Monday, February 21, 2011

Smart sales operations channel business

“The best time to plant a shade tree was 25 years ago.

The next best time is today.”

--Old Chinese proverb

Read that a few times and then think about using it as the quote of the week for your next sales meeting.

That little nugget is the difference between a successful sales department and one that’s stressed and struggling.

Successful reps manage their business, stressed reps react to it. Both types could be working very hard-- the stressed ones maybe even work harder. The difference is results. The smart rep has already planted the tree; the stressed one is looking for a shovel and a place to dig.

The smartest reps I know have created a pipeline of business because they know you lose accounts a whole lot quicker than you can ever sign new ones. That ten year regular could be gone in a heartbeat but it generally takes weeks and months to develop a good new advertiser.

Several years ago Ottaway Newspapers, now Dow Jones Local Media Group, surveyed its community newspaper sales reps about how much of their time they spent reselling existing business versus developing new business. The answer for new business was somewhere between five and 10 percent. I’m betting the five percent was a stretch for some.

Account turnover is inevitable. You know you’re going to lose business. People are going to cut back, drop out of the paper or go out of business. In the old days you might have been lucky with new store openings, but save those stories for your grandchildren.

I’ve seen plenty of companies that churn over 30 percent of their business annually. So if turnover is a given then planning is your insurance.

Business owners aren’t sitting around waiting for the rep to drop by so they can place their order. If they were convinced advertising in your publication was good for them they’d likely already be in it. Sales are a process and it takes time to move people to action. It’s highly unlikely you’ll drop in and walk out with a six-month contract on your first visit.

Done right and in the interests of creating credibility and trust, not to mention creating an advertising program that works, the process takes time. I advocate a three call process that starts with a drop by to make an appointment to conduct a needs analysis at a time convenient for the prospect. Go there in person, it gives you a chance to look over the store and you’re not a stranger for the next meeting.

It might be a week or two before that meeting happens, then a few weeks before another meeting to make a presentation on what you learned in that first meeting. People aren’t quick to go from spending nothing to committing to serious money. They may want time to think about it, or they may want to try a less expensive test to see if the paper works for them. Time passes. One month, two months, maybe more. It takes time and effort to educate them and move them from indifference to conviction.

The channel or pipeline approach understands and compensates for that timeline. It acknowledges that the process takes time. The first appointment may not produce a meeting for several weeks and it may be a month after that before you reach the proposal or decision stage. But the smart rep is out there making appointments and having meetings every week, moving the process along.

If you’re not doing anything like this start off slow. A minimum of two new accounts per week is certainly reasonable. The two appointments will eventually become meetings and then presentations. The key is getting the ball rolling so activity is constantly evolving and replenishing itself.

In a perfect world all of this should happen naturally, but we know it doesn’t. So absent self-motivated and ambitious sales reps, someone needs to make sure it happens right, and to do that you need to track it. Week by week, and step by step to be sure the pipelines get filled with activity.

Success comes with tracking. That dirty word, I know. Tracking means paperwork and just about every sales rep or manager I’ve met In 40 years hates paperwork. I haven’t found any better way to accomplish this, but you can make it pretty simple and painless like the example that accompanies this article.

To make this work, managers need to offer comment and suggestions because the process is useless without it. It’s not busy work or the publisher’s new quirk of the month. It should be the starting point for meaningful conversations about revenue development and that should be in everyone’s best interests and a company goal.

Email if you would like a free example of a good tracking report.

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Anonymous Business Process said...

In order to have an efficient business today,it needs some process that called outsourcing..

11:11 PM  

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