I heard once that Sales is not Rocket Science but Harder! I cannot agree more. The actual closing of a sale is an art but that is never the real challenge, the real challenge is building a discipline to create a sales process. What do I mean by a sales process? it is most basic of things Prospect - Present – Follow up and Close. I am very surprised when I am talking to entrepreneurs when they give me excuses for not having the discipline to follow this simple 4 step method. I have seen people pay thousands of $ to attend Sales training classes and walking away and falling back into the same old habit of not following the simple steps. Everyone is scared of B2B sales because it takes time, there are too many departments, legal process is troubling… I think by now you would have figured what my answer is “The Excuse Department is F#$%ing Closed“. There is nothing that throws me into a cursing loop than hearing entrepreneurs giving excuses for how their finger hurts… pullllez! save the crying to your mommy. This is real life, grow up.
Managing a sales process is a skill. The steps that I have listed above are classic, so what do we do in Prospecting? we create a target list of potential customers this is not hard if you know how to work the address book or trade magazines or industry associations or attend conferences. You can get a list of participants, members etc from these channels actually that is the only reason why I attend conferences to meet people and get a prospecting list. Modern tools allow for much more effective way to build this list. Another pet peeve that I have is teams running around in circles trying to identify the perfect CRM System, just use Google Docs or Excel and Email to get the process up and running. There are a number of sophisticated tools out there that basically take more time to learn how to use than actually are useful in the sales process. I will leave the CRM bashing for another day. My advice is pick one and use it, you are never going to find the perfect system. I was taught early in my career that Systems are just tools, its people and their open mind to use system and a process that is needed. Good systems have the process built into them but flexibility is important. I grew up in the age of ERP so following process and configuring systems brings memories that are too painful for this post. There are many simple CRM systems like Highrise or Sugar CRM or anything that is easy to setup and allows you to follow the above 4 steps is good enough to get started. The trick is to stick to one system and use it religiously, again Discipline is the key.
Presenting is again another skill, that is acquired. Effective presentation requires a lot of preparation, thinking, challenging and brainstorming. I usually like to involve the entire team if you have one in the process that way all ideas are on the table and I am usually biased toward facts and data rather than opinion in presenting solutions because opinions can be refuted but facts cannot be. I always follow the Minto Pyramid Principle in making my presentation. I lead with the Conclusion, that always allows the audience to start asking questions on why I made that conclusion, so I follow it up with facts to back up my conclusion. I always try to see the problem from my potential customers perspective and build a presentation around that problem. I do a lot of research about the person, the company and the challenges the industry faces, it allows me to frame the situation, the problem and the solution.
Follow up is the most important of tasks, here I would urge everyone to push for a No. The absolutely worst thing you can have is a Maybe. I usually would like to get a No so I can move on to down my list rather than waste time with a prospective Maybe. Following up is again an art, you don’t have to be nagging but professional and firm. If your prospect gave you time to present your solution and one can gauge whether it is going to be a yes or a no after the presentation. I usually leave presentation meetings with something that I need to share with the customer and follow up with emails to see if there is anything that they need from me to help them make a decision. I provide them with enough information to enable them to sell the solution within their organization. It all comes back to the notion of a Win-Win, I always want my customers and clients to win. If they win, I win. I usually put their victory before mine… Always, it is a life philosophy.
Closing is an art. It is hard work, getting someone to make a decision without being a pain in the back takes skill. But if you have followed the above process closing is not hard. I have no problem following up with my potential customers because I know that I am solving a problem for her and why would I not want to help her? So, in my eyes it is not at all inconvenience to call, email or meet to follow up and get to a decision. I always start with a Win-Win or No Deal mind set. If my customer feels that she is not winning from my presentation and my solution then we just walk away because I desperately want my customer to win and its ok if I don’t close if she is not winning. Oh, there is obviously luck involved but that is never something that you bet you. You follow the steps, repeat it over and over again… thats what the struggle is about.
Being able to present the above steps in a simple report is not only important but it is a report card on how you are doing or how effective you are in doing the sales process. Once again, I am biased toward sticking to simple reports… a spreadsheet that lists my clients in each of the stages with the actual value of the sales, with probability and timeline to close. I keep it updated all the time, makes it easy to present to anyone who wants to know. I find it very hard to understand why getting this report is hard, I know why it is hard actually it is hard if you don’t follow a process and if you are not disciplined. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of being disciplined. You want to Win, well work on your habits and your discipline. Ask all the olympic athletes what is the recipe for their success. There is no other way.