Killing the Call Report

Columns From: Products Finishing, , from American Finishing Resources, LLC

Posted on: 12/1/2013

Is there an alternative to the painful call report process that so often results in unproductive conflict?

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Let’s face it, most salespeople hate completing call reports (the weekly micro-management tool that requires them to account for each and every hour of their time. Fans of the cult classic Office Space should feel encouraged to substitute “TPS Report”).

As a result, they do them halfway, or don’t do them at all. This in turn leads to frustration on the part of the sales leader whose expectation of perfectly completed call reports is not met. So the sparring begins, not about how to win new business, elate customers or beat competitors, but about the quality or completeness of the call report. What a waste.

What’s more, perhaps you have noticed an inverse correlation between meticulously completed call reports and the amount of business a salesperson is able to win. Is it possible that the personality traits required for perfect paperwork are not the same as those needed for self-motivation, dealing with rejection, and building personal relationships with customers? The call report. Is there a better way?

Let us begin with the premise that selling is a process. Much like parts get racked, cleaned, coated and dried or cured on a coating line, moving a new sales lead from the stage where we identify them and declare them a “prospect” to the point where they become a repeat customer requires us to progress through a fairly specific set of steps. To carry the coatings analogy further, if these steps are not followed, or if one of them is skipped, we will likely not be very happy with the result.

The selling process can go by many names, commonly the sales “pipeline” or the “funnel,” the term we will use for the purpose of this column. As the theory goes, sales leads begin their life at the top of the funnel and as they progress through the selling process, they near the narrow part of the funnel, until they swirl their way out the bottom in the form of a closed deal. I once had a salesperson object to the word “funnel” claiming instead that it should be called a “cylinder,” wherein any lead that goes into the top runs neatly and quickly out the bottom as a sale. In my world it doesn’t work that way and it turned out it didn’t work that way in his world either. But I digress.

Long before a sale is closed, it must begin its life as a lead. Rather than waiting for a lead to drop into our lap we must go out and find it. Print ads in trade magazines, banners on their websites, search engine optimization, properly targeted ad words, exhibiting at an industry tradeshow or hiring a telemarketer to contact potential customers, are all good ways to find a lead.

Once the sales lead is identified, it must be qualified. Just because a lead has a need for our product doesn’t necessarily make that lead an ideal sales prospect. Ask the right questions to ensure the lead has the potential sales volume and type of work that will make him an ideal customer.

Once the lead is qualified it becomes a prospect. Focus on learning as much as possible about the prospect’s business and how we can add value to his business model.

The next phase in the sales process is often a trial of some sort. Coaters or OEMs considering an equipment purchase may wish to “try it before they buy it.” Manufacturers looking for a custom coater will likely request samples. Samples will be examined, dissected and tested by the customer. I include plant tours, quality audits and other efforts on the part of the customer to confirm the coater’s ability to meet expectations as part of the trial phase, though they may take place before or after the proposal phase.

Next comes the proposal phase, during which a formal written proposal or quote is provided to the prospect. Take care to ensure the quote is accurate and well written.

The proposal phase is generally followed by a closing phase where the business is either won or lost.

Any coatings industry company that has added a customer has likely progressed through some version of the preceding steps. Call it a “pipeline,” “funnel,” or “cylinder,” if that terms suits your fancy—the point is that a sales organization must have a system that enables it to track leads throughout the sales process and hold itself accountable to doing so.

Such a system can take a number of forms, from a complex and sophisticated Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software program to a rudimentary spreadsheet or even a paper file.

The funnel system should classify each lead by the phase of the sales process (lead, prospect, trial, proposal, closing), the location of the prospect, the total anticipating dollar amount of the sale and the last action taken on the project and the next action required to keep the project moving. Review the items in the funnel at least weekly—more frequently is better.

As an alternative to the painful call report process that so often results in unproductive conflict between the sales leader and the rest of the sales team, consider a weekly 30- to 45-minute weekly one-on-one discussion or telephone call to review each open lead on the sales funnel with each individual member of the sales team.

This practice drives accountability. At least once each week, the salesperson must be responsible for reporting the status of each sales lead. Even if the salesperson finds herself scrambling to make phone calls to prospects in the waning hours before the call, at least each prospect is getting attention once a week. Perhaps the best part of the weekly funnel discussion, though, is that it enables the sales leader to provide feedback and offer assistance where the salesperson may need some help. Salespeople now feel enabled and encouraged, rather than hounded.

A lead should only be moved out of the funnel for one of three reasons; because the sale was made, the sale was lost, or the timing isn’t right for the prospect. Thus, when a lead is moved out of the funnel, it should be moved onto one of these three lists. This way, no lead falls through the cracks.

Finally, the funnel becomes a great tool for tracking performance over time, projecting future revenue and dissecting why certain sales opportunities were lost and what changes to the sales approach will improve performance.

Kill the call report in favor of a system that creates discipline and accountability without the conflict and frustration; one that encourages our sales teams to win and supports them in that endeavor. 30 minutes each week with each salesperson, by phone or in person, is the perfect alternative.

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