How do you find new customers? When asked, most business owners give vague, pedestrian answers such as "word-of-mouth", "referrals", "networking", and so forth. For most businesses, leads from those sources do happen on occasion, but they're rarely consistent or prolific enough to provide a predictable stream of new prospects, new customers and new orders.
If your plan is to grow your business, you’ve probably asked, “How am I going to steadily increase my incoming orders year after year?” That topic surfaced in several Chief Executive Boards International meetings over the past month.
Chances are, what you need is a selling system — a repeatable process for producing a steadily increasing flow of orders, quarter after quarter, year after year. Most companies don’t have such a system — they get lazy when orders are plentiful and then when orders are scarce they scramble to close on an insufficient number of proposals. The alternative? A disciplined, proactive, pipeline-style process that keeps delivering new business.
What are the major sections of that pipeline?
- Lead Generation -- A repeatable process for finding those who might need your product or service. Identifying “suspects” is the weakest link in most selling systems. Think website, networking, direct mail, email, telemarketing, advertising, industry events, speaking opportunities, referral sources, social networking, door-to-door discovery calls— whatever works for you. You need to keep this pump primed every month to ensure a steady flow of potential clients.
- Opportunity Development -- When suspects turn themselves in and agree to hear more about what you have to sell, the fun begins. Your lead generation process, if it’s working right, provides a steady flow of leads where you can look for a fit between a need or a want and your product or service. Once you spot a match, you have a prospect.
- Qualification -- This is the process of sorting out the “best few” prospects from the many suspects. Perhaps better described as disqualification, you must identify non-prospects and waste no time on them. Most sales people try to get everyone to buy; the really good ones figure out quickly how to spot people who won’t buy, leaving valuable time for those who will. Define your “ideal customer” and pursue only the leads that match that profile.
- Proposal -- A specific selling proposition to which a prospect can say “yes.” When done right, a proposal is just a formalization of an already-done deal. Rookie sales people generate a lot of proposals. Pros don’t bother proposing until they’re close to a “yes”.
- Closing -- Getting a prospect to say “yes,” “no,” or “not now.” While you’d like a “yes,” a “no” saves you a lot of potentially wasted time. What you don't want is "maybe."
- Farming -- Maintaining and renewing your company’s visibility with the “not now’s" and the suspects. Some orders are gone for good and someone else gets the business. Most lose out to alternatives—the most prevalent being the status quo when the prospect does nothing. You also want to stay in front of suspects who haven't turned themselves in yet.
An effective reminder process keeps your proposal in play with the “not now’s” and your brand in front of the suspects. This is where your Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system pays for itself, in conjunction with an email or direct mail "drip marketing" strategy to put your brand and your value proposition in front of the "not now's" and the suspects at least every month or two.
How does your selling system work? What you’re looking for is the “weakest link” in this process—the bucket that often goes dry and then results in a slack month of new orders. Work on only that part, and then look for the next weakest link. Stay tuned — we’ll visit these one or two at a time in future articles.
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