be proactive about your sales, to consistently brainstorm ways to bring in new sales, will keep your company’s sales muscles sharp. Even in the good times, when you’ve got more business than you know what to do with, keep looking for new avenues and opportunities. You should always know where your next sale is coming from. That way, if (and probably when) your phenomenal sales luck dries up, you’ll be ready to hit the ground running.
Once you’re actively forecasting sales, you also need to define a set sales process.
Then you have to get everyone following that process. That’s the real trick. Most salespeople are not process people. By nature, they prefer to wing it. But that doesn’t set them up for success. And it certainly doesn’t set the next generation of salespeople up for success. Continued sales success comes from following a repeatable process.
You, and/or your sales manager, need to take the time to clearly articulate how you want your product or service to be sold. Create a written process for your sales team to follow. You can start by asking your top sellers how they go about selling. What aspects of their approach are the most effective? How do they set meetings? How do they close deals? Write down the best practices and work to refine them into one sales process that flows easily from start to finish.
You can get as detailed as you want here. Some of our clients go so far as scripting each step in the process, some leave a little more wiggle room for their sales team. At the very least you need to have each major step in the process outlined. This way every single salesperson knows how to prospect, meet with, and close clients.
Now that you’re forecasting and following a set sales process, you might need to go back to the drawing board on your marketing approach.
Successful companies are those companies who have taken the time to immerse themselves in the problem solving aspects of their products or services and are able to articulate those problem solving aspects to potential customers. You need to be able to articulate a clear vision of what problem your company solves and for whom.
The key is to focus on the pain points of your customers. The majority of buying decisions are made in order to alleviate stress or pain and to make life easier. What problems does your product solve? How does it make your customer’s life better or easier?
Your company may have the best product or service in the world, but if you haven’t spent time thinking about how to get that message to the right audience, you’ll be going nowhere fast.
Define how your product or service solves your target clients’ problems. Clearly outline the differentiating attributes of your product or service. Talk with each of your team members and ask what they see as the most important aspects of your solution.
More importantly, take the time to talk to potential buyers. Find out what their issues are as it relates to your company’s area of expertise. To successfully improve sales, you have to know why your customers buy. You can’t and won’t know that unless you are asking these questions of your customers one-on-one.
Being able to clearly state how your product or service can make a difference in someone’s life is the easiest way to improve sales. You can’t simply put your product out there with a fancy logo and wait for it to fly off the shelves. Put in the time and effort needed to really connect with your target market and their pain points and you’ll see a corresponding uptick in sales.
Once you’ve defined your value proposition, you have to find ways to share that with the world.
Some companies rely on their websites. But don’t just think because you have built it they will come. If you want your website to help drive sales, the website needs to have a sales-driven focus. It can’t simply be an online brochure that talks in vague terms about what the company does.
Some companies prefer the word-of-mouth and networking approach. Make sure to focus only on those groups that are in your company’s target audience and find contacts that you can build into sales relationships. You have to be intentional about how you spend your time and your employees’ time. Don’t chase after customers that don’t need or want what you have to offer.
Those are just two simple ways to market. Realistically, you need a mix of different types of marketing. Do a little analysis to evaluate what your company’s marketing mix is currently. Then you can identify any marketing needs and fill them. You don’t have to spend thousands of dollars on a fancy marketing plan or hire expensive consultants, but you do have to get clear about which marketing approach will drive the most sales. Both in the short term and the long term.
The bottom line is: Don’t get complacent.
Even when sales are rolling in and you don’t have to lift a finger to meet your goals, don’t just sit back and watch. Be intentional about your sales and marketing strategies so that you will have a consistent and steady flow of sales. Make sure that your entire company understands the value that your product or service provides to the world and shout that from the rooftops. Don’t think that just because sales are good now they will be forever. If we’ve learned anything in the last 18 months it’s that the market can change on a dime. But if you stay proactive, you’ll be prepared the next time your sales start to slow.
Written in part by Laurie Taylor of Flashpoint! LLC with edits and additions by Clay Eure.