Sales: What Works Now Back...

Hot Tips #1: Establish a Formal Process

From: Inc. Magazine, June 2004 | By: Nadine Heintz

Alan Ross knew he had to revamp the sales approach at his family's commercial printing company when it fell victim to changing technology and excess capacity in the late 1990s. So he implemented a simple, seven-step process for his team to follow. The steps are:

  1. Qualify all leads financially.
  2. Figure out if a lead is a good fit.
  3. Come up with a trial solution.
  4. Provide the proposal.
  5. Close the deal.
  6. Complete the job on time, and then celebrate the sale.
  7. Follow up: Send a thank-you letter and get feedback. If the client is unhappy, figure out why.

In adopting this regimen, Ross Printing is highly unusual. Companies with fewer than 50 sales representatives rarely have formal processes in place, according to a recent survey of 1,300 businesses conducted by CSO Insights, a Boulder, Colo., research firm. The same survey found that small companies that have reps follow a formal sales process (and consistently monitor it) met or exceeded sales quotas 56.3% of the time, compared with a 45% success rate by companies without a methodology in place.

Ross emphasizes the early steps in particular because they help his team quickly separate the good prospects from the bad. "If all of those steps aren't met, we should move on to another opportunity," says Ross, who notes that it's much less costly to cut loose a dud after one phone call than it is after two months.

Maintaining the system can be time-consuming. Ross spends about four hours explaining it to new hires. He also bought SalesLogix sales management software to keep track of the team. It costs $850 per rep (there's a 5% discount for companies with 50 or more users). But Ross feels that it's money well spent. His sales are up 10% this year, compared with the same period in 2003.