Adapted from “Sell Better:  How to create a sales system to grow your business” by Dave Kahle

A customer is someone who gives you money for what you have. So, the first time someone who has not purchased from you before gives you money for what you have, that person or organization becomes a customer.

          If you are going to be systematic in your sales efforts, you’ll need to measure this process.  As simple as that sounds, I have rarely encountered a sales organization that could tell me how many customers they created last month, or last year.

          So, the starting point is to create a measurement for the number of customers you create, and then set a goal for the number you’d like to create.  

         Once you do that, then you can begin to think about how best to move suspects to prospects, and prospects to customers.

          It’s typical in a B2B selling organization to think that the sales people are tasked with doing this.  “Let the sales people do it,” goes the common thinking.  In some cases, this works well, but those are the exception.  Most sales people, when confronted with the choice of calling on prospects or calling on customers, will choose to call on customers.  The process of moving a customer to a client is always easier and more lucrative, in the short term, than moving a prospect to a customer. 

Whose Responsibility is it?

So delegating this process entirely to the sales people almost always creates frustration on everyone’s part.  It is almost always more effective to think of this process as the responsibility of the sales system, not necessarily each individual sales person.  Start with these questions:

          The answer may, in fact, be “Let the sales people do it,” but by now you should be farther enough along in your systems thinking to realize there may be more effective ways. 

          You may, for example, decide that a website, empowered with a comprehensive SEO program and salted with a consistent Pay per Click advertising effort will generate an adequate supply of prospects.  Entice them with a loss leader opportunity to purchase, and your website has created customers.  That information can be transmitted to the sales force, and they can be charged with the task of expanding the business, the next key process. 

  1. “What is the best way to identify suspects?”
  2. “What is the best way to convert some of them into prospects?”
  3. “What is the best way to move prospects to become customers?”

          Or, you may decide to buy a list of suspects, use telemarketing to qualify them into prospects, and then deliver a series of direct mail packages to convince them to buy. Or maybe those packages just move them to create an appointment with a specialist sales person, who does nothing but create customers.  Once he’s acquired the first order, the customer is transferred to a sales person whose job it is to expand the business.

          The possibilities are endless.  You will never arrive at the perfect arrangement.  However, once you describe this fundamental process and begin to take the systems approach to it, you’ll eventually arrive at a powerful and productive approach. 

          The first step is to ask the questions above, and approach the answers with a systems mindset.

        When you become really good at this, you’ll be able to measure a number possible approaches, and make good business decisions about each.  You’ll also discover that you are probably losing money on this process.  It typically costs you more to acquire a customer than the profit that the customer provides in that one transaction. 

          So, you’ll find it advantageous to calculate the lifetime value of the customer, and then determine what you ought to spend to get one.  Think of a customer as an income stream – an asset that produces a measurable regular amount of income into the company.  You’ll then begin to see your sales system as an investment in acquiring assets.  

          As you may be able to tell, there are layers of depth in understanding and implementing this systems approach to acquiring customers.  It’s outside the framework of this work to dig much deeper into it.