Nothing Happens Until Somebody Sells Something: How to Improve the Process

You may be familiar with Arthur “Red” Motley’s quote, “Nothing happens until somebody sells something!”

Leaving aside the extent to which Motley’s perspective might or might not be true, effectively managing the sales process and maintaining a path of steady revenue growth are every-day objectives within organizations of all types and sizes. And while many external factors, such as variation in the economy or increased competition, can significantly impact results, the selling process – like all processes – can and must be studied and continually improved.

Interestingly, when we delve into that subject with organizational leaders we frequently find that they have not defined a “sales process” that focuses on the work. Instead, they refer to their CRM categories as the sales process.

We understand and appreciate the value of CRM systems and forecasting, but this type of measurement does not focus on the work. It is, therefore, not surprising that a common challenge facing so many organizations is how to grow revenue.

If sales growth is an issue for your organization, here are a few strategies you might consider from a past newsletter:

Looking outward to test or confirm what customers deem most important. Start by testing your understanding of what your customers and your competitors’ customers really care about.

Every customer contact is an opportunity to mine information that can help you grow the business. Ask customers what they like about your services or products. Ask what they would want you to change (other than the price) that would make them happier. Learn about their related needs, new needs and concerns – and remember that, in many cases, customers are not fully-aware of their needs; so, while you’re at it, probe for unrecognized needs as well.

Ask your customers about what is most important to them and how they think you stack up. Ask bigger-picture questions to gain insight into challenges they face that go beyond the use of your product or service. Armed with information about what customers value, you can innovate solutions that leverage your capabilities to exceed your customers’ expectations.

You must also have a repository for the information, and a method and the discipline to capture the information for analysis and action.

Consider exploring three other sources of valuable information about your customers and the market you serve:

Observation: arrange a method for watching your customers use your product or service. A great deal can be learned by simply looking!
Analyze lost sales data, and use the information to set improvement initiatives in motion
Internet searches: see what people in your marketplace are searching for and interested in. As the saying goes, “Find the need and fill it!”
Look inward for opportunities to define and improve the sales process – that is, study the work!
What processes do you use to generate sales?

How well are these processes working?

How do you know?

You can study and improve your sales generation process just as you can improve any other process – by gathering facts and data about how the process is currently working, identifying the waste in the process, addressing the underlying causes, and measuring and standardizing the results of the improvements. What process do you use to acquire new accounts? What process do you use to grow sales with existing accounts? Below are several different processes that businesses use to generate sales and how you might study and improve them:

Sales calls – are they well planned and executed? Messaging? Outcomes?
Promotions – are they effective? Net gains?
Distribution channels – are they effective? Are there additional channels to be evaluated?
Pricing – is it too high? Is it too low? How do we know?
Look forward to maintain an innovative edge. Sooner or later all products or services become “commodities.”
Simply stated, you must offer something meaningfully unique and that means, you must innovate.

Following are three directions you could explore to innovate and expand the business:

Adapt your current offering to rejuvenate relationships with existing customers. What new feature or service would make the relationships young again? New features, functionality, packaging or performance?
Commercialize under-utilized capabilities. What capabilities do you have or do your suppliers have that are under-utilized?
Adapt your current capabilities and offerings toward emerging needs and markets. Where is the market headed? What technological changes will influence future needs? What geographical openings will grow in the coming decade? If you were to imagine the future, what would you see?

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Anatomy of a Communication Message

Communications to members or clients is considered by many outside observers as marketing. Though in a broad sense, it is, it is also much more. It is mass communication to a large swath of fans of your organization with a customized, specific message to each individual. Properly executed, a communications message is a prescriptive formula designed to interact with those who appreciate you most with the opportunity to increase their love by providing that which they most desire from you.

Prescriptive Pieces

A message has an ebb and flow. You can certainly organize a message in any fashion you choose as there is technically no wrong answer. There are, however, those messages that are more successful than others. The goal of the message is to get the client or member to act. That is: to buy, to subscribe, to register, to call, or to renew. And, to do that, there is a time-tested layout. It is formulaic. Definitive. Prescriptive. The anatomy of the message is similar to a sandwich with the main message body in between two action links. The title, then open pitch, precedes the sandwich and a salutation completes it:

Opening Pitch

Action Link

Description (main message body)

Action Link


Title. The title is more of a headline or a slogan than it is the title of a book or manuscript. As it is the gist of the message it should be poured over, word-smithed, refined, and distilled. Like a headline, this phrase may be centered on the page. Consider making it in all capital letters or title case. It also may be bold, italics, use colored font, or in a larger font than the rest of the message. Don’t be gawdy, but do make it stand out.

Opening Pitch. The first sentence or two should be clear and concise. It is designed to give the facts for the quick read. Think of this as the CliffsNotes of the executive summary rolled up with a call to action and just-the-details needed for the receiver who was awaiting the message, participated in the past, or is a dedicated super-fan, to move to the action phase.

Action Link. Appearing twice in the message, it can be identical each time, but also may differ subtly. The Action Link is a link to the Landing Page on your website. It is just after the Opening Pitch, for those already all-in by that point; and, again at the end, for those that needed to know more before stepping though. The Action Link is literally a link; thus, it should look like a web link in blue font and underlined or a similar such look that is trending. Example: Register Now to Attend. Or, Donate Today. Or, Call Your Legislators to Stop this Encroachment on Your Business.

Closing. Similar to a professional letter, the final sentence is a sign off. It may include a motivational statement such as: “This is your professional association” or “Clients, like you, are why we do what we do. Thank you.” Usually, the message concludes with a signature block of the Board Chair, President, or just the organization’s name or logo.

Landing Page

The goal of the message is not necessarily to complete the sale; but, similar to fishing, to get them on the hook. The message need not tell all or provide all of the details. Don’t oversell. That’s why there is a landing page.

Once the receiver clicks through the Action Link, they should land on a dedicate web page that provides more information on schedules, speakers, prices, photos, videos, specs, testimonials, etc. and gives them what they need to complete the process. Similar to the message itself, the Landing Page should be set up like a sandwich with additional Action Links at the top and the bottom of the Landing Page to take the receiver to the registration, order page, donation tools, or contact form. In between the Action Links are additional specific details you think need conveying.

Do not include everything under the sun on the Landing Page. Instead, build out the site to include those details on separate pages with navigation tabs, buttons, links, or menus used to get the receiver that wants to know more to those pages.

Call to Action

Marketing enters back into the communications equation with the call to action. The secret is, it never left. The entire purpose of the message, its very essence, was to get the receiver to take action. The call to action, therefore, must be a clear herald. There should be no doubt in the reader’s mind what you want them to do. Similarly, there needs to be a timeliness to the call of this particular message. Even if you plan to send three similar messages over the next 60 days, each should have a different call. The first may be: “Register Today for $72 Early Bird Discount.” The middle message: “Space is Limited. Confirm Your Place Now.” And, finally, “Last Chance. Deadline is Today.”

Occasionally, a message is truly ‘informational only’ with no request of the receiver other than to read the message to be informed. This is incredibly rare. Even with a scientific paper, new best-practices, or the announcement of an obituary, we are still calling on the receiver to take action to study the paper, invest in the practices, or remember the passing with a donation or by attending a ceremony.

A formulaic approach to your messages not only increases sales and activity, it also simplifies your communications plan and minimizes the time it takes to perform these essential functions. Most importantly, it breaks up the process into organized, digestible chunks. These pieces (creating the message, designing the landing page, preparing the graphics or supporting videos or web pages, and writing the copy), can be divvied up among the staff team or approached by you one at a time far in advance of the delivery day. This organized approach makes your team more efficient while similarly leveling out the panic moments to a consistent work flow. Communications is both science and art. Make it part of your success formula.

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