A short time back, I attended a dinner meeting at a local restaurant in Kansas City. The meeting was for a business club of which I’m a member, and the dinner meeting drew about 25 people. 25 hungry and thirsty people, in fact. I arrived at the restaurant, got a drink from the bar, and headed into the meeting room. Menus were on the table. Some of the members had arrived earlier and had already ordered. I, and the three people seated adjacent to me, waited for one of the three servers taking care of us to take our dinner order.
And we waited. Finally, after about 20 minutes, the guy next to me stopped the waitress walking by and said that we’d like to order food. She assured us that she’d be right back. She never returned. I finished my drink. 15 minutes later, another waitress walked by and I stopped her, explaining that several of us hadn’t ordered food and that I could use another drink. She told me she’d be right back. I was there an hour and a half. You guessed it. No food order and no drink refill offered. By the time the meeting was over, I was decidedly hangry (as you probably know, that’s when you’re so hungry you’re mad about it). I started out of the restaurant.
The manager stopped me, smiling, and asked how “everything” was. I told him that I had no idea, because there was no ‘everything,’ and instead of having the steak that I’d had my mouth set for and that the restaurant was known for, that I’d be getting a drive-through burger because I just needed food in my stomach. I left him stammering.
A few weeks later, this very same restaurant made a tearful post on Facebook that they were being forced to close forever “due to Covid.” Well, when I was there, our meeting room was packed, as was the dining room. You will excuse me for thinking that their problem might be more due to the lack of business fundamentals (there are few things more fundamental to a restaurant than taking orders and serving customers) than the “effects of Covid.”
Don’t get me wrong. There are many very strong businesses that have had severe hardships due to the restrictions imposed on us during the last two years, and some of those businesses have unfortunately failed. But – one thing that the last two years should have done is to emphasize the importance of fundamentals in your sales program. There are still companies out there succeeding and making sales in nearly every industry, and they are doing so because they had the fundamentals of sales covered. Here are some of the fundamentals you should have in place:
- Good sales KPI’s. Far too many companies only manage by looking at their overall sales in a given period. The problem with this approach is that sales is a historical measure, not a forward-looking one. Good sales managers are looking forward and forecasting from predictable norms and ratios, not looking backward and guessing. At a minimum, you should know your ratios from Proposal to Sale, from Presentation to Proposal, from Discovery to Presentation, and from Prospecting to Discovery. You should know your year-to-year customer retention rates, and you should have product/service matrixes to spot opportunities for cross-selling to current customers. That’s the minimum, and many companies don’t have it; in fact, when I do a Sales Audit for a client, it’s rare that they have it.
- CRM. Yes, I’m going to hammer on this again. You MUST have a functional CRM system – and by “functional,” I mean one that is constantly fed with sales data that you can use to market and to manage your team. The primary purpose of CRM is to get data out of individual heads and into a format where it can be accessed and used to greater benefit and grow the company. At a minimum, you should have contact information, activity recording, and opportunity management. Good CRM is not expensive these days – in fact, some platforms are free in the Cloud. If you don’t have one, get one. And using CRM can be made much easier; watch this video to see how.
- Prospecting. You must always prospect. Period. The reasons are numerous, but the biggest one is that you will lose customers from year to year, sometimes through no fault of your own – and if you aren’t constantly working to fill your customer base, you just have a shrinking company. Individual salespeople should have a prospecting target and be managed to it. For a salesperson, prospecting is like a muscle. If you don’t keep using it, it atrophies quickly, and it’s much harder to regenerate than to simply keep using.
- A Meaningful Sales Process. This should be obvious – and it ties to all three of the above – but many sales teams don’t have one. A sale of any type goes through five distinct phases. First you must find a Prospect to sell to (sometimes this can be an existing customer, of course, but someone has to be identified); then you must Discover their needs through good questioning; next you must Present your recommendations for solving their needs; then you must Propose a specific product/service for a specific price; and finally, you must gain a Decision. Too often, the Discovery step is skipped – and that’s where winnable sales go to die. Once you have a process, you must constantly train your salespeople to use it.
- Homework. With the information available at our fingertips, there’s no excuse for walking into a sales call uninformed. Sure, everyone knows to look at the prospect’s web page – but have you looked at their online reviews (Yelp, Google, TripAdvisor, etc.)? Don’t think that if it’s not a Yelp type business that there aren’t reviews – Google Reviews has reviews on every type of business, and some of those reviews might shed light on your program. You should also research your contact on LinkedIn. We can’t walk into a sales meeting anymore fat, dumb, and happy – and trying to do so will quickly end the sales call.
2020 and 2021 were difficult years, no question, but don’t allow yourself to get caught in the trap of thinking that the fundamentals don’t matter anyway – they do. If your sales program is right, you CAN win sales and succeed in most instances. Even now.