In previous articles, I have written about the need for increased focus in your business: focus on the few market segments that will generate the majority of your revenue growth; focus on the needs of your core customer groups, not just your internal processes and service offerings; and focus on establishing your brand, what your company stands for, and the image it creates in the minds of those customers who will be the foundation for your sustained growth.
Now that you are moving in the right direction with your business, and your entire organization knows where the company is headed, which customer groups you will focus on serving, and how you want to be perceived by those customers, it’s time to be sure your business development team is poised to deliver.
Let’s start with the basics.
Market Focus – Each of your business development people must have a clear understanding of which markets they should be focused on in terms of both geographic location and type of business. Their efforts must be targeted on those prospects the company has identified as having the highest likelihood of success and where it is best positioned with advantages over your competitors.
Prospect Lists – Speaking of prospects, there must be detailed lists of the people and organizations your company will call on. This is especially important when you have recently hired a business development person. But whether they are the first or an addition to the team, the list of prospects should already exist.
Activity Reporting – Each business development team member must complete a daily log of calls, meetings, lunches, and networking activities. Whether manual or electronic, the activity report should capture both the quantity of activity and a synopsis of the topics covered, information gathered, and planned next steps. A related point on selling activity: your reps should be planning meetings, events, and route calls a minimum of two weeks into the future.
Activity Goals – Your company’s sales plan should include not only the market focus for each rep but targets for levels of activity by type and market segment. If insurance agents are one of your target markets, goals should be set for the number of route stops, agent / decision-maker meetings, and lunch & learn sessions. For plumbers, expectations should be established for the number of “counter days” at plumbing supply houses, the number of meetings with plumbing contractors, and how many formal presentations are held with owners and their technicians to roll out the details of your program and sign up those who will be participating.
Revenue – It goes without saying that each business development rep should understand what the expectations are for the amount of revenue they are to generate each month measured by jobs closed, completed, and invoiced.
Weekly Sales Meeting – It is critical that sales meetings be held every week, preferably on the same day, at the same time. These meetings are a vital piece of your marketing efforts. Activity reports should be turned in or made available the day before the sales meeting to the person responsible for managing the business development team. Questions regarding the amount of activity compared to goals should be addressed, but the most critical part of the sales meeting is the discussion of meetings, held or planned, by the reps. This is where the following should be addressed:
- Are objectives being identified for all scheduled meetings/meals? Why is the meeting being held, and what do you want to accomplish?
- Are appropriate questions being developed in support of the objective(s)? Effective questions are the best way to both gather information and establish or build on the credibility of your reps.
- Was the meeting objective achieved? Did your team member accomplish what they set out to do during the meeting, meal, etc.?
- What has been established as the next step? Critical to the sales process is that your people understand there must be a reason for the next meeting and for continuing to build the relationship. Sales people most often have chatty personality types; ꟷwe like to talk! The tendency is to “show up and throw up,” meaning the mindset of: “I finally got the opportunity to meet with this person, so I’m going to tell them everything I think is relevant to why they should be doing business with us.” This is why call planning is so critical. With the sales manager’s help, they need to think through what the next step is in the sales process and focus their objective, supporting information, and powerful questions on completing that step.
Beyond these basics lies the heart of effective sales for services. A company’s business development team must begin the sales process with the understanding of their role and their challenge: being asked to gain commitments from potential customers for doing business with your company. At the time they are being called on, these potential customers likely do not have a need for your services. In addition, the “product” being marketed isn’t something the customer can assess with their senses–it can’t be felt, smelled, looked at, test driven, or tried on. The rep’s initial challenge is to build trust, so the discussion of early meetings with prospects needs to focus on how this can be accomplished.
The sales process has been mentioned several times, and it must be stressed that the process is a relatively long one. This isn’t like a homeowner going to a retail store to purchase a dishwasher! Virtually all the people your business development team will be calling on have already decided what contractor they are going to call, or advise their customers to call, when your services are needed. They don’t feel they have the problem that your rep is there to solve! So, the sales process is about convincing the prospect that what you will provide is better (of greater value to them) than what they currently have. That is why the powerful questions are so critical: they help business development people to understand what is most important to the customer. Once you have this information, you can focus on differentiating your company from the competition and explain why doing business with you will provide more value.
Gaining commitment is a critical step in the sales process and one at which many business development reps fail. As they continue to contact and meet with prospects they build trust, provide information on the company’s capabilities and experience, share feedback and testimonials from your satisfied customers, provide names of people in similar positions who you are partnering with, and describe “how we will work together” and “what it will look like when we’re doing business together.” All of this is to set the stage for asking for their business.
Gaining a Commitment
There are two keys to gaining a customer’s commitment. The first is that, obviously, we need to ask. It may sound simple, but reps need to know how to ask for the business. It may be posed as a question: “Can you think of any reason why we should not do business together?” or “How would you recommend we go about meeting with all your facility managers to let them know we are the preferred contractor for this service?” It may also be in the form of a statement: “I am looking forward to working with you and helping you retain your customers and grow your business.”
The second key is that you should establish and track what we call lead metrics wherever possible. These are metrics or indicators that track steps in the selling process in advance of actually receiving work from the customer. An example of this is a signed Emergency Response Plan (ERP) agreement. If your approach to property management companies, for example, includes completing ERPs with them, then having signed agreements is a proxy for gaining commitment. For insurance agents, the metric might be becoming an approved vendor or being accepted by the TPA who controls the assignment of claims.
The bottom line is that powering up your business development team starts with a focused plan, clear expectations for the reps’ activities and revenue results, and preparation in the form of identifying what differentiates your company from the competition in ways that your target customers will value. Then you need to rigorously track the selling activities, paying close attention to the content of the meetings and interactions the reps are having with the decision makers. Finally, you must track the development of relationships and support your business development reps in achieving the milestones that are indicators of customer commitment. Work with them on the “how” and “when” of asking for the prospect’s business. Leading your business development team in this manner will result in success for team members, increased revenue for your company, and a growing list of committed business partners.