Very few companies I’ve spoken with over the years have confidence in their quote follow-up. Distribution executives in my Industrial Sales Management Peer Group shared these challenges in a recent meeting:
- The follow-up simply gets lost. “It’s a lower priority in the daily fire-fighting battles than it should be.”
- Waiting for the customer to follow-up, assuming if the customer were interested he would do so. “If we don’t get the order, we assume they went elsewhere.”
- Lax accountability. Companies may assign people to follow-up on quotes, but there’s no incentive or management follow-up.
- Complexity of project-based quotes. A lot of systems don’t allow for effective tracking of project-based quotes (rather than just a list of products).
- Verbal quotes dropping through the cracks. Verbal quotes aren't being captured in distributor systems.
- Lower-value quote follow-up happens less frequently.
Most companies rank themselves about a 4 out of 5 on the quoting itself, but only a 2 or 3 on their follow-up for those quotes. Simply putting an improved quote follow-up process in place will likely yield an increase in sales for your business. And automating it – letting your CRM system, for example, generate an email three days after initial quote – would increase your hit rate further.
Here are some ideas from the Peer Group for more effective but simple follow-up:
Setting benchmarks: Any quote over $2,000, for example, is followed up by a dedicated individual within the company. But take care though not to get stuck on a number. An account may have great potential for growth, even if it starts at the low end.
Dedicated telesales: Distributors may assign quote follow-up to a dedicated telesales person, with the idea that she would take a service approach versus a sales approach: “Do you have everything you need?”
Added accountability: One executive added process goals as part of an "accountability contract" with his salespeople that required routine follow-up on any quote over $5,000 within one week of issue. Another distribution executive tells his team that if it’s not documented in the CRM, he assumes it didn’t happen. “Their pay is actually affected by it.” Even 20 years ago when I was a rep without the technology of today, we had regular Monday meetings with the sales team. The expectation was that we would have high visibility at every stage of the sales process.
Using existing systems to monitor quote follow-up: In some business and CRM systems, you can assign a follow-up date to a quote and have the system issue reminders to an outside salesperson on the right day.
Monitoring projects through regular meetings: One distributor uses weekly sales and operations meeting to follow-up on projects and discuss any challenges with using the existing systems and processes. This helps keep communications channels open and coordinate activities.
Requiring documentation for verbal quotes: For one distributor, it is policy to input any quotes provided – verbal or otherwise – to the system for complete transparency and support on the follow-up. This also helps prevent against that same customer calling back 10 minutes later hoping to get a lower quote from a different inside salesperson.
Asking the right questions: Integrate the following questions into your quoting process to better understand not only when and with whom to follow-up with a potential customer, but also whether that customer is worth quoting at all.
- What is the return for doing this?
At this stage you are probably dealing with a different lead person than you were at the opportunity stage (for example, purchasing). The answer to this question will help you position total cost of ownership for your product or service. Also, know who and how many decision-makers exist for this particular quote.
- What is your budget, and has it been approved?
This question confirms the client’s buying cycle is in line with your perception of where you are in the sales cycle.
- Who else are you accepting quotes from?
This question provides insight on who you are quoting against, allowing you to position your value proposition and highlight your strengths.
- When are you looking at releasing the purchase order?
This confirms the buying cycle and the client's perceived place in your sales cycle.
- What is my next action, and when?
When asking this question, just ask and listen. The client’s reply can tell you a lot.
- At the end of the quote process: Why did I win/lose?
If you lose, take the opportunity to find out why so you can learn from it. Tell the customer you really want to understand what you could do differently next time. Make sure you document this in your CRM to leverage this information next time around.
Change the conversation – constantly ask your salespeople these questions, whether casually by the water cooler, formally in meetings or integrated into your actual CRM or business system as required fields. Get your team to start thinking differently about the business you’re bringing in and the importance of follow-up to qualified opportunities.
This blog series is based on monthly meetings with members of Industrial Sales Management Peer Groups, which discuss issues important to distribution and manufacturing sales managers and executives. If you are interested in joining a Peer Group, visit salesprocess360.com/industrial_sales_management_peer_groups or contact Brian Gardner at firstname.lastname@example.org. Gardner is the founder of SalesProcess360 and has spent more than 25 years in sales and sales management in the industrial market. He contributed to the MDM book, The Distributor’s Guide to Analytics.