If you work in a company that doesn’t sell any products or services, then this blog post is NOT for you. Everyone else, pay attention!
I worked for a company once, which had a head of global sales that was fond of saying: “Sales is everybody’s job in this company.” His idea was that as an employee of the company you were either selling, or supporting sales. Marketing enables sales; operations and R&D offer the products and services that are sold; back-end functions like IT, finance and legal enable the company to continue to exist, which enables it offer products and services, which must be sold. And so on. I would like to take it one step further: It should not be only the sales people that are accountable for identifying, pursuing, and locking down sales leads – it should be everyone’s job. In this connected and social media enabled world that we do business in today, the person in the desk next to you may have gone to business school with the person who will be your next big client. You never know where a good lead might come from.
So that first part is philosophy. If you have bought into that concept, and sold it (no pun intended) to your colleagues, then hopefully you have a ton of new emails from people throughout your company telling you about their cousin’s hairdresser’s ex-boyfriend’s father’s tow-truck company that might be engaged with a business that needs your services. What to do with all this new information? How can you prioritize it effectively? Additionally, what about the on-going efforts of your sales team, working on finding new leads every day? I am personally not a big fan of cold-calling, but I acknowledge that some people are good at it, and it can bring in good leads that are worth pursuing. So now we have two sources of sales leads piling up.
Add in any juicy tidbits that existing clients are passing your way, and you’re full up to your ears in a tangled mess of great potential. Cue the ERP systems to enter the picture. Enterprise Resource Planning systems have evolved over the years to help companies manage not just their Rolodex (“address books” for those of you born after 1980), but even to organize intelligence and insights regarding the individuals, the companies, their markets, and impacts from external sources to those potential customers.
Regardless of whether you try to automate it, conduct it yourself, or outsource it, some intelligence research and analysis is required to help qualify and categorize those leads.
It also helps to have a strategic plan of attack: knowing which customers are most attractive, who your target demographic is, and which customers and markets are going to enable your company’s strategic goals (whether it be revenue growth, market share growth, profitability, competitive positioning, brand awareness, etc.). The ability to mix in some understanding of those target customers’ existing details paints an almost perfect picture. If you can hand a file to your “closer” (the sales person responsible for turning the prospect into a signed client) which includes details such as who the prospect’s incumbent supplier is, how long their contract is, whether or not the prospect is happy with them, how open they are to hearing from other suppliers (like you!), and what has been happening (or will be happening) in the prospect’s market, you will have completed over 80% of the sales job. In fact, you might say that it is theirs to lose.
In reality, I don’t think sales is easy, nor do I take anyone’s role for granted. Rather, I think that there are a number of stages and tasks that make up the value chain that results in a sale, which requires a number of people and tools with complementing skill-sets to come together to make it happen effectively. Understanding what information is required and what information is available is important and it is something that either a formal Market Intelligence manager can do, or something that sales leadership can informally manage on their own.
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