OK, you’ve done your homework, you’ve set up your Web site and you’ve mailed your fliers. Now, you’re sitting back and waiting for that sales funnel to fill up with leads. But do you have a plan for managing the process when it does?
Lead management is as important a factor in telecom sales success as any other activity, including prospecting and closing. Too much time spent on one opportunity and other potential sales fall through the cracks. Take on too many leads and you may find yourself hopelessly in over your head. How you keep on top of the process - and judge your prospects-can make the difference between feast and famine in sales.
It’s a little like the card-players’ anthem: “You’ve got to know when to hold’em, know when to fold’em, know when to walk away and know when to run.”
“The biggest mistake that salespeople make is forgetting a simple yet monumental thing - commitment objectives,” says Scott Levy, director of channel sales at Telecom Solution Center, a company that helps end users and telecom professionals manage their communications and educate themselves in the industry. He explains that the quality of a lead and of a potential client relationship can be determined by simply setting goals for the sales process. If those goals are met by your prospect, then things are on track; if not, it’s time to move onto the next opportunity.
“If we set an appointment to talk next Tuesday, and I explain that I would like to have an outline of how many sites need to be networked and how many employees are involved, and all the information to draw up a quote, I’ve given you homework,” says Levy. “If it doesn’t get done, I have earned the right to ask why. If I never set specific objectives, then I haven’t set a goal for moving the sales cycle along.” He adds that a three-strike rule is a good guideline for evaluating a prospect’s seriousness: “If they miss the objective three times, it becomes pretty clear that they don’t have the ability to do business,” he says. “This gives you the broad ability to look at the full sales cycle, as well as the opportunity to dictate the timeline for closing.”
The “I’ll get back to you next week” line is a familiar one for sales professionals. Levy stresses that wasting time by being put off is a sales killer. “I’d rather have someone tell me no than say she’ll get back to me next week sometime,” he says. “It means nothing; it’s passive. And everyone is under such pressure to perform that getting lulled into these passive relationships is easy. But you have to learn to tell the doers from the fence sitters from the talkers, and the way you do that is by setting commitment objectives.” He says a salesperson can increase his or her close ratio by as much as 35 percent by implementing goalsetting and a three-strike rule.
Another key to lead management is the overcoming of subconscious filters. According to sales training organization Peak Performance LLC, filters that determine what and when we assimilate things - complex amalgams of what we like, what we agree with, what we are comfortable with and what goes along with the routine we have developed during the course of many years of doing what we do - make the difference between long selling cycles, big pipelines and small bottom lines, or sales success. Put simply, how you buy is how you sell.
In a case study published by Peak Performance, the president of a local software company found that his group’s extended selling cycle was adversely impacting his bottom line. It turns out that examining the buying habits of the sales manager provided a clue: In asking the man how he went about buying a new car, he proudly said he took seven months and shopped 29 dealerships from Philadelphia down to Virginia before making his decision. When faced with the same behavior in his prospects, he simply accepted it. Understanding such filters can go a long way in overcoming them.
For master agents and larger independents with salespeople working below them, lead management can prove a challenge thanks to the multitiered nature of the business. Tracking opportunities and analyzing the propects by salesperson and client is a crucial part of staying on top of the sales cycle. “A manager has to be able to follow up on leads and follow them from start to finish,” says Matt Ebert, vice president of sales for LeadMaximizer, a company that makes software for lead tracking and analysis. “You have to be lead-centric, not prospect-centric. It’s not enough to look at the size of one opportunity. You have to be able to see the big picture, uncluttered by ancillary information - how many leads this agent has brought in, close ratios, how many days it’s been in the pipeline - so you can step in and take whatever action is necessary to keep the ball rolling.”
LeadMaximizer provides a Web-based, dashboard view for telecom sales organizations to track leads and run reports within a fully searchable database. Users can slice and dice the information by market segment, geography, salesperson, number of lines, type of revenue share (affinity, contract, spiff and so on), and can analyze quotas, training levels and other information to pinpoint excelling and underperforming salespeople. Automatic triggers, notifications, reminders and alerts according to user-defined business rules can be customized for the agent to better manage his or her funnel.
“The management of leads is the management of money when it comes down to it,” says Ebert. “It is central to success in the sales business.”