Sales: Just who is undermining performance?

Sales – the good guys or good for nothing? I guess it depends on your perspective, I have certainly heard both views, and whilst in Sales been the target of those and worse comments too. Personally during my tenure in the function and since, whilst I have come across the odd “rogue trader” more interested in his/her expense account than the success of his/her company, almost without exception I have found sales people to be dedicated, motivated individuals, driven almost without exception to succeed. What I have also found time and time again is sales organisations and processes that were well and truly broken with the Sales people taking the blame for a systematic failure in a company’s processes.

A few months ago Adam and I completed an assignment for a UK company, where the problem definition was something along the lines of “The ONLY problem is that the sales team are hopeless, they never go and see their customers” and on first inspection we found that indeed if the Sales team were out more than 1 day per week, then that was the exception.

However, having completed a process map, taking a typical opportunity through enquiry to order and delivery it soon became clear why this perception held – in fact the Sales team it appeared had taken it on themselves to manage the whole process, not only estimating the jobs, but project managing them through engineering, progress chasing through manufacture, even buying and organising site installation. What was worse was that everyone else including the management had let them and had abdicated all responsibility themselves, more than happy to point the finger at the Sales team when things went wrong. It was an absolute miracle that Sales ever went to see a customer at all, let alone grow the business. To be fair having had the scenario explained to them the senior management took on board our findings and re-engineered the organisation from top to bottom, allowing the sales team to let go of the internal processes, confident that they would be supported whilst out facing the customer.

When considering your organisation, remember – Sales people are employed to sell, and that it does not matter how good your operation is or how clever your design, without orders your business will die. Orders are the output of a process. A process that transforms prospects into orders.

If the process is optimised, it will be efficient, effective and create value for your customers and your business. If not, it will destroy value.

Richard Shaw – Business Practitioner

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Manufacturing Websites, to web or not to web?

Recently I started a discussion regarding SMEs and their websites, the discussion started with this quote “an interesting observation this week whilst working, how many SMEs lack an all singing all dancing website. What’s the reason, with 90+% of people now looking on line this should be a priority.” Now all singing all dancing to me means bringing a Return on Investment. Here some excellent extracts and comments from the people involved, I’ve tried to get a balance within the discussion, and this is not my area of expertise.

Ashley Pearce: “In research I conducted recently an overwhelming number of those involved with Business Development in the UK Manufacturing Sector didn’t understand the actual function of a website.
Where does it fit in? Is it just a standalone item? Is it our “Digital shopfront“? Is it relevant in our industry?
These were common questions that we arrived at after a short discussion with most. It’s what inspired a number of articles explaining the “System of Modern Sales & Marketing” over on the Manufacturing Network UK Blog.
Fundamentally a Website is often NOT, but SHOULD be seen as, “Part of a System” for attracting, nurturing and converting leads into customers. Can you see the many ways your website & web presence CAN contribute to the system?”

Ashley Pearce: “For me, the most effective way to explain how a website “Fits in” has been to direct them towards the subject of “Inbound Marketing” – with FAIR WARNING. As we say over on the Manufacturing Network Blog almost weekly, “Wear Your Manufacturing Industry Blinkers” when reading anything about marketing your business online.

Most of the information, content and articles out there explaining how it works is NOT written for you, the UK Manufacturer. I think this is why an Integrated approach to Online Marketing and Offline Sales for UK Manufacturing has been very slow to evolve. Lack of “Context” – Explained in the UK Manufacturing Industry context, we may start to see some savvy marketers leaping ahead of the competition”

Garry Taylor: “There is a feeling that unless you can get on the first 2 pages of Google there’s no Point having a Web page. as we don’t actually do sales transactions over the Internet we view as an online brochure with the blog giving any up to date info and an opportunity for feedback plus, small companies are being pushed to pay per click. Everyone knows most people clicking on your sight are not buying so you pay for nothing.”

Richard Stinson: “I spent many years in the engineering sector, from toolmaker to technical sales and I had the privilege of working directly and indirectly with many SME’s as well as the giants like Rolls and BAE. I came to realise quite quickly that the big boys have regular web trawls looking for potential suppliers, just in case their current suppliers let them down or become swamped with work. They literally have a file of reserve suppliers on their list found online. The moral of this story is that unless the SME’s had an effective web presence they were overlooked for many of these lucrative contracts.”

Alan Kent: “Whilst I can appreciate that having a web site might bring you some business, not having one will definitely bring you none. I do feel that it is becoming a bit BS5750-ish though as having a fancy web site costs money that many SMEs would rather channel into capital equipment or a decent salesman who will definitely generate revenues. I can recall putting in a lot of effort into attaining BS5750 in the 1990s which cost a lot of time and money and brought in no sales leads whatsoever. At the time no-one had realised that it was simply a way of showing that you had a process and was never expected to generate leads but without it, you would definitely get no leads.”

Chris Davis: “There are loads of things you can do here. Small web site intelligently constructed .. put stuff on eBay and Amazon have a blog use social media .. Wiki presence .. the list goes on but none of these are difficult or really expensive. It’s not an option to not have a cyber presence?”

Jeremy Wisner: “The topic concerns the need for an ‘All singing/dancing’ website. For many SMEs, operating in specialist niches, it is questionable about the return on such a site. Absolutely, a solid and informative web presence is a must (largely for contact information and credibility). However, it is in the nature of many niche-SMEs that they will know who their potential customers are and will be cultivating B2B relationships via more direct approaches, rather than hoping to WOW website visitors. Niche products and services, by nature, often require specialised knowledge to explain to USP to potential buyers. Of course, retail is a whole different discussion.
90%+ will look online, yes. However, I’d argue that for the niche players, the hard yards have already been covered by the ‘song and dance’ created offline – backed up by effective SEO work – which again strengthens credibility.”

Adam Payne: “Disagree with you Jeremy, when I look at the SMEs including two that we were looking to acquire in a niche market, had limited website presence and no sales and marketing function, relying on word of mouth and guess how they were performing. If you are looking to expand your business you need an online presence, again as an example, recently I was supporting a company to try and source stretch forming, the search was not easy due to again lack of online presence and SEO setup, I ‘m sure to god there are businesses in the UK, but they missed a big opportunity. Now this is not my area, but if you are happy as a business then you stay as you are, but rest assured someone will be around the corner waiting to pounce if you are not bringing in customers, if you are looking to expand you need multiple marketing pillars and a top website is one of those with an inbound marketing approach (blog showing expertise, contact form with call to action, etc).”

Ashley Pearce: “This discussion thread has done a great deal in exposing the core beliefs that sit behind the reason / purpose / ultimate aim behind a website for a B2B Sales focused business.

The purpose of a website for B2C or retail is completely different. The website can have more to do with sales and sales fulfillment than it can with building the confidence of a prospect and developing a relationship.

Just because they look the same on the outside and are accessed via a web browser does not mean they are the “same thing”.

Fact 1: You are not going to receive sales through your company website in the manufacturing industry. You’re not selling products, you’re selling capability.

Fact 2: Buyers do their searching a researching online before EVER reaching out and asking for information, requesting a quote or expressing interest.

Lesson: If your website doesn’t start a conversation with the Buyers and Engineers visiting it, you will be overlooked…”

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Managing the Product Lifecycle: Forward Planning for Business Longevity

What is the product lifecycle?

Many of us have heard of the Boston Matrix, “cash cows” “rising stars” and so on, however whilst we understand the principle do not build it in to our day to day business. Managing the product lifecycle and using your understanding of this to ensure the longevity of your business is critical to long term success.

For each of our products and services, we should have a thorough understanding of where they are in their product life cycle, is the market for them still growing and developing, is it at its peak or is it already in its downward spiral? We should also have an understanding of what this means for the future of our business, if the product or service which we rely on to make the majority of the profits in our business is on a downward trajectory, that spells trouble and we should be focusing our efforts on other areas of our portfolio and product development.

Determining your place in the product lifecycle

Here are 3 questions you can use for assessing your products and services using the product lifecycle;

What pattern are you seeing in your sales? Are they rising, stagnant or falling?

What are your profit margins doing? Are they rising, stagnant or falling?

How profitable are you products and services? Which ones make you the most money?

Use the answers to these three questions to prioritise your product/services when you are allocating resources. By resources I mean time as well as money. If you have a product or service which is extremely profitable and has a growing market, this is where you should be spending your time, not on one of your older, potentially “classic” products which no longer has a stable market. This may seem like common sense but it can be incredible hard to be that brutally honest with yourself and your business and let go of the products or services that you are emotionally invested in. Use the numbers and the patterns to drive your behaviour, and be brutal about it! If you need help our Business Accelerator Programme might be of interest.

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