improve sales performance
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In the previous article, we discussed the five stages of a sales pipeline.

We got emails from readers asking how salespeople and managers could structure their activities to navigate through these stages and effectively manage the sales pipeline and improve sales performance. 

We think that’s a good question. It’s one thing to know what should be done and another to know how to do it.

Many people know that they should become more productive at the workplace. Where they struggle is in knowing how to achieve this goal. Similarly, salespeople know that they must manage an opportunity or lead that enters the pipeline. From our experience, we’ve seen that where most of them struggle is in how to do it.

Here are ten questions your salespeople can answer to structure the end-to-end sales process for simple and complex sales alike.

10 questions which you must answer to improve sales performance
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1. What is the nature of the opportunity?

What data do you need for this opportunity? 

This includes the customer, your organization, your competition, the market scenario (is it booming or in a recession), and other environmental factors.

The information can be found from industry publications, public balance sheets, records of previous customer interactions, competitor analysis, and more.

Without this information, it’s almost impossible to gauge the size of the opportunity and the effort that pursuing it will require.

2. Is the opportunity qualified?

Does this lead meet the criteria of our prospects and customer?

This includes aspects ranging from customer size to budget, need for product, urgency, geographic location, the cost to service, and more.

This information can be gained from the data collected in the above point and from speaking to the customer.

Without formal criteria to qualify your opportunities, the sales team could try to sell to everyone in its attempts to meet sales numbers, and this could backfire with undesirable results like unrealistic customer experience, returned goods, late payments, and so on.

Everyone is not your customer. It’s essential to set formal criteria to identify your customer segment
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3. Who are the participants in the buying process?

On the buyer’s side, who are people that can influence the decision of the sale?

In the B2B space, the stakeholders can be more than just the purchase manager or CXO. They will mostly include actual users of the product or service as well. In the B2C space, while the male might buy the product, the final decision maker could be the woman in the family.

Without considering this, your salespeople could end up pitching the sale to the wrong audience.

4. What is important to them?

Now that you’ve identified the key participants in the sale, what are their most pressing needs?

Is it an improvement in efficiency and productivity so that they can spend more time on critical tasks? Is it peace of mind by taking care of the family’s needs? Is it the aspiration for a more comfortable lifestyle? It’s important to note that these points should be about what the customer wants, not what the business thinks the customer wants.

Only by identifying these can you align the sales process to address the real needs of the buyer and increase your chances of making the sale.

When you know what matters to your customer, you increase the chances of making a sale
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5. Who is the competition?

What do your competition offer, terms of product, delivery, and service?

It’s important to focus more on the customer, but one cannot ignore the competition. Knowledge of the industry gives you an edge if you offer something that competition doesn’t or highlight something that the competition doesn’t even if it provides the same thing as you, but the buyer doesn’t know.

6. What are our competitive strengths and weaknesses?

Where do you stand compared to the competition in fulfilling customer needs?

An honest SWOT analysis is crucial here because living in denial that you offer what the customer needs even if the customer doesn’t think so is a quick way not just to lose a sale but also market share.

The sales manager and team member should sit with customer data and insights to brainstorm and identify the company’s and product’s strengths and weaknesses, and how they can leverage the strengths during the sale.

7. What must we do to win?

How should you approach the sales process to enjoy the best possible outcome?

Sales are no longer about trying to close a deal as quickly as possible. It’s about adding value to your buyer by helping them make decisions that benefit them, even if it means losing out on a sale in the short term.

In the long-term, such activities will build trust in the buyer’s mind for your company, and they will become loyalists. Even if they don’t buy from you, they’ll refer people in their circle to you.

8. What are the steps in the sale?

This question is the beginning of getting down to the specifics.

This involves designing how you should form a strategy to approach and engage with the opportunity, position your product in a better light than the competition, and align your sales with the buyer’s needs

A complex sales require a strategy for approach and engagement
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Once you know the steps needed to complete the sale from scratch, the next question becomes easier to answer.

9. Who should be involved in the sales process?

This includes people from different departments who will be part of the sales process.

They could include marketing, accounts, operations, post-sales support, sales managers, existing customers, and anyone else who can contribute to enhancing the experience of the prospect during the sales process.

10. What are their responsibilities?

Listing down the stakeholders of the sales process also enables you to list down their responsibilities.

Each individual knows what his roles and responsibilities are when to enter the sales process, and how to communicate the completion of his or her task to the next in line. The sales leader and salesperson should monitor this complete process closely to ensure that it gets executed as seamlessly as possible.

When such a system works well, it enhances the customer’s perception of the organization and increases the chances of the outcome of the sales process being positive.

Summing Up

The ten questions above lead to structured planning and execution for a sales process to pursue a complex opportunity. They also serve as a means to build a robust sales system which can be refined and improved, and also used as a training process for the sales team.

Which questions do you feel should be added to make the sales process more structured and defined? Do leave a comment. We would love to hear your thoughts.

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