Is Your Sales Force Covering All The Market?

If you’ve worked through the mathematical exercises in last week’s column, you may already be building a case for designing a “screener” step into your sales process. If the numbers didn’t indicate a definite need to add a layer to your process, there are three likely reasons:

  1. Your sales force is focused narrowly on great prospects, so most calls result in a sale.

  2. Your pre-screening questions do not zero in on the best leads, so a pre-screened call has the same likelihood of becoming a client as a cold call.
  3. Every prospect really is created equal, so every sales call is one worth making.

Number three is a great situation to be in, but common sense tells us it is rare indeed, at least in ad sales. In fact, if it were really true, you’d have to question why you were employing salespeople instead of order-takers (the latter are a lot less expensive and much easier to find!).

Most often, if the act of qualifying prospects does not result in higher close rates, your sales force is in one of the first two situations – either casting too small a net or working an ineffective qualification process.

When a company is starting out, growing slowly, adding sales personnel only as revenue rates allow, it is reasonable to sell only to great accounts and close most of them… after all, that strategy maximizes revenue while limiting sales costs, and a low cost of sales number has its appeal.

But this is a short-term and growth-constraining approach. When a business closes a very large percentage of accounts contacted, it is likely that a large share of the possible market is being left untended – and thus wide open to competitive sales efforts and alternative solutions. Great margins with low market share will doom any company in the early stages of an industry, when growth rates matter most.

When your Internet ad sales team closes essentially every account they go after, be worried. It means they are happy fishing the same waters, leaving too much of the market uncovered. And it usually means you are understaffed.

If no one has the time to work the prospects that will take longer to close, where will tomorrow’s growth come from? In an effective sales organization, every team member should have some accounts that are “hot” right now, more in the development stage, and even more in evangelical mode.

Though actual territory breakdowns will vary, consider 25/35/40 percent a good rule of thumb. By moving prospects up that ladder to the close, each salesperson contributes to ongoing sales growth.

Without accounts on every step of that ladder, sales are liable to drop off a cliff a few months from now, leaving everyone scratching their heads in amazement. A careful look at the leads pipeline will reveal that the surprise is unwarranted – anticipate and avoid that drop-off by working a wider range of accounts right away.

If, on the other hand, your staff is already working a wide range of prospects, but can’t seem to identify which ones are more likely to result in real business, odds are good they haven’t yet identified the right screener questions, which makes the existing lead qualification process a waste of time.

Next week, we’ll look at developing screeners that really work for your particular business.

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