By Dave George, SVP & General Manager, netsapiens
Many Internet Telephony Service Providers (ITSPs) save any discussion of best practices for how they sell their products and solutions to customers. As a result, they invest time and money improving their platforms, network architecture and technology offerings. However, hands-on companies know that this should not be their single focus. Rather, conveying and delivering on the right business strategy and internal processes is the crucial variable that will lead to growth and profitable revenue. This article provides some well-accepted best practices any business should consider implementing.
What is a Best Practice?
A best practice is simply a management concept or idea, which asserts that there is a technique, method, activity, process, incentive or reward that is more effective at delivering a particular outcome than any other technique, method or process. The idea is that with proper processes and procedures in place, companies can achieve a quota or project rollout on time with fewer problems or unforeseen complications.
Ironically, we often wait until problems arise to implement a practice that would have made (common) sense all along. However, the truth is that it makes no sense to wait until sales plunge before initiating best practices.
It should be noted that best practices are not dogmatic tenets – they should be supported by evidence and will change over time and under various circumstances. Consider medical best practices: for years, coaches told athletes to hydrate themselves before a grueling marathon or long-distance run. As it turns out, too much water has led to death of runners during these races. Thankfully, the risk of implementing best practices is not typically this drastic.
Here is the cold, hard truth about best practices: data trumps intuition. Facts trump feelings. With reliable, predictive statistics, one can trust the data and therefore the outcome. Let’s jump into some strategies, principles and best practices to improve your ITSP’s sales.
Top 10 Practices to Drive Revenue Growth
1. Strategize and Align. This goes without exception – you need to have a clear strategy in place by also specializing the approach to each key element of your business – sales, marketing and operations. Some examples of key elements are leads, lists, the skill of your workforce, all defined by an efficient process. That efficiency provides additional margin/profit. Watch, analyze, and design the sequence or order in which things are done until the best overall process starts to emerge. Then, align your resources. Get all elements of your various systems working in the same direction. Over-communicate with your people so they understand why they are doing things, not just what they should do and how to do it.
2. Work Remotely. More American employees are working remotely, and they are doing so for longer periods, according to a recent Gallup survey. Last year, 43 percent of employed Americans said they spent at least some time working remotely, according to the survey of more than 15,000 adults. That represents almost a 5% increase since 2012 – a shift that meets the demands of many job seekers. Gallup consistently finds that flexible scheduling and work-from-home opportunities play a major role in an employee’s decision to take or leave a job. Employees are pushing companies to break down the long-established structures and policies that traditionally have influenced their workdays. Employees and many employers view the practice as broadly beneficial, saying that remote workers are more productive, and that the additional flexibility is helping to close the gender gap. Mobility, VoIP and SaaS combine to make the traditional “in the office” process a thing of the past. Some companies embrace a hybrid model of combining remote sales with inside sales as even more powerful and lucrative than either one separately.
3. Specialize. Henry Ford forever changed manufacturing with the assembly line and conveyor belt. A similar process of specialization has occurred within the sales industry. For example, business owners first split off account managers who work post-sale from the so-called ‘hunters’ and ‘farmers’ who work pre-sale to complete the transactions. These pre-sales professionals then got split again into appointment setters and dedicated closers. In fact, current pre-sales specialities now include lead research before any appointments get set. Specialists are even optimized by size of account and vertical market – all to improve the customer experience.
4. Qualify. When considering your Inside and Outside Sales Processes, use the acronym, ANUM. First, find the right contact who has Authority to buy. Then, find out early if those people and companies have a Need for what you offer. In marketing terminology, this is called profiling and it is the stage where your marketing department finds qualified companies and people, validates contact data and enriches sales intelligence to ensure engaging and rapport-building conversations begin. The greater the need, the more Urgency and the more Money will appear. We’ve all heard the axiom – “(profitable) revenue fixes everything”.
5. Tools. Would you ask a general contractor to build a house these days with a shovel, hammer or a screwdriver? Of course, not – they couldn’t make money without a backhoe, nail gun, and power drill! Your business operations are, in fact, quite like Henry Ford’s assembly line and conveyor belt. Cloud-based CRM software (i.e. Salesforce), contact profiling like LinkedIn and power dialer and analytics technology are the business equivalents of the nail gun. Having and using the right tools is how business and sales acceleration starts.
6. Educate. If your “potential” customers aren’t aware you exist or informed about what you do, they may have a latent need but not act to fulfill it. Education is best done through public relations to build awareness and by marketing to move interest into need. Effective content marketing strategies are critical in this regard. The best content is the information about your company and solutions that will move your prospects from awareness to curiosity, interest and need. While educating potential customers, it is important to move from passive marketing media like brand advertising, radio, print and email to active media like web response, social media, phone calls and face-to-face interaction.
Marketing experts continue to research the impact of social media and alternative media models on contact rates. LinkedIn messages, for example, improve response ratios by 700% over the exact same message by email. Even old school fax messages are 8 times more likely to cause a response than email.
Finally, education cannot just be for customers alone. Your initiatives in this area should also coexist with an effective employee training and development program. Successful, hands-on ITSPs know that the most productive employees are the ones who feel valued and have opportunities to improve their skills and thus their positions within your business. If budget is of concern, consider employee cross-training (this also helps with absences), an employee mentor-protege plan (for better direction and internal communication) or even informal brown-bag seminars during lunch breaks.
7. Inbound Marketing. From a process perspective, marketing is all about generating leads – individuals who come to you with a need your business can fulfill. Our research continues to show that inbound marketing is significantly more effective than traditional cold calling, the bane of sales. For ITSPs that pursue this best practice, ensuring an effective response management policy is crucial to maximizing the return on their investment. When it comes to responding to a lead, a recent study demonstrated that 5 minutes is considered best practice. Perhaps even more important than speed of response, however, is persistence in following up.
Surveys show that the average salesperson only makes 1.5 phone call attempts to follow up on a lead before giving up and moving on. Research on best practices informs us that 6-9 call attempts and 2-3 email/voicemail follow-ups are more effective than the standard approach. It is important to remember that leads are busy professionals who may not have the time to respond immediately to a single phone call follow-up attempt. Many studies show only 1 in 3 B2B leads receive a “call back” – this low number is staggering considering the money and time ITSPs have spent earning that lead. Here is the bottom line: if your company has a lead, address it now and quickly!
8. Measure. Once you analyze, design, and implement your various plans, you need to measure the outcomes so that you can see how you are doing. For ITSPs, leading and lagging key performance indicators (KPIs) can serve this goal well.
Leading and lagging indicators both communicate the day-to-day operations of a business. Leading indicators often include a mix of qualitative and quantitative measurements such as customer service perception, customer satisfaction, inventory availability, brand recognition, number of units delivered, number of unique website viewers and growth in new markets. Lagging indicators are much more financially-focused. They may include measurements such as operating income as a percentage of sales, revenue growth, net revenue and earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA). The best way to converge the two types of indicators is to map out the correlation between the non-financial metric and its corresponding financial metric and plot that out on a summary sheet for both types of KPIs.
In some ways, the marketing industry figured out this discipline long ago with companies like Marketo and Act-On Software. Both companies demonstrated that it is possible to gamify the employee experience using leading and lagging measurements. Millennials have taught us to apply sports rules to certain work environments, especially sales. Recently, even video gaming mechanics are being applied to the work environment. At netsapiens, we have found the best salespeople often come from backgrounds of competitive athletics, so we recommend hiring a diverse team.
9. Predict. Predictive analytics is another best practice that can take your lead generation to the next level. For many of you, the Internet of Things (IoT) is a hot topic and a vertical of interest. Just like IoT allows a prediction on an event (device failure, for example), predictive analytics can help your sales team predict who to call and when to call, thereby improving contact and qualification rates. By using past data, new algorithms will be able to predict the likelihood of future outcomes of your sales processes. This sector continues to gain momentum and there is much more to come!
10. Visualize. Just like a race car driver needs their gauges clearly visible on the dashboard in front of them, employees must see their progress in a simple display. While managers need to see rates and ratios, executives need to see trends and ROI to make wise decisions. The race car driver needs crucial information in real-time to make adjustments that will win the race. Your staff does too!
Practice Makes Perfect – Organization via Systemization
Implementing any one of these best practices can prove to be a challenge for your team. However, overcoming organizational inertia is crucial to transforming your business goals from concept to reality. Once you begin implementing these practices, systematize and automate your company-wide application for even greater improvements. For example, you might start with a manual ‘pen-and-paper’ process before moving into basic automation using shared documents and spreadsheets. If this is successful, the final stage will likely be the use of full automation applications and cloud-based platforms (i.e. CRM platforms like HubSpot and Sharp Spring). As an ITSP, your goal is to implement best practices in a way that creates an efficient and effective internal system upon which your staff can rely to improve sales and drive growth. Good luck! Remember, that with persistence, your efforts will pay off.