(MoneyWatch) You're fired! You heard me, terminated.
Pretend I just bought your company. My first official act is to fire you from your sales position. My second official act is to offer you a one-week contract to come back to work.
That's right, only a one-week contract. During that time, you are to give me your top six objectives for increasing revenue for the week. One week from today, we will discuss about whether your ideas pass muster. If so, I will offer you another one-week contract.
Sound harsh? Well, as the former president of several companies, let me assure you that this is exactly what is being thought about, albeit implicitly. I am just suggesting we have an honest conversation about it.
What six objectives should you focus on? Try these (ranked in order of what you should start with first):
1. Collect revenue already owed us from clients you work with directly.
2. Get agreements or projects to a state where they can be invoiced.
3. Close deals that are in the pipeline.
4. Move qualified prospects along through the pipeline.
5. Have initial meetings with qualified prospects.
6. Generate leads.
Think in such term and you are thinking like the leader of a business. If you are the leader, I suggest you start thinking this way and get your people to, as well.
Start with collecting revenue that clients already owe. (Ask not what your company can do for you; ask what you can do for your company -- to collect cash.) Cash is fuel. Cash is oxygen. Cash is the stuff that keeps the company going. Sometimes that means forcing a meeting with a client or customer to find out why they haven't paid yet.
The next step is to look at agreements or projects that are on the verge of being completed. When they are finished, you can ask for payment. Sometimes these projects hang around like little nippy dogs that refuse to go away. Do what it takes so we can all move on.
After that, focus on the pipeline. Be honest: Which ones are genuine prospects and which ones are wishes and prayers. Ask the question every day -- what do I have to do to get this deal to close?
Many pipeline deals are too early-stage to close. So what's the next step? Move the pipeline deals along. Using a football analogy, keep making first downs and moving the ball down the field. Move the deals along until you score or the game ends.
Before the deals enter the pipeline, of course, you need that all-important first meeting with a qualified prospect. These don't just happen; you have to make them happen. This means the dreaded 'F' word: Follow Up. You have to be following up leads daily to see which ones will talk to you about their needs.
This is more about the chance to listen than the chance to talk. A salesperson should monopolize the listening during this meeting. Do you get to talk? Of course. The talking you do amounts to asking intelligent questions. In my experience, your biggest opportunity to gain a prospect's trust is by the quality of the questions you ask during the initial meeting.
Last, but certainly not least, comes lead-generation. This consists of getting suspects to raise their hands and say they are prospects. This means they ask to be on an interest list, they opt-in for an email distribution, they request a "white paper" or some other action where they took a step forward to say they are interested in what you're offering. They don't want to get married yet, but they are willing to dance and see if romance blooms later.
Image from Flickr user Gage Skidmore