Tuesday, October 25, 2011

USING DATA BASES FOR SELLING PART ONE

As a clue to how old I am, for several years I had used light cardboard index cards (the kind used for recipes) as a way of collecting information on customers and prospects, and prioritizing them in a metal file box. After awhile you get to appreciate the limitations of such a system. You can certainly collect a lot of information preparing for and making sales calls. How do you sort it? Alphabetically or by your next contact date? How quickly can you find some critical information? In concrete terms information can be too concrete.  Eventually one metal box is not enough.

The great thing about computers is the great amount of information. The not so great thing about computers is the great amount of information. You can find yourself endlessly pursuing minute details and let the computer take over your life. Or cleverly manipulate information to free up your energy to do all sorts of productive things more effectively. I have lived the dangers of a data base and appreciate how liberating it can be.

If you are like most salespeople you will encounter a lot of contacts over the years--some will become loyal customers for at least part of what you sell, others might adopt you as their secondary supplier, some seem promising, but elusive and some of them might not seem very promising under the present circumstances. Others are just a name you haven't gotten around to yet. I have sold things through wholesalers with the support of retailers and consumers. They are all important and all inter-related.

There are an awful lot of details and an awful lot of "suspects" out there that can clog up your efforts, but it is hard to predict just what little tidbits will help you connect to your prospect, understand their situation, earn their trust and make a sale.

I designed my own system, but there are plenty of systems already set to go that have been well thought out. Before you decide on the design of a data base system carefully consider what you want to do with it. You can and probably will modify it as time goes by, but it is far better to do it right the first time. I am only one source for ideas and you would be wise to study your objectives and resources in depth before actually setting up your data base--not too long though as prospects are making decisions every hour that could impact your success.

A key field of your data base should be action. Everything else is just background to what you need to do in order to convert this information into your bank account. It needs to be very prominent on your computer screen as it is the compelling reason you should make a contact.  Bold the words as you want them to grab your attention. It could be some routine you have established (so many days after a previous contact) or ideally something unique for the contact. When you are able to offer a solution to their particular problem or answer a question. The action might include something negative such as avoid something or wait for something. Obviously it is better to have some positive action with regard to this client even if it is just to fill in blanks of your information. It is your excuse, your motivation to move forward with this contact.

Getting back to the more mundane you of course need to identify the prospect which can involve lots of details. These days there are an increasing number of ways to contact your prospect and any one of them could be critical at some point. Experience will help you identify key facts that can lead to sales. They need to be easy to find.

Each prospect has some sort of time restriction as they pretty well all like to sleep and most of them have some private time and others have their own tasks requiring focus. One factor I found useful is time zones which enables you to hit prospects in a different part of the daily routine. Some companies may present many persons you contact. They could all be important, if not now, sometime in the future.

Prioritizing is the key task in managing a data base. It can be a very complicated thing so you need to simplify it or at least standardize it. The first step is to use a date sequence that tells you who your next contact should be.  You have made commitments to some and others you have made a strategic decision when your next contact should be. That is not enough in some cases. I found myself sorting 100 people to contact in one day without the ability to even handle half of that. Here I will deal with how you can determine the relative importance of each contact. In part two I will deal with another approach.

Two criteria I combine to determine a contact's priority are potential and responsiveness. There are obvious (but sometimes misleading) indicators of potential such as number of employees or estimated income. Responsiveness is more subjective and really comes down to your experience or judgments of someone you can trust. Use those two criteria to assign a value for each prospect.  Be prepared to re-evaluate after each contact.  These criteria can boil down to one letter and one number so that they can be used for sorting on your data base.

After each contact you may want to re-assign that value. Ideally you are looking for someone with the potential to buy a lot of whatever you are selling and who is open minded to your approach. Practically you may have to accept your best initial contact might be someone who apparently has the resources and the need to buy your product and hasn't yet thrown you out the door. You cannot contact everyone everyday but you want to be sure you have made an effort for the more critical ones in a timely fashion.

The practical way of prioritizing is to sort. First sort is by date. The second sort is by your value assignment. Each day you should have your contacts arranged by those with the most potential that are the most likely to respond. You will have to make allowances for availability and if actually traveling routing efficiencies should be worked in.

Do not be dismayed that those who you felt should respond right away decide they are not interested and prefer to pursue other priorities. If you have something of value there will be a market that you can discover and develop. Each contact should yield some information that helps you evaluate future efforts.

Once you get started you will find yourself repeating some patterns unconsciously and before you know you are locked in. You may have to make a lot of time consuming changes. Simple things like how you separate bits of information or how you sequence them. You can have a lot of fields which can be good or bad when you are trying to pin down one detail. You can use different punctuations and abbreviations to separate details or find them all muddled up.

This is by no means everything you need to know about designing a data base or even all that I can help you with. But it is too much already for one blog posting.

check part 2 http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2011/11/using-data-bases-for-selling-part-2.html

The photo is by my son, Michael Davidson on a recent trip to the Czech Republic.




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