When small business owners have difficulty growing their sales, they often take one of three actions related to their process: change everything, change nothing or a hire a consultant. Any of those strategies could be the right approach for your business, but none make for a good first step. You should instead start by taking a close look at your sales track record to identify what tactics have and haven’t worked for you—the results of this self-auditing can be illuminating.
What you need to conduct a successful self-analysis
You don’t need to hire a consultant; you simply need to sit down with the people who manage your sales process and collect all of the information you can about successful and failed sales attempts. Once you have your data, create a timeline in Excel (or by hand if you prefer) for each sales process. Map every important event that took place including meetings, key e-mails, delivery of proposals, contracts, etc. It’s very important that each timeline conclude with the decision event where you learned whether you had won or lost the transaction. (I found it easier to do this by hand putting only one deal per sheet of paper.) After completing this for each transaction, separate them into “wins and losses.” Take a close look at everything that happened leading up to your decision event, and consider variables like:
- People involved in the transaction
- Length of time between communications
- Scale and scope of the transactions
- Title of person you were dealing with
- Budget information made available to you
- Department with which you were dealing
- Number of people involved in the transaction
- External factors that may have played a role
The odds are that you will start to see patterns emerge in your wins and losses. These are the patterns that you need to focus on and replicate for wins and eliminate for losses.
When should you go through this process?
There is never a wrong time to conduct a self-audit because it can only serve to help your business grow. Have you taken the time to analyze your past successes and failures when it comes to winning new business?
It can be tedious, especially if you don’t have accurate records of e-mail communications, contract drafts, proposal revisions and pricing changes. If this is the case, there still is value in going through the exercise. Even an imperfect understanding of what works for you can set you in the right general direction when it comes to changing your sales tactics. It’s also far less expensive than hiring a sales consultant and less risky than radically changing your strategy without a clear direction.
It’s tempting to pick up the latest book written by a sales guru and take their advice as guaranteed to win you more business. Many even offer some sort of qualified guarantee on their techniques. But in my experience, sales is a highly personal process that must be catered to the personality of the salesperson, the rules of the game for the industry, and the state of the economy. Trying to find a shortcut or change who you are to fit a proven sales method won’t work.
Have you gone through this self-auditing process yet? Did it work for you?