Once upon a time sales and prospecting were almost synonymous; it was just assumed that anyone in sales was expected to dedicate a great deal of time to identifying and developing new opportunities. However, a decade of comparative prosperity has lulled many sales professionals into thinking that prospecting was more of an afterthought than a priority. The economy was strong, business was brisk, and most sales organizations were too busy taking orders to spend much time aggressively seeking new business. To be sure, those organizations still had some prospecting requirements, but it was pretty easy to take care of by making a few phone calls on Friday afternoon.
Over time, this situation led to the creation of an army of order takers – in the nomenclature of sales they are also referred to as “farmers” – whose main focus was simply nurturing the relationships with existing customers. However, when the economy collapsed, many of those existing customers disappeared almost over night, either chased away by the new economic austerity or gobbled up by aggressive competitors; competitors who had rediscovered – or perhaps never forgot – that we must all remain hunters in order to survive. In the nomenclature of sales, the art of hunting is also referred to as prospecting.
The bottom line is that after years of watching business roll in, those sales organizations that have relied too long on farming must rediscover and sharpen these primal hunting skills if they want their organizations to survive and thrive in this challenging economy. Here are the five most important steps you must follow to transform your farmers back into the hunters they were born to be:
Give them a sales process
When customers are calling you to place an order, there is very little need to follow a formal sales process. Certainly, the sales rep should still explore opportunities to up-sell and cross-sell (though very few farmers ever do), but for the most part the customer has done all the work. He knows what he wants, he is interested in what you have to offer, and he is likely very close to being ready to buy. For these reasons, the first step in transforming a farmer into a hunter is to provide her with a clear, proven sales process to guide her in her search to find and capture new business.
Sales processes come in all shapes, sizes and branded descriptions, but the underlying set of practices is almost always the same, and they include:
- Territory planning – how to identify a pool of prospective new customers
- Cold calling – how to make an initial contact with the most promising prospects, qualify the opportunity, and set an appointment.
- Account planning – how to identify High Probability Targets and develop a strategy for approaching the customer organization that will guarantee the greatest opportunity for success.
- Consultative Selling Skills – how to build rapport and trust, uncover customer pain and problems, identify solution options, recommend specific solutions that fall with your company’s capabilities, and close the deal.
Give them a cadence
It is likely that a lot of sales reps might never have heard this term applied to the sales process before, but it is a very critical part of a hunter’s success. Cadence refers to a focused, systematic set of sales activities executed against a tightly defined schedule. A sales cadence basically tells a sales rep what needs to be done within a specific customer opportunity and when to do it, in order to have the greatest chance of winning the account. The cadence is usually, though not always, mapped against the sales organization’s sales cycle or set inside a specific sales play.
For instance, if an organization typically has a sales cycle of 12 weeks, then a cadence might require a sales rep to:
- Begin sending out and following up targeted marketing messages to the key contact on the account in week 1.
- Schedule appointments with the contact in week 2.
- Schedule follow up appointments in weeks 3 and 4 based on information gleaned in week 2. These subsequent appointments might include other people in the prospect organization, especially if the rep has not reached the decision maker.
- Develop and synthesize all information gathered during Discovery in week 5.
- Meet with key contacts in week 6 to begin conversations around hypothetical solutions.
- Meet again with key contacts in week 7 to submit specific proposals based on company capabilities.
- Meet again with key contacts in week 8 to get feedback, handle objections and explore further options.
- Submit formal proposal in week 9.
- Weeks 10-12 would involve resolving final questions, negotiating price, terms and delivery, signing the contract and discussing solution deployment.
The value of the cadence cannot be overestimated, and this value is delivered in two ways. First of all, it gives the sales rep a clear picture of the goals and activities for each week, thus creating a set of deadlines to work against. Also, a cadence provides the sales manager with a quick reference for measuring the progress of the sales rep (and the progress of the deal). Anytime a sales rep starts to fall behind schedule, the sales manager can step in with coaching assistance to help the rep solve problems and fill in skill gaps.
Give them a CRM
It is very hard – though technically not impossible – to manage a cadence without a CRM. The CRM provides all the tools and tracking information to help the sales rep and the sales manager follow the deal throughout each step of the cadence. All customer info, all marketing messages, all data collected and any other piece of information relevant to the closing of the deal can be quickly accessed and leveraged through the CRM. Armed with a cadence and a CRM, the farmer will have all the weapons he or she needs to become a very skillful hunter.
Give them thorough training
Perhaps the single biggest reason why so many sales reps remain farmers for most of their careers is because no one ever trained them to be anything else. It is true that there are a few natural hunters out there who seem to thrive on the thrill – not to mention the high rewards – of stalking and winning new accounts. However, in all but a few cases, farmers can be transformed into very effective hunters if only anyone would provide them high quality, professional training in the art of hunting.
This training should focus on the important areas we have already discussed – how to execute an effective consultative sales process and how to leverage the CRM to support that process, all within the cadence. Traditionally, most of this training has been delivered in a static classroom environment where the focus is on theoretical skills. Typically, the retention rate for this type of training is about 20%. A far better approach to training is to deliver it during the course of an integrated sales play, where the sales reps can hone their skills in real time as they pursue real opportunities within the sales cadence, gaining practical experience and reaping real benefits as they learn.
Give them regular coaching
And this leads to the final – and in some ways most vital part – of this transformation plan: regular coaching. No one successfully deploys any type of new skill if they only receive constructive input once. In order to build up effective hunter “muscle memory,” these erstwhile farmers will need regular encouragement, support, feedback, and practical input from sales managers. Traditionally, coaching was only delivered to low-performing sales reps, and then it might only come during scheduled evaluations. However, farmers who are transforming to hunters will need regular, systematic coaching for the singular mission critical reason that there is a lot to learn and most of it can only be learned by doing it over and over again while receiving feedback from a coach.
At the risk of being redundant, this coaching must be delivered during the course of an ongoing sales play, so that the sales rep can take the feedback and immediately apply it to the opportunity in front of him. Transformation takes time; the new skills can be complex and challenging, and there will be a lot of trial and error along the way. However, with the coach standing by to provide a constant level of support and skill development along the way, the farmer will quickly uncover his own true hunter instincts and soon be developing new opportunities, closing new business and driving new revenues that will make everyone wonder why they ever thought that relying solely on farming was ever a good idea in the first place.