Take a look at your top sales performers and I bet you'll see that they all check at least 9 of these boxes! Selling a company’s products or services is not rocket science (unless you’re selling some sort of rocket propulsion technology). However, for a member of your sales team to be successful they need to have the right personality traits. Some of the habits are innate but all can be taught. Investing the time to select the right members of your team will pay high dividends.
At a staffing industry conference I recently attended, I heard a presentation about how technology will replace humans in certain sectors. As the speaker offered examples of jobs that no longer require staffing by a human being, I started to wonder if the role of a business-to-business salesperson would ever become similarly obsolete.
If you cruise around the Internet, you’ll find a lot of HR and marketing content. Business websites, company blogs, Facebook pages, Twitter feeds—all of that (and more!) is out there, clamoring for your attention. You’ll also find that much of that content is devoted to connecting with current or potential customers. That makes sense: many companies use online content as one driver of sales.
Interestingly, though, when HR and marketing content focuses on sales, it loses its effectiveness. At first glance, this seems like a paradox. After all, you should talk about sales in order to increase sales, right? Wrong.
The thing is, readers already know that those businesses are selling something. So they don’t necessarily want to get hit with an overt sales pitch. You need to show them why you deserve their business.
By “show” I don’t mean you should tell them about your pricing schemes or provide a detailed list of your services. Nor should you go on and on about why you’re better than your competition. Instead, you need to provide content that is valuable to your readers. It should focus on what your readers would value learning from you—and not on what you think is important for them to know.
Good content shows why you are a better choice than your competitors. It positions you as a subject-matter expert in your field (and in many cases doesn’t even focus directly on the services you provide) so that your readers can see for themselves why you should be their top choice.
Consider the staffing industry. Although its core services are temporary staffing and direct-hire staffing, its potential audience includes anyone who is concerned with general workforce management. So instead of providing useful content only about managing contingent workforces, for example, staffing firms can reach out to an even larger audience by broadening the scope of their content to address topics that may be of interest to any business. For example, incentive programs for hourly employees, how to connect benefits and employee retention, and changes in employment law are topics that can attract the attention of any HR department and manager.
A staffing firm that goes beyond the sales pitch and produces content with industry-specific information useful to its clients is already ahead of many of its competitors. But an organization that produces content that appeals to an even wider target audience demonstrates its expertise and flexibility. Not only does it strengthen its connection to targets who are already inclined to seek its services, but it also has the potential to connect with targets who might not have realized what a staffing firm could do for them.
Want to stand out from the crowd? Then you need to offer your readers something different. Start by taking a look at what value-added content you provide. If you don’t have any (that is, if your content is nothing more than a sales pitch), then it’s time to make a big change. If you have some but it’s not enough to convince a reader that you’re an expert in your field, consider what you can offer that your competitors don’t—and then provide it.
Last week I wrote about taking stock of the state of my business—a common practice among companies during the first few weeks of a new year. Figuring out what did (and didn’t) work in the past year is a critical step toward formulating a plan for the year ahead.
If you, too, are taking some time to evaluate your organization’s current practices and direction, don’t forget to challenge the status quo. I’m not saying to ditch everything you do. Rather, examine your practices critically. Ask yourself, “Is this really effective?” and “Is there a better way to do things?”
This is especially important when you’re trying to increase your staffing sales. How many times have you heard a salesperson say, “This strategy always works” or “That strategy will have the clients knocking on our door”? No doubt you’ve come across plenty of sales strategies, suggestions, and practices during your career. Whether you’ve just heard about them, seen them in action by others, or tried them out yourself, though, they actually weren’t strategies.
Having recruiters pick up the phone during a lull in job orders to see if any former clients are hiring is not a strategy.
Hiring a new sales representative is not a strategy.
Undercutting your competitors’ rates is not a strategy.
Sending the 5,000 contacts in your sales database a marketing e-mail that teases them with a list of “hot candidates” is not a strategy.
Sponsoring thought-leadership events is not a strategy.
Advertising on the side of a bus or buying billboard space out in center field is not a strategy.
Riding the elevators in an office building to drop off cards or make in-person cold calls is not a strategy.
Religiously attending monthly meetings at your local SHRM chapter or even becoming one of its board members is not a strategy.
Developing and sharing with your clients a local salary guide for your market is not a strategy.
Posting on social media relevant information about your company and fun pictures of the office is not a strategy.
Offering better pay and benefits than your competitors is not a strategy.
Sending a hard-copy HR-themed magazine published by your company to your clients and prospects is not a strategy.
Writing a monthly blog post is not a strategy.
“What do you mean?” you may be thinking. “Those sure look like strategies to me!”
Here’s the thing: each one of those practices is actually just a tool in your sales toolkit. In any field—whether you’re doing carpentry, marketing, baking, sales, whatever—some tools are more effective than others (especially under particular circumstances). But in all cases, tools are what you use to achieve a goal. To achieve a goal, you need a plan for how to get there. And that plan is a strategy.
The tools listed above can be used to develop relationships, build your brand recognition, augment your web presence, and even bring in new business. But if you use those tools without a strategy, at best your results will suffer—and at worst you’ll find yourself spinning in circles.
So as you take a good hard look at your company, if you get the impression that your “strategy” is actually is a hodgepodge of techniques that lack unity and direction, then it’s time to reevaluate the current state of affairs. Figure out what your goal is, then figure out your strategy for getting there. And then decide what tools to use.
Take a moment today to ask the top producers in your company to break down their days for you and detail how they spend their time. You’ll probably find that what they do every day (and even how they do it) varies from person to person. But among all the differences, I’m sure you’ll spot one common thread: a process. Top salespeople have a strategy—and they stick to it.
During a call with one of our clients a few weeks ago, she mentioned that her company was really struggling to bring in new business. I’m not a sales consultant, but I do know a bit about that area after spending eight years as the director of sales for a staffing company. I also know (as I mentioned last week) that Mamu Media can’t succeed unless our clients succeed (whether or not their success is attributed to our services). So we decided to extend our call to see if we could get to the root of the client’s problem.
Me: Why don’t you start off by telling me how your sales team sources new leads and converts them into appointments and eventually new business?
Client: Well, we spend a lot of time recruiting, because many of the jobs we have are tough to fill. However, when things slow down a bit, a few of my recruiters will pick up the phone to call current clients and some prospects to see if they have any jobs they’d like for us to fill.
It didn't take me long to realize that this company was suffering from the lack of a sales process (not to mention the lack of a sales culture!). Over the 30 years it’s been in business, this company somehow managed to survive on a handful of key accounts and longstanding relationships. For three decades it’s struggled to grow, and the owners and managers are only now starting to realize just how fragile their business is.
Although this is an extreme example of “how not to do sales,” even companies with sophisticated sales strategies can learn the most valuable lesson here: any company that wants to succeed must have a specific and measurable sales process in place. Waiting until the end of the year to make a push to hit your numbers never works. And waiting until your job orders have dried up before pursuing new ones is flat-out irresponsible.
There’s no one-size-fits-all process that works for every company—or even for each salesperson within a company. You’ll need to tailor your sales processes for your organization as well as for the individuals involved. The most important point to remember is that you have to have a process and the related results and activities must be measured.
Based on my experience, I’ve found that successful sales processes generally include the following measurable elements:
Lead generation and qualification. Also known as “prospecting,” this needs to be part of your daily routine. To increase leads in staffing sales, some innovative strategies can help you stand out from the crowd. And once you’ve identified some promising leads, keeping the right questions in mind can help you avoid wasting your time (and your clients’) when qualifying them.
Presentations. Whether you’re presenting an awesome candidate to a hiring manager via skill marketing or presenting your company to the C-suite at a Fortune 500 company, every presentation has the potential to lead to a sale. Never underestimate the importance of presentations: make sure you’re good at them.
Tracking new business and growing existing accounts. Incorporating “track new business” into the process is a no-brainer for anyone in sales. But many companies often forget about their ability to grow existing business. Chances are that if you look at your list of active clients, you’re competing with other staffing companies for most of them. So start tracking (and rewarding!) growth in your existing business by expanding relationships into other departments or winning a greater share of the business that you currently share with competitors.
Staying connected between the calls and meetings. Whether you make phone calls, share interesting articles via social media or e-mail, or reach out via other forms of communication, you must stay top of mind with the clients and prospects you’re calling on. Some sales processes can take a loooong time, and from the moment you have your first conversation with a prospect to the time you close the sale, there’s a good chance that many of your competitors will be having similar conversations with your prospects.
Use the items on this list as the foundation of your sale process, then customize it with other strategies that work for you and your organization. Whatever final shape your process takes, though, use it consistently and be sure you measure its effectiveness at regular intervals (e.g., weekly and monthly) so you know when changes are needed.