Where do you start? The specific strategy varies by firm, of course, but I've found that most firms benefit from taking the following steps to organize their sales effort:
Annoint your "sales force." In many firms, people's sales responsibilities are more implied than explicit. If this is true at your firm, the first step is to formally identify your sales force and define their respective duties (see below). Assigning responsibilities is not the only reason for doing this. Sales is often perceived as a lonely activity, which is particularly a problem with technical professionals who are already uncomfortable with the role. You want to make them feel part of an active team where there is sharing, support, and mutual accountability.
Fit people to the appropriate roles. There's a tendency to view sales as a monolithic activity requiring a specific skill set (which many technical professionals conveniently claim to lack). But in fact there's a role for almost everyone. Activities include:
- Conducting market or client research
- Building and maintaining a network of contacts
- Participating in professional and trade associations
- Making "warm" calls to prospective clients
- Calling on existing clients for information and leads
- Participating in conferences and trade shows
- Helping develop your firm's intellectual capital
- Developing tools and resources for your clients
- Public speaking
- Writing (or supporting writing) for publication
- Providing webinars and seminars
- Making sales calls to existing or prospective clients
- Developing and making sales presentations
- Writing proposals
- Negotiating fees and contract terms
- Serving as a "client advocate" after the sale
The key is assigning these and other responsibilities to the right people. In fact, given the diversity of sales-related tasks, your sales force will likely include junior professionals and administrative staff. You might want to refer to the Sales Funnel as a way to think about organizing your sales force. In particular, make sure you have enough "above-the-funnel" activity to generate the appropriate number of sales leads.
Budget a specific allocation of their time for their assigned responsibilities. Most firms do sales with "leftover" time, which is a formula for mediocrity. Sales time must be treated like project time, where there are certain tasks that need to be done regardless of interruptions or changes in schedules. Budgeting time also mutes the common complaint that selling detracts from utilization. The goal is to specifically devote a portion of people's nonbillable time to business development, not steal billable hours (although individual utilization goals may well change to accommodate their new sales assignments). Once you've made allocations, track "sales utilization" to make sure that time is being used.
Provide training and coaching. Although most professionals are turned off by the stereotypical sales persona, they fall into many of the same behaviors--talking too much, listening too little, focusing on themselves--because that's all they know. Training is typically necessary to help seller-doers employ a client-centered approach that is both more palatable (to professional and client) and more effective. But since improved sales performance ultimately depends on behavior change, classroom training alone won't suffice. You need ongoing coaching to reinforce application of the new strategies over time.
Manage your best sales opportunities. Research indicates that as many as 80% of sales leads are neglected or mishandled. You certainly can't afford that kind of inefficiency with your most critical sales opportunities. So you need to develop a specific strategy for winning those key opportunities, then execute it diligently. For more on this approach, check out this article.
Hold regular sales meetings. These meetings are designed to build the team, define assignments, review progress, and encourage accountability. Keep them short and to the point (usually no more than 30 minutes). I recommend weekly meetings at the start. Once increased activity and accountability appears sustainable, then it may be appropriate to go to biweekly meetings. Make sure that someone is clearly in charge of the meetings so they don't lose focus.
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