Close Deals Faster

A Practical Guide for Small and Medium-Sized Business

Every deal has its life cycle. What starts as a lead gets qualified then flows (or lurches) through the sales pipeline.

Effective deal management and sales tracking ensure seamless maturation throughout the sales process.
Here are some practical tips to help you improve your sales process and keep more deals alive.

In this e-series, you’ll learn how to:

  • Master “win-win” negotiation tactics
  • Drive more deals from your marketing channels
  • Manage the sales process from lead to close

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Close Deals Faster

Generating Great Leads

Know where your best leads come from

Now that you know what great leads look like, how can you get more of them? Enquiries come from various sources, and if your business has been around for a while, chances are you're probably already getting regular leads.

Let's say you're the owner of an architecture firm. A contractor named Dave calls you to discuss a potential project. You go through the qualifying questions, and it turns out that this is an excellent lead for your firm.

You'd love getting more deals like that, but the question is: how did Dave even hear about your firm? Maybe he saw your firm's ad in "Architecture Now" magazine, or perhaps he was searching Google and found you through Google AdWords. Any company can have multiple marketing channels to drive new business through its door. Each one of these is a marketing channel.

Here are some of the marketing channels that you'll want to consider:

What is a Great Lead?

An effective sales process starts with excellent leads. A significant lead is a lead that you have a very high chance of winning by the end of your sales process. But how can you know what the chances of winning a deal will be before you even start speaking with the prospect?

The answer comes from four criteria you must evaluate:

  • Your company's strengths
  • The deal characteristics
  • The prospect's profile
  • The competitive environment

Let's start with your company's strengths. The quintessential question is whether your company is the right fit for this prospective customer. Say you're a graphic designer specialising in package design, and you get a lead from a prospect who wants to design a logo. While you can create logos, it's certainly not your forte. You can choose to compete for this deal, but your portfolio is all about package design and at some point, your prospect is going to want to see it. When he does, you'll have nothing relevant to show. You get the idea - you don't want to compete for leads for which your strengths wouldn't be a competitive advantage. Next, consider the specific characteristics of the prospect itself. Consider the expected quality, time and budget for the job.

When does the prospect need the service done or the product delivered?

  1. Can you finish the job on time?
  2. Is the customer familiar with the prices that you charge?
  3. What is the expected quality of the job, and can you meet it?
  4. Don't forget that you might be overqualified for a specific job.

While the customer would be happy to get a better quality job, you will usually trigger pricing issues. Sometimes it's hard to estimate the schedule and the budget. If that's the case, historical data about your previous projects can benefit.

Another important criterion to evaluate is your customer's profile. Have you worked with customers from that industry and of that size before? If so, you'll have the necessary testimonials to present and a good understanding of the work process involved.

Is this a high profile customer?

  1. If it is, you might forego a good profit at first to have this customer in your portfolio.
  2. Does the customer have a good reputation in the market? Is the customer serious enough about making this project happen?
  3. Lastly, you should ask yourself who your competitors will be on this deal and your objective chances of winning it against them.

Once you've answered all these questions, you'll have a good perspective on whether or not this is a deal you'd like and can win. It's important to remember that there's a trade-off you'll have to make between some of these criteria. Depending on what stage your company is currently at will determine which trade is required. For instance, you might get a high profile customer with a low budget, but you'd prefer to take the deal anyway to build your reputation in the market.

Next, let's see how you can make sure you get more of the leads that are an excellent fit for your business.

Advertising

Print ads in magazines and newspapers
Online display ads
Search marketing ads (Google, Bing)
Radio
Television
Retargeting networks

Direct Marketing

Postcards
Coupons
Flyers / Catalogs
Cold calls (lists)
Warm calls (interested leads)
Public Relations

Events

Sponsorships
Event hosting (branded events)
Speaking engagements
Workshops and seminars

Word-of-mouth

Referrals (clients, prospects)
Networking/event prospecting
Affiliates / distributors

Digital/Internet

Email
RSS (content distribution)
Social Media
SMS (text msg)
Q&A Sites (Quora)

Press releases

Television
Radio
Media websites
Blogging and blogger outreach

As you can see, there are many potential marketing channels out there to help you drive leads. Over time, you'll want to experiment with many of these to learn the most effective for your business. A practical definition might be tricky, but the main question you should ask yourself is whether the channel was worth the cost you invested in it. It's a pretty straightforward ROI (return-on-investment) calculation.

To perform an ROI analysis on leads, you'll need to track where prospects came from and their cost. To track lead sources, you may want to use a lead form on your website and ask a question like "How did you hear about us?" Doing so will help you see which channels bring you the most qualified leads and the most deals. If you're trying, non-digital tactics are essential.

With this vital information, you can focus on the specific marketing channels that maximise your returns.

Managing The Sales Process

Stay organised with a solid sales process.

Sourcing great leads are just the beginning. It's hard enough to get good qualified leads, so you don't want to lose the company because of poor management of your sales process. Once you get a significant lead in the door, you'll want to make sure that you do everything in your power to win the business.

It'll be helpful to start with some definitions. Your sales process should be visualised as a funnel. You get many leads at the start of the funnel, with only a few of them making it through the whole process. Each step in the process is called a "Sales Stage", and the sales stages together form your "Sales Funnel." Different companies have different funnels, but it's generally helpful to keep the funnel small and straightforward.

 

What's familiar to all funnels are the three closed stages:

  • Unqualified, the bucket for the deals that weren't a good fit.
  • Lost were the deals that you wanted to win but lost.
  • Won, where the deals you won (hopefully many) are stored.

In between these, there are a few other stages.

Close Deals Faster Lost

Let's look at a simple example of a sales process. You will usually place a new lead into the first stage of the sales funnel - let's call this stage "Incoming." At this point, you evaluate this lead (according to the essential questions that we mentioned earlier). If the deal is qualified, you forward it to the next stage in the sales process, which in our example, we'll call the "Qualified" stage. Two weeks pass by, and you've held a meeting or two with the prospect. You've gathered enough requirements and are now at the point where you need to create a price quote. Now you can move the deal forward in the process to the "Quote" stage. Once you prepare the price quote and send it to the prospect, you can move the lead to our example's last active stage, "Closure". Here is where you will sort out the final details, and the negotiation will usually take place. After the Closure stage, you will either win or lose the deal.

Creating such a funnel and taking your leads through it has some powerful advantages:

  1. You'll know exactly which stage of the funnel each of your leads is at, and you'll be able to predict your sales in the short term.
  2. You'll see which stage you're losing most of your deals in by viewing a funnel report. By having these insights, you can do something to affect them. For example, if you're losing many sales in the quote stage, it might mean that you're not preparing your quotes fast enough or that your proposals are not practical.
  3. You can prioritise your activities based on how many leads are in specific stages. For example, if it looks like many leads are in the quote or closure stage, and a resource on your team becomes available, you may get that resource to start prospecting to fuel the pipeline instead of helping a colleague close a deal.

Getting To The Yes

Basic negotiation skills can help you win more deals.

The last part of your sales process will likely involve some negotiation. More often than not, this will be negotiation around price. Sometimes it might also be negotiation around the delivery schedule for the product or service you're selling. Different people value different things, so be ready to negotiate based on multiple parameters, not just cost.

Understanding basic negotiation techniques can help you win more deals without alienating your prospects. Negotiation is indeed an art, but consider some of the following tips next time you go into one.

Research

Don't enter into negotiations blindly. Prepare yourself by spending plenty of time doing relevant research. When you know your industry and your product, you have the power to bargain more effectively. There are several places to get the information you need. Most people head straight to the Internet to find what they need. But beware of unreliable information sources. Just because it's on the Internet doesn't mean it's reliable. Supplement your Internet research - talk to people with experience in your client's line of work and to people who know them. Find out what you can offer that will be hard for your customer to turn down.

Improve Your Communication Skills

You can't be effective if you don't express yourself clearly. Negotiation is a dialogue, and the ultimate goal is for both parties in the discussion to come away with a clear understanding of the terms of the agreement. You can improve your communication skills by learning and practising Nonviolent Communication (NVC) techniques. NVC emphasises speaking to convey the importance of your needs and feelings related to the topic. Compromise comes more quickly with NVC.

Be Calm and Confident

During negotiations, you need to keep your cool. Your ability to stay calm and collected (even if it's only on the outside) works to your advantage. It tells the bargainer that you know your solid, valid points and is determined to reach your goals. It's much like a political debate in that the person who remains calm often comes out on top.

Use Your Sense of  Humour

Humour can bring two people together – even if initially they were entirely at odds with each other. When things get tense, you can use humour to break through the tension. If you get your opponent to view you as a nice person in the negotiations, bargaining with them becomes much more accessible. In addition, humour takes the pressure off and helps you see things more clearly.

Every negotiator has to make sacrifices and give something away to reach a practical compromise. The best negotiators realise that being tough throughout the negotiation can land both parties in a stalemate. Prepare yourself to give something up before you enter negotiations. Whether you agree to meet certain conditions or give a slight discount, your willingness to compromise will show the other person that reaching an amicable resolution is essential to you. Keeping this in mind, you should plan a little wiggle room before the negotiation starts. If there are certain things that you must have, don't begin the bargaining process by asking for the bare necessities. Ask for more than you expect and leave yourself room to offer some concessions so that, in the end, you both walk away with everything you need. Both parties have to feel that they've 'won' something.

Build A Great Customer Relationship

Make sure to deliver on your promise.

For most businesses, repeat business from customers is the single most effective engine for growth. If you want your customers back, you have to ensure that you deliver on what you promised. Ensure that the team in charge of the project or fulfilment knows exactly what the customer has asked for and what you've promised. Document these details (for example, on a deal page) so that you can always refer back to the requirement when the time comes.

Once the project starts, a great way to gauge customer satisfaction is by calling your customers every once in a while for small talk about your progress. Framing the conversation this way will help you solicit honest and direct feedback. Perhaps add an automated task in your CRM to follow up occasionally.

In addition to reaching out to customers regularly, it's equally important to record these conversations. Imagine how powerful it is to see one page for each of your customers containing all the previous deals and discussions you've ever had with them. Such records enable you to improve your relationship with them, hopefully ensuring that they will return to you for repeat business.

Making It All Happen

Don't worry. While all this might look like a cumbersome process that adds a lot of overhead, you can implement it into your business quite easily. As a small business owner, manager or employee, time is your scarcest resource. The beauty of this method is that it's robust but straightforward. It's practised successfully by many small businesses like yours.

You'd be surprised how easy it is to put this sales process in place. With HubSpot, our sales tracking and customer management tool, it doesn't take anything more than a computer, an Internet connection and 10 minutes of your time. In a matter of days, you'll start noticing how much more productive and effective your sales will become. Practising these tips will help you improve your sales process tremendously, drive more business to your door, and fuel the growth of your business.

Is it time to systematise your business and become more effective, increase your revenue and expand your customer base?