“Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.” I bet I don’t even have to say the name of the movie as you know who made this line famous. What I will say is that while Forrest Gump is admirable in so many ways, I would tell him life is only like that if you’re not the chocolate factory in control of what goes into the box. In other words, if you don’t control the input, you will definitely not control the output. It doesn’t have to be that way.
This leads us to the 3 “L’s”: Lifecycle Leads Liaison
Lifecycle. As a sales leader or business owner, you’ve come across the concept of customer lifecycle. The 5 steps usually address the following: reach, acquire, nurture, retention and advocacy. And while I do want to spend some time on what I believe are the 2 most important steps, nurture and retention, I want to point out that this lifecycle can also be applied to your sales team.
Clients first. The first 2 steps in client acquisition are absolutely relevant as you must reach your clients in the place and on the platform they prefer to be met and wooing them the first time they buy from you takes real effort. But it is the nurture and retention pieces that so often get overlooked. Here’s why. A client comes on board, and they are actually satisfied with your product or service. So, you don’t really hear from them because there is nothing wrong, per se. No news is good news, right? WRONG. I’d argue it’s opportunity costs. They know you, the see and understand your value. And because you are putting out fires internally or chasing the next big fish in your pipeline, you totally ignore them. You are losing out on the chance to make them keep feeling important. You are missing out on the opportunity to broaden or deepen the relationship. You are also missing out on the chance to offer them more of your services, to get them further engrained into your offerings and value proposition.
Guess what else? Your competition, because they are still in the reach and acquire courting phase, are reaching out to your client. Time and again. And they are doing everything they can to woo your clients away from you and over to themselves – it’s their job to do that, and you can bet they are laser focused on it. So, I would advise you spend as much time on the nurture and retention as you feel is appropriate based on your normal interaction cycle with clients. More isn’t always better, but something always trumps nothing.
One more thought before I move on to your team. Advocacy, the most profitable step in the five, will never be a possibility without the proper time and attention paid to the nurturing and retention steps being done with purpose and consistency.
Your team. Just like with your clients, your team needs the same kind of TLC when it comes to their lifecycle with you. You find them in the marketplace (reach), you bring them on and invest in them (acquire), then you slap them with numbers, metrics and goals. All part of the course, they will know that as seasoned salespeople. But as I’ve mentioned before, the word “people” in salespeople needs your attention. That means you should have a documented, consistent approach to nurturing and retaining them. Nothing can cripple a company more than when the best salesperson submits their resignation for a better offer when the company had no idea it was coming. Almost always it means they are off to one of your competitors, with all the knowledge, training, and relationships they acquired during their time with you.
Leads. One would think that there would be a universal definition for a word this simple. The reality is that it means very different things to different people. And while I can see some need to tailor based on product, service, industry, etc., this is one of those times where simple is best. I would also advise you get a very clear picture of what is REALLY a lead and what is only a figment of imagination. You need to be able to qualify quickly and make a decision. The reality is that most of the “pipelines” I’ve seen over the years, are 50% or more filled with hogwash. The salesperson isn’t necessarily doing anything dishonest, it’s not that at all. It just that they haven’t been given any clear criteria by which to follow and justify if a prospect makes the pipeline list or they don’t. Worse yet, they spend valuable time chasing some of them because of the potential commission that could be tied to such an account, and the reality is it doesn’t have any real chance of ever coming in.
My recommendation is not only to have clear-cut criteria, but also to train your team on when to cut a prospect loose. Here’s a hint, and something that works well for our team – if a prospect has hung on the pipeline too long without any real movement towards close, make it a practice to just ask them if they intend to do something or not. Sometimes giving them the assurance it is OK to tell you nothing is going to materialize will be the opening they need to just be candid with you and you can get them off your books and, more importantly your salesperson can move on to more productive things.
Liaison. This “L” has two aspects, one internal and the other external. As always, let’s focus on the prospects and clients first. It is important that your organization has an internal champion for each prospect and each client. The liaison role should be the initial “mouthpiece” for your brand in the courting phase and then should grow into a relational rapport builder as the prospect moves from your pipeline to your bottom line as a client. Consistency in the experience for the client is key here, especially if you hand the client from one team member (sales) to another (operations). The experience, the message, and the quality of care need to be consistent.
As for the internal aspect, you should consider a similar approach in the consistency and you should think about dedicated personnel who are good bridge builders and can deliver messages consistently to your team. In an ideal world, most interactions you have with your sales team will be in person, but for the time when that can’t be the case, make sure you have someone who is an ally to both ownership and to the team – things will be better received and, more importantly, accepted by your team.
Put people first, use the 3 “L’s” as they can benefit you best, and know that I am here to help or just chat, should you ever want to discuss what’s best for your team.
To raising all ships!
P.S. Be sure to join us next week when we talk about the 3 M’s – Mutli-Channel, Meetings, Metrics