Here’s A Big Hint – It Should Look A Lot Like Your Old Process, If You Had That Right
I work with a lot of agencies and it's still shocking to me how many don’t have a defined, documented, and optimized sales process.
If that’s the case, then it’s reasonable for many of you to be wondering how you adjust to the new normal when it comes to agency new business.
But if you have built a sales process that works, then the answer is going to be simple. Just do more of the same.
Yes, more people are home and not in the office. Yes, more people are distracted. Yes, you can’t network like you used to before Covid-19. Yes, you’ll have to meet everyone via Zoom. Yes, your conferences and events are not going to be rescheduled.
No matter what happens in the next few months, you’re not going back to the way it was in January.
Now is the perfect time to look at your sales process and adjust to ensure you continue to bring in the right new clients and you hit your new business goals for the rest of the year.
Here’s what you should be looking at.
What Is Your Close Rate?
It’s an easy question, right? If you submit 20 proposals and you get 10 new clients, you have a 50% close rate. But what’s a good close rate for an agency?
HubSpot published some close rate data but it’s a little different. They’re looking at all your prospects as compared to those who closed. That means if you have 50 Sales Qualified Leads (SQLs) and you close the same 10 from above, your close rate is now 20%.
Honestly, it probably makes sense to track both of these numbers for your agency. HubSpot’s benchmark for business services or professional services like agencies is a 27% close rate on SQLs to new customers.
We like to look at each stage of our sales process. If you start with SQLs, then we know that many of those won’t be qualified for us. Our SQL to Sales Opportunity conversion rate is low. It is typically around 20%, meaning only two out of 10 are good opportunities for us.
However, once we have a sales opportunity, they almost always get recommendations. Our conversion rate from Sales Opportunities to Recommendations Submitted is remarkably high at 94%.
Our close rate on Recommendations Submitted to new clients is also higher than most agencies. We win the business about 80% of the time.
Based on HubSpot’s data a typical professional services firm with 50 SQLs would have 13 new clients. Square 2 would end up with 7 new clients.
This is another good example of how off and misleading benchmarks can be. Every business is unique. At Square 2, we’ve agreed we want to try and help people with their marketing, so we actively talk to anyone who wants to talk to us.
Other companies might not want to burden salespeople with these conversations until the prospects are more qualified pushing up those conversion numbers.
The takeaway is to set up your own benchmark close data numbers and work to improve that month over month.
How Long Is Your Sales Cycle in Days?
This is another number that will vary wildly by industry and by company. However, you should know, every month, how long it takes you to turn a new visitor into a new client. From the first click to your website to close, how many days does it take?
At Square 2, it's currently 46 days. It has been as high as 86 days and as low as 34 days.
It’s not hard to track this in HubSpot and by paying attention to this number and actively working to lower it, you can significantly impact your agency.
Areas that drag out the sales cycle are notoriously at the end of the sales process. These include reference checks, ongoing and continuous adjustments to the recommendations, negotiations on pricing, and legal review of your agreement or contract. These four motions could be adding weeks to your existing sales process.
Want to make references easier? Shoot a reference reel.
Want to eliminate the back and forth on program configuration? Build in a few co-creation touches before you present your final recommendations.
If you hate pricing negotiations, simply tell your prospect you don’t negotiate. They’re not buying a car.
Also, if your contracts keep spending weeks in legal, consider making them much less legal. After all, what’s in that agreement? You do the work, they pay you. It’s an amazingly simple relationship. You can cut weeks off the back end of your sales cycle if you have a simple one or two page agreement written in English, not legalese.
What Does Discovery Look Like?
This first call with your prospect is the most important. It sets the tone for the rest of your sales process and you should explain the rest of your sales process to your prospect on this call.
This call has two objectives. They are very clear.
Deliver value and qualify your new prospect.
You deliver value first based on the expectations of the initial call request. If they want their website graded, you grade it and share your feedback with them.
If they want guidance on their content strategy, you share your experiences and recommendations. If they want their own sales process assessed, you ask the questions you need to give them the assessment they expect.
Then you shift gears into qualification mode. This focuses on three areas: Pain, Power, and Fit.
Do they have acute pain that is requiring them to take immediate and decisive action? Sometimes I like to ask them how big a priority is this initiative across their organization. If we don’t get a nine or ten out of ten, then their pain is not acute. You have to work to help them realize how acute their pain actually is.
Are you talking to power? That is, to the person who will sign your contract, or sign your check? This is usually the easiest to qualify for. If you’re not, then that person must be on the next call or I’d consider pausing the process until they can join.
Finally, fit means you do what they need. If they need branding and you do lead generation, it's not a good fit. If they want 1,000 leads and only have $1,000 a month to invest, it's not a good fit. If they want to give you a to-do-list every month, it's not a good fit for us. You should get the idea.
We are only moving on to the next stage in our process if we’re talking to power, they have acute pain and the fit is aligned. If not, the prospect is referred to another agency. This helps us ensure we only spend time with our best prospects.
What Touch Points Make The Process Remarkable?
Your prospects are talking to between two and 10 other agencies while they work through your sales process with you. During those experiences, they’re comparing you. While it might come down to pricing at the very end, each of these agencies are working hard to make those emotional connections with their prospects.
The difference between winning and losing might be those subtle touch points that help solidify the emotional connections between two people.
How are you going to make their experience with you remarkable? How are they going to feel about their experience with you and your sales team?
One way to help your agency stand out is to map out every touch point within your sales process and make sure it's remarkable.
Do you sign an NDA? We do too, but we pre-sign it and send it to the client with a jar of marshmallow fluff and a story about how one of our core values is No Fluff!
Do you have great content? We do too, but we also have a book. Three books actually and we send a set to very qualified prospects to help them understand our thought leadership, perspective on revenue growth, and methodology. It also shows we’re smart and smart enough to get a book published.
What about references? Every prospect asks for them and every agency has them, but we have them in what we call a Reference Reel and we send that video out BEFORE prospects ask us.
Do you get referrals? Sure, everyone does. But how do you incent people who give you referrals? We have a bottle of gourmet root beer with a custom label and a box that goes out to everyone who gives our name to a potential prospect.
How about your recommendations? How do you submit those to prospects? Do you send over a presentation or document? Do you walk them through it? We never send anything to anyone without a person to explain it.
Sometimes that means sending an embedded video inside the presentation. This allows us to explain our thinking even when the prospect didn’t want to meet with us personally. It ensures we get our point across and it ensures that if the presentation is shared or pushed up to executives, our story is intact.
How are you mapping specific touch points and making your sales process remarkable?
How Do You Make Your Prospect Feel Safe?
As human beings, there are some similarities between us that are built into our DNA. This information makes it easier to create systems and processes that work over and over again. One of these behavioral consistencies is how people make purchase decisions.
They make them emotionally first and then rationalize those decisions second.
They’ll only buy something when they feel safe and that means they know, like and trust you.
Not only do they have to feel safe, but they have to have acute pain.
All of these conditions need to be in place for you to close a deal. Which means your sales process has to be designed to deliver all of these conditions.
How does your sales process help them feel safe? How are you emotionally connecting with prospects?
For example, we introduce prospects to the people who will be working on their company. These include the consultant, designer, writer, web developer, project manager, editor etc. This helps them get to know these people and when they like them, see that they are smart, the prospect feels better about working with us.
We have an elongated sales process that helps them get to know us and us get to know them. This allows us to custom tailor every set of recommendations to match exactly what they’re looking for.
We have a co-creation step in our sales process where we introduce some of our recommendations and we socialize the pricing in advance of the big proposal reveal. This ensures there are no surprises and we have support from at least a few of the decision makes before we show them our ideas.
We have literally identified ALL the areas during our sales process where people might feel anxious or nervous and we’re attempting to give them an experience to assuage those feelings and get them thinking that they know us, like us and trust us more.
This produces an 80% close rate on all Recommendations Meetings. If we’re not all on the same page, we don’t move forward with this meeting until we are safe and ready to proceed.
Hopefully, you’re religious about your sales process. For example, we still get prospects who ask us for a proposal on the first call. We let them know that based on our experience, it’s not the best way for them to find the right agency. If they insist, we decline.
In fact, there are a number of reasons for us to decline or truncate our sales process. If the CEO won’t participate, if they won’t share any budget or investment expectations, or if they have unreasonable expectations around the results and timing of those results.
We even decline when they tell us they’re amazing writers and it's going to be hard to impress them with our copywriting.
You need to be equally rigid. Your sales process has to be excellent at allowing you the opportunity to uncover hidden challenges that will prevent the engagement from being successful.
There is no reason to take on a client who won’t be a reference, a referral source, an active advocate, and a fan of your agency.
Your sales process has to be purposefully designed to uncover bad fit, qualify based on pain, power and fit, give your team the time it needs to help the prospect feel safe with your agency and create an experience remarkable enough to separate you from the other two to six agencies your prospects are also talking to.
Once you have this, you’ll have all the new business you need to grow your agency.
Start Today Tip – It all starts with the process. If you can’t produce the visual map of your sales process, then you don’t have a sales process. Your first action item is to create a visual process map of your sales process. Then you need to make sure that each touch point along the way leaves a memorable and positive experience with your prospect. This includes every email, every video, every piece of content, or website page you send over. You’re also going to create a dashboard that includes the conversion rates at each stage of your sales process and a calculation for the days from the first click to close. Now that you have data and a process you can work to continually improve the execution of the process to drive month over month revenue growth for your agency.
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