Sales lessons from the trenches

Selling is harder than most people think. Many businesses with great looking business plans go out of business because of fewer or slower sales. Here are some lessons from the trenches:
  • Sales often take longer than you expect.
    • Even if you give a great sales presentation or demonstration, your prospect may need to go through channels requiring additional presentations. You need to understand whether your prospect is a gatekeeper (whose role is to weed out unwanted solicitors) or a decisionmaker.
    • Your prospect may have to wait until a new budget cycle before approving the purchase.
    • Your business may not be the top priority for your prospect and (s)he may delay making a decision.
    Always establish a day and time for your next contact with each prospect - and always follow through. Once you have figured out the typical sales cycle, make adjustments to the revenue and expenses in your business plan.
  • You need to understand your prospect-to-sales ratio. You may give 20 sales presentation to get one sale. (Your ratio will differ - you need to get your ratio from salespeople in your industry.) Multiply your planned sales number by your ratio to get the total number of prospects that need to be in your pipeline.
  • It is OK for people to say no when you ask them to buy - it is part of the process and you need to move on. In fact, in our example above, on average you can expect 19 people to say no for every 1 that says yes. When you make a sale, you need 20 more prospects to make the second sale.
  • Getting a new customer is time consuming and expensive. Set up your business so that you have recurring sales from your customers OR increase the total purchase level for each customer by cross-selling other items. Banks are good at this. You may walk in a bank wanting a simple checking account, but leave with a bundled package of checking, credit card, and business loan. Cross selling and recurring payments are almost necessities for ongoing profitability - and can be good for your customers if you are saving them time or money on products and services they need.
  • Make sure you will make money on the sale and be willing to walk away if you don't.
  • Figure out how to get paid FAST. A delay in getting paid can kill a business - because of the time and because someone in your business has to follow up to make sure the payment is made.
  • Be consistent in prospecting - day after day after day - regardless of what's happening in your business. Keep your pipeline filled at all times.
  • Make it easy for others to buy from you. Have a user-friendly website with information on what you sell and how they can purchase it. Get feedback from customers on their buying experience and look for ways to improve it.
  • The sale is only the beginning - especially if you want recurring revenue. Here are just some of the things you need to do:
    • Make sure the customer is satisfied
    • Thank the customer
    • Communicate with the customer so your business stays top-of-mind
    • Get referrals from your customer