The Sales funnel

You can sell to a customer who perceives the sale as a loss, but you’re risking your own neck as much as the customer’s when you do so. Our fifth key element carries that observation to its logical conclusion by introducing a concept we call ideal customer. Its function is to help you identify your real best prospects and separate them from the ones which will prove to be liabilities. Selling to everyone indiscriminately is bound to create bad matches and bad orders. Judging your actual customers against an ideal customer profile will keep those orders to a minimum, and ensure that the bulk of your sales have a Win-Win outcome.

We use the ideal customer profile both to anticipate problems in our current customer base and as a sorting device that helps us to cut down on that 35 per cent of prospects that we probably shouldn’t be working with in the first place. You’ll make up your current and past good customers. Then you’ll use it to test opportunities with your current sales prospects.

This will leave you with a shorter list of prospects than the one you have now. But the shorter list will be real. It will allow you to focus on those objectives that can be achieved with a minimum amount of aggravation in the shortest period of time. Concentrating on them is what is going to keep you win-win.

Before they come to our programmes, even our most successful clients find that their sales figures tend to be way up one quarter and way down the next. They experience what we call the roller coaster effect, in which a January bonanza is followed by a seemingly inevitable April slump. In the words of a regional manager who has sent us hundreds of his people, “Before I send them to you, practically, every one of them dreams of putting two great quarters together back to back”.

The method involves the use of a conceptual tool that we developed as sales managers, and that we have used with excellent results not only in our own business but in the businesses that hire us to help their people. We call it the sales funnel.

The funnel metaphor may not be entirely new to you. Many salespeople talk about throwing prospects and leads into the pipeline or hopper or funnel and then waiting for orders to come out the other end.  The difference between our use of the sales funnel and theirs is that we don’t wait. We actively and methodically work the funnel, so that the prospects that make it through to the order do so on a predicable basis.

The sales funnel enables you to use your most precious commodity, your selling time, in the wisest and most efficient manner possible. You know that selling time is a resource that’s always in short supply. What you may not know – or may not have articulated consciously – is that every successful sale involves four different   kinds of selling work. If you don’t divide your time efficiently among these four kinds of work, you can easily end up squandering what ever little time you have. The sales funnel will help you to identify the type of work you need to be doing at any given moment on each sale objective, and to bring about a balance among the four types. It will also help you determine how much time you should allocate to each type of work, on a regular basis, to ensure predictable revenues.

You’ll probably recognize the use of a customer-qualifying profile as an example of a marketing oriented approach to sales.  We encourage the people we work with to think in marketing terms rather than in product first terms because as we’ve been stressing the Strategic Selling process focuses on the account. We want you to be successful with your accounts not just for this sales period but for as long as you have them.  You do that by really, selling to need, not just paying it lip service. All the six key elements of the blueprint are designed to help you assess your customers’ needs accurately so that you can deliver them win results on a predictable consistent basis. Experience proves that satisfying their needs in this way is also the surest way to satisfy your own.

You’ve now done all the preliminary work you need to do to understand the principles of Strategic Selling. We’ve introduced the concept of the complex sale and explained why you need to plan both strategy and tactics to manage it effectively. You’ve made a preliminary assessment of your current position with regard to a particular sales objective, and you’ve started to consider alternative positions to make the attainment of that objective more predictable.