A decade ago, a group of hospitals in Michigan implemented a procedure in their ICUs that reduced the infection rate by 66%, cut expense by $75 million, and saved an estimated 1,500 lives. Some new technology? A wonder drug? Nope.
It was a checklist, used when inserting an intravenous line into a patient. Author James Clear calls this the power of never skipping steps, and he wrote about in a recent blog post at JamesClear.com. Surgeon and best-selling author Atul Gawande wrote a very strong-selling book about the extraordinary impact of the simple checklist, The Checklist Manifesto.
Most of us in sales don’t save lives every day. But our work is important, at least to ourselves, our employer, and our clients. Skipping steps is costly. The failure rate is high when we don’t follow best practice. Time invested in developing a client is lost forever if that client doesn’t come aboard, and too often the blame is on the salesperson who knew what the best practice was, but just didn’t do it. Some skip-stepping salespeople still make a career in sales, but they don’t enjoy the success they expected or were capable of, the success that comes to top-tier sales professionals.
Maybe something as simple as a checklist (or a series of checklists) could help. It would be an ever-present reminder of the actions that make the sale more likely, and a tool that could be used by salespeople and sales managers alike to ensure they don’t skip any steps.
Here’s what a B2B Sales Checklist Might Include:
Make reasonably certain the prospect is qualified (not just financially) before investing time and resources.
Don’t wing it. Research the prospect before contacting them. Study how they operate and what their relevant needs seem to be. If appropriate, take a wider view that includes their industry or their competitors.
Don’t give up too soon. 90% of salespeople give up after the 4th contact, but 80% of all sales are made after the 4th contact.
Establish your credibility (there are so many ways!) before asking to meet.
Plan some of your questions in advance of a needs analysis meeting. Your preparation will improve your performance, enhance your credibility, and prompt a more positive response from the prospect.
Contract expectations for that needs analysis meeting—and for all meetings with clients and prospects. How important is that? I wrote a whole book on contracting and collaboration in sales.
Summarize in writing the needs you learned in that meeting. Share the summary with the prospect (they might correct, comment, or add on) and with your solutions team back at the office (they’ll do better work if they truly understand the prospect’s needs).
Whether your proposal will be relatively simple or full of moving parts, develop it, write it, and present it in the context of those needs. Don’t drift off into a product pitch. The prospect will understand you way better when you speak the language of their needs.
Collaborate with the prospect as you develop the solution. Getting their input improves both the proposal and the prospect (makes them more likely to buy). If they decline to collaborate, you have valuable insight into how interested they aren’t.
Don’t present your final recommendations until you’ve fully vetted them with anyone and everyone at the prospect firm who might have a say. It’s so easy to modify the proposal and tweak the solution before it’s delivered, and almost impossible to do so afterwards.
There’s a checklist with 10 items, based on my decades of experience in sales. Your experience counts, too, so please modify the checklist to make it work for you.
We can’t save lives every day. But let’s save more sales—by not skipping steps.