Every organization’s sales cycle will be different to some degree. This is due to the nature of the products or services that are sold. For instance, the sales cycle for reselling components (which is typically a turn-around sale) is usually dramatically different then a server sale (which typically has a longer sales cycle).
It is crucial to understand how cash flow will work in your business and to be able adequately forecast the results. After learning the sales cycle, you should apply and customize it for your business.
The cycle is:
Phase 1: Prospecting
Phase 2: Proposing
Phase 3: Closing and execution
Phase 4: Maintenance
Phase 5: Lifecycle management
Phase 4: Customer maintenance
Once you have built a list of prospects, leads, clients and partners; it’s important to develop an effective way to track and organize them. Developing a process for this is very important. As fast as trust is gained, it is lost just as quickly. Failing to follow-up or maintain the relationship can lead to a lost customer. This process will define how you plan to track and communicate information about your lists (both internally and externally).
There are several ways to manage your lists and networks; here are a few:
Pen and paper
In the age of technology, this is often the most ineffective method for most organizations. The skill set of your team may dictate that this is the simplest way to communicate. Develop a quick and dirty fact sheet that your sales force can update and file in a central location. Create “tickler” files that are touched on a weekly basis and develop lead pools where your sales force can take and claim leads. The pros? It requires virtually no training and can be set up in a few hours. The cons to having a pen and paper system? Hardcopy documents are easily lost, misplaced and the least flexible in terms of adding to and mining the data that your team collects.
Customer Relationship Management software (CRM)
This is a much more flexible option. It allows you to manipulate and add necessary fields that directly relate to your business. It also allows you to find and retrieve information quickly and often centralizes your data on a server (allowing it to be accessed through a network). This creates a synergy between your sales team and keeps your management aware of open leads, opportunities, sales pipelines and much more. Sage, Intuit, and SalesForce.com all have strong CRM suites that can be custom fit to meet your needs. FreeCRM is a tool that is absolutely free and offers the same flexibility and power of a traditional CRM. This software is web-based with import/export options and offers a full range of options; http://www.freecrm.com. This is a worthwhile option for those companies on a limited budget.
Finding the right CRM is essential; research them all and look for features such as the ability to tie in financial models, lead generation and pipeline development. The more that a CRM ties into your business, the better.
It is a common assumption that it takes approximately five times as much to bring in a new customer than to keep an existing one. How do you service the customers you have already labored to earn with an ongoing and fruitful relationship? Follow these easy steps:
- Every member of your organization is in the customer service business.
From the shipping docks to the sales floor, everyone should be trained to be attentive and knowledgeable to customer needs and how to address them. It’s common for a customer to be misdirected to another department. Everyone in your organization should have a full understanding of how to properly service a customer.
- Answer the phone
Customers want answers right away. By rights, they should have a way to contact key people within your organization at any time during work hours. If you are on the East Coast servicing the West (or vice versa), consider extending your hours to meet those times. You may mirror their hours or you may choose to add a second shift. Be readily available. It will only take a customer a few voicemails before they train their minds to believe that you are unattainable when they need you. If you do receive voicemail, ensure that their call is returned immediately. If that is not possible, make sure someone is in contact with the customer to let them know when they will get a response.
- Keep your promises
If you tell a customer that you are going to do something, it must be done. Nothing is more frustrating to a customer then broken promises. If your sales representative made a promise that you cannot fulfill, you must personally explain how you plan to rectify the situation. Be sure to have answers and options ready for them; be decisive and allow them the same liberties.
- Take the extra step
Double your efforts when it comes to customer service; this will go a long way. Your customers will eventually realize that you are going the extra mile to ensure that they have what they need. A good example (in a small but effective way) is handling misrouted calls. For an example: Your customer is already frustrated that he/she received a different person at the end of their line than they were expecting. Rather than transfer them right away, ask them if there is a way that you can help. Offer to remain on the line after you transfer them to double the customer service effort. This will show your customers that no matter who they reach, everyone is geared towards customer service. Little gestures like this make a difference to your customers.
Phase 5: Lifecycle Management
Most companies (especially ones in the technology business) sell products and services that have a designated lifespan. It is in everyone’s best interest to make your clients fully aware that the products and solutions that you have implemented do expire and that the solution will need to be reevaluated in a specific timeframe.
This is a great way to build a lifelong customer and solid annuity stream. Develop a path and solution for a client that maximizes their total cost of ownership, but also makes them aware that there will come a time where the total cost of ownership will rise (repair, out of warranty, services expired, etc.). This gives you a reason to implement a newer and more productive solution when it is available, or at least the option to propose the idea.
This comes back to the proposal phase. Let the client know that as their consultant, you are only adding value by letting your client know when their solution is out of date. An out of date solution will cost them money that can be saved by implementing a new solution.
If you do your due diligence and track your client’s purchases (using either an advanced lifecycle management tool or spread sheet), you will have the ability to later implement a direct marketing strategy to them that is tied directly to their solution and their needs. As mentioned before, it is far more expensive to gain a new client over servicing an existing one.