Showing posts with label qualifying. Show all posts
Showing posts with label qualifying. Show all posts

Customer cycles or sales funnels?

"The top salesperson in the organization probably missed more sales than 90% of the sales people on the team, but they also made more calls than the others made."
                                                                                    ~Zig Ziglar

The difference between a customer journey and a sales funnel - is your perception of either.  Inexperienced sales rookies are coached to label what phase their customer is at in their buying cycle by their management and/or organization.  The most definitive one you tend to see is divided into thirds .... commonly referred to as "the sales funnel".

The top third and widest with the most numbers is "Suspects".   Otherwise referenced as leads.  You are at the beginning, likely haven't met with a decision maker, or even understand why or how they buy.  They  have been identified as a potential customer by:

  1. Cold calls
  2. Lead generation
  3. Referrals

The second tier is "Prospects" or called opportunities.   Are a mid-volume of numbers.  Prospects have moved from being a "Suspect" to a "Prospect" because they have been qualified.  The sales professional has identified them as a potential customer from a number of avenues: 

  1. Web contact inquiry contact 
  2. Inbound telephone call asking questions 
  3. Internal leads:  referrals, heads up or personal recommendations
  4. That first meeting, cold call
  5. They've been identified as having a need that your company can fill
  6. Follow up from cold call, or investigative meeting
  7. Someone has read or shared information that shows where growth may be
  8. Knowledge of key players are:  decision maker, influencer, user, authority, payment
  9. They have the ability to pay for your service or product
  10. Who you are speaking to has  the authority to make a decision to move forward or will simply be making a recommendation or gathering prices
  11. What internal endorsement is required to proceed with providing a solution, quote or proposal or be established as a vendor, provider or partner
  12. A decision will or can be made based on the need you can fill

The final third tier is "Customers".   These are the fewest numbers.  They have traveled through the funnel to arrive at a transaction, contract or agreement to buy.  They have satisfied your organizations criteria to do business or you have met their's:

  1. Set up an account: met credit requirements:  credit check, references
  2. Have the ability to pay:  financial resources, how or when and authorized by someone
  3. You have identified that your prospect wants or is willing to pay for your service or product
  4. You understand their buying frequency:  one time, annual, intermittent, monthly, daily, etc.
  5. You understand how they work and how to work them within your own system or processes ... sometimes customized
  6. You know their structure and where they may buy from:  global, national, or local 
  7. They have issued a purchase order (PO#), requisition or cheque to buy
  8. You have broken them down by value to your organization:  major account, corporate, enterprise, business, entrepreneur, consumer
  9. You have systems or structure to match their buying:  an account executive, major account representative, territory manager, sales representative, customer service
  10. You have adapted your structure to mirror your customer's behavior:  single point of contact on major accounts or enterprise sales, business to business local or global points of contact, order forms, web order systems, incoming telephone orders, fax'd orders (forms), catalogue, directories

The most successful sales professionals or sales oriented organizations match their behavior or identity system to that of the potential customer.  They understand where their customer is in the buying cycle:

  1. Research
  2. Information gathering
  3. Price shopping
  4. Vendor qualification
  5. Who can provide the desired product or service to match what they think they want
  6. Criteria outlined on how they will decide to act (make a purchase)
  7. Established approved list of vendors or providers authorized to be purchased from
  8. Budget accounted for
  9. Approval process (by transaction or by location or by authority)
  10. Payment structure
  11. Review structure 
  12. Service structure
  13. Support to maintain orders
  14. Ability to meet needs
  15. Reputation to meet requirements or identify unknown needs and proactively fix gaps
  16. Established trust

How you identify where you are at is important to create a language among your team as to where you are at in a sale:  are you on a fishing expedition or are you assembling your team of resources to put all heads together to put together a win-win proposal?

"If eighty percent of your sales come from twenty percent of all your items, just carry those twenty percent."
                                                         ~Henry A. Kissinger

Customer relationship management (CRM) systems have these areas identified and can populate into graphs or graphic funnels to help those:

  1. Forecasting potential revenue, profit margins, marketing efforts
  2. Budget resources:  people, equipment, processes, tools, systems, 
  3. Have all the systems and resources in place or easily activated responses
  4. Policies and procedures in place for escalations or when things go wrong or extra assistance required for customer are in place
  5. People resources match customer orders:  equated to response time, hours of operation, scheduling

It is the footprint of your sales efforts success:  as both an organization and the customer facing personnel status in the customer's buying cycle.  I recommend that you break it down into bite size chunks so that they can be addressed.  If you are writing a business plan, a key component is answering:  "where and how will you get or retain customers?".  This should be long before you are looking for investors or financing to launch or continue operations.  I liked this diagram via Google by Andrea Callahan:

Ironically, most start ups and entrepreneurs gear up on marketing, outbound campaigns, telemarketing, sales coverage long before they have answered any of the above.  It can easily foreshadow failure over success.  Yes, you need to walk before you run.  However, assembling and identifying who are suspects, prospects and customers and where they are in the funnel, and the numbers associated with those numbers, clearly outlines the road map to monitor and manage growth.

It takes patience, practice and precision to be able to do this automatically.  The more adaptive or fluid you are in meeting demands are going to allow you to pinpoint the when, who and how to focus on your grow and ability to flourish.  If you recognize how you will move and keep pace with your customers at their speed, not your own, will signal a mature organization with a clear understanding on who is their customer and how great the relationship can be.

"Pretend that every single person you meet has a sign around his or her neck that says: 'Make me feel important.' Not only will you succeed in sales, you will succeed in life."
~Mary Kay Ash

Suspect? Prospect? Account? Defining your sales progress.

"You are never a loser until you quit trying."
Mike Ditka
It is often asked:  when does one stop calling after they’ve tried calling so many times without success or at least a returned call?  My thoughts are simple:  if you are calling, calling and calling and you aren't getting a response, it should tell you that you haven't done your research aka homework.  People will only buy if there is a need.  If you haven't uncovered a specific need that your product or service can address, then you will call until you're told to get lost ... or you give up .... or your manager asks you why same has been on your prospect list for so long.  Initially, all leads, cold calls, etc. are "Suspects".  Before you turn them into a "Prospect"  you should be able to answer why they are a prospect?  What tipped you off to make you confident that they would buy from you?  If you cannot answer that, they are still a "Suspect".  If you haven't had a scheduled appointment with a decision maker to uncover a need, they are still a "Suspect".  If you marketing department or web gave it to you as a lead that has not been followed up on, even if there were specific inquiries, they are still a "Suspect".

If you have had a chance to sit down with a decision maker and ask them qualifying questions you have a "Prospect".  In other words you have qualified them as a prospect:

  • They have said they're going to buy your product or service     
  • They have budget allocated
  • They have a time line established for purchase or engaging service
  • They have developed a criteria on how they are going to award the business
  • There are business, industry or government factors that are advancing their decision:

1.      There is a deadline

2.      There is a project

3.      There are business advantages for them to make the decision

4.      There may be a penalty if they don’t act on a) by b)

5.      Your organization can help meet, avoid, eliminate 1 to 4.

6.      You understand 1 to 5.

If you are not talking to the "Decision Maker" (the person who can sign the cheque or agreement) then you are still in "Suspect" mode.  This is because this person has been assigned to gather information, gather quotes, price shop, etc.  It would be only move beyond "Suspect" to "Prospect" if you can validate that they can make recommendations that will be acted upon. 

Once the "Prospect" has been identified, then you should determine what will make them buy from you to become an "Account".  In order for this to happen you can answer:

  • What they like about your product, company, solution, service
  • Who might also be part of the decision making process (i.e. committee, board of directors, executive, manager)?
  • You understand their needs and you have provided a proposal, bid, letter outlining what it is they are asking for and what you are addressing
  • You have asked how, who, what are the decision making criteria

·   They can afford your solution, service, product or you have carved out a way that they can afford it by looking at financial landscape.

·   They can sign on the dotted line today

  • You have scheduled and performed a demonstration, trial, beta test, and/or review of their needs in person with them confirming that you have understood what they are looking for
  • You understand whether they understand what they are buying or simply doing research in case it comes up in the future (which relegates them back to the "Suspect" pile)
  • They have a budget, enough money, to spend on what you are proposing?
  • They are budgeting for the future and you have diarized to follow up in a specific time frame to move them from "Suspect" to "Prospect"
  • They agree that you are being considered because you  

1.      Understand the problem(s) they will encounter if they do not move forward

2.      Understand how this solution, service, product will help them by itemizing
         their specific  "Benefits":

ü  solve administrative headaches

ü  streamline process

ü  fix problems

ü  increase employee morale

ü  make them more competitive

ü  increase reputation or brand

If they agree to sign, purchase, agree to your proposal, you have ONLY then established an "Account" ….. BUT only after you have taken into consideration your organizations policies and ability to serve/delivery/meet the demand to deliver:

a)      Deposit

b)      Credit Application

c)      Agreement Terms

d)      Service Level Agreements

e)      Operational readiness

f)       Resources assembled

g)      Product Availability

h)     Warranties

i)       Approved price concessions

j)       The executive sponsor from the "Account" who will help you implement

k)      Authored an Implementation Plan (if applicable) with all the people who have to be involved assigned tasks, responsibilities, time lines


Before you start to get up and run out to scream to the world that you've "got it" there is one important thing that you must do:

1.   Schedule a follow up to ensure they are happy with what was promised, delivered, agreed to.  Based on that you may have to:

Ø  Review the promises made together with “Account”

Ø  Fix any issues that have been identified

Ø  Understand how the short comings impacted their business (time to market, competitiveness, serving their customers, lost revenue, lost new business, etc.)

Ø  Address those issues with your operations, resources

Ø  Collaborate with operations BEFORE you offer any discounts, refunds,

Ø  Follow up that those issues have been fixed to their satisfaction

Ø  Ask for a testimonial for your website, quotes for your other proposals, references

Ø  Ask for a referral only then

When you attend the scheduled follow up review, you may want to have two follow ups:  1) with the person who agreed to the purchase; then 2) the people who have been impacted by this new product, service, solution.

If you are truly really lucky, you will turn this "Account" into a "Partner" ... but I'll leave that for another day.  You have some homework to do right now. 


"Happy customers are repeat customers ... and repeat customers refer you to their friends, colleagues, business associates and relatives"

Jeannette Marshall
Comments?  Feel free to provide your feedback ... did this help you?  Do you agree with this post?  Do you have additional tips or tricks that help you better qualify to ensure success? 
Of course, sharing also helps if others can learn and is greatly appreciated!




Hit the Road Jack: How do you decide it is time to move on from a prospect?

Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goals
~ Anonymous

Q:  What do you do when you’ve done everything in your power to win the sale and your buyer seems to all of sudden be stalling at actually making a decision? 
A:  You probably didn’t do your homework at the beginning of the process so now you have to do some backtracking.  Regardless, have the confidence to be direct and ask the customer what may be preventing them from making a decision to move forward today?  There could be several reasons for the stall:
  1. Your contact is not as high in the organization as they led you to believe
  2. Their role is the quote gathering when someone else makes the final decision
  3. Who you are selling to is not able to make the final decision and, to save face, they don't want to tell you that
 Hesitation in itself should provide you with clues:
  1.  Ask direct questions to uncover why they are hesitating;
  2. Perhaps there is another proposal on the table and you are just there to reinforce that their decision is a good one
  3. They have a current supplier and they just want to make sure they are being treated fairly
  4. You may want to move on tactfully, while keeping the door open for when they are in the market.
If you are a true sales professional, you aren’t dividing and conquering.  You should remain realistic that some just aren’t ready to buy.  You have to determine why they aren’t ready to buy by asking the right questions.  Ultimately, there are questions most experienced sales pros know to ask  at the beginning of the sales process, rather than scrambling at the end when you forecasted as a done deal, or thought it was time to close.
Here are some suggested questions you should ask at the beginning of the sales cycle in the preliminary qualification stage in the sales process:
1.      When are they planning to buy?
2.      What are the steps in deciding how they will buy?
3.      Who is involved with the decision making?
4.      Do they have a specific budget in mind?
5.      Is there specific criteria to determine who/what they will buy from?
6.     Who do they currently buy from and why? 
7.    Is there a specific reason why they are in the market right now? 
8.    How will their business be impacted if they change from suppliers? 
9.    What business issues are they trying to solve? 
10.  Perfect case scenario, what do they really want?
11.  What will it take to earn their business?

Answers from all of the above responses provide clues to you on what the next steps are.  You may have simply overshot the close date or  too optimistic on timelines.  Customers drive the close, not sales reps, even less management who are trying to meet quotas.

If you have done your homework and feel that you completely satisfied the aforementioned questions then perhaps the stall is coming from left field.  You have then earned the right to ask direct questions or find out what you may not have addressed for them to make a decision today? 
Their response may give insight on how you decide to move on - either to the next step or period:
1.      Handle the obstacle that surfaces by asking the direct question,
2.      Ask what you can do to help address that obstacle
3.      Were you a benchmark against current supplier, or price comparison
4.      Decide to move on tactfully yet agree to keep in touch
I don’t want to kick you while you are already down.  Especially, if you’ve already told your partner to plan that big vacation based on the sale.  However, most sales pros sense when they are being stalled and can avoid last minute appearance of “buyer’s remorse” by asking direct questions up front at the earliest qualification stage.
Experienced sales pros also keep up a positive, professional image no matter how deflated they may feel or how much they counted on that particular sale.  They know, that by leaving a positive experience, they will be the very first person that will be contacted whenever the next opportunity comes along .... because they are optimistic realists that know they do.  They don't give up, they're tenacious, committed sales pros.  They will review every step in the process and ask themselves what questions they should have asked, what signs they ignored, how they can do better the next time.  Great sales pros distinguish themselves by knowing there is a next time and optimistic by how much they learned by avoiding the same mistakes.  Everyone makes mistakes, the best are the ones who review the mistakes and take tactical steps to avoid them the next time .... there is always a next time!