Increase Sales in a Tough Economy – 5 Tips to Improve Your
Sales Productivity

Does your sales team chase the wrong business? Sales performance can suffer when your team focuses on marginal opportunities. Now that the economy is so weak, you and your team might be tempted to chase virtually anything with a pulse and an address. But when times are as tough as they are now, selecting the right accounts is more important than ever. Tighten up sales management to focus on proper account selection. Here are five simple tips to keep your team focused on the bottom line, improving productivity and controlling costs.

Tip #1: Small deals can prevent big deals.
There is only so much selling time around. If sales people use it all up chasing small, unprofitable deals, projects where you are on thin ice, or otherwise dangerous sales, they won't have the time or energy to pursue truly valuable business. Temper the urge to drag in business at any price. Avoid the temptation to push your team to high levels of activity without regard to the results of the activity. Make sure your people can tell the difference between good business and business at any price.

Tip #2: Ideal customers produce ideal sales.
Define the characteristics of customers you want to attract and keep. Then detail the specifics of acceptable deals: margin, scope of the project, other characteristics. What are they for your business? Give your team a documented benchmark to help them choose the best prospects and customers available in your market. This benchmark will have a positive impact on the efficiency of your sales team. It will improve their qualifying skills and shorten the sales cycle overall.

Tip #3: Margin is important but it isn't everything.
The ideal sale is always profitable, no question about it. But it also has to be a sales that allows you to deliver on all your promises. You should be able to deliver the goods, assist in producing the promised ROI, provide effective support or advice, and exceed your customer's expectations in every way. When you can do so, you are more likely to retain that customer, persuade them to buy again and even to buy other products and services. They will also be more likely to refer you to others. Make sure your sales people know how to meet your company's goals of superior customer service or innovation, as well as fulfilling revenue targets.

Tip #4: Don't sell it if you can't deliver it.
The old cliché says "never confuse selling with delivery." Wipe that out of your consciousness! If Engineering can't design it, or Production can't make it, or Shipping can't deliver it efficiently and competitively, you shouldn't even try to sell it. Make sure the inside matches the outside. Discourage your sales people from selling projects that you can't deliver!

Tip #5: If you are going to lose, lose early.
Some deals are wrong for your company. The right time to "lose" those deals is in the first few hours of your sales person's qualification process. Since the cost of sales time is so high, it's best to find out early if the deal is an un-winnable one. Help sales people figure out if the prospect offers enough potential to justify the investment of their time. Show them how to disqualify opportunities as easily as they qualify them. Don't wait until your sales team has invested hours of time building a proposal only to discover that this is business you don't want or can't afford.

Ellen Bristol is the founder and driving force behind Bristol Strategy Group, the Miami-based sales-force productivity company, and developer of Selling the SMART Way®, BSG's flagship solution for productive sales teams. BSG's latest offering is the SMART Way® Scorecard, web-hosted toolkit for managing sales-force productivity. Visit the BSG website.

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