By Gil Cargill, Sales Acceleration Coach, Cargill Consulting Group, Inc.
Many companies manage their sales process from the backend forward. In other words, they measure the dollars that are produced by the process and make the assumption (and it is an assumption) that the process is working if the dollars are, relatively speaking, acceptable. I emphasize the phrase "relatively speaking" due to the fact that most sales organizations benchmark current sales against historical data.
If, relative to history, sales are up, management assumes that everything's A-OK, and they continue doing what they're doing. If, relative to history, sales are not okay, then management starts to worry. Unfortunately, due to the fact that there are no proactive or leading metrics associated with most sales processes, it's impossible to determine what's wrong.
This gives rise to the familiar clichés, such as "Let's work smarter" or "Let's work harder." In some dysfunctional organizations, management will verbally attack and, in the extreme, verbally abuse their sales team. All of this is completely unnecessary, if salespeople and management would start paying attention to the most important and most frequently overlooked metric … first meetings.
A first meeting is any calendared meeting, by phone and/or face-to-face encounter, with someone who has the potential to eventually make the decision to buy your product or service and/or to influence the decision to buy your product or service. Very few, if any, companies religiously and vigorously track the trend of first meetings. Let me give you a few very simplistic examples.
In the case that there are no first meetings pending, then it's highly probable that there will be no first orders in the reasonably near future, except in the case of outright luck kicking in. Unfortunately, sales professionals and managers cannot rely on luck to meet their goals.
On the other hand, if you start tracking the relationship between first meetings and first orders, you will eventually determine a ratio. Once this ratio is determined, predicting future success will become very easy. All you have to do is track and manage the number of first meetings that you are creating through marketing and prospecting efforts.
A first meeting must be calendared. My recommendation is that all first meetings, in order to count as a metric to be measured, must be calendared within the ensuing 30-day period. First meetings that are months into the future don't count, due to the fact that it's too easy for busy decision-makers and/or influencers to forget about a distant first meeting and/or to change their calendar without making you aware of it.
Now that you know what a first meeting is, it's important that you determine how you're going to go about getting those first meetings. Many traditional prospecting techniques don't work in today's world. I will post other blog submissions in the near future that will give us insight into how you can go about generating the first meetings that you need to hit your targets.