There are lots of metaphors in the sales business. When describing what it means to be good at sales, consider these. “Eat what you kill” presents the idea that sales people are hunters. They always have to be prowling for new prospects. And “keep the pipeline flowing” means that businesses need to have long-term planning. They need to keep bringing in new sales leads. I’d like to suggest another metaphor for how to think about managing sales leads and making sales. That metaphor is “tend your garden.”
Summertime is gardening season. And lots of Americans are re-discovering the fun and fulfillment of growing their own fresh fruit and vegetables. You might not have a garden of your own. But I think we can all relate. Consider some of the basic ideas of what is involved with taking care of a garden.
Tips on Managing Your Sales Leads
Here are a few reasons why managing your sales leads is like tending a garden:
Make Sure you have Fertile Soil and Ideal Growing Conditions
Even before planting seeds, gardeners need to make sure they have good conditions for where they are going to grow their plants. Gardeners tend to add fertilizer to the soil, make sure the garden gets the right mix of sun and shade, and otherwise prepare the space for plants to grow.
In the same way, making sales requires elaborate preparatory work. You need to make sure your company has ideal conditions for growth – you need good processes in place to accommodate new sales inquiries and bring new customers into your system. You need to understand your sales funnel: what happens at each stage of the customer’s journey? It’s not enough to just plant a bunch of seeds and hope they grow; you need to have the right conditions in place to nurture the growth of those sales leads and help them develop into profitable business relationships.
Weed, Water and Mulch
Lots of gardeners get excited to go plant seeds and watch the plants sprout out of the ground, but they lose patience for the longer-term work of actually taking care of the garden as it grows: there’s a lot of gardening work involved with weeding, watering and mulching and helping the plants stay healthy until harvest.
Working with sales leads is the same way. You have to constantly tend your “garden” of sales prospects. Nurture the sales leads that show potential, even if they’re going to need longer-term relationship-building and research before they’re ready to buy from you. Weed out the ones that are not a good fit for your company – sometimes you need to cut your losses and stop investing more time in a sales prospect that’s not returning your calls or that’s not the right fit. Constantly re-assess how you are spending your time and keep re-ranking your sales leads based on the priority of the prospect and how favorable the relationship has been so far.
Harvest – But not Just the Low-hanging Fruit!
The gardening season culminates with harvest time. You finally get rewarded for all those months of hard work. But in the sales world, it can be tempting to just pluck the low-hanging fruit – the easiest sales from the most ready-to-buy customers. Instead, sometimes it’s a better strategy to be more cautious about which deals you go after.
Sometimes the low-hanging fruit is not actually the best fit for your company. Sometimes customers that seem totally ready to buy turn out to be difficult to work with, or might have second thoughts that throw a wrench into the deal at the last minute. As exciting as it is to close a deal, it’s often best to proceed cautiously, even with clients who seem eagerly ready to buy, even at this late stage of the sales process – don’t rush, make sure the clients’ questions are answered, make sure you have a good level of trust and a mutually effective working relationship, and be ready for any last-minute hesitations or additional deal-sweetening requests.
Every business owner and sales person has to find their own sense of meaning and inspiration in what they do; some people like to think of themselves as hunters who “eat what they kill,” but I think a better and more complex vision of the life of a sales person is that of a gardener, tending a well-cared-for piece of land. If you put in the time and effort to prepare your garden, to nurture and nourish your sales leads, and to carefully harvest your opportunities at the right time, you will have a sustainable source of business opportunities for years to come.