5 Common Sales Bottlenecks and How to Solve Them
Bottlenecks are a sign of inefficiency—they impede your business operations from properly flowing. When it comes to sales, bottlenecks can be especially dangerous because they negatively impact your bottom line. Delays, inconsistencies, and oversights can veer potential customers off the path to purchase, leading to revenue loss.
With a few straightforward process changes, and by leveraging technology, you can progress toward eliminating bottlenecks to better optimize your time and resources—but first, you have to know what to look for.
Here’s a quick breakdown of some of the most common types of bottlenecks:
1. Chasing the Wrong Customers
There’s nothing more disappointing than chasing a potential customer for months and investing valuable time and resources on the relationship, only to realize they aren’t going to buy—and probably never were. It isn’t always easy to identify dead-end roads; hindsight might be 20/20, but in the moment you were likely operating with incomplete data.
There are ways to more reliably predict who’s likely to buy, so you can direct your attention towards the “right” leads. One way is to examine your existing customers and their buying patterns in order to craft a set of buyer personas specific to your business.
Creating buyer personas requires putting yourself in your customers’ shoes. Personas are realistic representations of your key audience, based on the data you have from efforts that include user research, web analytics, and historical closed deals. You can incorporate your buyer personas into the records in your CRM to better track how they respond to different campaigns, products, and approaches.
While reaching out to 100 potential customers might feel productive, reaching out to 20 who look and shop like your existing customers is a much more effective investment of time. Lead generation can burn out the best sales team, so improving the rate of return for your team will free up time they can spend on executing the sales process.
Keep in mind, buyer personas are not a “set it and forget it” tool. Personas should be updated and fine-tuned on a regular basis to reflect changing habits, trends, and customer needs.
2. Neglecting the Right Customers
Neglecting leads who likely will buy, but may not be fully convinced or ready yet, is just as wasteful as chasing leads who are never going to buy. It’s not only important to find the right leads, but to make sure they aren’t forgotten or ignored during their journey.
How is this accomplished? With more effective lead nurturing. Once you’ve made contact with a potential customer and gained their interest, it can take time to move from that point in the journey to the final sale. It’s important to stay on the customer’s radar and be available for any questions or concerns that surface along the way.
Marketing automation tools are a perfect example of how technology can help in this endeavor. You can use automation to craft regular, reliable messaging to stay in touch with customers across a variety of channels with personalized content, depending on their stage in the journey.
3. Delays or Mistakes Mid-Stream
Bottlenecks don’t just occur at the start (or at the end, as we’ll see shortly) of the sales process: they can occur anywhere along the way. Technical and human errors contribute greatly to mid-process bottlenecking.
The marketing automation technology mentioned above isn’t just useful for nurturing leads; it can also reduce errors in communication with prospects. By integrating your CRM with a marketing automation platform, you can achieve a seamless flow of data between the two systems. When you create customer profiles in your CRM, for example, you can establish specific fields as “mandatory” to avoid missed data. Another example is building a limited drop-down menu rather than a blank form to ensure information is categorized correctly and consistently.
Minimizing mistakes in this manner can go a long way towards preventing and eliminating bottlenecks along the path to purchase.
4. Approval Delays
Another bottleneck that’s likely to put off customers—and to frustrate your sales team—occurs right before the final purchase. Picture this: You’ve found the ideal customer, productively nurtured the relationship for months, they’ve found the product they want, they request a discount, and then … progress completely halts as you wait to deliver an answer.
When a sales member is unavailable, or unclear on what discounts they can extend, it can halt the sales journey and create a negative impression for your prospective customers. To address this, you can use software to facilitate smooth approvals processes, or even set preapproved authorization approval levels.
The importance of minimizing the time between a customer putting an item in their cart and paying their bill can’t be underestimated. Use the tools you have to make sure an approved quote is delivered as quickly, and efficiently, as possible.
4. The Post-Sale Bottleneck
A final, often ignored, bottleneck occurs when it’s time to follow up after a completed sale. While it may not seem like a bottleneck since the purchase is complete, this can be a lost opportunity to upsell, cross-sell, or gain loyal brand advocates who can generate new leads. Any bottleneck during the follow-up process means you’ll lose the chance to gain customer loyalty and expand your lead sources.
Methods to ensure you’re following up effectively include automating a personalized thank-you message, a customer satisfaction survey, or even an invitation for a customer-selected follow-up date.
Bottlenecks are common; rest assured that finding some in your process is a normal discovery. By simplifying your processes, focusing your lead qualification strategy, and leveraging technology like CRM, a marketing automation platform, or a configure-price-quote tool, you can reduce roadblocks that formerly slowed your process or caused lost deals. Many bottlenecks in the sales process are easy to eliminate once you determine root causes.
Adam Plummer is senior director of application sales-US at Rackspace. With more than 20 years of experience in IT, management, software engineering, and database design, Plummer has held roles such as VP of IT, technical architect, and management consultant at prominent technology companies.