How much are you leaving on the table?

Ever wonder just how much your salespeople are leaving on the table? Are all of your customers buying all of the products and services they could be? Are you getting all of their orders or are some going to the competition? Are you getting repeat orders? How many customers do you lose each year? As a sales manager or senior executive of a company I would want to know the answers to these questions.

Almost every company I work with has a gold mine waiting in its existing customer base. There are a few exceptions to this but they are rare. One of the first things I do when companies tell me they want their salespeople to go out and find new customers is ask them those questions about their existing customer base.

The easiest way to increase business is by getting more business from your existing customer base. The second is through referrals from your satisfied customers (so they all should be satisfied, right?). The third is through networking and the hardest is prospecting for new customers from a list and cold calling. So why do the hardest thing first? Selling should be easy, so let's stop making it hard. Get those salespeople to go out and sell to the customers that know and love you.

Gather your salespeople and do the following.

* Take a look at your customer list.

* Mark the ones who haven't purchased anything in the last year.

* Mark the ones who only buy one of your products or services regularly but could buy others.

Then plan a strategy to go out and get all the money you are leaving on the table.

Who's on the current customer list? Should they all be there or should some be removed because they went out of business, moved away or are not an ideal customer? Clean up the list. Now with a clean list follow these steps.

1. Look at the customers who haven't purchased in a year or more and develop a campaign. You can use phone calls, e-mails, visits or mail to reach them. Decide which contact method to use based on their potential to purchase, not on their current purchases. Phone calls are a great way to start. Here is an example of what my clients in the Boston area are doing.

They started without cleaning the list and had approximately 700 customers to call. The inside salesperson called each customer. She cleaned the list as she went because on every call she asked if their information was still correct. It took about three weeks for her to get through them all and maintain her current work. Here is what she said once she got the right person on the phone, "Hi, this is Judy calling from The Audio Company. We installed your Direct TV. I am calling to find out how that is working? Is all of the equipment functioning properly? Is there anything that needs to be fixed? Are you interested in having any features added? I am glad it is all working for you. I am updating our database, is the following information correct? I also wanted to mention that our company supplies music for companies like yours. Do you currently have music in your restaurant? (Depending on the answer which was usually, "I didn't know you offered music") Would you like Rob to come out and talk to you about that? OK, let's set up an appointment."

Three of the first 10 calls yielded new business.

2. Mark the customers who only buy one of your products or services regularly but could buy others. Again, you can use phone calls, e-mails, visits or mail to reach them. What you want to do is determine the best way to introduce new products. I recommend a visit if that is how you usually sell to them. The best way to introduce items they may not know about or purchase is to determine their needs. A client of mine that sells medical supplies is having their salespeople do the following.

The sales manager called a meeting and asked for each salesperson to identify 10 of his or her best customers. He then asked them to analyze their purchases. He asked the salespersons to identify one to five other products they thought these 10 customers could use. The next step was to have the salespeople develop questions they could ask their customers to determine if they did indeed need those products. The next step was to determine the right buyer to talk with and then they planned the questions they would ask. They made appointments, went in and asked the questions and almost all of the visits resulted in the sale of a product the customer was not currently purchasing.

Here is another example from a software company that works with all of their customers via phone.

"Hi, this is Janelle calling from Super Tech Inc. I am making customer satisfaction calls today and I am calling to find out how our software is working for you. (If they don't tell you then ask . . .) How is it working for you personally? How is it working for others? Have you had any complaints? Is there anything you wish it could do that it doesn't? What are your plans for growth in the next year? Will this software still suit your needs then? (If not, delve into that.) Please be sure and call me if you have any questions about the software or if you are getting complaints. Do you have my phone number? While I am at it let me verify all of your information. It sounds like our software is meeting your needs. I have another idea for your company. Does your company have a need to protect data? What types of data do you need to protect? Who are you using currently to help you do this? Is that working for you? Does it fit your budget? Are there things that you wish about data protection? Oh, well Super Tech Inc, provides a great solution that will handle the things we just discussed. Would you like a demonstration of the security software? Is now a good time or should we take out our calendars. Thanks so much for using our software; we are delighted to have you as our customer."

All of this will decrease the number of customers you lose each year simply because you are keeping in touch with them but also because you are interested in their business and their needs, not just what you can sell to them. Remember, selling is all about problem-solving. If your customer has a problem or a need and your products and services can fill that in a cost effective way, you will most likely get the sale.

Stay focused on what you can do for your current customers to help them attain their goals. Now that doesn't mean we never go out and look for new customers, but that is for another day.

And don't forget, while you are at it, get referrals from the customers you call on that are satisfied. They all know other companies that could use your products and services.

Alice R. Heiman is president of Reno-based ARH Consulting. She'd like to hear your stories about building a sales culture at your company. Send them to


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