Senior executives at a Malaysian technology related firm were frustrated. Sales growth was not meeting expectations, despite the firm’s 20-plus year track record, strategic partnerships with top international firms, excellent service and high profile advertising campaigns.
To boost sales, the firm had explored common alternatives – price cuts and an expensive marketing campaign. But although such actions had a short term impact in the past, there were no long term benefits and they hurt profitability. So the senior executives decided to look at another option – increase sales effectiveness by reviewing sales processes and tools, increasing the sales close rate and shortening the sales cycles.
Headquartered in Kuala Lumpur, the firm specializes in boosting supply chain and other efficiencies through both product sales and software and other integration. With offices in Singapore, Thailand and other Asian countries, the firm has a blue-chip list of customers that includes some of Malaysia’s largest companies. Sales had grown steadily over the previous decades, but the firm was now facing price-based competition from China at the same time as it was weighing opportunities to go public.
After looking at the issue, senior management determined that the sales problem was not due to a lack of leads. The firm received a steady supply of leads from word-of-mouth and customer referrals, as well as from its strategic partners. The sales staff also cold-called regularly for leads.
The main issue was converting those leads into sales. Qualified leads languished in the sales pipeline for months or even years. Too often, active senior management involvement was required to close sales, which took time away from expansion, financial and operational issues. The sales force constantly pressured management for price cuts to make sales. Even when sales were made, opportunities for sales to other divisions or branches were rarely leveraged. Too many sales were for low-margin commodities and replaceables, when the firm wanted more profitable service, maintenance and IT integration contracts.
Management had earlier tried to address these issues with automation (providing laptops to the sales force and installing a low-end CRM system), new sales compensation schemes, re-organization (creating a department just for telephone sales) and other steps. But sales still were not meeting expectations.
Traditional sales training
So the managing director decided that the best solution was to upgrade the skills of the 15-member sales force and other customer facing departments, and requested bids from multiple training companies. The most common proposal focused on sales training that emphasized lead development and closing skills. However, such training was generic to almost any industry.
Another, more expensive option, was a comprehensive approach that included revamping its sales processes and skills around the company’s offerings and requirements of its customers. After careful consideration, the company decided that an improved sales process and customized training provided the most value, and contracted with the sales development division of Malaysia’s leading customer driven brand consultancy, FusionBrand.
The first step was an in-depth sales audit that sought to uncover issues hampering sales as well as opportunities for improvement. FusionBrand conducted hour-long, confidential interviews with senior management, sales managers and many sales personnel. All sales material, including brochures, proposals, quotations, sales scripts, pipeline reports and other information, was reviewed and analyzed. Current as well as “lost” customers were interviewed for their critical perspective on the sales process and their reasons for buying/not buying.
The sales audit resulted in a comprehensive sales process analysis that identified strengths and weaknesses in the sales process as well as in the sales material. For example, the sales pipeline report, a key tool for sales forecasting and supplier orders, was both out of date and contained inaccurate information, making it difficult to prioritize resources and estimate future sales. The sales process analysis included numerous specific recommendations for improving sales processes, reports, collateral and proposals.
Many graduates of training courses complain that the material studied was not relevant to their industry or customer requirements. This issue did not arise because FusionBrand carried out a sales audit first. Information learned during the sales audit was then used to develop two customized sales training courses that incorporated actual customer, product and sales situations. Furthermore, the number of attendees was limited to 12 to ensure that each sales person gained maximum benefit from numerous role-plays and hands-on exercises.
The first customized, two-day course focused on sales basics, ranging from lead development, time management and closing. Special attention was paid to dealing with price-based objections. About four weeks later, the second customized course was held in 5 half-day sessions over a three-week period to minimize the impact on sales time and provide more opportunities for review and retention. This course focused on “strategic sales.”
Many training courses assume that sales can be made in a single sales call. However, only commodity, low-margin products can be sold in one call. More advanced offerings inevitably require strategic sales, characterized by longer sales cycles, multiple corporate decision-makers (ranging from finance to IT to actual users) and complex requirements. Such strategic sales require understanding differing requirements for value among various departments as well as internal political issues at the prospect. Using an existing prospect that was difficult to close, each attendee developed a focused sales strategy and delivered a PowerPoint presentation designed to win over all departmental decision-makers involved in contract approval.
Sales manual development
The final phase of the multi-month effort was a sales manual. A sales manual includes standardized information on sales processes, compensation (eg, commission schedules), reporting, requirements, resources (ranging from key telephone numbers to report and presentation templates), sales tips and more. The sales manual gives the company more consistent management by acting as teaching tool for sales managers with new staff and ensures more consistent operations and reduces training time.
Results have been achieved in both sales and other departments. Ordering is based on more accurate pipeline data, which has reduced inventory, freeing up capital for expansion. Morale has improved, sales personnel are more confident and less inclined to reach for a calculator at the first objection and offer discounts. The company has made its sales and presentations more customer-centric. Most importantly, sales have accelerated and sales cycles are starting to decrease.
Other internal branding initiatives were embarked on to ensure the successes were communicated and integrated throughout the organization.
Companies invest a lot in marketing to generate leads. But even all the leads in the world mean nothing until they are converted into a sale and, ideally, a long-term customer. That is why investing in your sales organization, processes, and personnel is crucial for ensuring that customer requirements for value – whether at the MD or user level — are consistently understood and addressed by the brand. Such understanding is hard to achieve from a ‘one-size-fits-all’ sales training class.
A sales process audit, customized sales instruction and sales manual can give companies the framework and structure to close more sales more often – without having to compete just on price. This in turn will build a comprehensive, well respected and, most important of all, profitable brand.