Photo by Ronzo.RW
In the blog “Keep on Selling in the Free World” we argued, that for most wholesales companies the bottleneck in the sales process lies in matching the products your clients ask for to the ones in your own assortment. If you eliminate that bottleneck, you can up your quotation game. Figures have shown us, you can handle at least ten times the number of Request for Quotation and tenders if you achieve this. And if you participate in ten times more RfQ’s and Tenders, you’ll be bound to make at least 10 times more sales and increase your company turnover significantly.
After we published it, we got a lot of questions about where that bottleneck comes from. And why it is not easily eliminated by adding more salespeople. We believe that it isn’t a matter of more people or making the same people work harder. That is just chasing waterfalls. Don’t try to do the impossible but as the song says, stick to rivers and lakes. But what are these rivers and lakes?
In this blog we’ll go into the causes of the bottleneck in the sales and tender process of companies and how you can prevent it. To do this we’ll share some insights we’ve heard from salespeople, key account managers and sales managers at wholesale companies.
Why do people cause these bottlenecks? Well, that is easy. First of all, most people can handle matching a maximum of 200 products a day. Maybe when they really put an effort in it, they could stretch it to 250. But that is something that can’t go on day after day, you will go crazy within a few weeks. Secondly, you can’t let everyone perform the cross-referencing task. For some products you have a serious need of specialists. Product specialists that actually know the product your customer is requesting. However, these specialists are rare and expensive, and you definitely don’t want them working on the simple requests which brings us to the next point, working together.
Think about how you go about answering a request for quotation or responding to a tender. When it is a big one with multiple product categories or a combination between simple and specialist products this usually is a matter of teamwork. You want to divide the work between several specialists and salespeople. And you want them to work in the same way and using the right file. Here it can get tricky. The same file can be sent around the team several times adding and correcting products. And it only takes one person that uses a previous version and precious work of days can be lost. You wouldn’t be the first. At least that is what we hear.
Third: The quality of the customer request
Another aspect of the bottleneck lies with the information you get from your customers. It is always a matter of: Garbage In is Garbage Out. The quality of the product data that your clients provide is rarely up to par and never complete. What we see in the first place is, that shopping lists almost always contain type-o’s in product numbers or brand names. Secondly, product characteristics are gathered in one description line, and they are never in the same place in the description of all products. This really tests the limits of searching in Excel, however good an Excel Wizard you are.
Fourth: The constraints of technology
Take a moment to think about all the systems you have in your organization that contain product information; ERP, PIM, Ecommerce, Excel,… Those systems themselves rarely contain all the needed product information. This means combining information from systems by manual search. Next to that most companies have their core assortment in one place (PIM or ERP) but the long tail in other systems, shared folders, or old school catalogues. So, searching for the product your client asks for or offering him an alternative can sometimes turn out to be an expedition ‘into the wild’ and we all know how that tuned out.
The fifth and last dimension: Company policies
Does your company do strategic selling, or do you have sales preferences? What is meant here is; do you rather sell a product with a great margin or end of year bonus, or do you tell you customer NO when something is requested that you cannot offer? A lot of companies would rather sell a specific brand or product as an alternative for what the client asks for. But this alternative needs to comply to the specifications of the original product that it will replace. It must be of the same material, measurements, or quality. You don’t want to sell the wrong item, or it will surely be returned or worse. So, finding out the specifications and complying to them is crucial, and… time consuming.
So, as you can see, the bottleneck in the sales process is not just one constraint, it is a set of constraints in different dimensions. And each company, situation and opportunity can be different. Don’t make your own waterfall by adding more people in the sales process. To deal with the bottlenecks, you need to help your salespeople work smarter, deal with the quality of the client information, overcome your technical constraints, support their teamwork, and live by your company policy when it comes to sales. Is there any other way? Stop chasing sales waterfalls.