Nothing Happens Until Somebody Sells Something: How to Improve the Process

Jack Prot

You may be familiar with Arthur “Red” Motley’s quote, “Nothing happens until somebody sells something!”

Leaving aside the extent to which Motley’s perspective might or might not be true, effectively managing the sales process and maintaining a path of steady revenue growth are every-day objectives within organizations of all types and sizes. And while many external factors, such as variation in the economy or increased competition, can significantly impact results, the selling process – like all processes – can and must be studied and continually improved.

Interestingly, when we delve into that subject with organizational leaders we frequently find that they have not defined a “sales process” that focuses on the work. Instead, they refer to their CRM categories as the sales process.

We understand and appreciate the value of CRM systems and forecasting, but this type of measurement does not focus on the work. It is, therefore, not surprising that a common challenge facing so many organizations is how to grow revenue.

If sales growth is an issue for your organization, here are a few strategies you might consider from a past newsletter:

Looking outward to test or confirm what customers deem most important. Start by testing your understanding of what your customers and your competitors’ customers really care about.

Every customer contact is an opportunity to mine information that can help you grow the business. Ask customers what they like about your services or products. Ask what they would want you to change (other than the price) that would make them happier. Learn about their related needs, new needs and concerns – and remember that, in many cases, customers are not fully-aware of their needs; so, while you’re at it, probe for unrecognized needs as well.

Ask your customers about what is most important to them and how they think you stack up. Ask bigger-picture questions to gain insight into challenges they face that go beyond the use of your product or service. Armed with information about what customers value, you can innovate solutions that leverage your capabilities to exceed your customers’ expectations.

You must also have a repository for the information, and a method and the discipline to capture the information for analysis and action.

Consider exploring three other sources of valuable information about your customers and the market you serve:

  1. Observation: arrange a method for watching your customers use your product or service. A great deal can be learned by simply looking!
  2. Analyze lost sales data, and use the information to set improvement initiatives in motion
  3. Internet searches: see what people in your marketplace are searching for and interested in. As the saying goes, “Find the need and fill it!”

Look inward for opportunities to define and improve the sales process that is, study the work!

What processes do you use to generate sales?

How well are these processes working?

How do you know?

You can study and improve your sales generation process just as you can improve any other process – by gathering facts and data about how the process is currently working, identifying the waste in the process, addressing the underlying causes, and measuring and standardizing the results of the improvements. What process do you use to acquire new accounts? What process do you use to grow sales with existing accounts? Below are several different processes that businesses use to generate sales and how you might study and improve them:

  • Sales calls – are they well planned and executed? Messaging? Outcomes?
  • Promotions – are they effective? Net gains?
  • Distribution channels – are they effective? Are there additional channels to be evaluated?
  • Pricing – is it too high? Is it too low? How do we know?

Look forward to maintain an innovative edge. Sooner or later all products or services become “commodities.”

Simply stated, you must offer something meaningfully unique and that means, you must innovate.

Following are three directions you could explore to innovate and expand the business:

  1. Adapt your current offering to rejuvenate relationships with existing customers. What new feature or service would make the relationships young again? New features, functionality, packaging or performance?
  2. Commercialize under-utilized capabilities. What capabilities do you have or do your suppliers have that are under-utilized?
  3. Adapt your current capabilities and offerings toward emerging needs and markets. Where is the market headed? What technological changes will influence future needs? What geographical openings will grow in the coming decade? If you were to imagine the future, what would you see?
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