Are you easy to do business with?
You probably answered “yes” instinctively - after all, you’re friendly and have a firm handshake, and you always return customers’ calls. What I’m talking about, though, isn’t your demeanor in meetings and on conference calls. I’m talking about your organisation itself - how your business processes work.
The cost of a hung-up sales process, in particular, is very real. I’ve seen case study after case study on companies that’ve been able to cut their costs and even reduce their working day - often shortening it by the amount of time they used to spend chasing leads.
How does your sales process look from start to finish from the customers' point of view? Have you ever taken the time to experience it from their perspective? Do you know what they’d like to see change? Do you know how to change it?
Maybe you’re aware of the need for change, but you keep putting it off until the next quarter, the next sales cycle. Perhaps you’re aware that your processes could be smoother, but you don’t know how to pinpoint the problem.
Here are two areas where hang-ups often occur, and some tips for tracking them down in your own organisation.
Doing things manually when they ought to be automated
Early on, people in your company started designing best practices for some of the processes you still repeat every day. Maybe someone built an alert system that tells salespeople when it’s time to follow up with leads. You might have a time-tested procedure for when and how much to adjust a price you’re offering.
Sometimes those processes work really effectively - but more often, they’re not agile enough to adapt to the unique circumstances of each sales cycle. In some cases, inflexible processes may slow down good salespeople, who understand the timetable each sales process actually needs to be moving on.
That’s when experienced salespeople start working around those automated processes, trying to find shortcuts to a quicker close. They make phone calls before they’re supposed to. They write tailored emails instead of following the script. They sense an imminent close and rush off-site to an in-person meeting.
These tactics may truly be more effective than your old best practices. In other cases they may be a waste of time and energy. But often, manual processes like those above could and should be automated - or at the very least, certain steps in them should be. Your salespeople are taking manual shortcuts because the old best practices aren’t working - and that means it’s time to design automated processes that take the realities of your sales process into account.
Hang-ups in manual processes
Some processes, like those above, should be automated - but others work better when they’re handled manually. Sometimes an in-person meeting works when an email won’t. Some price adjustments need to be made delicately, by a person close to the sales process.
That exact closeness to the process, though, can often prevent you from seeing that the process is inefficient. Often, even if you do notice it’s working poorly, its manual nature makes it hard to pinpoint what’s going wrong. You’ll hear people on your staff complain, “It’s going wrong.” But what, specifically, is going wrong? Is someone in the company making mistakes? Are leads not responding quickly enough? Why not?
At one company I worked for, we used to have to get eight approvals on any price we wanted to offer a customer. That took anywhere from two to three weeks. And the worst part is, I could never tell who was responsible for giving the final approval on that price, or where exactly in the process it happened. Finally, during one particularly drawn-out approval process, I just picked up the phone and started calling people in different departments until I managed to pinpoint the person responsible for the approval; then I had to keep pestering that person until the approval was finalised.
Now imagine, in a company of, say, 10,000 employees, how many salespeople are going through that same frustration every day. Imagine how many customers are suffering for it. What if the person responsible for approvals is on holiday, and forgot to set up an auto-response to tell you that? What if that person is in meetings all day? What if they accidentally delete your email?
When manual processes work inefficiently, your salespeople get frustrated, you lose sales, and your company acquires a reputation for being hard to do business with.
Indicators of the need for change
How can you tell when a manual process needs to be automated, or when a manual process needs to be streamlined? These are two major ways to notice there’s a problem.
First, do you and your staff seem to be putting in a lot of hours in on activities that don’t directly lead to a close? In other words, do you spend a lot of time just chasing people around? If you and your staff are putting in hours every day just calling and emailing leads, trying to set meetings, waiting for approvals on price changes and offers, and performing similar drudgery, you either need to start automating those processes, or pinpoint where exactly the wrinkles are piling up.
Second, do you get frustrated with a lack of optics on where you are in the closing process? Maybe you’re leaving messages on a customers’ voicemail, or maybe you’re sending emails, and you don’t even know if the customer is opening those messages - or even receiving them. Once you send an order form, for example, to a customer, it’s out on the Web - but that doesn’t mean you can’t track it. Technology exists today to tell you who’s received the form, who’s opened it, and who’s signed it. If you have no idea what your customers are doing today, it’s time to set up a system that tracks the closing process, and start analysing specific trouble spots.
People don’t always see how much pain they’re feeling in a hung-up process. One reason for this is that no single person owns the entire process. A lot of processes are managed in a disjointed way, by a lot of different people, who each look at certain components of that process in isolation, and thus only look for ways to improve isolated departments - when, instead, someone should be looking for ways to improve the process as a whole, across the entire organisation.
Do you have certain process that everyone knows are painful, but that you keep following because you’ve “always done it this way?” You almost certainly do. Like anything, the speed with which you’ll make change depends on how big the pain is, and how quickly you can find the solution.