January 31, 2009

What are sales people doing to make their sales meetings more effective?

Here is what sales people are doing to make their sales meetings more effective:

Present later and only when you have a full understanding of the customer’s requirements. There are many types of sales meetings. The least effective (particularly at the early stages) are sales presentations, where the sales person is expected to present details of his/her company and product, often using a slide show.

Demo later and do it better. Doing a demo too early generally means you are less in control of the outcome and that includes managing customer expectations. Presenting a demo before the customer’s business drivers, product requirements, background, etc. are established makes it difficult to ensure that your demo hits the mark. It often results demos that focus on features, as opposed to benefits.

Talk less and listen more. If you are talking more than 50% of the time in any sales meetings you have a problem, and in initial meetings you will want to spend more than 75% of the time listening. That is the only way you can establish needs, build rapport, etc.

Ask more questions and better questions. Questions that illuminate the customer’s wants and needs, criteria, decision making process, etc. Questions that invite direct answers, even if they are negative,‘is this a good time for you to consider this solution’, ‘is this price range within your budget’, or ‘have you ever done business with a company of our size before’. Questions that will prequalify the customer in terms of; budget, authority, timing and need.

Do a more structured needs analysis, taking the customer systematically through a process of clarifying business needs and priorities with the prospect that identifies unanticipated needs, that builds; understanding, concensus and tension for change. It also enables the seller to uncover hidden motivations, understand personal and political motivations and build a quantifiable business case.

Tell more stories of how other customer have benefited from your solutions, focusing in particular on the impact on the performance of their business. Customer success stories, particularly when validated by customer quotes, have a greater impact than almost anything else.

Set expectations and agree realistic objectives. What do you want to get out of the next sales meeting? What is the customer expecting? Too often sales people go to a sales meeting expecting to sell, while at the same time buyers arrive expecting to be sold to. Managing expectations is key, for example a salesperson might say ‘I’d like to listen so as to understand your requirements and thereafter I will go away and formulate some ideas that we could discuss at a future meeting and there after prepare a proposal if that is something that makes sense…’. Have a clear next step in mind is important, including a minimum expectation of what you would want from the prospect (e.g. another meeting, documentation, etc.) in order to advance further.

Prepare, plan and pre-qualify. A meeting that lasts for an hour, if it is to be effective, requires 2, or more hours preparation, follow-up and follow-thru. That includes; confirming who is to attend, clarifying expectations for the meeting, researching the company and its industry, preparing your list of questions, as well as answers to objections, etc.

Taking better notes in meetings and more systematically following up with those that have been met. They are adopting a keep in touch, or relationship mindset.

Working better as a team - too many cooks spoil the broth, the same is true of selling. Too often when 2, or more people it is vitally important that they work well together, that each has a role (there is one person leading the meeting), that each person decides what areas/questions he/she will address, how one will communicate too the other during the meeting (e.g. a signal to suggest moving on, etc).

Stop selling and start acting like an expert. That means adopting a consultative approach, helping the customer to uncover problems and explore solutions. Demonstrating your expertise and knowledge of not just your products, but the customers industry/business/challenges and how they are being addressed by others.

Win Rates: How Managers are Planning to Boost or Maintain The Level of Success

Pressure on win rates is mounting, with increased competition, together with longer and more complex buying processes to blame.

Maintaining or increasing win rates is a priority for practically every sales manager.  It is expressed in lots of different ways however – ranging improving the quality of sales leads, to more effective sales proposals. 

An overall win rates is the sum of conversion rates at each stage of the sales process – from leads to sales meetings, from meetings to sales cycles, from cycles to orders and finally from initial orders to repeat customers.  In other words potentially everything that a sales person, does and does not do, can impact on win rates.

Here are what Sales Managers identify as the top 6 priorities in terms of maintaining or boosting win rates:

1.       Better quality sales leads (including prequalification and nurturing to sales readiness)

2.       More effective sales meetings (with a multiple meeting approach and fewer presentations)

3.       A more sophisticated, structured and systematic approach to sales cycles (including building relationships, selling higher and wider, a bi-lateral approach, etc.)

4.       Approaching getting the order in a new way, with a gradual gaining of commitment,

5.       Involving the customer in proposal development and avoiding 'surprises'

6.       Moving from being a 'supplier' to 'strategic partner' to ensure repeat sales

Sound like a major challenge?  Well, all it takes is a 3% increase in conversion rates at each of the stages above, in order to double the rate of sales growth in most organisations.   Thus, we recommend starting with the easy areas to improve (e.g. a new sales presenter, some sales training, a sales database, etc.) and continuous (if modest) improvements over time.


More People Involved in Buying Decisions Means More Work for Salespeople

One to one selling is a thing of the past. That is because in most purchase decisions involve between 4 and 6 people. In a time of greater risk and uncertainly the numbers involved grows, with some research suggesting a 16 percent increase in the last year alone.

The bad news, of course, is the more people involved means longer sales cycles and more complex buying processes. Bottom line it means more uncertainty for the salesperson, as well as lots more work.

At its simplest, more people involved in buying decisions requires more meetings and presentations. After all, if you are only dealing with one, or two people then you are neglecting between 50% and 75% of those who will determine if you get the order.

So here are some questions to establish if your sales approach is covering the buying unit:

1. Has the buying group been identified? Has it been covered?

Just as there is a team involved on the buying side, sales people need to adopt a team based approach to selling. In particular, executive to executive selling, matching the different members of your team to the relevant person in the buying organization. For example, your CTO

talking to their CTO, etc.

2. Are you selling high enough?

Are you selling high enough in the target organisation? Does our contacts manager know us? Has there been

contact at CEO, CTO, COO, etc. level? Are our contacts sufficiently senior?

Take care that your sales proposition will resonate with senior management, for whom feature led messages are not of interest.

Generally selling higher requires a changes of language and emphasis to focus on business impact and the business case for your solution.

3. Are you selling wide enough?

Have you a clear picture of who will make and influence the purchase decision, as well as all those who will be affected by it.

Have you had sufficient contact with these various individuals – the economic buyer – the technical buyer – the business driver - the end user, etc?

It is important to tailoring your approach to each level and each function. For example, the CTO requires a different type of information and approach that the CFO.

4. Do you have an Internal Advocate, or Champion?

Have you identified the internal champion for this project in the customers company? Does this person regularly contact us for information and advice? Have you built a strong relationship of trust with him/her?

Conversely, who has the potential to sabotage your sales effort (e।g. who in the organization may feel threatened by your proposition)? How can this threat be managed?

It is dangerous to assume that you know who is going to make the purchase decision. It can mean that you focus your sales efforts on the wrong people, or o

verlook some of those who are important.

The Imporance of Relationship Selling

Most complex sales are predicated on relationships. That is the ability of the sales person to build a rapport, credibility and trust with the buyer. Yes, buyers are looking for the best solution, but it is certainly not always the most feature rich, or functionally sophisticated product that wins.

For what is a great product, if you don't know and trust the people who are going to help you implement it? Time and again people buy on the basis of people and company, ahead of product, or solution.

When we talk about the relationship between buyers and sellers we talk about 3 dimensions; height, width and dept. If you are planning to close a deal any time soon, then you will need to be sure that you rate highly on each:

Height - are you talking to people at the right level – that is C level (CTO, COO, CEO, etc.) and have you got their attention and respect? Have we 'CEO proofed' our message – that is tailored it to address the key business drivers of concern to senior managers (e.g. costs, sales, etc).

Width – are you talking to all the right people, that is covering the buying group, including; the decision maker(s), economic buyer, technical buyer, user, etc. Do we really know and understand the requirements and concerns of each? Have these been adequately addressed?

Depth – how deep is the respect, trust, credibility and rapport? Are you seen as a salesperson, or an expert? Are you a seen as a trusted advisor? How open is the buyer with you, and visa versa? How much time and genuine interaction has there been? Has there been any contact outside of formal meetings, or interactions? Have we demonstrated a genuine commitment to helping the customer?

Sales people and their managers find it very useful to analyze both existing accounts and sales opportunities along this revealing 3 dimensional relationship scale.

The focus has changed from transactions to relationships, but the way we sell has been slower to change. Relationships cannot be fast-tracked - an investment in building relationships requires a long term view (well beyond the next sales meeting, or this quarter's sales target). The era of the one meeting sale is long over and work on building the relationship really needs to happen long before an request for a proposal, or RFI is received.

Don’t forget to ‘CEO Proof’ your sales proposition

Every body knows that buying decisions are increasingly being made at higher levels. And it is not just a matter of senior executives rubber stamping decisions made by their lower level managers. In times of increased risk and uncertainty, senior managers are steering all significant purchase decisions.

But is selling to a CEO, or a CTO, different to selling to a mid-level manager? It sure is. Just as the view from the top floor of the company's offices is different to that at ground level, the agenda of the C level executive is different to that of more junior management.

1. They are focused on the strategic impact of any purchase on the performance of the organization. In particular they tend to take a broader strategic view, focusing more clearly on issues of business performance, key business benefits and, of course; the business case.

2. They are likely to be less interested in the detail – the features and functions, for example, but more concerned with business impact, levels of risk, return on investment, supplier credibility, etc.

3. They may even use a different language – the language of strategy, business drivers, key performance indicators, return on investment, total cost of ownership, etc. They quickly bin traditional brochureware looking instead for quantifiable

All these distinctions add further impetus to the move from selling products, technologies and features to selling solutions, their benefits and their business impact. We refer to it as 'CEO Proofing' the sales message, proposition, or proposal.

The air gets thinner the higher you climb in an organization, so too does the span of attention of the executives, the drive for results and, of course, the difficulty of climbing (by that I mean accessibility, including getting past the PA to talk to the executive in the first place).

To get attention at C Level you need to be able to quickly communicate in a compelling way how your solution can help achieve higher levels of performance in some key area of concern. You are going to need to back up that statement by citing other companies you have helped, telling stories of success and quantifying the benefits.

Do you have a Winning Sales Organization?

Want to get a fix on how your sales team compares with sales organizations internationally?  Are you interested in the top sales challenges and the characteristics of those that are demonstrating the fastest rates of growth?  

Well, Miller Heimann annual study of more than 2000 sales organisations has the answers,profiling some of the key characteristics of winning sales organisations - organisations that enjoy 20% annual growth..

I have interpreted some of the key emphases from the 2008 study, looking in particular to those areas relevant to sales managers in the UK and Ireland (and consistent with our own benchmarking data for sales managers in the British Isles).

Based on the characteristics here are some of the key strategies for winning sales organisations:

1.       Getting Senior Management More Involved in supporting sales and an executive to executive selling

2.       Getting Sales and Marketing Working Better Together

3.       Adopting a more systematic approach to managing sales opportunities

4.       Communicating a More Compelling Sales Proposition

5.       Bridging the performance gap between the best and the poorest sales person

6.       A Comprehensive Plan for Prospecting

7.       Understanding & appreciating the results achieved by customers

8.       Win-loss analysis / feedback

9.       Engage strategic accounts in product / service planning 

January 30, 2009

Find out what the customer wants and give it to him, or her

The best advice in sales and marketing is the simplest: find out what the customer wants and give it to him, or her.

Sounds simple, but what if the customer does not necessarily know what he, or she wants? How exactly do you get inside the head of the customer to find out what he, or she is thinking? And are customers really willing to be involved in questionnaires and market research? How many people should I talk to, to find out?

We hear those questions a lot, particularly in respect of new products, or markets, so lets have a go at answering them:

What if the customer does not necessarily know what he, or she wants? Excellent question. Often the customer does not know what he, or she wants, until it is presented to them. To address this problem present the customer with something tangible that he, or she can react to, that is a visual, prototype, or mock-up (of the product itself, or of a brochure). Present the customer with what you think he, or she wants in order to find out exactly what is needed. And if you are not sure what he/she might need in advance of asking, pull together as much as you can about competitors, the market, etc.

How exactly do you get inside the head of the customer to find out what he, or she is thinking? Again the answer is similar - show something. Give the customer something to react to - it is easier for people (particularly when you have a limited time and attention) to react to something and say yeap, I see what you are offering, I like that bit and that bit, but what I would need to see also is this.... and have you thought of this... etc.

Show something and then ask if that is what they want, and is there anything that they need that it does not do, what features would be most important, what reporting suite should it integrate with, what is the criteria before getting on to their network, what is the process for evaluating new products, suppliers, etc.

And are customers really willing to involved in questionnaires and market research? Well, people are very busy and do tend to be shy of questionnaires. That is not helped by the fact that many people have bad experiences of surveys - having been asked to participate in a short survey to find that it takes 30 minutes, or ends up as an excuse to sell to us. On the other hand, most people like to help where they can and do like to give their opinions.

Can you rely on what the customer says in forecasting sales potential? Well, the answer is yes and no. All too often vague answers from uninformed potential customers are taken literally and then inputed to sales forecasts - 30% of customers said they were interested in the solution, or would consider buying, ends up being a sales forecast. There is more on this subject here .

How many people should I talk to? Well, there is a trade off to be made here. You could talk to lots of people and ask them questions, but while a larger sample generally means greater scientific accuracy, it often is at the cost of the depth of information gathered (e.g. lots of yes and no answers, but little detail). On the other hand you could talk to a smaller number and getting a real understanding of their needs, attitudes, buying behavours, etc.

What is very important however (and often overlooked) is to talk to the right people - for example talking to 5 CTOs may be much better than talking to 50 software developers, or vice versa, depending on your requirements. Generally, however there are two good rules of thumb - don't just talk to the people you know (it may not be as easy for them to be objective) and dont settle for less than somewhere between 10 and 30.

So, find out what the customer needs and give it to him is still the best advice going. However, some considerable degree of care is required in order to successfully put this advice into practice.

January 29, 2009

How to make better marketing decisions

A sales person just called with an amazing offer on display space at a show, or massive savings on advertising in the next issue.   It can be very tempting.  But, too often decisions regarding marketing expenditure are made without the right information.   

The marketing budget is limited, but there are lots of ways to spend it.  You cannot back them all, but how to pick the winners?

Over the years we have found that the probability of success of any piece of marketing can be assessed in respect of the following key questions:

1.       What is the Objective?

2.       What is the right Audience?

3.       What is the right Message?

4.       What is the Medium, or mix of Media?

5.       What is the right Timing?

6.       What is the Budget and what Return is anticipated?

7.       What is the Testing before implementation?

8.       What is the process for Measurement & Review once underway?

9.       How does it fit into the bigger picture, or overall strategy/plan?

Apply these questions every time you are faced with a decision as to where to allocate scare sales and marketing resources.  Then let the answers guide you in selecting the right advertising, events, publicity, direct mail and other activities for your business.

January 21, 2009

The word is...

100 blog posts later and we look back to see what words appeared most prominently. Well here they are presented in a word cloud by Wordle.net. No suprises!
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January 14, 2009

Advice for Selling in International Markets

We asked managers for their top tips on doing business abroad or entering a new market.  Here is the advice they offered:

1.       Do you homework  - What is the opportunity? How big is it?  How to exploit it? How long will it take?  What will it cost?  Overestimating the potential and underestimating the cost / time required is all too common.  Relying on market research is just not enough.

2.       Spend time in the marketplace – there is no substitute for being on the ground and getting to know the people and the market - it is the different between knowing a market and knowing about a market.

3.       Be clear on your proposition / unique advantage in the market.  That requires that you understand competitors and how they compare.  It is important not to try to be everything, but instead to focus in on a few important areas on which you will differentiate yourself.  The importance of that first reference customer in the market / segment cannot be underestimated.

4.       Develop a target list based on a clear customer profile.  Don’t try to appeal to everyone, instead target a particular type of customer for which your solutions have a particular advantage.  Searching out, of course, those segments, or niches that are most attractive and amenable (e.g. least competitive, highest margins, etc.) for your business at this time.

5.       Test the reaction – it is not via research that markets are validated, it is by on the ground sales activity - only then will you know, or understand the requirements of the market and its potential for success.  Be prepared to adapt, or change your approach based on what the market tells you.

6.       Localise your approach – What works at home may not work abroad.  So:

a.       Tailor your proposition, adapting your product/service to local needs, tastes and customs. 

b.      Beware of self reference criterion – those in the local market see things differently to you. 

c.       Yes, the world is increasingly global, but don’t overlook local differences, as well as customs and traditions.   

d.      Speak the language (even where english is widely used) and have a local telephone number, etc.

7.       Develop a local partner – building a base of local contacts is very important, including linkages with complementary service / product providers and where possible partnering with a local organization to overcome the newcomer, or outsider objection.  Of course partnering can be a major challenge, depending on a co-incidence of needs and priorities, as well as the right fit of personalities, ambitions and cultures.  It cannot be fast-tracked and will inevitably involve disappointments and set-backs.

8.       Adopt a long term view – make a commitment to the market, sales cycles are what they are and building relationships is an essential requirement that will take time.  Don’t let it appear that you have just parachuted in for business, show that you are committed to the market. 

9.       Have a plan, this is essential to setting and managing expectations, clearly focusing energies and resources, assessing progress and generally maximizing the potential for success.  Its not about a document, but a blueprint for action – delineating who is doing what and when, as well as the result expected.

10.   Invest in sales and marketing.  ‘You get out what you put in’ when it comes to time and money spent on sales and marketing, that is, of course, it is spent well.  There is a certain critical mass in terms of the commitment of time and resources to a new market.  Delay a decision regarding a new market, or the number of new markets, until management can devote sufficient time and commitment to it.

January 13, 2009

Key Sales Related Challenges in the IT Services Marketplace

We have spent a lot of time over the past two years talking to buyers, as well as sales people and their mangers in the IT services industry in the UK and Ireland..   Here is what we see as the Key Sales Related Challenges in the IT Services Marketplace:

1.  1. The global downturn adds to the attractiveness of the offering to the market place, and there are few organizations that don't believe that they could get more from IT for less.  Most suppliers are not selling high enough in their target organisations to take advantage of this.

2.  2. There is a race to the bottom, with increasing price pressure and erosion of margins.  The bottom end of the market is the most competitive and margins are very tight.  Average order values are low.   In our view the sales strategies and processes being adopted by most companies are not enough to develop the top end of the market.

3.  3. The message from many suppliers is very similar, making it hard to stand out.   It is hard for buyers to distinguish between those suppliers offering higher levels of service (and with correspondingly higher prices) and those with low prices and a basic service.  Cheapest is not best, not by a long shot, but how to educate buyers?  How to quantify and communicate the value?

4.  4. Allied to the challenges of standing apart from competitors, there appears to be little segmentation, or specialization by vertical.   For example, are the needs of a large law practice different to those of an engineering company?  In reality, maybe they are, maybe they are not.  However, each buyer likes to think the needs of his business and industry are special.

5.  5. The search for 'a product' is on – a productized follow-on sale to the customer that can increase the average value of the sale, or deepen the customer relationship.  The move from day rates to value based pricing has been slow.

6.  6. Many organizations are focused on selling products and services, as opposed to solutions.  In particular, suppliers are not helping managers build the business case for out-sourcing, but seem to be focused on selling point solutions, such as remote monitoring, remote back up, etc.  Cross selling and up selling are key opportunities.

     7. For most, their relationships with big vendors (e.g. HP, IBM, etc.) don't in isolation generate very many leads, or enquiries.  Building and maintaining a healthy pipeline is the Number One challenge for most in the industry, particular those with customer retention issues and low order values.

January 10, 2009

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Is your marketing profitable?

Is your marketing profitable? A straight-forward question, you might think. But, then again maybe not - perhaps it takes 552 pages written by an eminent professor to illuminate the payback from marketing. Well, read the review of A review of ‘Marketing Payback’ by Robert Shaw and David Merrick to find out.

The authors tell us that such words as; ‘unaccountable’, ‘untouchable’, ‘expensive’ and ‘slippery’ are commonly used to describe marketing. This grim reality is certain to upset any marketing professional.Measuring the effectiveness of marketing has been on the agenda for some time.

However, when Phillip Kotler - a name known to almost every student of marketing for over quarter of a century - puts his endorsement on the cover of a book about marketing's payback you know the idea is about to become mainstream....

...read the book review.
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January 08, 2009

There is no such thing as the perfect sales candidate

Recruting sales people is one of the riskiest decisions any manager can make and most managers will be selecting the wrong salesperson 1 time in 4 when they add to their sales team.  

Here is one of the key reasons: it is not about hiring a great salesperson, or finding the person that can 'sell sand to the arabs'. 

Success requires finding the right salesperson for your organisation given its size, resources and culture and the particular sales and marketing opportunities and challenges facing your company at this particular time in a specific market. 

For example, will a successful sales person from a large organisation such as IBM be successfull in a small organisations where they do not have the brand, marketing, lead generation and pre-sales support they are used to.

Will a proven deal closer be successful in an early stage organisation where opening doors and generating leads is the requirements.  

There is no one best, ideal or perfect sales candiate.  Getting a clearer fix on requirements is the first step to increasing the chances of success. 

Or can a sales person who has a proven track record of closing big deals succeed in a role where there will be no deals to be closed until 6-10 month of ground work is done in terms of building target lists, cold calling companies, first meetings, etc.

The Sales Persons New Role: Helping Buyers to Buy

One of the hottest sales topics in the past number of years has been the issue of sales process.   That is because all the research suggesting that organizations with a defined sales process outsell their counterparts by 10-20%.

But just as most organizations don’t have a defined sales process, many buyers don’t have a formal, or structured approach to buying.

The sales person wants the buyer to make the right decision and select the best solution (which hopefully is his/her), but even if the solution is right and the lack of a proper buying process can result in the wrong decision.

The job of the salesperson is to help the buyer to buy; that is not just to influence the buyer, but also the buying process.  That is key to setting him/herself up for success.

That means the salesperson’s job is to help the buyer to determine and clarify; requirements (explicit and implicit), information needs, selection criteria, business case, key stages in the buying process, etc.

The ideas is that the right buying process, criteria and the information, maximizes the chances of the right decision for both the sales person and the buyer.

A friend and mentor of mine, in spite of a long and very successful sales career, was fond of proclaiming that he was ‘a poor sales person’’.  He elaborated ‘I am a poor salesperson - that is why I have to make it easy for the customer to buy’.  A wise approach indeed.

10 reasons to ditch your spreadsheets and employ a SFA/CRM system

Increasingly managers complain about the difficulty of accurately predicting what deals will close and when. However in spite of a more complex sales environment, most organizations still rely on spreadsheets to manage opportunities and forecast sales.

This short article outlines some of the key reasons why a more sophisticated approach is required.


1. Forecast accuracy inevitably suffers… 

2. Spreadsheet-based analyses are more subjective… 

3. Too much time is spent on reporting

4.  Ineffective sales meetings

5. Spreadsheets don’t trigger actions in a diary 

6. Managers should have dashboards at hand 

For more click here…

‘Is Your Marketing Profitable?’

Is your marketing profitable? A straight-forward question, you might think. But, then again maybe not - perhaps it takes 552 pages written by an eminent professor to illuminate the payback from marketing.  Well, read the review of A review of ‘Marketing Payback’ by Robert Shaw and David Merrick to find out.

The authors tell us that such words as; ‘unaccountable’, ‘untouchable’, ‘expensive’ and ‘slippery’ are commonly used to describe marketing. This grim reality is certain to upset any marketing professional.

Measuring the effectiveness of marketing has been on the agenda for some time. However, when Phillip Kotler - a name known to almost every student of marketing for over quarter of a century - puts his endorsement on the cover of a book about marketing's payback you know the idea is about to become mainstream....

...read the book review.

What Can Sales Effectiveness Initiatives Deliver?

Managers are finding that focusing on Sales Effectiveness has the potential to accelerate sales growth more immediately than most other activities, or strategies.  Furthermore compared to other strategies, such as the launch of a new product, it generally does not require a major investment. 

For most companies a focus on increased Sales Effectiveness has the potential to double the rate of sales growth.  Moreover, as effectiveness generally implies getting more from existing resources, the impact on margins is often greater.

 A modest 3% increase in conversion rates at each stages of the sales cycle - for example the quality of sales leads, the effectiveness of sales presentations, etc. – is likely to double the rate of sales growth in most organisations. 

 Sales effectiveness is less about ‘a magic bullet’ and more about a series of modest sales process, systems and skills improvements.  These changes, in isolation, might be considered minor, yet the cumulative effect on sales is surprising.  

Tom Peters said excellence is measured in millimetres not kilometres.  This is particularly true in respect of sales effectiveness.  The focus is on continuous and modest ongoing improvement, as opposed to revolutionary or earth-shattering change, in areas such as:

·         Pre-qualification of Leads

·         The effectiveness of sales meetings, or presentations

·         A more structured sales approach

·         Selling skills (e.g. building relationships)

·         Selling higher in target organizations

·         More effective proposals

·         Sales systems to manage leads, opportunities, etc.

The combined effect on sales of small changes in these areas is to significantly impact on overall conversion rates.  Yet, adopting such an incremental approach has the advantage of being easier to implement.