The Silk Road changed the world, arguably more than any leader that walked the earth. Its name derives from the gorgeous silks transported from China along the route; just like owning a private jet shows how wealthy you are today, wearing silk more than two thousand years ago was the number one way to show you had the “Benjamins”.
The Silk Road isn’t a road as such but a network of routes on land and sea, connecting the Eastern Mediterranean to Central Asia and Central Asia to China. Towns sprung up along the trade routes and flourished, benefitting from the goods transported from East Asia. But the Silk Road wasn’t just a conduit for trade; it was central to the spread and exchange of ideas, from Buddhism and Islam and Christianity to agriculture and culture and technology. It has witnessed the rise and fall of civilizations, having been traversed by the Babylonians, Chinese, Persians, Arabs, Greeks, Venetians, Turks, Syrians, Mongols, and even the British Empire. The seeds of growth that transformed the U.S. into the world’s powerhouse also lie along the Silk Route.
For all this talk about empires, few individuals have not been touched by the Silk road. Take my own situation, a modern day hodgepodge of cultures that traversed these ancient paths. My mother’s tribe descends from the Mongols, hence the “different” eye shape, while my father’s ancestry is Turkish, hence the funny surname. Born in Pakistan and raised in Britain, my mother tongue was Farsi, a dialect of Persian, but I love a good chippy and G’n’T.
You can create your own Silk Road to abundance
The ancients created paths to move goods, exchange ideas, and achieve personal wealth. Those paths were a predictable and repeatable source of revenue for traders and empires for centuries. You can establish your own paths to ideas, economic wellness and sustainability for your business, for you and your loved ones. The Silk Road to achieving greater revenue is your sales process. Like the Silk Road, a sales process is a set of predictable and repeatable activities you, as a business owner, undertake to move people you’ve never met before towards buying from you.
Why every business – small and large – needs a sales process
We live in an age of distraction. Our attention span is less than that of a goldfish – that’s you AND your client. This limited attention means you need to make every activity count, every interaction purposeful, otherwise you’ll lose their interest and your opportunity.
Imagine you and your prospective clients are driving down a motorway. There are clear road signs showing the way but you’ve veered off the path and find yourself driving round in circles, wasting time and fuel, hoping to reach your destination. Without a sales process, you waste time on activities or miss crucial steps, that might not bring you results you want.
A few years ago, my partner and I went on holiday in Jordan. After spending our first few days floating in the Dead Sea, we took a taxi south to Petra – you know, those amazing ruins in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
The driver blazed down highway 65 along the Dead Sea; it was an easy, speedy, journey. Somewhere along the way, he suddenly slowed to a stop for an armed dude in uniform. The armed dude waved his arm and said, “Ila al-ya-saar. La. Al-ya-saar”. The Israeli police had placed a border patrol gate blocking the road, so the driver had to make a detour. Into the desert.
The car rattled along a twisty “road” full of hairpin curves and blind corners and littered with stones, potholes, and scraps of tires. The driver slowed down from 70mph to 40mph but for some reason insisted on taking blind curves over cliffs at a bum-clenching speed… So instead of visiting the enchanted valleys of Petra that evening, we had to postpone our visit until the next day. Not a great feeling when you have limited time off from work.
It was supposed to take us two and a half hours to reach Petra, but after that detour through the desert, it took over five hours. Similarly, with a poor sales process, or lack thereof, your journey from no clients to paying clients stretches and drags on by months and months.
As a business owner, your resources are limited so you must make each opportunity count. Failing this results in time wasted on the wrong types of clients or a sales cycle that never ends (i.e. never closes or gets resolved). Poor customer experience affects your business’ long-term success. All of this means postponing that well-deserved break, investment in your business like a new hire or training, or a present you’ve been eyeing up for your beloved.
Businesses with a Sales Process Perform Better
When you do have a sales process, when you’ve paved your Silk Road, your route to customers and economic abundance shortens and the journey quickens. That’s because you’ve created a predictable and repeatable process. According to this Harvard Business Review article, companies with a well-managed sales process enjoyed 18% more growth in sales than those that didn’t. Now if we assume they were talking to fairly established businesses, just think what a difference it could make in a small business! It gives you the edge over competitors.
What if you could double the revenue you achieved from each client?
One of my clients never had a process before I met them and relied solely on referrals and occasional inquiries, which resulted in them scurrying around trying to win £500-£2000 contracts. After training with me, using a process, he closed a £13,000 sale. It was his single biggest win! He then had the knowledge and confidence to repeat this new process for future prospective clients. I am not suggesting you will achieve that, but with a process you’re poised to think bigger. The only limit on your revenue goal is your mindset.
When you’ve created your Silk Road, you also enjoy the grossly underestimated luxury of focus and clarity. When you lack focus, you are more likely to get distracted, either by your phone, your children, self-doubt, or simply the range of actions you could possibly take. Focus allows for flow and working from that state of flow is a reward in itself. When you’re operating from a place of certainty, you are more likely to feel positive about your actions and their outcomes, which reduces your barrier to acting and the desire to procrastinate.
Wait. Do you need a sales process?
“It’s just me, so I don’t really need a process”
I hear this a lot. “It’s just me,” or “It’s just me and my business partner.” Then it’s even more important to have process! If it’s just you, you have limited hours in the day. You are sales, marketing, finance, product development, strategy, admin, all in one overworked bundle. If there’s an opportunity to invest your time more efficiently, wouldn’t it be worth exploring? Do you want to work 24 hours-a day? Isn’t achieving bigger revenue opportunities, so you can build a sustainable business, more important?
Driving with the parking brake on
I met with two directors of a small business in the remarkably enviable position of having an inbox flooded with incoming inquiries. A dream for anyone, right?
Wrong! That inbox was undermining all efforts to achieve their vision. The inquiries they received were not from the sort of clients they needed to achieve their vision of world dominance in their field. But their existing hodgepodge way of handling those incoming inquires and lack of a process to achieve their bigger aspirations were massive drains on their limited resources. It was holding them back. They were driving with brakes on. Their sales process was disconnected from their business strategy.
Drowning in a sea of sameness
The lack of a sales process also results in the lack of differentiation, i.e. you end up sounding and looking like everyone else. It’s better to be different than the best. When I first started Mindful Sales Training, I never believed I could become the best sales trainer in the world. Frankly, I had no desire to. But I knew, with all my heart, I could become the best at helping people believe they could sell. Beliefs drive behaviours. I knew I could help people who have never sold and were fearful of it by giving them hope and strategies to make it happen. I care about that way more. Because I focussed on being different – and obviously doing the best I can — I’ve had companies approach me to deliver their sales training, which has allowed me to charge more. People pay more for a cardiologist than a GP.
Different is better than best.
Beginner sales process: Three tips to start mapping out your silk road
1. Calibrate your compass
A faulty compass will lead in the wrong direction for a long time. You’ll go on your merry way, thinking you’re on the road to El Dorado, until you find yourself out of food and surrounded by hungry bears in the middle of nowhere. Likewise, engaging with the wrong customer will lead to lots of wasted time and frustration.
The “right” customer is the one you can and want to help.
In the early days of Mindful Sales Training I was asked to give a talk at a the annual meeting of a company of mortgage brokers. “They’re all self-employed, so they’re right up your street”, said Jim. Sure, why not?
There was a big why not. Within five minutes of the talk, I realised I was in the wrong place, talking to the wrong audience. I started talking about purpose and passion, and in return I got rolled eyes. These people didn’t care about purpose; in fact, they were the type of salespeople I train people NOT to become. When you begin creating your sales process, set your compass and be certain you’re engaging with the people you want as customers.
2. Plan your destination in advance
In every interaction with your potential clients, know your outcome. This doesn’t mean you should obsess about it when you’re engaging with them, online or off. It just means you should set an intention. Without objectives, you end up doing a bunch of meaningless tasks that don’t lead you and your prospects to fulfilment and freedom from whatever pain they’re experiencing.
3. Start drawing your map
The nomads, traders, and empire builders knew this tried and trodden Silk Road was the key to the kingdom of wealth and prosperity. When you begin working on your Silk Road, document each conversation and its outcome – you can use Google Doc spreadsheets for this, to begin with – I would include an “activity” and an “outcome” column, like the one below.
Keep track of both the good and bad outcomes. Be aware of what worked and what didn’t work. I know it sounds boring and you want to leap on to the next thing, but this will save you more time in the long run. This is the raw material for your Silk Road. You’ll soon know what should be replicated and what should be tossed.
This way, when you hire assistants to help you, you can clearly identify what stages of the process you can delegate, so you focus on the higher-value activities, like being in front of clients and doing the fun stuff.
What’s one thing you can implement today?
With every encounter with prospective customers, be crystal clear about your intention. For example, if you’re about to spend a few hours cold calling, what’s your intention? To book a face-to-face meeting? Book an appointment for a demo? Sell a ticket to your event? Be clear and purposeful, because you’ll be less likely to drive off into the meadows and more likely to start paving your Silk Road.