“You can’t just ask customers what they want then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new.” Steve Jobs
Prospects and customers have an uncanny ability of getting under your skin, often driving you close to the verge of insanity. It all begins when you begin to identify potential prospects for your target segment. Those first couple of cold calls, emails and introductions set the wheels of the sales cycle into motion. Then it begins, the non responses, the transferring of your calls all over the company, being on hold for ages and even some rude responses. At this level you need to be somewhat thick skinned, you should then not have a problem getting through this stage with a list of higher probability prospects. It is during the next couple of stages when you have initial meetings, send proposals and quotations that your patience really begins to get tested. This stage differentiates the sales people who succeed, and those who just get by.
Over the last couple of years some tips that helped me during this period are:
1. Prospect Selection: In today’s market place, no one really cares for the generalist anymore. It is slowly becoming a market where niche specialists have a marked competitive advantage. I would therefore suggest you tailor your sales strategy to focus on a particular market segment and cover it extensively. If your prospect list selection covers any and everybody the number of mild leads will drive you insane. Be selective and choose your segment wisely. Next build a prospect list specific to that segment and start to make inroads.
2. CRM Software: If you are not using one for your sales development and pipeline monitoring, I would strongly suggest you look into one for your organization. If you haven’t used CRM software before, start by using simple systems such as the ones available at 37signals.com. These help tremendously in making correspondence with prospects structured, efficient and professional. It also allows you to get a dashboard view of what is moving in your pipeline and what is not.
3. Disqualification: Customers who are not interested or ready for your product/service at the present moment should be disqualified from your list. These are clients who gather information from you, and then become dormant. I suggest you develop certain time quotas, after which, if the prospect does not respond they should be disqualified from your qualification process. If this step is not done it will drain a lot of your time without necessary results.
4. Contracts: Once you have signed up a customer for your product/service, make sure you sign comprehensive contracts with them, these must cover exactly what you will be delivering to them. Failure to do this will result in some customers asking for more than promised and you will find yourself in a difficult position. There are few things more irritating than a customer who continues to ask for changes, reviews and modifications during the delivery process.
I don’t completely agree with the statement that “the customer is always right”. There are some situations when you will have to draw the line. Difficult customers end up costing the organization a great deal. They increase the level of frustration within the team and decrease morale. Constantly review your prospect and customer list, I use a rating system in some of the companies I work with. This lets the entire team know which customers get priority over others. Focus your energy on those leads and customers where you have the greatest ability to cross sell and develop deep relationships with.