Sales = Critical business cycle
Put yourself in this situation. Your company's revenues have been flat lately and you've been handed one straight forward yet very challenging task: increase sales. It's time to prove yourself so you jump right in. You quickly throw together a generic brochure summarizing the company's services, create a list of every company in your area from A to Z, and then spend the rest of your budget on stamps and envelopes for a mass mailing. Then you sit back and wait for the orders to start pouring in. Then you wait some more. Then, before you know it, you're out on the hunt looking for your next exciting project opportunity.
So what went wrong? The experienced sales professional will recognize your approach was not well thought out and did not meet the fundamentals of a successful sales methodology. You didn't identify which companies were in the greatest need of your services; you didn't use your network of personal and professional contacts; and you didn't tailor your material to match the company's unique needs. Sales are a process, not an event, and it requires a strategic, targeted and customized approach.
However, a better way to think of it is that you're offering your services, skills and experience to help a company fulfill their current needs and provide value to their business. The more committed you are to following a sound sales process, the more success you will have landing your next great project. With that in mind, put on your sales hat and consider the following when starting your next project search:
* Develop a strategy. Any sales initiative should start with a sound assessment of the goals. Once you've determined where you want to end up, you can start planning the steps you need to take to get there.
* Define target companies. First, determine what type of company you want to sell to. What industry? Large or small? Start-up or well established? Second, do some research to determine which companies would benefit from your offerings and experiences. There's little value sending off your brochure to any random company that's out there. Remember, you have to be a good fit with the company and the company has to be a good fit for you.
* Create a contact list. Identify those individuals in your personal and professional network and open up a channel of communication. These resources are very valuable and will help open the door to opportunities that may not have otherwise been available.
* Customize your materials. Just as a successful sales professional would not send out the same generic information to every potential client. Explain why you are a good fit with their company and how your qualifications can address their specific needs and add value to their business. Submitting generic information sends the wrong message to the employer — that you're not really interested in them in particular but are just out looking for "any contract".
* Present well & follow-up. It's your opportunity to confirm for the prospective contract that you will be able to provide the services required to address their business needs. Provide specific examples that demonstrate the value you can offer, ask the right questions to show your interest in the company and to learn more, and ensure you leave the meeting with a clear understanding of next steps.
Whatever your profession or field, whether finance, accounting, technology, operations or general management, the beginning of a project search is a good time to start thinking like a sales person. An important skill set to master throughout your career.