How to improve your sales performance (updated for 2019)

Sales is considered to be one of the toughest jobs in any industry. With growing customer expectations, keeping up the momentum to beat the competition has become challenging. However, it is also one of the hottest jobs out there. According to weforum.org, more specialized sales people will be required by 2020. Also in USA alone – as per the statistics of United States Department of Labor – sales jobs are going to grow by 9.4%  by 2026. This encourages more people to take up sales related roles. But how do you make a difference? How do you ensure consistent performance? 

That is what I am going to cover in this article. This is not a step by step activity guide, but rather a list of actions you need to take to enhance your sales performance. 

How to improve your sales performance

1. Stay organized and planned

Well, you might be wondering how this contributes to your success in sales. You might not know it, but staying organized helps in time management, improved clarity of thought and ease of work. 

Most of the times, we do not realize how much time we waste unnecessarily on activities like looking for a pen in our bag, search for a file in our computer or find a piece of paper from our office wardrobe. If you are organized, that will save you atleast 10 minutes a day. 

I know what you are thinking. 10 minutes is not much. Is it? But 10 minutes a day convert to more than 60 hours an year. Wouldn’t you rather spend that time hunting your prospects, putting together a sales pitch or preparing your target list? 

Planning and organizing your thoughts also help you articulate your idea well to the customer. You will also be able to promptly react and respond to customer queries. 

2. Put yourself into the shoes of the customer 

A customer never thinks like a service provider or seller. His major concern would be how using your product or service is going to make his personal or professional life better. So learn to think like a customer. Think what you would look for in a service provider, if you were a customer. List down the major pain points and business needs of the customer. 

All the above will help you to ‘think customer’ before you ‘think revenue’.

3. Address specific customer needs and objectives 

Never throw motherhood statements at the customer. Be specific with your approach or solution. Be it a product or service, it has to serve a specific/set of specific needs of your customer.

For example, if you are a logistics company pitching your services to a customer seeking support to carry inflammable materials, focus only on your experience and capabilities in that area. Don’t spend more time on aspects like your overall capabilities in logistics services, financial performance, company legacy etc. A 20/80 (20% time on generic stuff and 80% on specific needs) split is recommended to maximize efficient utilization of your time. 

4. Listen to your customer 

It is never a good idea to assume what your customer wants. What I personally do is to have a customer speak session at the beginning of every business meeting. This helps you to be clear on customer expectation and tailor your pitch accordingly. I have seen this greatly work in the favor of the sales person.

When it comes to a physical product, listening to your customer is about gauging their interests and preferences. Do your research, conduct surveys and focus group studies or resort to any other method that you find suitable to your business. Make sure you understand your customer, so that you can create products that sell. 

5. Ask questions when you have to 

Asking questions is not about doing it for the sake of it. Do it to understand the customer  requirements. This is an extension of points #3 and #4. 

In fact, prepare a list of questions before you interact with the client on areas where you need more info or clarity. If required, break down your questions into different topics. You might also want to consider sharing the questions with the customer in advance.

But how do you use this if you are a company that manufactures a physical product or FMCG?

Establish customer touch points where you can directly interact with your existing or potential customer. This could include market research, panel discussions, product expos & exhibitions etc. 

6. Grow your network

I don’t have to explain why this is important. The more connections you have, more likely it is for you to get new business. Your network could be of three types

  • Customers or prospects
  • Peers in the industry or outside
  • Business leaders and colleagues

One common mistake when it comes to growing network is to establish formal relationships alone. Connecting with people at a personal and emotional level helps to develop trust and commitment, which becomes a  very critical decision making factor. 

7. Provide a custom solution 

If your weeks and months of efforts chasing a customer need to pay off, you need to give the customer much more than a generic off the shelf solution, unless they are specifically looking for such. Steps #2, #4 & #5 would have helped you to understand the current pain points and problems of your customer. Make use of that information to modify your solution to suit their priorities. This will act as a key differentiator for you and might as well help you win a deal. 

This will also apply to personalized products. Mass personalization focuses on creating a product (or service) that perfectly caters to the needs of a group of customers. An example would be a digital company having your location information sending you popup notifications containing suggestions on what you can buy or where you can shop, based on your location and shopping preferences. This is a perfect example for providing a solution that will interest a consumer. 

8. Classify and prioritize your target list

As a part of your sales exercise, you usually create a list of – or identify – your target customers. If you try to go after every single company (if you are in B2B) in that list, you are wasting your fruitful time. You already know this. And you know how to narrow down that huge list to a fewer prospects or group of prospects. 

But you want to improve your conversion rate. Don’t you?

For this you have to go one step further. Out of the few companies you plan to target, pick 2 or 3 priority customers you prefer to focus on. The criteria to choose will depend on your business objectives. For example, if your goal is to improve your top line, you might want to target large companies that would give you large deals. This could help to give quick boost to your revenue.

9. Learn to hit the sweet spot

Every customer has preferences. And definitely there are 2 or 3 points that will wow a customer. It is for the sales person to use his judgement abilities to identify such factors. You have to use your interactions with the customer, insights from your peers and your experience to include those levers in your service offering. You can try to identify those levers in terms of the following buckets. 

  • Services you offer
  • Method of delivery 
  • Contribution to business planning and strategy
  • Innovation and future plans

In a B2C scenario, the levers will be different. You can use the following categories to do the same.

  • Preferred product features and functionalities 
  • Price
  • Ease of access to the product
  • Gaps in existing products

10. Don’t just speak, but articulate

This is very obvious. Speaking is not going to get your business. Communicating your selling points properly to your potential customer is key to acquiring them. Make sure you put forth your thoughts in a logical sequence. Share your wisdom, knowledge and experience to bring out the articulator in you. 

You can look at communication techniques to learn how to speak and articulate smart. It is always a good idea to plan and prepare your presentation. Also, try practicing it to improve your confidence and conviction.  

11. Make your sales pitches special 

You have hundreds of other sales people competing with you in your geography and industry. Your potential customer might be meeting more than 20 such sales guys every year. And it is very likely that they are offering the same set of services or similar products like you do. Given this, your pitch is one of the best ways to stand out.

An ideal pitch would be concise, to the point and well articulated. You can choose to have your own style and method of delivering the pitch. But have a look at how to make a good sales pitch to understand the essential elements of a sales pitch and learn how to make it different.

12. Follow up, follow up and follow up

Sales job demands you to literally chase a potential customer. And 1 out of a million times will you make a deal in the first business meeting. And it is not for those who lose hope quickly. Studies show that 80% of potential opportunities are lost just because there was no follow up. So you got to ensure that you keep the lead warm by regularly following up with the customer. 

Sending a regular follow up email might not always work. Instead, give something of value to the customer when you communicate with him or her. You may share the brochure of a useful product/service you are selling. Or you can give him access to an exclusive webinar. I am sure you can come up with more creative ways to interest your prospect. 

13. Be honest and present yourself as a collaborator 

You don’t have to be 100% honest. You know that doesn’t help in the business world, but you can still argue with me on ethical grounds:-)

What I mean here is that, don’t be too secretive about everything to the customer. Be open to sharing non-conifdential info with him. I have tried this tactic and it works. You can use phrases like ‘frankly speaking’, ‘to tell you the truth’ etc. to make it more believable. The intent here is to make the customer have more confidence in you. . 

For B2C, you can use this tactic in your advertisements. For example, if you are a biscuit manufacturing company, you could include snapshots of your biscuit factory to prove that you have a state of the art facility that complies with all the government regulations. 

14. Continuous learning 

Knowledge is never enough and learning should never stop. Learning could be at various levels as given below:

  • Corporate affairs: learning different streams of business such as marketing, HR, finance, quality compliance, legal function etc
  • Domain: understanding your industry
  • Business strategy: understanding strategic nuances of your business
  • Products and services: knowing your company’s products and services
  • Industry trends, news and latest technology 

Indulge yourself in continuous learning to stay updated and keep up with increasing demands from customer and your own business. 

15. Competition analysis 

It is needless to say that it is important to keep an eye on your competition. Analyzing your competition can help in the following ways:

  • Learn from their mistakes 
  • Borrow ideas that have worked for them
  • Learn effective ways of positioning and promoting your product and services
  • Develop an urge of growth and competition in you

You may refer A look at the benefits of competitive analysis to know more. 

Competition analysis is a useful technique when it comes to deciding your key differentiators. If you position yourself just like your competitors do, you might be lost in the cloud of companies. Think of what you can provide your customers with, that your competition cannot, and bring that up in your customer interactions. This is an effective way of leveraging competition analysis to your advantage.

That covers my 15 tips to enhance your sales performance. This is not an exhaustive list. You can come up with your own. Please feel free to leave comment to share your views.

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