As a sales manager one of the first things I had to learn to do, especially during the financial crisis back in 2008 /2009 was learn to never take my sales teams commitments at face value. This was tough, because as a manager you want to have a relationship with your staff that allows you to trust them and take their word as gospel. There is nothing worse than being let down by a member of your sales team in business. Nothing. They are responsible for making sure that you are getting a paycheck and can pay all the bills that month. That is why they SHOULD be well compensated for their efforts.
In general around 80% of sales people I have met, are pretty average, because they really don’t understand the science around sales and the difference between that and account management. There is a HUGE difference. When you are starting up a business, before you have accounts to manage, this is when you truly see what sales and business development is all about. Coming from sitting as the head of a sales team and being bought back down to the trenches again as a startup myself, I am starting to get back into the hardcore sweaty game that is sales, which is somewhat humbling and bloody hard work. You see startups don’t have their case studies and reputations yet, they don’t have people to re-contract agreements in the early days for easy revenue.
At the very beginning of a business the sales process is a science. And talking to many startups and even small businesses as I do daily, I am beginning to see that people don’t understand the science, they talk shit and LOVE having a chat about their vanity metrics.
The science is easy, and there are really only a few things you need to understand.  Prospecting  Building a Pipeline  Objection Handling and  Closing.
This is actually communicating with a client or customer, it might be a phone call, a face to face or skype meeting. For an online business this would be the person on your store looking around, clicking on products, looking at options etc. Prospecting is about identifying your opportunities through REAL conversation with a potential customer and client, it is about getting them to say to you they are interested, that you should send them over a proposal or that they will add an item to the shopping cart whilst they continue to browse around.
Building a Pipeline
Even seasoned sales people don’t REALLY understand how to manage their pipeline and what it actually means. Only once you reach the stage of a customer committing to a proposal should you then go ahead and place it in your pipeline. In an online environment, this means that someone has added a product to the shopping cart.
I am going to go a little deeper with this one though, as not knowing how to properly identify the value of a pipeline is where I see startups and businesses fall flat on their face.
Whenever something is added to your pipeline you should rank that proposal according to the probability that the deal is going to close, if you are speaking to the actual decision maker, and things are looking good – then the probability is going to be higher for a close than if you are just at the stage of talking to an influencer within the company. To make it easier to understand what I mean by this, let’s have a look at the some of the pipeline that I have built for the business this week.
This week I made 120 phone calls [actual sales conversations] that resulted in 8 face to face appointments that resulted in 14 proposals being sent to people as some were smaller value deals that didn’t require a face to face meeting. In that mix of proposals I sent 9 to decision makers and 5 to department heads that will need to gain approval. The total value of opportunities there for my business are around $101,500 across the year if they all come through. Statistically though – they won’t. Next to each proposal I rank where they are sitting in terms of how many times I have spoken to the person, their feedback, the budgets we have spoken about etc. From there I can clearly see that right now at this very moment for the work I have done this week, that I have:
9 x $500 sales sitting at a probability of 10% to close
1 x $10,000 sale sitting at a probability of 10% to close
2 x $30,000 sales sitting at a probability of 10% to close
1 x $500 sale sitting at a probability of 75% to close
1 x $500 sale sitting at a probability of 60% to close
1 x $26,000 sale sitting at a probability of 60% to close
Meaning that my sales pipeline is actually $23, 725 worth of opportunity at the moment, due to the different stages that the sales are at. Of course today in follow up calls I may be able to move 8 sales into a 60% probability and thus the pipeline increases. You need to take into account, objections, renegotiations whenever you are building a pipeline, and far too often we mistake “opportunities” being worked on for “pipeline” which inflates what you WILL actually be able to close and becomes a vanity metric, not a true measure of what is actually going on in the business.
This stage of sales is where you start to move things up or down your pipeline, handling objections and maintaining buy in, means the probability of a sale increases, and the opposite for not handling the objection well. This is the stage where you must trial close in every conversation, objection handling can often be the most expensive part of a sale because people will keep their hopes up and not distinguish properly between a time waster that hates saying no and someone that it is genuinely vetting you to make sure you can deliver what they want. If you are prance around with them, they will prance around with you, be straight, ask them if they actually want your product, and if it is in their budget to purchase it. If the answer is no, take them out of the pipeline.
Still now, I occasionally have trouble with closing, mainly when I am talking about asking people for a commitment that means a lot of money over a year, some people say that people fear being successful and fear making money – I personally think it is less about that and more about being addicted to the fluff, not wanting to leave that stage of the sale where you have a great relationship and things look positive, we fear that “if” we are rejected for one reason or another the whole exercise is ruined. But if we don’t ask for it, we don’t get it – and if you have completed your due diligence during the sales process, you should have vetted the “no” in the objection stage and only be asking a guaranteed “yes” to sign on the dotted line. This whole process is exactly the same online, it just is way more transactional and uses technology to have the conversation, your buy now button is the closer.