August 11, 2009

How Far Ahead Can You See? The Ability To See Beyond This Quarter is A Key Ingredient of Success.

We are continually looking for the indicators and predicator of both sales success. In this respect we track and analyse the performance of hundreds of companies in order to identify the common characteristics, traits and behaviors that are associated with high levels of performance.

One such ingredient of sales and marketing success is the ability to see beyond this quarter.

It is particularly important in the present market environment, as companies narrow their focus from longer term success to short term survival.

This reaction, although instinctual, means that some companies are making short sighted sales and marketing decisions that will have serious longer term consequences.

Looking One Quarter Ahead.

Let us start with a statement of the obvious - companies that live day by day, or quarter by quarter are less successful than those that are capable of looking one, two, or more quarters out.

Too many companies live in a hand to mouth existence, driven by an economic imperative to keep the bills paid. Other may have the funds available, but lack a coherent strategy, the vision, the confidence that is required. That means they are not, or cannot invest in the longer term. Next quarter and next year are a distraction, rather than a focus of attention.

As an example most managers will agree that sending a whitepaper to a prospect is much more effective than sending a brochure, however, knowing that the former will take some time and effort to prepare, they go for the short term solution and put off a decision on a whitepaper until the next quarter. When next quarter comes the same thing happens again, with the results being achieved suffering as a result.

Why A Long Term Perspective is Key.

A business cannot achieve its long term objectives by simply focusing one quarter at a time. That is because with ever lengthening sales cycles sales and marketing cannot be measured simply in terms of its short term payback.

Here are some of the reasons why taking a longer term view is vital.

1. Generating demand takes time.

Exploiting the full potential of those who are contacted this quarter – assuming they fit the right profile - will require a sustained effort over a period of 3, 6, 10, or 16 months. That means the task is not to just serve existing demand in the marketplace, but to create, or at least shape it.

It is not enough to focus simply on those companies that are actively engaged in a buying decision, or even those with a defined need, or budget. Your sales and marketing effort has to has to address the greater number of companies who exhibit longer term potential, but have latent need that can be nurtured. But that requires a long term investment.

2. Maintaining a Balanced Pipeline involves Multiple Timelines.

Ensuring a balanced pipeline requires action across time horizons:

- Successfully concluding existing sales cycles/opportunities - this quarter and next
- Nurturing those opportunities with the potential to generate sales 3rd or 4th quarters out
- Generating fresh leads, or prospects to go in at the top of the funnel

However, most salespeople admit that they struggle to maintain this balance. In particular, they struggle to balance prospecting with managing opportunities.

The result of a stop-start approach to lead generation is an unbalanced pipeline, or a feast-famine situation.

When the company is busy dealing with a number of opportunities - that commands full attention and distracts from generating or nurturing the leads that will be required next quarter.

That means that when the present opportunities close, or don’t close (as the case may be), there are not enough new opportunities lined up ready and waiting.

As a result the approach to lead generation is reactionary and panic driven.

When the short term crisis is met, the salesperson gets busy again and the cycle repeats itself. Lead generation is dropped and those leads generated and companies met in the last quarter are neglected.

3. Taking a longer term view is essential to ensuring effectiveness.

Too often marketing and sales initiatives are stand alone, as opposed to integrated and consistent.

That means one quarter's efforts do not logically reinforce, or complement those of another. For example the target list for one quarter is not progressively nurtured in each successive quarter.

Some companies may be called once and then put aside if not immediately interested, or ready to meet with a salesperson.

However, the reality is that one contact is never enough and that the chances of one single contact hitting the right person at a time - that is when they are actively pursuing a solution - is small.

However, if a longer term perspective was adopted each successive quarter's marketing activity would compound the previous quarter's, with those companies targeted, for example, being progressively nurtured over time. This multi touch approach is vital to success, with an initial contact by telemarketing, being followed up by an occasional email, an invite to a webinar, etc.

Adopting a longer term perspective, would mean that a marketing campaign could be evaluated not just in terms of number of leads generated this quarter, but also in terms of building the company’s profile in the industry, or the generation of demand.

4. Relationships take time.

Relationships take time to develop. Just as the one meeting close is an illusion so too is the notion of the instant relationship, or immediate credibility and trust. After all, a customer, or prospect cannot trust you until he, or she knows you.

Building relationships requires an ongoing dialogue and interaction over time. Showing interest and commitment before the sales meeting takes place, as well as after the order is won is key. In fact you may win the sale and still be working on the relationship, with the repeat sale as the ultimate prize.

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