When it comes to running your own business, one of your main tasks — and by far the most important — is sales. Whether you’re a “natural” or not, your job is now to sell. While there may not be a magic formula, there are four key things that will push you and your team toward better results.
This post is written for people who need to be on the phone and email to convince customers to buy their product, but should contain useful nuggets even if you have a different business and sales model.
Start by defining your Sales Stages
Your sales process starts when you begin to have conversations that develop into business proposals or quotes, which in turn become new customers. This collection of conversations is your sales pipeline. I don’t just mean deals you know will close, I mean everything from an initial email right up to negotiations in the final decision-making stages. What’s really helpful when starting to manage sales is having a clear understanding of the steps in a typical sales conversation, or sales stages, and what stage each conversation is at.
The main benefit of this is declaring your best understanding of how to deal with all sales conversations, or, in other words, how to best manage your sales pipeline. I’m not the most organized person, so putting my deals into different stages really helps me to see where are the bottlenecks are and focus on the most important tasks.
The typical sales stages are: Targets (not yet had a conversation), Contacted (that might be a call or an email), Meeting Agreed (there’s a firm date in the diary and an agreed agenda), Proposal Sent (I’ve submitted a proposal with a $ figure attached), and Close (negotiation time to get the signature on the bottom line). This was five stages but how many you choose is up to you. Here’s an earlier post about sales stages.
Get organized: don’t let your inbox be your boss
When I first started selling, I was driven by my email inbox; meeting requests and other inbound triggers. How do you not reply to a customer’s email right away? It is too easy to make the mistake of being busy without actually managing your sales and sales pipeline.
I then started to use a simple spreadsheet to keep a track of my conversations, whether they were simple ideas of companies for me to target, or tracking where I’d had conversations. The spreadsheet was my “boss.” In those early days it was all very ad hoc, just a record of activities, contact details, and actions, etc. And for a time that worked, but as you’ll find, if that’s what you’re doing now, it’s quite limiting. You don’t get a great overall picture of what’s going on across the deals and conversations you’re having. The spreadsheet also doesn’t remind you of the things you’ve agreed to or promised. But, it was a great start to getting organized rather than constantly reacting to the inbox.
Get your pipeline flowing faster
Having visibility across your deals is only part of the story. The key to making money is to close sales during specific time period, which usually means closing deals faster.
Using a traveling analogy — one of the biggest mistakes in sales management is to think about revenue as a static metric (like distance). A better analogy for revenue is velocity as it has two variables — time AND distance. Earning $100,000 in a month or in a year are two dramatically different results. A large number of deals or good conversion rates alone don’t mean a thing if deals are not moving quickly enough.
If you are proactive and set yourself goals, tasks, next actions, and activities against each deal — in every stage — you’ll see deals flowing faster. I have seen sales teams grow revenue substantially simply by increasing deal velocity; in that sense time really is money. Set yourself healthy guidelines for the time it takes any deal to be won or lost. If a deal is in your pipeline for longer, throw it out (into a list of “contact again in three months,” for example). You’ll lose some deals, but many will move from stage to stage to reach the final goal.