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The Sales Autopsy: How to Build Future Sales on Current Successes

Digital Library > Defining and Serving a Market > Sales analysis “The Sales Autopsy: How to Build Future Sales on Current Successes”

A sales analysis helps the entrepreneur build future sales on current successes.

Marketing poses problems for the entrepreneur because it addresses the issue of why people buy. This backs into sales psychology, which is nowhere near as well defined as the other aspects of running a business, such as accounting, finance or legal issues. Even in the sales of well-defined products and technology, there are a lot of issues that don’t lend themselves to quantification, and need to be determined on a real-time basis. In other words, you have to continually examine why you are successful at sales. This analysis is seldom done, and even top salespeople are "unconscious competents": they are successful, but they really can’t tell you why. If you want to duplicate your success in a systematic fashion, you have to know why you are successful in the first place.

I am referring to a sales autopsy, or sales analysis. Many sales and marketing professionals think of sales analysis only in terms of lost sales. Seldom is there an effort to seriously analyze successful sales. The irony of this is that "won sales" contain a goldmine of marketing information that is of far greater value than what is known about the lost sale. After all, if the objective is to duplicate the results, then do you want to duplicate a win or a loss?

In performing the sales autopsy, there is occasionally confusion regarding the objective. Do you want raw information or guidance on how to apply that information to your sales situation? How do you go about sales analysis to extract the information you need to develop and improve your marketing program? Here’s a developmental procedure and related checklist that will get you started:

Determine the market direction where you want to take your business. Then pick successful sales that represent that direction. What you are looking for is real-time sales information that will help guide your business in the desired direction, positioning it for the future while maintaining today’s cash flow and profits.

Interview the customers with the intent of documenting their thought process as they went through the buying cycle: how they identified their needs, located vendors, performed the evaluation and made their decision. The key is to understand how and why your products and services appeal to them.

Look for patterns that are common to all of the customers that you have interviewed. Remember, the goal is to develop a marketing program that will support successful sales by sending an accurate message to the market — and trigger a response from high-potential prospects.

Review your marketing program and message in light of the information you obtained from the analysis of successful sales. Is your program and message on target, or did you win in spite of yourself?

Evaluate your sales techniques with this same information in mind: are you consciously in sync with the buyers during the entire buying process? Marketing is the strategy; sales are the tactics. Are your tactics appropriate, or can they be tuned up for greater efficiency?

Repeat the process every six months. The whole process should take the better part of a day (about eight hours), but will be spread out over a week or two. Figure an hour for each interview (three to four hours total), two hours to review your notes and draw conclusions, and two or three hours to brief your staff and implement your findings.

Don’t be surprised if your sales analysis not only confirms the "gut feeling" you might have had about some issues, but also presents you with some new information that you need to deal with. Once you get used to the process, you’ll find a host of benefits: your marketing will be more on target, you will know how your customers and prospects think, you will know how to reach them and what message to use, you will spot market trends quickly and at the same time get a lot of ideas for new products and services.

SALES AUTOPSY CHECKLIST

IDENTIFY YOUR LAST THREE SUCCESSFUL SALES THAT REPRESENT YOUR SALES GOALS.

Start by selecting the three last successful sales that represent the type of sale that you would like to duplicate. Don’t pick all of the same type, but rather a spread of customer size, complexity of application, industries, etc. Not only are you looking for sales specifics, but also trends that run across different sales scenarios.

WHY DID THESE CUSTOMERS BUY FROM YOU?

Ask and then listen. The customer may come up with some reasons that impress you, and some that don’t. Do not question or argue with their logic, just take notes.

WHO OR WHAT WAS THE COMPETITION?

You always have competition — from other vendors, from internal or substitute solutions, or the ever-present "do nothing." Find out who or what solutions you are competing with, and the relative merits and faults of each from the customer’s perspective.

WHAT WERE THE KEY FACTORS IN THE PURCHASE DECISION?

There are usually one or several key factors in a purchase decision that push the prospect to a close. These factors may or may not be what you suspect. They could be internal events (budget or project deadlines), external (keeping up with the competition) or simply "it’s time we did it." Again, do not challenge their reasons; ask and listen.

WHAT WAS UNIMPORTANT?

It’s equally important to know what they don’t care about, so you don’t waste valuable time on non-essentials. Again, you might find some surprises.

HOW DID THEY GET THE INFORMATION TO MAKE THE DECISION?

The emphasis here is on the word "how." What you’re looking for is the channel of communications that will best reach other prospects. Savvy buyers look for information in certain places such as directories, trade shows and trade publications. You want to determine the best way to reach like-minded prospects.

WHAT INFORMATION WAS MOST IMPORTANT TO THEIR DECISION?

Try to get the customer to rank-order the information they used to reach their decision. It will serve as a useful cross-check on your marketing communications message.

WHEN DID THEY MAKE THE ACTUAL DECISION?

This is a query to determine the length of the sales cycle. Ask when they started looking, as well as when they made the purchase decision.

About the Writer: Jeffrey P. Geibel is the managing partner of Geibel Marketing Consulting in Belmont, Ma., which provides marketing and communications capabilities to software, systems and technology companies. He is also the creator of the Sales Autopsy™ and Solution Marketing™ methodologies. He can be reached at (617) 484-8285.

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