Q: I am feeling more than inadequate in my ability to manage my prospects and sales activities to effectively complete my sales process. I seem to have lots of opportunity in the pipeline, but too little in the way of sales to show for it. Help!
A: First of all, don't feel like you're the only one with this problem. Truth be told, all entrepreneurs eventually face this kind of situation. It's taken me 28 years to come up with a foolproof process to take control and manage any sales process-no matter how many steps it has. So get yourself a big piece of paper, a pencil and an eraser, and let's get started.
Take Control of Your Sales Process
I'm not suggesting you attempt to run power trips during your sales calls. I am suggesting that you take personal responsibility for ensuring that each step of your sales process unfolds in a timely fashion. At the very least, you must know which step of the process you are in with any given prospect. The essence of any process is that it is predictable and yields a certain result when followed. When any step of your sales process is forgotten or not completed on time, according to plan, the result changes. So establish the right plan and then follow it. By doing so, you'll feel like you're maintaining control.
Turning Prospects Into Customers
You must know the total elapsed time of how long it takes you to move an enterprise or individual from prospect to customer. Take a moment now and divide your total sales cycle time into the following three priorities:
- Priority One: Revenue-Generating Activity. Prospects in this area are your "highest-risk" prospects-the ones you've got the most time and resources invested in; the ones that you've educated, nurtured and given your best ideas to. Therefore, these folks could be easy pickings for your competition. As we all know too well, this is also the place where things can go suddenly and mysteriously wrong. Prospects can get cold feet, priorities can change and opportunities can vaporize. Ouch!
Clearly, with everything that's going on, everything that's at stake, your first priority has to be to take all the steps necessary to make the sale happen with each prospect that sits in this area. We have to make turning these folks into customers, making sure their experience with our organization is superb, a top priority.
If you're not sure who falls in this area, use the following rules of thumb:
- You and your prospect have agreed to the terms and conditions of the sale, and they have an approved budget.
- The decision-maker of the sale has agreed to the time frame to begin the business relationship.
- All that's left now is for the decision-maker to sign your contract.
- Priority Two: Qualifying Activity. The next priority is to move anyone who is in your sales process (that has shown initial interest in whatever you sell) to the next level of the buy commitment. In other words, these are the prospects that you've met with or talked to over the phone that have a need for what you sell and have the budget to purchase what you sell. They have more than a casual interest.
- Priority Three: Conversion Activity. This is where you move your best prospects from priority two into the final stages of making your sale happen. This typically involves product demos, products on loan, responding with written proposals, finalizing the numbers and perhaps providing referrals.
Three Steps to Close
Work your sales process by first closing all the opportunities that are "ripe." Next, go out and qualify each new opportunity. Finally, move each qualified opportunity into the final stages of your sale. Follow those three steps each and every working day, and don't tackle any administrative or other duties until you've addressed these three priorities in this order. You'll find that your ability to manage and control the sales process will take care of itself.Tony Parinello is the author of the bestselling book Selling to VITO, the Very Important Top Officer . For additional information on his speeches and his newest book, CEOs Who Sell, call (800) 777-VITO or visit Selling to VITO .
The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.