Can any business afford to ignore a sales opportunity these days; apparently yes.

Having worked in the marketing and promotions industry for well over a decade now I’m quite familiar with the simple process of placing orders for things like advertising space and print for point-of-sale. On the whole I’ve always found it to be a quite straight forward task. The golden rule is to set out clearly, in a language that suppliers are familiar with, the exact specifications of your needs. This ensures you get an accurate quote, the supplier recognises that you know what you want and in the vast majority of cases you get a good quality of service at a price that meets your budget. Everyone’s happy.

Perhaps this is changing and now I need to learn that the very first thing a written request for a quote requires is a clear statement at the very top, which reads:

THIS IS A LIVE SALES OPPORTUNITY – I’M ASKING YOU FOR A QUOTE BECAUSE I’M READY TO BUY

You might detect a modest hint of sarcasm in my comment above and that would be correct. I’ve recently approached four local printers with to request a quote for a reasonable size print run.  I’ve been shocked and disappointed that three of the four haven’t even bothered to reply.  One did contact me to ask for some clarification on the copy but I’ve not heard a dickie bird since then. Thankfully the one printer who did respond was quick off the mark and offered me a great deal on a larger print run.  Sadly his best offer doesn’t suit the requirement as it stands, so I’m still left looking.  The other three seem to have completely passed by this sales opportunity.

Let me say quite clearly that I’ve often found printers to be very easy to work with, very professional and frequently willing to work hard to deliver a great service and build a good supplier/client relationship.  Anyone in the print industry will know just how competitive this marketplace is.  So this most recent experience is a slight shock and disappointment.  Of course, the lack of effective follow-up on sales leads isn’t unique to one industry, or even the Business-2-Business market, we find it constantly in the Business-to-Consumer market as well.

I’m sincerely hoping that this recent experience is nothing more than a minor blip and purely coincidental.  I could also look back at myself and remember that ‘Communication is about the result we get’ as I tell my own clients.  This is always a good place to start.  Did I really make it clear as to what my needs were, or the fact that order is quite urgent?  In this instance I feel confident that I’ve done both of these effectively, so this experience leaves me bemused. The order itself isn’t mammoth but it will be the first of many repeat orders, so my Average Lifetime Customer Value could be quite high.

I’m sharing this experience with one clear objective; I want to provoke you to go back to your own business and confirm, beyond all reasonable doubt, that your own sales process is completely water-tight. I suggest you test the system, perhaps with a mystery shopper, to make sure that when an inbound sales enquiry arrives at your door it always enters a process that results in a clear and defined outcome. Then go one step further than this.  Make sure you have some back-check process in place to ensure that every call, email or face-to-face request has been fully dealt with and ensure there is evidence to back this up. In every case there should be some record of how the request was concluded; did the prospect go ahead and place an order, or did they decline, and if so do you know why?  What will you do to maintain contact with them and perhaps find a way to win the next sales opportunity they present?

In a time when so many businesses really need to ensure profitable sales continue to flow and increase, there can be no excuse for not having even the most simple of systems to ensure that every crumb of opportunity gets picked up and dealt with effectively.  They also need to demonstrate that they’re open for business and ready to serve.

So, will I get my print order completed in time; yes, I’m sure of it and perhaps a few red faces might be the price worth paying to be made aware that something isn’t quite working as it should be. Please don’t ever find yourself in the same situation.

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