Dec. 29 2006 09:48 AM

    The suspecting phase of the sales cycle is the most difficult for most companies and salespeople. It is that way because it takes a different breed of person to spend countless hours contacting suspects with only a possibility of a one percent to five percent hit rate. Today's technology has made this process both harder and easier. It is harder because of caller ID and voice mail just how many voice mails can you leave in one day? Suspecting is easier because e-mail is available to send information for suspects to read at their leisure. There is only a small portion of the sales work force that can continually keep the pipeline filled with new suspects because of the tedium and rejection involved. Sales is a numbers game the more suspects you identify, the more sales you will ultimately sign. As sales personnel become more experienced selling fulfillment, their numbers will improve because their skills in the additional phases of the sales cycle will improve. Sales personnel will see their incomes grow and company's will grow as well.

     

    The discussion of this phase of the sales cycle assumes that a marketing plan has been developed to attack specific target markets as discussed in Part 1 of the series. In the real world of mailing, fulfillment and printing companies, this is very rarely true, as most companies do not have a detailed marketing plan and have not considered which target markets they will penetrate. However, companies can still be successful without completing this step. They will just have to work a little harder on the cold calling portion of their sales plan. Leads are generated from each of the marketing activities completed by your company. Marketing activities could include seminars, newsletters, advertising, Web sites, direct mail, etc. In addition, the sales organization is always and continually charged with the need to continue some form of cold calling on suspected markets. The Suspecting phase of the sales cycle is defined as developing suspects from marketing generated leads and sales generated cold calls into a qualified suspect. The goal at the end of the suspecting phase is to answer two questions: (1)"Is there a need for your fulfillment services?" and (2) "Does the company have money budgeted for your services?" Generally the answer is yes there is a need, and no there is not money budgeted. There really is a third question to answer and that is concerning short-term project activities. The long-term objective is to sell fulfillment programs, but short-term fulfillment projects are an excellent way to penetrate an account.

     

    Step #1-Determine Which Sales Tools Are Available to Complete the Suspecting Phase of the Sales Cycle.

    The following sales tools and /or training tools are required for the suspecting phase to be successful:

                Application Sales Training The sales personnel must be trained to articulate the fulfillment applications that can be completed by your company. These would be those described as the marketing support services and would include: literature, lead inquiry, trade show, seminar and product fulfillment. Sales personnel must also learn to complete a basic Web site demo and have an understanding of the types of problems that the marketing personnel are experiencing. A typical suspecting call would utilize an empathetic approach to understanding the suspect's problems and then providing a feature, function, benefit statement about your solution. An example would be as follows:

    Problem Suspect not able to get accurate reporting in a timely fashion.

    Feature of Your System Online (24x7), real-time inventory reporting with standard and special reports available.

    Function Demonstrate how this works on the suspect's workstation.

    Benefit Accurate data, readily available 24 hours per day at the suspect's desktop.

                Company Web Site The company Web site provides a portal for the suspect into your company. Many times when you are discussing your company's capability with a suspect on the phone, they are on your Web site getting an indication of your company. The Web site should provide the same message as your initial contact information. One of the biggest opportunities available at that time someone has been drawn to your Web site is to demonstrate your fulfillment capability. If you made available several small premium items to be ordered from your automated fulfillment system, it would strengthen your position with the suspect and provide a reason to contact them further.

    Case History An example of this approach was provided by JKG Group of Boca Raton, Florida. Its offer was ordering personalized note pads. While visiting its site, you could place an order for your personalized note pads, choosing from size, color, etc., as well as customize the printing to suit your needs. An order confirmation was received by e-mail and a shipping confirmation e-mail at the time of shipment.

    Leads Database It is necessary that the company have a leads database to collect data on the sales cycle and to have a consistent way for management to understand the current status of prospects in the sales cycle. Several of the most popular fulfillment software providers have products with contact management software. This is invaluable to a fulfillment sales person who is potentially working with 10 to 20 suspects, 10 prospects and in the proposal phase with several more prospective clients and installing one new client. There is more sophisticated sales tracking software on the market that could be utilized based on company preference. Our industry is experienced in dealing with client databases, but keeping them current is a full-time job. Business to business databases are the most difficult to keep current and require a dedicated effort on the part of the company to attain a high degree of accuracy.

     

    The following items are optional to be successful in this phase:

                Brochure It is not necessary to have a multi-page, multi-color brochure to be successful in the fulfillment industry. In fact, if you are a start-up in this industry, a full-blown brochure is not recommended during the early stages of growth. Get some experience with your fulfillment software, your clients and their applications before proceeding ahead with a brochure. Some applications will feel better than others and you need to lead with your strength.

    Continuity Program A continuity program is a program that continues the suspecting process, generally without sales intervention, until a decision point is reached. This program could have direct mail, phone, e-mail, Web site and personal follow-up components. It can be designed to interpret the client reaction and take an automatic reaction. An example would be to send out a direct mailpiece with a call to action to visit your Web site. By giving the suspect a specific password, each order placed could be followed by an e-mail to the sales person who would then be instructed to make a call to assure the order was received and try to close for a face-face meeting.

     

    Step # 2Determine the Sales Approach to Be Utilized By Each Salesperson

    Each salesperson must decide how they would like to complete the suspecting process for themselves. Forcing a program on a salesperson very rarely works. However, working with them to determine what works best for them is recommended. Each person will want to deploy phone, e-mail, direct mail and face-to-face cold calling and lead follow-up in the manner which suits them best. In today's business environment, we can determine many things about the company without ever calling on them. The Internet provides a portal into the suspect company as well. There is usually great information for the salesperson including products or services offered, key personnel, e-mail addresses, corporate and regional locations and a request for information page. Requesting information can assist you in making contact with the right person. Many times, your request will not be answered and what a perfect opportunity and reason to contact the key marketing person. You have a ready-made solution for the problem. Each salesperson should have a specific set of goals to make contacts with target companies in a given timeframe. It is good to review the results of the program on a weekly basis.

     

    Step # 3 Put Your Plan Into Action and Measure Your Results.

    As we start a new business venture or we hire a new salesperson, it is important to measure activity in the beginning of the process. We will be going through some very distinct steps in the process of learning how to sell fulfillment services. Each new salesperson goes through a defined growth pattern, regardless of his age or experience in business. The stages are as follows:

     

                A. Learn the company

                B. Learn sales skills

                C. Learn products and services

                D. Learn the territory

                E. Learn about business (how a marketing department works)

     

    Companies with experienced sales personnel may have A, B and D above complete, but must make the effort to assure that C and E are completed. During this phase, it is important to track the amount of calls being made to specific clients to determine how successful the program is. Many of our member companies have their ownership involved in the sales process. It is equally important for anyone performing the sales task to follow the same discipline and regimen as prescribed above. The best sales people I have ever met are: very conversant and understanding of their products and/or services, very well organized, masters at listening and mildly aggressive.

     

    The objective of this process was discussed; however, the meaningful activities to measure would include the following: face-to-face meetings scheduled, questionnaires completed, the number of suspects converted into prospects as well as the number of projects bid.

     

    It is difficult to keep focused on the suspecting phase because as more suspects are brought through the sales cycle, more time is required to complete the additional phases of the sales cycle. However, it is imperative that you keep the sales model supplied with new suspects and that suspects who either did not have the money or the timing was not right are not dropped from your radar screen. Successful suspecting will be completed by those companies and sales personnel who are disciplined and keep great data.

     

    In Part 3 of the next issue, we will discuss the Prospecting Phase of the sales cycle. I wish you good selling.

     

    Tom Quinn is director of fulfillment services, Mailing & Fulfillment Service Association (MFSA). For more info, visit www.mfsanet.org.

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