If we’ve learned anything from this pandemic, it’s that you can’t rely on reactive sales plans to ensure your growth. Of course, you want to take care of your existing customers. Being responsive and exceeding expectations will keep them coming back and if they are growing, you can grow with them. But, relying on existing customer referrals and web site inquiries, leads to inconsistent and unpredictable growth.
You soon find you are spending too much time with existing customers and not getting enough new ones. When there’s a downturn in the economy, and your biggest customers cut back or stop buying, you find you can’t recover quickly enough to compensate. To top it all off, you’re probably feeling price pressure from existing customers and suppliers, which has a further impact your margins. So now is the time to put together a proactive sales plan that will enable you to control your growth regardless of what’s happening in the economy.
There are five aspects to a proactive plan:
1. Evaluate and select your target markets
I find a lot of manufacturers are in many different markets and don’t spend enough time evaluating where their biggest opportunities are. There is an internal and external analysis they need to do.
Internally meaning – What are you exceptionally good at doing, and how does that match up with what the prospective customers need in the markets you want to address? They need to have a problem they want to fix, and fix it now, or you could end up wasting time and resources. Those problems need to be compelling or you won’t get their attention with your marketing and sales messages. What is your real competitive advantage? Because without one you may just be selling to price.
Externally meaning – What’s happening in the markets that are rich with opportunities? How many prospects are there in the geographic areas in which you operate? What is their compelling reason to need your help? Do you already have any market share you can leverage? How competitive is it relative to your strengths? Are there any legal or regulatory factors that will create more interest in specific markets? Is the economy having a different affect?
The goal is to decide on 2 to 4 specific markets to address. Then you can create a messaging plan and a marketing strategy to reach those specific targets. When you research the markets selected, you can set goals that are based on more accurate projections for obtaining market share rather than arbitrary increases (or decreases) in revenue.
You don’t want to depend on a single market in case the growth is slower than you expect and more than four may spread your resources and time too thin. You don’t have to start with four if your resources and time are limited. If you start with two, and find you are not getting the results you want in any of the markets selected, you can go to the third or fourth.
2. Determine the best use for existing and new resources
Once you have developed your marketing plan, you can determine if the people you have in marketing or sales functions are spending their time with the right people and on the right things. You can also determine if the investments you make on marketing and sales are based on the right decisions. If you decide your best opportunities are getting more business from existing customers, then maybe you need account managers or perhaps you need to train your customer service representatives on cross selling. If you’re planning to get more business from new clients in existing markets, or to penetrate new markets, then perhaps you need to bring in some more direct salespeople, or contract with resellers, distributors, or independent sales representatives.
Take the time to evaluate the work environment the people your marketing and salespeople will operate in. Who will they need to interact with? What will they need to do to be successful? Are there gaps in the skills your team members have that need to be filled? If you need to bring in or contract with new talent, what are the essential qualitative and quantitative elements for them to deliver results? What activities/tasks are required, what are the key accountabilities and what results do you expect? What previous experience, expertise, attitudes, and behaviors will be required, and how will they need to manage their time? Then you can develop a recruiting and hiring process to make sure you are bringing in or contracting with the right people.
3. Put together a prospecting plan
Develop a multiple proactive channel strategy. Relying on just passive channels is a mistake. Try to have at least 4 active channels each person is willing to work. Determine what activities they must be doing to ensure success and the frequency. Everyone on your teams should understand their formula for success. Then, as you track these things, you make can adjustments to ensure the time spent prospecting is paying off and is always improving. That way you can set any new hire up for success and onboard them with a plan. A strategy of merely hiring the right person and expecting results is a risky proposition.
4. Put together a sales process that makes sense for your desired markets
A strategy of connecting with purchasing people, getting qualified to bid, and responding to request for quotes, gives you limited control over your growth. You can make the argument that the more you bid, the more you are in a position to win. Is that the most efficient use of your time? How closely can you predict your consistent growth from a strategy like that. If you are closing less than 50% of the business you quote, there is a lot of wasted time that could be spent on finding and engaging on better opportunities. You don’t want your people wasting time with people who decide not to do anything and minimize the time spent with people who decide to buy from someone else. If you experience high close rates because most of your quotes go to existing customers, you need to find ways leverage what you have to develop new ones.
Understanding the sales cycle is essential to work on improving and reducing the cycle time. This includes engaging with all of the people who are involved in the decision process, especially the chief beneficiaries of the problems you will be helping them solve. Dealing with purchasing is essential, however, what they care about most is reducing your margins and profit.
5. Execute on the tracking system
Every Investment in time and resources for marketing and sales can be tracked in a way to compute the efficiency and contribution to generating revenue. You want to be sure you achieve a return on every investment. Everybody is measuring sales, but I find that they’re not measuring the things they need to determine the efficiency of their sales teams. Other things you need to track are proposals, meetings, contacts, and leads.
If you’re tracking your proposals, then you can determine your close rate. If you’re tracking meetings, you can determine how many meetings it takes to close a deal. Then your salespeople will know how many meetings they need to have and can focus on getting those meetings.
Tracking contacts helps you determine how many contacts it takes to get those meetings, so you can determine how efficient they are with those conversations, and if they’re relevant.
Tracking leads is essential to understanding the efficiency of your lead generation systems and processes. You want to be sure your salespeople are not wasting time with their prospecting activities and your marketing dollars are paying off. Tracking all of these things helps you understand how efficient you are at every stage of the sales process. Then you can see how to improve, make sure you are always improving, and know where your people are getting stuck.
Take the time to evaluate how you are doing with each of these five elements of your marketing and sales plan. Determine where to focus and make changes. This will ensure you are on a continuous path to growth.