Your Sales Systems
While most people can see the benefits of a systemized approach to business, many people feel that Sales is the one area that cannot, or should not, be systemized. The prevailing thought is that salespeople must be free from the confines of structure in order to do their best work. This is a people based approach that says, “Hire the best people and let them do their jobs.”
While most agree that individuals have natural talents and that some people are better at selling than others, It is good to question the logic that suggests there is little more that can be done. Certainly you should do your best to reduce the number of individuals from your sales force who have no aptitude for selling and increase the number who do, but not everyone who sells for you will be a superstar no matter how good your recruiting systems are. Oh, you will occasionally get lucky, but luck is not a very reliable method of managing such a crucial part of your business.
A smaller, family-owned company had hired me, and when we got to the Sales and Promotions, the owner had confided in me that he felt there was no hope for his son-in-law as a salesman. Due to the family structure, and the layout of the company, this was the only place for him. Unfortunately, he had a difficult time selling anything, and singing his paycheque every week was becoming an endless company donation. We began to put systems in place for sales and slowly but surely, the son-in-law rose to become the biggest asset of the company. Hard work and systemizing everything has turned the company and son-in-law into unstoppable machines.
It is possible, even desirable, to make use of systems in the world of sales. Consider this. If you followed your best salesperson around for a few days, do you think you would begin to notice any patterns to her approach? Would there be some consistencies in the way she organizes her time, looks for new business, asks for referrals, or explains the features of your products or services? How about if you followed the best salesperson around from a competitor’s company, or even a company from another industry? Could you identify any common patterns within their various approaches? Sure you could.
Now imagine your worst salesperson. If he made a genuine effort to emulate those patterns, would he improve? Of course he would. From this perspective, it is easy to see the potential benefits of a sales system to your weaker salespeople, but what about your best salespeople? How could a sales system benefit them? The answer is consistency. Even your best salespeople will probably admit that they occasionally get sidetracked and make a mistake. They might forget to mention a special introductory offer on a new product, for example. We all make mistakes of course, but a good sales system will keep them to a minimum.
Another argument against introducing systems into the sales process is that no two sales are exactly alike; after all, no two customers are exactly alike. But while this may be true, it doesn’t mean that sales can’t be systemized. It simply means that your sales systems must be designed with an appropriate amount of flexibility; how much flexibility will depend on your particular business. You’ll have to use your best judgement. A sales system for a fast food restaurant, for example, will require less flexibility than a sales system for an architectural firm.
In the end, the most comprehensive approach to sales takes into account both people and process, in other words, both salespeople and sales systems.
I buy all of my suits from a gentleman named Charlie. Charlie wins the top sales award nearly every year from his company, and for good reason. He maintains a complete record of my wardrobe (even the items I didn’t buy from Charlie, which rarely happens), as well as a record of my measurements. If I need a new suit, Charlie knows what will go with the rest of my wardrobe and exactly what size I will need. If I accidentally damage one of my suits, Charlie will have it repaired. If I gain or lose a little weight, Charlie will have my suits altered. If my tie is wrinkled, Charlie will have it pressed.
Charlie never gives me the hard sell, but he will call me if something new comes in that he thinks I might like, if there is a sale on something that will go with my wardrobe, or to confirm that I have received the men’s fashion magazine he has sent me. And what do I pay for all of these extras? My loyalty. I will always buy my suits from Charlie and he knows it. I feel as if I am Charlie’s most valuable customer. Of course, I am not the only one who feels this way. That’s why Charlie keeps winning all those sales awards.
Sales channels are the vehicles through which your customers buy your wares. In other words, they are the methods you use to sell your products and services. For example, do your prospects walk into your place of business and deal face-to-face with a sales representative? Do they make their purchases over the Internet or the telephone? Or do they fill in a form in a magazine and send it in with a cheque?
Remember that, as with all other aspects of marketing, your sales channels must reflect your Market Position. How many people will buy a car by filling out a coupon in the newspaper and sending it in with a cheque, for example? Clearly a mail-in coupon would be a mismatched sales channel. Customers typically want the opportunity to touch, see and test-drive a vehicle before making a purchase.
Following is a list of common Sales Channels. Consider those that might work for your organization.
Internet — There are a number of advantages to using the Internet as a sales channel. For one, a greater amount of interaction is possible than through the mail and this is increasing all the time. Additionally, large quantities of detailed information can easily be made available to a customer, something that is difficult to accomplish over the phone. Another advantage is that the entire sales transaction can occur quickly, efficiently, and on your customer’s schedule. This works especially well for "product" sales.
Face-to-face — This involves sales people either meeting and greeting prospects who come to your place of business or calling directly on prospects (i.e. door-to-door sales). Face-to-face selling is especially helpful when your products or services require a fair amount of explanation. Trade Shows and any other place you might sell in person to your prospects would fall under this category as well.
Telephone — This is similar to face-to-face selling in that you have direct, person-to-person contact throughout the sale. In this case, however, the environment is simpler, and as such, more controllable. Scripts may be more easily used with this sales channel, for example. With the visual element eliminated however, certain products may be more difficult to sell this way.
Mail, e-mail, etc. — If you sell your products through email, then you are likely utilizing some form of direct response marketing. Direct response marketing combines sales with promotions by asking for the order in the marketing piece itself. Perhaps, for example, your customers are required to fill out and send in a form from a magazine advertisement. Self-explanatory, products are often sold this way, but due to the lack of personal interaction, it is not typically a strong method of selling complex products requiring a great deal of explanation.
On the other hand, the Internet may not serve the needs of every situation. All of your customers may not be online, for starters. Also, the human touch of a face-to-face interaction may be beneficial when making certain purchases, especially if the purchase is an emotional one. A young man purchasing an engagement ring, for example, might want to speak directly with someone about this. Alternatively, it may be important to try out a product, such as a pair of sunglasses, before making a purchase decision. More likely, your selling process will occur using any combination of the channels above, or any other channels you may think of. For example, you may speak with a prospect on the telephone, send them some information about your company, and then meet them personally to provide a demonstration.
Answer the following questions.
What sales channels do your competitors currently use? How effective do you think they are?
List the most effective sales channels for your business.