guide for sales success

Yesterday evening, I was watching “Minimalism: A Documentary About The Important Things” on Netflix. I’ve long been a fan of decluttering, and attempting to live what I’ve come to think of as the 80/20 lifestyle (for more on applying 80/20 to business, click here).

Essentially, the philosophy and thinking behind it is pretty simple: less is more.

And, like any good fundamental thinking stream, it’s broadly applicable in virtually every area of life. Including business, and sales.

Selling used to be simple. You have something I want (typically, a good or service). I have something you want (typically, money or some other universal commodity). Let’s make a trade.

What could be simpler, right ?

But somehow we managed to go from that to a multi-faceted, complex web of inter tangled “stuff”. CRM systems with all the bells and whistles you could think of. Sales enablement software. Social media. Sales process. Cross functional teams.

Which means sellers now spend 20% of their time actually selling.

And I’m not saying those things aren’t useful, or required. But what if we could strip everything down to the essentials ? What if we lost all the “clutter” that crowds our thinking around how to be successful at selling, and boiled it back to the what truly matters ? Even for a moment ?

With that in mind, here’s what I’ve come to think of as “the minimalist approach to successful selling”.

#1. Start at the beginning.

To be successful in selling, you need to find people to sell to. It’s that simple. Unless you’ve got a steady flow of leads and opportunities coming in, you’re dead in the water.

Yet, this is where many of us already stumble. First, because we’re not selective enough. We invest far too much time speaking with people who are not deserving of our time, because “they might just buy from us at some point”. We use a multitude of lead generation strategies, including cold calling, email prospecting, social media, events, speaking, buying lists and networking, because “more is better”. Meaning for the most part, we’re now dabbling into everything, and succeeding at nothing.

But there’s a different way. In my own business, 95% of all leads come from three sources. Inbound leads, referrals and repeat business from existing clients. Three. That’s it.

Every day, I invest heavily in maintaining, increasing and fine-tuning those three lead sources. I invest time in (guest) blogging, videos, webinars, appearing on podcasts, sharing valuable content on social media to support my position as an expert in my space. I carefully cultivate referrals whenever and wherever I can (and I follow a system for doing so). And finally, whenever I’m working with a client, I give it 110% and we always start the working relationship under the assumption there will be more work done together down the road.

But that’s it. I don’t cold call. I don’t do email outreach. I don’t go to networking events.

Making my lead generation blissfully simple.

#2. Focus. Focus. Focus.

RAIN Group is a pretty focused outfit too. We’re known for working with companies who sell high-end products and services to other companies. B2B, complex sales, long sales cycles, multiple buyers, that kind of stuff. We consult, train, coach and assess.

And that’s all we do. Work in retail ? Can’t help you. Sell mobile phones to end consumers ? Can’t help you. Sell a transactional product or service, or sell online ? Can’t help you.

And we’re very, very careful about maintaining that focus and direction. And it’s served us extremely well thus far. Most clients I speak with already know us, and know that we’re a credible player in this space. Which means there’s typically very little “Have you done this before ?” kind of conversation. And if there is, I’ve typically got three of four clients in their industry they can speak with.

Most sellers go after everything, and then act surprised if their win rate is close to 20%. Picking your battles has surprising benefits. You’ll waste less time. You’ll win (far) more often. You’ll enjoy the work you do more (assuming you find a niche or space you like).

With many of my clients, it’s the same story. More often than not, when I speak with their top sellers, they focus on a small space (like government Telecommunications projects), industry or product/service. They refuse all efforts to expand beyond their carefully crafted niche. Why ?

Because they understand the three F’s of sales success: Focus. Focus. Focus.

#3. Give your clients 110%.

Many sellers I meet lead a “hand to mouth” sales existence. What I mean by that is that they have to continually invest time, energy and resources into finding new opportunities to fill their funnel. Because once they sell a client, they move on to the next one, and the next one, and so forth.

The way I see it, there’s two problems with that. First, it takes a huge amount of effort and energy. Second, it is highly wasteful – it is far harder to generate business with new clients than it is with existing clients.

In my own personal life, there are many experiences of this. The real estate agent who seems great at first, but then doesn’t give you the light of day once the contract is signed. The insurance broker who’s always quick to sell you more coverage, but doesn’t respond to your emails when a claim arises. The banker who is always happy to … well, let’s not even talk about the banker.

Unfortunately, in B2B, the same thing happens. All the time. I’ve got a client whose CRM implementation is six months overdue. Another whose sales training firm just up and left in the middle of a project. A third one who refused to include their current provider in a recent RFP, because “they were simply horrible to work with”.

If you just focus on serving your clients 110%, and go a little “above and beyond” on each project, you’ll not only stand out, but you’ll be rewarded with more business than you can handle. Take it from me.

#4. Stop letting your priorities manage you. Manage them instead.

I think sales managers have one of the hardest jobs in the world. Truly do. The list of priorities, responsibilities, action items and tasks on their plate is seemingly endless. On any given day, they need to coach their people, jump in on deals, report to senior management, fly out to meet with important clients and keep track of a hundred other things they’re working on.

And a great many of them actually seem to enjoy that. Sure, they may complain about it incessantly. But deep down inside, they like the feeling of “being needed”. Problem is, they confuse “want to” with “need to”.

The most successful managers I know, whether they’re in sales or not, never seem rushed. When I ask them about why that is, most tell me they have a system in place. Some block out chunks of time on their calendar for Not Urgent/Important stuff. Some say “no” to everything that is not essential, Some are masters at delegating. Some only handle email three times per day, for 20 minutes at a time. And some even choose to disappear from the office entirely on certain days (mostly Fridays).

All of them have one thing in common: they have a method in place for managing their priorities, instead of letting their priorities manage them.

#5. Delegate. Automate. Terminate.

Over time, tasks, priorities and actions can creep up on us. Someone asks us to do something once, and before we know it, it’s become part of our daily workload. We decide to try something for a while, and continue doing it with consciously questioning whether it’s working out for us.

Over time, these small things can creep up, resulting in a daunting schedule and the feeling of never being caught up. There’s always more to do.

Which is why, four times per year, at the end of each quarter, I spend half a day reviewing what I’ve done for the past three months, and deciding whether I should keep doing it, or find some other way to get it done.

Read that last part again. Most of us equate “this needs to be done” with “I need to do this”. Not so.

If you carefully review your activities on a weekly or monthly basis, I bet you’ll find many opportunities to:

Delegate – for routine tasks, or things that don’t directly play to your strengths, I strongly recommend delegating. If you’ve got staff, ask them to do it for you. If you don’t, get an outsourcer or colleague.

Automate – many things can be automated, either fully or in part. Completing Excel sheets, updating CRM systems or deal reviews can all be automated partly or wholly. And they’re hugely time-consuming. Which means there are massive benefits to be gained from temporarily reviewing them, and finding ways to automate.

Terminate – once we look closely, there are many things that don’t need doing at all. Some prospects and deals aren’t worth spending our time on. Some prospecting or lead generation activities don’t pay off. Some meetings just don’t require our attendance. Deciding what to stop doing can be just as important as deciding what to start doing.

So there you go – five simple rules to live by if you want to stop feeling overwhelmed, constantly busy and under pressure.

  1. Start at the beginning
  2. Focus. Focus.
  3. Give your clients 110%
  4. Manage your time instead of letting it manage you
  5. Automate. Terminate