- The most important aspect of sales is a strong sales plan that you can continuously improve.
- To be an effective team leader, build relationships with your sales reps and provide coaching and encouragement.
- Make sure you have a contingency plan so you can quickly address issues that arise.
- This article is for small business owners and sales managers who are looking for simple steps for improving their sales.
Even though the sales process is an essential part of every business, it's no secret that it is challenging. It requires perseverance, a strategy and an understanding of human psychology, and it changes often as your business grows.
But it can be difficult to know how or what to change to increase your sales, other than making more calls or finding more leads. Business News Daily spoke with sales experts to get their best tips on how to improve the sales process.
Tips for sales managers
These four strategies can help you get the most out of your sales team:
1. Develop a sales plan.
If you are a new business owner or sales manager, the first and most important thing you must do to determine how you can improve sales is to develop a sales plan.
- What is a sales plan? A sales plan is an outline, often broken down into monthly segments, of how a business aims to reach its sales goals over a full year. As opposed to a marketing plan or a product strategy – which focus on raising awareness of a product or service and improving its features, respectively – sales planning is entirely dedicated to selling the product or service to your target market. However, a sales plan does use a marketing plan and a product strategy as guides for creating realistic forecasts.
- What are the benefits of a sales plan? A good sales plan helps you do the following:
- Acquire new customers
- Create or expand relationships with prospective customers
- Continue to sell your product or service to existing customers
- What should I include in a sales plan?
- When creating your strategy, you should do the following:
- Define your target audience, and craft an ideal customer profile or buyer persona.
- Decide your method of lead generation.
- Create revenue goals.
- Develop a team budget.
- Forecast your desired conversion rates.
- Determine your market position.
- Assign specific roles and goals to each member of the sales team.
- Perform a SWOT analysis.
Your sales strategy serves as a roadmap for your sales team, guiding them through any future changes you make, so it is vital to be thorough and meticulous. [Read related article: How to Develop an Effective Sales Plan]
If you already have a strategy in place and your sales performance is not where it should be, it may be time to make some changes.
2. Identify your sales funnel.
To fully build out your sales strategy, you should also have a good understanding of your sales funnel, which is a term used to describe your buying process.
A sales funnel has two main stages. You'll typically start with marketing strategies during the initial "awareness" stage, where you introduce your products or services to potential customers – or raise awareness about your business – and build relationships with leads.
Once you have generated strong leads, you'll move into the middle or sales stage, where you execute your sales strategy and highlight your differentiators from competitors to successfully sell your product.
3. Have a contingency plan.
When you develop your initial sales strategy, you should also create a plan that details what actions you will take if something goes wrong – for example, if you lose a key sales rep or you don't meet your sales goal. Your contingency plan should denote who will be notified of the problem, as well as what steps you and your team can take to fix the problem and, in some cases, avoid making the same mistakes in the future.
When your team encounters an obstacle, you turn to your action plan and know exactly what to do to fix the problem rather than waste time developing a new plan to improve sales performance.
4. Effectively manage your sales staff.
Your sales strategy is only as good as your team, so you must cultivate well-trained and motivated sales reps. The best way to do this is to learn as much as you can about the people on the team and what motivates them as individuals.
"The more you can have a strong personal relationship with your team, the more effort and energy they'll put into not wanting to let you down," said Sarkis Hakopdjanian, director of strategy and principal of The Business Clinic. "Every person is motivated by different goals."
Without effective management, your team might resort to poor sales techniques and run your sales goals into the ground, or your team may become susceptible to high turnover.
"Sales is tough, and it is a grind," said Jim Guerrera, managing director of Search Consulting Network. "But people are people, and they need encouragement and coaching to keep them on the beat for the next sale."
During sales training, be transparent with your sales reps about goals, metrics and the way their performance will be judged. Set up monthly one-on-one meetings with each salesperson to see what they need from you and where they are struggling.
You can also use this time to garner feedback from your sales reps about where they think the company can improve the sales strategy. After all, they are the ones on the front lines of implementing the strategy, so they often have great insight into its weaknesses.
Key takeaway: Sales managers should implement a sales plan to identify major goals, use product and marketing strategies to aid their sales teams, develop a contingency plan and ensure good management practices.
Tips for sales teams
Following these three tips can help you improve sales teams and the individual performance of salespeople:
1. Break down your sales goals.
Looking at your monthly or yearly sales goals all at once can be overwhelming. Break down bigger goals into manageable chunks. For example, you might decide to accomplish specific tasks each day: Make five phone calls, find two new business prospects and make one new appointment. Create a prospecting plan to outline how you'll generate new leads.
"Making sales is a lot like dieting," said David Mattson, CEO of Sandler Training. "You may be overwhelmed when you think of the 50 pounds you need to lose, but when you break it down into realistic daily goals – run two miles and skip dessert today – you'll lose a pound or two each week."
Smaller tasks add up, allowing you to reach that bigger goal.
2. Reverse the sales funnel.
It makes sense to follow the traditional sales funnel as part of your sales strategy, but if you find that something isn't working, try working backward.
Let's say you need to close five deals to hit your revenue goal. To accomplish that, you'll have to make 15 presentations. To get in front of those 15 prospects, you might need to make 60 follow-up calls, which would depend on first making 90 initial calls. When thinking "up" in this way, it's easy to feel overwhelmed about what you need to do, which negatively colors your sales approach and can counteract what you're trying to accomplish.
Instead of focusing on your revenue goal, concentrate on customer service. Reach out to your customers, and find out what they need from you. Next, develop your sales strategy, breaking down each step into manageable daily tasks.
3. Use emotional intelligence to build customer relationships.
Sales is just as much about understanding who you are selling to as it is about selling the product or service. The rapport you build with your customers can be the key factor in whether you make the sale.
Emotional intelligence is awareness of your own and others' emotions and adapting those emotions to your environment. Hakopdjanian said that emotional intelligence is the key to developing a relationship. He recommended these four strategies for building rapport:
- Start with the basics. Be relaxed, smile, listen attentively and use your client's name.
- Have empathy. Ask open-ended questions, and give your client the space to share their thoughts and concerns.
- Seek commonality. People tend to be more comfortable around those who are similar to them, so look for things you have in common with your client.
- Try mirroring. Try coordinating your verbal and nonverbal behaviors with your client's, like crossing your legs or using a basic phrase, to build on commonality.
Key takeaway: Sales is a people business, and maintaining a strong relationship with customers will empower a sales team to build stronger connections that will yield consistent results.
Additional reporting by Jordan Beier. Some interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.