In sales, your competitors are not your enemy. Time is your enemy. Time is the most limiting aspect of your sales efforts. You need time to develop new prospects. You need to get time from your crazy busy prospects to sell to them. And you need time to help your qualified prospects move through their buying process to a decision.
Customers today look to sellers to help them gather the data and information they need make sound decisions quickly and at a low cost. The successful salesperson anticipates the information requirements of the customer and uses responsiveness to help the customer make an informed purchase decision with the least investment of time possible. The faster and more completely you can be responsive to the customer, the less able your competitors will be to compete.
The way to stay ahead of the customer is to adopt the mindset that you will Do Everything Now: become more responsive and dramatically improve the service you provide your customers, in order to win more orders in less time.
Don’t wait to get started. It’s not enough to say you want to Do Everything Now. You have to back up your talk with action. The way to do that is to set measurable targets (metrics) for all of your sales processes, and continually manage your processes to outperform them.
Setting Your Speed Targets
Zero-Time Selling requires that your interactions with the customer have MILT—Maximum Impact in the Least Time. Establish speed targets for core sales activities. It may take you months or more to reach these goals. That is perfectly fine, as long as you make continuous progress. Here are some good starting speed targets to aim for. And what if you reach these goals? Keep going! Go even faster!
1. Logging and distributing an in-bound lead:
Within 30 minutes of the time a lead is received, regardless of its source, it should be logged in your CRM system and distributed to your salespeople. If they are leads that came in overnight, they should be logged and distributed within 30 minutes of the start of the business day.
2. Responding to a lead:
All leads should be called within 30 minutes of being received by the salesperson.
3. Responding to questions:
Responding to a customer service call and addressing a customer’s problem should happen in 30 minutes or less. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the customer’s problem is solved in 30 minutes. It does mean that each customer receives a personal response in 30 minutes, not an automated acknowledgment from a CRM system. All calls must be answered by a live technical- or customer-support person. If a question cannot be answered during the first call with a customer, then the follow-up response with complete information must be made to the customer within one hour of the end of the call.
4. Delivering a quote:
All quotes should be delivered to the prospect/customer on the same day that they were requested. Use a proposal preparation app or re-use templates of previous quotes and proposals to prepare quotes rapidly.
5. Customer Documentation.
All required CRM documentation of customer interactions must be entered before the end of the business day. All account activity is entered, including emails, documentation of phone calls and sales calls, customer-support activity, quotes, and proposals. Having immediate access to the latest up-to-date information can accelerate your accounting planning.
6. Clearing customer messages.
There are multiple avenues for hearing from your customers. Irrespective of the source, all messages from customers must be cleared by the end of each business day. Emails, voicemails, phone messages, and text messages must all be cleared the same day they are received. It’s not often that a customer sends an email just to say “Hi.” You have to assume that any customer who contacts you wants information. Provide the information they need right now. Don’t let it sit for a day or more. Don’t inject unnecessary delay into the customer’s buying cycle.
Hitting Your Speed Targets
Once you’ve established speed targets, how can you make sure you hit them? Here are six proven recommendations:
1. Clearly communicate speed expectations to your team.
Make certain that all sales and service team member understand your expectations with regard to responsiveness (content + speed) and MILT in all of their interactions with prospects and customers. This has to be done upfront. The commitment to responsiveness and MILT, what I call Zero-Time Selling, starts at the top.
2. Frequently check individual progress against assigned target metrics.
Implementing routine checks of key metrics in daily huddles or sales meetings will quickly reveal whether your “Do Everything Now” processes are on target, and if they’re not, will highlight the reasons they’re behind schedule.
Remember that this is an iterative process. Choose the processes you want to accelerate, establish your speed targets, measure the results, tweak the process, measure the results again, and keep adjusting the process and measuring the results until you achieve your targets. Then, define a new, more aggressive target, and continue with the process. You continually want to improve your processes as your sales results improve. It’s work, but in the end you’ll find that it’s very profitable.
3. Manage your sales opportunities by focusing on responsiveness and MILT.
There are several things you can do in this regard. Review every sales opportunity with the goal of maximizing responsiveness and MILT. When you review a salesperson’s pipeline of sales opportunities, he or she should know the specific actions they are going to take to provide maximum value to the customer on the next sales interaction. In addition, review the CRM records of prospects to review the actions that have already been taken with a sales prospect to spot any requirements or opportunities that may have been missed. Discuss what the salesperson could have done to be more responsive and use those as teaching examples.
4. Monitor assigned follow-ups in your CRM system.
As a manager, you need to stay on top of the quantity and timing of each salesperson’s follow-ups and assigned tasks. If a quick check shows that Danni has a backlog of 50 follow-ups that are overdue, then clearly she is struggling with her responsiveness. Customers want information, and she isn’t getting them the answers they need, which compromises your competitive position.
5. Coach salespeople to eliminate trivial and time-wasting sales calls.
The amount of time you insert unnecessarily between steps in the sales process with a prospect is destructive to your selling efforts. That time is called an “Indecent Interval”: injecting unnecessary delay into the customer’s buying cycle. Doing this opens the door for the competition to take the business away.
The “Wallet Pretext” is a venerable technique a salesperson uses to create an artificial reason to contact the customer once more. Anyone who has ever dated has used the “Wallet Pretext.” You really enjoyed your blind date and hated to call it a night. You couldn’t wait to see her again, but you wanted to make sure to wait an appropriate amount of time before calling her, so you didn’t appear too anxious. So you used the “Wallet Pretext”: “Hey, I am sorry for bothering you, but I can’t find my wallet today. I think I might have dropped it at your apartment last night. Would you mind if I stopped by to look for it?”
In sales, the “Wallet Pretext” is used all the time by salespeople who don’t understand that part of their job is to create value for their customers. Too many salespeople are in the habit of calling customers “just to touch base.” Customers hate these time wasters. If you aren’t responding to a specific request, think carefully before contacting a prospect. Will the call create value for the customer? If not, don’t pick up the phone.
The “Wallet Pretext” and the “Indecent Interval” are often found together in the bag of techniques salespeople incorporate into their daily routine. They are bad habits that need to be stamped out. The “Indecent Interval” especially is pervasive in selling. Even in this era of email, voicemail, smartphones, chat, and social media, the indecent interval exists. It is a creation of salespeople. It is not the customer who continues to use it, but the salesperson who lacks confidence in the value he or she is providing to the customer.
6. Continually review and analyze how your sales process performance stacks up against your target metrics.
Review progress toward achieving your target metrics. Someone within your organization should be assigned to calculate performance against the target. An administrative staff member can develop a spreadsheet or other reporting structure to track performance. Graph these for reporting purposes in meetings. Analyze metrics weekly. Reporting on your sales process statistics should be a part of every weekly sales meeting. Performance against these metrics should also be reviewed by executive staff.
Remember: prospects these days are estimated to have moved 50%-75% through their buying process before they first contact you. At that point, they have fewer questions that need to be answered before they can make a decision and their timing is urgent (given that they started their buying process well before you first engaged with them.) Make certain that your salespeople and sales processes are prepared to Do Everything Now and you will have the inside track on winning that business.