Dealer organizations that thrive in the future will be the groups that are the most efficient in all business processes within their organization. There has been a great deal of discussion about efficiency for some time, but the focus has been more on operational processes with operational measures like absorption. During the most recent downturn in the agricultural market, some dealer organizations struggled while others seemed to thrive. The dealers that were above 100% absorption were the ones that tended to fall into the latter group. It has been proven time and again if parts and service cover overhead, a dealer group can survive a short-term slowdown in sales. However, there is much more to maximizing efficiency, especially when talking about sales and sales processes.
Much has been written about absorption and other operational metrics. Classes and training conducted by major suppliers and independent companies focus on increasing operational efficiencies. However, less has been written about efficiency of the sales organization and the sales process. What is available relating to sales processes is generic sales training skills or installing a CRM solution. Positive steps, but unfortunately implemented as single dimensional solutions in most cases provides less than maximum results. What is needed is a more holistic view of the entire sales process and ultimately how to gain efficiency in this critical process called sales.
People – Processes – Technology – Training
All four of these areas are intertwined and interdependent. To create efficiency in the sales process, all four areas must be addressed. This article will discuss how each of these areas is critical to creating efficiency in the sales process and outline some of the interdependences of each.
Salespeople have differing levels of success. It seems that successful salespeople always seem to know when a prospect, i.e., not a loyal customer, is ready to buy. Are they doing something different than the less successful salespeople in the organization? Can that process be identified and replicated with other salespeople?
Everyone seems to agree that relationships still matter in agriculture. In fact, they are a critical element of the sales process. People still buy products from people. This is still true in agriculture, but it must be acknowledged that today’s producer is more knowledgeable than ever before about products. However, today’s producer requires more than just product knowledge from their salesperson. In most cases they also seek out and utilize a “trusted advisor” as a resource in making purchase decisions. For the sake of this article, the definition of trusted advisor is a person having a traditional personal relationship built on a deep understanding of the customer’s operation, goals and objectives and marrying that to in-depth knowledge of the product.
A salesperson requires three specific skills to reach the “trusted” level with their customer. First, they need to have built a positive relationship with the customer through a dialogue built on mutual respect. Secondly, they must have a thorough understanding of the producer’s goals and objectives. And thirdly, they must have in-depth product knowledge. As mentioned, the producer will probably already have a great deal of product knowledge. They do not want to talk to a salesperson that knows less about their products than they do.
To excel in all three areas the most valuable skill for a salesperson is “listening.” Chris Orlob outlines a study conducted in November 2016 in Sales Call Success: What We Learned from Thousands of B2B Sales Conversations. The study was conducted analyzing 25,537 business-to-business sales conversations. The results of the study indicated that the average B2B sales rep spends between 65-75% of a call talking, leaving only 25-35% of the call for listening. This talk to listen ratio indicates a common problem is the sales process today. The old “show up and throw up” method, while sometimes closes a sale, does not provide the most efficient approach in the sales process. Understanding the producer’s goals and objectives requires highly developed listening and understanding skills, supported by a well-defined call plan to obtain the desired information.
Efficient sales processes require the right type of salesperson, not just someone that can talk a lot, even if they have significant product knowledge. Producers want a trusted advisor. Someone they have a relationship with, that they know has listened to them and completely understands their goals and objectives, and has their best interest at heart when making product recommendations.
Aaron Ross & MaryLou Tyler in their book Predictable Revenue highlight the attributes of the best salespeople. They include:
- Listen much more than they talk
- Are problem solvers
- Understand their customers’ industry/business/needs
- Believe in their product and company
- Demonstrate unquestionable integrity
- Can get things done in their own company (via internal networks)
Of course, a salesperson can make some sales without having all these skills. Creating efficiency in the sales process goes well beyond making a few sales. In this competitive environment, maximizing every sales opportunity is critical.
Processes, at least sales processes, have received limited attention. It is inevitable that some salespeople are much more successful than others. Some of that success can probably be attributed to the “people” side, as discussed above. However, the “how” the salesperson works, from creating the initial lead through closing the sale, will significantly impact success as well.
Every dealer group has customers that call when they are ready to buy. That is the loyal customer that everyone strives for. Unfortunately, not every producer falls into the loyal category. According to Bain & Company — Building Loyalty at B2B Companies — 68% of B2B executives say clients are less loyal than they used to be. A very scary statistic in a competitive environment where selling to existing customers may make up to 30-50% of a company’s revenue. In fact, the number of truly loyal customers is usually a small percentage of an overall customer base. An efficient sales process identifies the right prospects, when they plan to purchase and the right product to meet the customer’s goals and objectives. These customers may be loyal to the competition, but they still need to be on the prospect call list and have a sales call at the appropriate time.
“Implementing CRM when problems exist in other areas is simply applying a band-aid when the patient is hemorrhaging…”
Once you have identified the correct prospects list, it is important to be efficient working through your list. It requires focus to identify the most efficient path to a closed/won opportunity. Getting to closed/lost quickly, while not the desired outcome, is also critical. Salespeople cannot afford to waste time on sales opportunities that are not real opportunities. Efficiency is not just closing sales quickly. It is also identifying the non-sales quickly and moving on to the next opportunity. Nothing is more draining of a salesperson’s time than continually calling on the prospect that does not have a clear purchase intent. Time is money and is not to be wasted.
In sales, and sales management training, there is an emphasis on understanding the sales funnel. The concept for the funnel is to identify potential opportunities to put in the top of the funnel, the salesperson works those opportunities, and some fall out of the bottom of the funnel as a sale. Stephan Schiffman outlines this process in his book, Getting to “Closed” in which he reinforces this concept indicating “if you want the one sale you have to be willing to set the 10 appointments and move those contacts through the sales process.” It is critical to understand this sales process. An organization with an efficient sales process supports the sales team by identifying opportunities to put into the funnel. It is not solely the salesperson’s responsibility to identify opportunities. What are the processes within your organization that add opportunities to the sales funnel? What tools or metrics is sales management using to manage the sales process?
Technology, as it relates to the sales process, is primarily about Customer Relationship Management systems (CRM). CRM has been a very misunderstood tool for two primary reasons. First, for some people, when they hear “CRM” they think “contact management,” which was a forerunner of today’s CRM systems. It is important to have all the contact information related to customers and prospects in one location so everyone in the organization that needs the information has access. However, CRM, as the name implies, goes well beyond a contact database. A true CRM system “automates” much of the sales process and brings tremendous efficiency to the sales team. Automation ranges from follow-up notifications and reminders to proposal generation to workflow management. The more administrative tasks are automated, the more time available to the sales team to be face-to-face with customers and prospects.
The other fallacy of CRM is thinking that implementing a CRM is the end all solution needed to improve sales. Subpar sales performance is not typically a CRM issue. It is typically a sales process issue, a people issue or maybe just a training issue. Implementing CRM when problems exist in other areas is simply applying a band-aid when the patient is hemorrhaging. Implementing CRM when not addressing other process issues may do more harm than good. Unfortunately, many find after making a large investment in CRM there are other contributing factors that also need to be addressed to be successful in upgrading sales effectiveness. Companies must identify, implement or upgrade to the most efficient sales processes in an organization first, and then, and only then, should they implement CRM.
In a well-defined sales process, an organization may identify different data elements that need to be captured about a prospect, their buying tendencies, future purchase needs, etc. It may require regular follow-up through marketing contacts like direct mail, but also regular phone calls and in-person visits by the salesperson, to ensure you have a seat at the table when the producer is ready to buy.
There may be additional information to be gathered from the prospect throughout the follow-up process to better target their needs. Depending on the product, a demo may also be required. If so, a successful demo requires good qualification of the customer and planning for the demo itself, usually involving others in the organization in addition to the sales team. To be a successful demo, there will certainly be follow-up required after the demo is completed. At a minimum, someone has to ask the prospect if they are ready to buy.
If all those steps in the sales process are not well identified, based on the most successful approach for the organization, or if every salesperson does something different, implementing CRM provides little benefit.
If, however, an organization has the processes well identified and everyone in the organization follows the sales process, CRM can provide tremendous efficiency to the entire organization. Let’s take a demo as an example. Unlike contact management, CRM supports workflow, which means the demo process can be automated within CRM to provide reminders, notifications, etc., automatically, to everyone in the organization involved in delivering a successful demo. Reminders to the prospect for things like date of the demo, time, location, can also be automated. Rather than the salesperson calling everyone (prospect, trucking, service, as examples), sending emails, etc., to ensure everyone knows their role, the salesperson enters the pertinent information about the demo into CRM, and the system automates all notifications and reminders based on date or time parameters you establish. The salesperson does not need to spend time coordinating all the stakeholders, unless the CRM system provides a warning that someone has not completed an assigned task, when due. Workflow in CRM significantly reduces the administrative time required for salespeople in setting up and managing demos.
Those are the types of efficiencies technology can provide to the sales process. However, to capture that efficiency requires well defined sales processes for the entire organization.
Truly effective training requires three components — fundamental selling skills, product knowledge and specific sales processes, including technology usage. Unfortunately, many training programs don’t deliver these critical components.
As mentioned earlier, there has been more focus on selling skills in recent years than in the past. However, many sales training programs tend to focus more on the “steps,” forms to complete, etc., and not as much on the fundamental skills like active listening, questioning techniques and closing techniques. They all clearly include those fundamentals, but some let the “processes” get in the way of simply understanding the techniques and how to effectively use them in sales situations. Also, most sales training is designed to be generic to fit any industry. However, building relationships with producers is certainly not generic. By keeping training generic, many sales programs do not integrate selling a company’s specific products into their training program.
One of the primary challenges for salespeople is overcoming objections. It is difficult to talk generically about objections in sales training and then expect each salesperson to take that generic information back to their own situation and identify all the objections they hear and develop their own effective responses for each. There is nothing more supportive for salespeople than sitting in a room with other salespeople discussing ideas on how others overcome the objections they struggle with day in and day out.
Maximizing the effectiveness of sales training requires integrating a company’s specific products and specific unique sales situations. For example, a customized training program for one dealer group may require a sales example of how a combine outperforms competition in high moisture crops while another training program may require an example of how to overcome objections about high performance in dry conditions.
In addition to product specific training, an efficient sales training program must incorporate specific sales processes, including how CRM supports those processes and how it is to be utilized by the sales team. As an example, if the sales team has been trained on sound selling fundamentals and provided great product knowledge but omit training on how to effectively manage leads the marketing team generates, they have not maximized the efficiency of the sales process.
Sales training is not a “one and done” approach. Sales training requires continual reinforcement with all the sales team. Follow-up training programs that continue to reinforce fundamental selling skills, product knowledge and all sales processes are a must.
More importantly, sales managers must be experts in all three of those areas, so they can continually coach salespeople to improve individual performance. Even professional athletes have coaches because they know, even at their skill level, they can still improve. Likewise, sales organization need to have clearly identified, on-going sales reinforcement training and coaching to reach peak performance and potential. What about onboarding of new salespeople into processes? Does the sales organization utilize sales situation practice sessions? Professional athletes devote tremendous time to practice so come game time they are ready to perform at their best. Sales teams should be no different. They have challenging prospects they need to convert. What would happen if they practiced the selling situation with others in the sales team so they are prepared for whatever may arise in the sales call? Could they be more effective? Training is on-going and multifaceted integration all sales processes.
Sales teams need to become more efficient in their approach to maximize performance. Sales are not one dimensional and requires attention to all four critical areas of an efficient sales process – people, process, technology and training.
The point of this article is not so much a discussion on each process independently, but more importantly the critical interdependencies of all. To build the most efficient sales organization, all areas must be considered. Training is a great example. As described, sales processes need to be clearly defined and integrated into the sales training program to make it as successful as possible. Positive results cannot come from your CRM system without first identifying and upgrading all critical sales processes.
So why don’t more dealer organizations have highly effective sales teams? The primary reason is focus! Most organizations address some areas but do not take the time to apply a holistic approach to all their sales processes. To be successful, each component and integration point of the sales process must be identified and then an overall sales strategy implemented throughout the organization with well-defined, customized training covering each sales process. It is not difficult but requires attention to every aspect of all sales processes and on-going focus to take full advantage of efficiency of the sales organization to reach peak sales performance and ultimately increase revenue.