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posted: 3/11/2013 4:30 AM

Small businesses should be tracking their own sales trends

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With the likelihood that most small businesses "have their sales work cut out for them," Keith Seebeck says business owners should "put a sales system in place so they can see trends and track results."

Seebeck, a 20-year veteran of both inside and outside sales, is principal of The Seebeck Group LLC, a St. Charles sales consulting firm that centers on businesses with up to $30 million in annual sales.

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Too often, Seebeck says, "Business owners tell me they're struggling with sales and need to get in front of more people. But if you, the owner, are still bringing in 80 percent of the sales, you're spending too much time working in rather than on the business."

Fortunately, the steps Seebeck suggests to improve sales seem doable.

There are several first, or near-first, steps. One, Seebeck says, is to "define the sales process." That involves looking at the common characteristics of every sale.

Start with the moment a company landed on the prospect list, Seebeck says. Then go through the discovery meeting, your solutions meeting, the preparation of a proposal and that key meeting with the decision maker.

If, for example, "Your business wins 80 percent of the time when you talk to a prospect's CFO, then what you should see is that your sales people should get the prospect's CFO involved," Seebeck says. "When you put this type of process in place, you'll see the trends, see what makes you successful."

Look, too, at your customers. "Who is your ideal customer?" Seebeck asks. "What are the characteristics? Who are the 10 customers you wish you didn't have?"

The idea, Seebeck says, is to "get more customers like those at the top of the list and weed out leads whose characteristics match the ones at the bottom."

Of course, finding leads in the first place is an issue for many businesses. "I'm a huge believer in networking," says Seebeck, who also recommends using as many communication channels as possible: Direct mail. Email. Cold calling. Advertising. Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. PR. Networking.

As you connect with businesses that might become customers, keep Seebeck's processes in mind: Know what type of lead has worked for you in the past, which ones haven't, and go after those whose characteristics match your successes.

As one of the near-first steps, you should review your sales representatives. "Look under the hood," Seebeck says. "Rank your reps. Look at what the top sales person is doing and replicate it.

"When you know what you have, work with (your producers) and put together a 90-day sales plan."

The plan, and the results, will be different for every business, Seebeck says, but at the end of 90 days you should have a better idea of what -- and who -- works.

• Jim Kendall welcomes comments at JKendall@121MarketingResources.com

2013 121 Marketing Resources Inc.

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