Rethinking A Sales Strategy

Whether you’re thinking about a divestiture or a sale of your company, or if you’re in the middle of an operational turnaround or managing your business as usual, maintaining and growing sales are critical to your success. That’s why every business needs a disciplined approach to selling.

Whether you’re thinking about a divestiture or a sale of your company, or if you’re in the middle of an operational turnaround or managing your business as usual, maintaining and growing sales are critical to your success. That’s why every business needs a disciplined approach to selling.

One such approach is outlined by Robert B. Miller and Stephen E. Heiman in their acclaimed work, “Strategic Selling.” In this book, they share insight gained through years of consulting with top sales people.

Here’s a summary of the book’s key elements to put you in the strategic sales frame of mind:

The Ideal Customer

No single product or service is made for everyone. That’s why companies make money by matching their offerings with the self interests of their customers. The ideal customer is the standard against which to measure the actual customers.

Start by analyzing the best customers. In your opinion, what qualities make them the best? Do they generate the most revenue for your business? Do they pay their bills quickly? Are they smart, reasonable people who stretch your capabilities?

Next, use your answers to define the “perfect” customer. Consider two categories of customer characteristics: demographics and psychographics.

Demographics are the physical characteristics that define a customer. What are their annual revenues? What industries do they serve? Where are they located? What are their distribution channels?

Psychographics are the values and attitudes shared by the individual buyers within a company and held collectively by the company itself. What are their core values? Is their business mission or vision similar to yours?

Buying Influences

Are you involved in a complex sale? That means several people must give their approval before it is finalized. Here’s a scorecard on the roles that people play in influencing a complex sale:

Economic buyer: The economic buyer will give final approval, and can say yes when everyone else has said no, or vice versa.

User buyer: The user buyers make judgments about the potential impact of a product or service on their job performance. The user buyers’ success is tied to the success of the company’s product or service. 

Technical buyer: This person screens out potential suppliers and focus on the product or service and how well it meets certain objective specifications. Technical buyers can’t give a final yes, but can give a final no.

Coach: The coach guides sellers to the other buyers and provides the seller with information to help position themselves and their product or service with each one.

Response Modes

When selling a product or service, it is important to know how receptive the buyers are to the change—or sale—that is being proposed.

Growth mode: This buyer knows the difference between the way things are and the way they should be and will be receptive to a proposal if it helps them do more or better.

Trouble mode: A buyer in trouble mode also sees the difference between the current and future states, but is concerned about a problem. This buyer will welcome change that addresses the cause of the problem.

Even keel/overconfident mode: These buyers think the current situation is as good as or far better than desired. In other words, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. They are completely unreceptive to change.

Win-Results

The buyers’ personal needs should be met as well as their business needs. This can be achieved by giving them win-results. A win is a personal gain that satisfies a buyer’s perceived self interest. A result is the impact a product or service has on the buyer’s business processes. A win-result is a result that gives a buyer a personal win, which is the real reason people buy.

The Sales Funnel

It’s important to actively work the sales funnel so that orders are predictable. To do so, customers and prospects should be sorted into one of three sections of the funnel: above the funnel, in the funnel, and best few.

Above the funnel. You have data which suggests a fit between your product or service and the prospect’s needs. In this section, it is time to qualify or verify the suggestive data by contacting the buying influences. At least one buying influence should be contacted and a growth or trouble discrepancy that a product or service can address also should be identified.

In the funnel. You’ve verified the possibility of an order: You’ve contacted at least one buying influence and spoken about growth or trouble. In this part of the funnel, the buying influences and the results each buyer needs to win should be identified. Also, the response mode of every buyer should be understood. Time and uncertainty decrease as you move down the funnel.

Best few. You’ve all but eliminated luck and uncertainty in the final buying decision. There are a few discrete tasks to be performed. The bases have been covered so well that you’ve moved beyond trial and error or guessing. Finally, there’s at least a 90 percent probability that the order will close in half the time or less of the normal selling cycle. 

Robert B. Miller and Stephen E. Heiman published a more recent book called “The New Strategic Selling.” Also, find information about sales performance on their Web site at www.millerheiman.com.

Matthew J. Miller is a managing director at BlueWater Partners, a middle market investment-banking firm. As strategic advisors to business owners and management, BlueWater Partners works with companies to create, manage and realize business value, frequently before or through a sale or acquisition. BlueWater Partners’ services include advice on mergers and acquisitions, divestitures, capital sourcing, performance improvement, restructuring and turnaround. Mr. Miller can be contacted at matt@bluewaterpartners.com.