Profiling for Success

By Lain Chroust Ehmann

Back in the dot-com heyday companies were famous for creating interesting products and services without taking the time to figure out exactly who would ever want to buy them. What these businesses learned the hard way is that organizations can waste a lot of time – and a lot of money – when they don’t know who they’re selling to.

Even established companies can fall into the same trap. “It’s very easy to take your selling hours and waste them,” says Ellen Bristol, president of Bristol Strategy Group. Bristol adds that one of the biggest wastes of selling time is pursuing underqualified opportunities. As a remedy, she recommends companies undergo a “rigorous effort to identify profiles of prospects with a reasonable likelihood to become profitable customers.” By creating such a profile sales teams can easily focus their resources on opportunities with the most chance of turning into hard sales.

Bristol recommends setting aside time at a sales meeting to brainstorm. She starts the process with the four-quadrant SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis of a handful of current good customers – the ones whose businesses are profitable, who are steady, repeat customers and who, Bristol says, “Don’t give you a headache.”

The next step is to look at each quadrant of the SWOT analysis to see what business needs your organization can meet for those customers – where your product and company strengths meet your customers’ concerns.

Once you’ve performed this exercise within the sales team, repeat it with at least one more division within your company. Manufacturing and marketing are good choices, says Bristol. The diversity of opinion and perspective is invaluable in creating a robust profile.

After you’ve completed two or three rounds of brainstorming you’ll end up with a seemingly unmanageable list, warns Bristol. This is where the real work comes in. It’s your job as sales manager to rank, prioritize, combine and delete until you come up with a reasonably succinct list of criteria that provides a good snapshot of where your company currently is positioned with your best customers.

There are a variety of ways to turn this list into an actionable, useful tool for your sales force, says Bristol. You might create actual customer profiles or a simple group of bullet points, or you might develop a list of key questions for salespeople to ask potential customers. Whatever you do with it, get it off your desk and into your team’s hands. “It’s not a secret,” says Bristol. “It’s a set of guidelines for the individual salesperson to engage in discovery.”

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