Too often, businesses today approach sales on an ad hoc basis: they realize that sales are something they need in order to be competitive, but they don’t know how to use sales data to make sure their efforts are as successful as possible. Instead, they continue to rely on guesswork and intuition, with no strategic sales plan to back up their efforts. As a result, when profits go south, businesses are quick to deflect blame away from their sales efforts, and instead place it on external factors like the health of the overall economy.
But here’s the dirty little secret…even when the economy is in a recession, that doesn’t mean that money simply disappears; it just moves to different places. There are always going to be sales opportunities available, no matter what the state of the economy. In order to find those opportunities, you need to have a strategic sales plan that is based on data, not guesswork. When you put the right data in the hands of your sales staff so they can identify and exploit important patterns, you can ensure that your sales efforts will always provide healthy returns, no matter what’s going on with the economy.
Are your sales efforts helping to support the overall goals of your organization, or are they just a waste of money? Read on to learn what you can do to go from ad hoc guesswork to strategically targeted sales work based on real data.
Get the data you need
To start your strategic sales plan, you need to gather specific data points that can help you identify patterns and gain insights. If you aren’t able to identify what worked well in the past and what didn’t, then you’ll never be able to direct your sales efforts toward the most promising targets in the future. As a result, gathering sales data should be the first step in any sales planning effort.
As you collect and store your data, you’ll want to look for points that are relevant and can help you going forward. Keep a sharp eye out for irrelevant data, and discard it immediately, as it will only get in the way of finding the data that you actually need.
You need to look for specific, quantifiable data for things like:
- What industries your leads are in.
- How you found your leads—or how your leads found you.
- What types of products and services your leads were most interested in purchasing.
- How long it took for a lead to move from first contact to a completed sale.
- What the total value of each lead was, including repeat business.
- Your cost per lead for each type of marketing or advertising that you did.
- Your cost per sales for each type of marketing or advertising that you did.
Turning data into insights
While collecting sales data is a necessary first step, your strategic sales planning doesn’t end there. Next, you’ll have to find a way to turn all that raw data into something that will help you make more sales. To do this, you need to perform some analysis on your data. Ask yourself important questions to find out how your sales efforts are successful, and how they could be improved.
Who are your best leads?
Find out where your most profitable sales came from. Is there a trend in the data that demonstrates that leads from a certain industry or location tend to drive more profits? What type of characteristics would indicate that a certain lead might turn into a profitable repeat customer? Also, consider what advertising venue tended to capture the best leads, and think about how you can use that information to try to find more profitable leads going forward.
Who are your worst leads?
Did certain leads end up being more trouble than they were worth? If your sales staff spends a lot of time pursuing leads that haven’t been qualified, or working with leads that only generate one-time sales with very low values, then your company isn’t getting the most benefit out of their efforts. Spend some time thinking about how you ended up with unqualified leads or unprofitable customers, and what you can do to prevent it from happening in the future.
The most important thing to learn from your analysis is where your efforts are succeeding and where they are failing. If you continue to direct sales resources toward targets that aren’t performing to your expectations, you are wasting your resources. Even worse, if you don’t even know that certain targets aren’t performing, you’re being negligent and not giving your sales staff the chance to perform to the best of their abilities.
Make collecting and analyzing sales data something you do on a quarterly basis and you’ll always have the opportunity to improve your sales going forward, moving resources out of targets that aren’t performing and aggressively pursuing ones that show more promise.
Now that you know the basics of strategic sales planning, how are you going to start using insight-driven sales in your business going forward?
This blog was written by Laurie Leonard, the President of SUITE 1000, a U.S. based national telephone answering service, inbound call center and outsourced call center service. Her company has specialized in handling legal intake, sales leads, email lead response, appointment scheduling, customer service and help desk calls for over 20 years.