CRM Pt. 3: Turning Prospects to Customers - The Online Magazine for the Sign Trade.
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CRM Pt. 3: Turning Prospects to Customers

Now is the time to employ CRM to convert your prospects to customers. The conversion process, (taking all of those prospect names in your data base and converting them to paying, loyal customers) is the profitable portion of your CRM program. This is the act of turning information into dollars.

By Johnny Duncan

Now that you have implemented CRM (Customer Relationship Management), aligned it with your business plan (Part I), used it in your marketing strategy (Part II), it is now time to employ CRM to convert your prospects to customers.

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  • The conversion process, (taking all of those prospect names in your data base and converting them to paying, loyal customers) is the profitable portion of your CRM program. This is the moment when you turn information into dollars.

    But first…

    Uncovering Converts
    First, we'll discuss the weeding out of those prospects that may cause you to use up precious time that no business can afford to lose.

    Obviously, it's great to have potential customers in your CRM files or better yet, knocking on your door. But not all prospects are going to convert to paying customers -- no matter how good your sales skills, how competitive your prices, or how outstanding the quality of your products or services. The sad truth is you can waste a lot of precious time and money answering inquiries and preparing bids or proposals for prospects who are not ready to buy or those who are just "window shopping."

    Deciding how much time and energy to spend on prospective customers is a tricky and difficult balancing act. You need to spend enough time to make a sale to a genuine prospect, but you don't want to waste too much time on those who won't ever buy. Realistically, you have to be responsive to all potential customers.

    Two things you can do to control the amount of time and effort (money) you spend on going-nowhere shoppers are:

    Make general information available
    Most prospects will try to figure out whether a company is a good fit for them before taking up too much of their -- or your -- time. Let's say you sell and install vinyl signs. Do you specialize in auto wraps? Do you only serve a specific geographic area? Do you wrap buses? That kind of information enables prospects to weed themselves out before calling you. Make this information available on your site and in your literature, advertisements and listings.

    Ask questions of the prospect.
    In professional salesperson terms, this is called "qualifying" the prospect. By asking a few simple, non-intrusive questions, you can get a much better sense of how serious the prospect is. Some questions might include the scope of the project, timeframe, their most important consideration for purchasing, the number of bids they are getting, and an approximate date of when a decision will be made.

    Questions such as these give you a better sense of whether a prospect is ready to make a decision, whether they're likely to find you a good choice, and how much time to spend with them.

    Ultimately, your goal in this phase of the conversion process is to eliminate the prospects who will not buy. There is a good chance you'll spend more on repeatedly prospecting than you will get in returns for the small percentage who may eventually convert.

    The key is to take the necessary steps to determine the more responsive prospects. Learning more about each prospect (and in some cases asking for a "no") will allow you to concentrate budget and resources on better prospects.

    Collecting and storing this information into your CRM database creates a profile on a particular prospect that will prove to be advantageous for you for future interactions.

    Show me the money
    As we discussed in CRM Tools for Marketing, Part II, possessing the right marketing skills is crucial in properly identifying the right kinds of prospects for a company. The smart players accomplish this responsibility by profiling the top twenty percent of their current customers who typically provide eighty percent of their profits.

    Criteria like profitability, frequency of purchase, after-sales service required, revenue, and loyalty potential are quantified and used as measuring devices in determining the most important characteristics of a company's best, most potentially loyal customers.

    Large organizations spend a lot of money developing graphs, charts and statistics to determine the top twenty percent, but most business owners instinctively know which customers are the bread and butter and keep.

    Clarke Systems Architectural Signage Systems Wayfinding ADA

    Today, sales executives understand that CRM is more than a tool for marketers. Savvy sales people know that CRM plays an important role in generating qualified leads and enables them to differentiate prospects and customers by value. Because CRM provides detailed snapshots of customer preferences, it offers critical insights about purchasing habits.

    The salesperson that goes out and sees lots of different customers and talks about a lot of different products doesn't need to know the eating habits of all of his prospects and doesn't track the status of sales cycles.

    What he needs to know in order to start a meaningful sales conversation and identify sales opportunities is what the customer bought last time, what they didn't buy and why, and whether there are any changes in spending.

    To your salesperson, a good sales intelligence solution should become as essential as a mobile telephone or a diary. This sales intelligence comes from your CRM software and enables sales people to analyze customers' buying patterns and develop strategic promotional campaigns.

    Creating Converts
    Our world is full of many books and "experts" who can teach you the steps to successful selling. Some are good and there is probably a little information that can be gleaned from each resource. You may have to experiment with some different techniques to find one that works best for you to convert your prospects to customers, but here is a proven process used in our industry.

    When a sign company is ready to make contact with the right type of prospect, three face-to-face steps are used toward making the sale. Each step requires particular selling skills that are necessary to close the sale. A successful sale is like building a pyramid; each step depends upon the success of the previous ones, and no step can be omitted without creating disaster.

    1. Exploring
      The exploring step of sales gives you the chance to get deeply involved with your prospects to determine exactly how your product or service can help them. It's where the partnering process begins. The purpose of exploring is to get additional information from the client to enable you to recommend appropriate options.

    2. Collaborating
      After you've worked with your prospects to identify needs and concerns, the next step is to determine whether or not your product or service will solve a problem or seize an opportunity for them.

      Usually there are several different ways you can put your product or service together to meet the needs of your prospects. The collaborative selling way is much less adversarial and much easier. You actually involve your prospects in deciding which one of your options makes the most sense for them.

    3. Confirming
      If you've done your job properly to this point, your customer should be asking to buy from you. The commitment becomes a how and a when, and not an "if". Signing the agreement is merely a formality. However, before confirming the sale, you'll want to be sure your prospect has all the information they need to justify their perceived value of your product or service.

    Managing existing prospects and customers
    Many businesses complain that they need more leads before they can covert prospects to customers. For most businesses, that is not a solution, but an excuse. According to a report by the Aberdeen Group over 80% of generated leads are never followed up on, dropped, or mishandled.

    Many sign companies are particularly adept at neglecting the leads and business opportunities that they already have in-house just waiting to be called. In fact, they could see improved results just by better handling and nurturing the leads they already have.

    If you're looking to generate maximum response from your lead generation campaigns, and maximum revenue for your investment, don't ignore your current clients. This valuable treasure that you keep in your CRM database is worth marketing to for two reasons:

    First, a current or former customer, assuming they're relatively satisfied with your services, is an order-of-magnitude more likely to respond favorably to your lead generation campaigns than are non-customers.

    Second, your competitors want to get to your customers (and they're trying), and other companies are vying for their attention. If your clients are not focusing on your messages and value, they're focusing on someone else's.

    Future Converts
    Looking further, we must assess the impact of not only the offer we present to the prospect, but the outcome of repeated contacts that result in no sale. Are we blindly attacking a particular segment of the sign industry without regard to the impact on our existing prospects? Are we building interest or conditioning these prospects to ignore and reject our offers? Are we learning anything about how to market to these prospects differently or just trying to wear them down?

    The beauty of CRM is that it gives you the answers to these questions at your fingertips and affords you the opportunity to make selling decisions based on your prospect/customer profile.

    If your company is going to be a leader in your segment of the sign industry, you are going to have to really practice things like "customer intimacy", "customer interaction", "customer loyalty" and perhaps more important - "customer partnership". Many CRM products on the market today can help you with managing all of these.

    In our final segment of this Customer Relationship Management series, (Part IV), we will offer strategies and proven techniques for selling, closing the sale, creating customer loyalty through CRM, and various aspects of CRM products.

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