Through the years, I have experienced every aspect of business, from working for the smallest homegrown start-ups to the largest global corporations; dealing with vendors and being a vendor myself. Some of the most basic philosophical necessities in running a businesses get overlooked (often much more than you think).
If a potential customer has taken the time to find your business and is calling you, you’ve already won 90% of the battle. Getting your phone to ring is the HARDEST part of any business and it takes dedication, marketing and capital to make it happen. Throughout my professional history, I have been appalled by my efforts to call a company only to get a voicemail message saying “no one in sales is available to take your call, please leave a message and we’ll get back to you”.
America [and beyond] has become a nation of automated attendants, voicemail boxes and email – yet the one [overlooked] item such as a new customer calling to find out more about your product/serivce with the potential to close the deal right then and there goes from a “hot lead” to voicemail (ultimately giving the potential customer time to think about their decision and plenty of time to call your competition).
No matter how good of a product you have, no matter how much someone may need it, the majority of people will not leave a voicemail for a sales person to call them back – they will look for a competitor who will answer their call and deal with them immediately.
It’s doesn’t cost millions of dollars
Most small business are constrained by capital (or lack there of), on the flip side of things, most big business is constrained by red tape; In both events, the profitability of the company is directly affected. Leadership and a well-defined structure is what it will take for any-size company to ensure every call is answered, proposals generated and leads turn into customers. If there is no defined leadership in sales, no one will sell – it’s that simple.
The digital age of communications
I briefly touched on how we automate everything this days. While i personally HATE automated attendants and prefer a human, I am tolerant of them when calling companies AS LONG AS there’s not 27 submenus and keypresses; A simple “1 for sales, 2 for support, 3 for accounting” is fine; As much as technology can help you organize the flow of calls to a specific department or employee, it can also work just just as hard to piss off a new/existing customer who can’t figure out how to talk to someone. Spend some time with your colleagues/management and come up with a professional sounding recording, simplified menu for keypresses and defined ring groups / automated call distribution (ACD) queues that never let a call go to voicemail, instead guarantee human interaction in under 30 seconds either in the office or forwarded to cell phone.
10% left to go
Now that you’ve answered the sales call – no matter if you’re a trained sales person, the receptionist or someone from HR that accidentally picked up the phone, sound intelligent, well spoken and take an active roll in helping your new customer to get the information they need even if you can’t give it to them. Be upfront and honest with the customer – everything you say/do is building OR destroying your business relationship moving forward. Ask enough questions to get an accurate scope of what their needs are, what they’re trying to accomplish, what their timeframes are and [if you can] budget. While it may feel/sound ignorant to ask so many questions up front, it SHOWS ignorance and guarantees a lost customer when you quote a product/service that is not adequate for the job.
Closing the deal
Everything’s going great, you’ve answered the call, met a new customer and given them a proposal. In my opinion 80% of the proposals delivered (over $2,500.00) typically don’t close within 2 weeks (usually due to budgets, approvals or red tape). This is the crucial part of converting the lead into a sale – FOLLOW UP. Once you deliver a quote for their needs, contact them and get their initial response and revise anything immediately, if needed. The key to everything is to ask the customer when they’re looking to proceed with the project and when they would like you to call them back and CALL THEM BACK! Keep calling them back on a schedule you and the customer agree upon until [either] the deal closes or the project is dead.
I have personally been involved with closing a deal that took 19 months to close and involved some significant red tape and budget approvals. EVERY 3-4 weeks, the customer was contacted for an update and everyone kept an open line of communications, which the customer acknowledged and respected – we did not push or force them to close the deal with underhanded “last minute discounts”, but kept reminding the customer that we were ready for their project. The deal closed and became the biggest deal in my company’s history. I know it’s cliche, but persistence DOES pay off.