By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling® – The Sales Training Company

career-people.jpgIn an article in the March 17th New York Times, David Allen wrote:

Workers need a set of best practices that is sorely lacking in the professional world. Without it, we are seeing a growing angst – even a sense of desperation – in the workplace, as more employees feel that there is no rest and no way out.

Many highly paid professionals perform difficult tasks in a self-created vacuum. While they may be extraordinarily talented at what they do, few have stepped back to define the steps they take to create deliverables. It is therefore difficult to solicit meaningful suggestions from others performing similar functions. Knowledge workers perform complex tasks in diverse ways and therefore lack the ability to identify and share best practices.

Since launching CustomerCentric Selling® in 2002, the cofounders have recognized the value of establishing a repeatable process for salespeople. Based upon client success stories and being named as one of the Top Sales Training companies since 2009, my belief is that our sales methodology has served organizations well. We’ve adapted to the changing sales environment when sellers meet buyers much later in buying cycles than ever before. These buyers have leveraged the Internet and social networking and believe they already know their requirements.

For many salespeople and organizations, sales is a highly unstructured profession where sellers are given tremendous leeway in how they go about achieving quota. Within this unstructured profession, I believe the most random and unstructured activities occur when sellers attempt to find new opportunities.

Especially for general territory salespeople, prospecting is low on the list of things they want to do. Often activities are done in sporadic bursts.

For the last 10 years we’ve provided sellers with business development approaches and strategies many have found helpful. Leading with high probability issues for Key Players, crafting 20-30 second scripts based upon success stories, treating admins with respect, and other techniques have allowed sellers to improve results. For the first 8 years, we treated prospecting more as being an activity rather than a process.

An AMA survey found that for enterprise sales 7.2 attempts on average are required before a seller has a conversation with a targeted executive. Ironically, the survey also found that the vast majority of sellers give up after a maximum of 3 attempts. Is it any wonder that another survey found it takes about 24 cold calls to reach a buyer?

In light of the AMA study, to achieve better results organizations should provide sellers with a series of defined touches. For each touch there should be standard scripts, voicemail scripts, emails and collateral that are title-specific. If everyone uses the same approach, the concept of defining and sharing best practices by seeing what is/isn’t working can be leveraged in business development efforts.

We typically suggest five attempts at calling a prospect. If sellers do not reach the person they leave a voicemail indicating an email will be sent. Making 20 calls and having two conversations means there would be 18 second calls to be made. As you can see, these efforts cascade and buyers have to be contacted diligently if sellers are going to earn an opportunity to talk with them. This more than anything else makes a case for sellers to allocate sacred blocks of time each week for planned business development activities (we suggest a minimum of 10% of a seller’s time). Few sellers take such a disciplined approach. Discouraging past results reinforce the practice of having lead generation efforts appear consistently on the bottom of each day’s “to do list.”

Getting opportunities into a seller’s and an organization’s pipeline is critical to achieving top-line numbers. Unlike the last few years many sales organizations have higher 2012 revenue targets and realize they will need to find new accounts to achieve them. Business development efforts and results provide:

  • A leading indicator of future performance

  • Greater pipeline visibility for senior management

  • Sellers the ability to call at Key Player letters and start opportunities as “Column A”

  • Managers/sellers greater ability to disqualify low probability opportunities

  • The potential for higher win rates

If you’d like to take a fresh look at whether your lead generation efforts are random activities versus part of a structured process, I encourage you to contact your CustomerCentric Selling® Business Partner. Productive business development activities provide the cornerstone to healthy pipelines.

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