Although things have been changing in recent years and the developmental role in SMEs is acknowledged more, it is nonetheless still given too low a priority. Curiously enough, in this respect, the predominant approach seems to be approximation, intuition and improvisation.

Yet it is possible to see development as a process in its own right. It can be a designed, intelligent, structured approach which can be monitored and validated by indicators just as precise as those used in manufacturing. Three key words – three principles – summarise this approach: Comprehensive, repeated and lasting.

  • ‘Comprehensive’ means that thecompany takes every opportunity to carry out sales activity across its whole market.
  • ‘Repeated’ means that the company moves away from one-off ‘hits’ which have proved to be very inefficient and instead is involved in more realistic sales activity several times a year.
  • Finally, ‘lasting’ needs no explanation:it takes time to recoup an investment, whether monetary or hours spent, on marketing/sales.

THIS APPROACH will largely pay for itself BECAUSE businesses will grow FASTER THAN THEIR MARKET.  


1. rigour and self-discipline

To automate your sales activity, you need to apply the same methods as you would to manufacturing: activities must be precise and planned, responsibilities clearly allocated, objectives quantified, indicators monitored and the Owner/Manager must be determined to make the whole system work. It’s down to you to create a new atmosphere, to keep an eye on things to make sure all goes to plan.

2. SEGMENTation of your CLIENT and prospects PORTFOLIO

Which customers bring the most revenue and the best margin (not necessarily the same!)? Which have the greatest potential over the next 3 years (maybe not bringing much currently)? Where are your upselling opportunities? Who are your ‘hot’ prospects, that are likely to sign up soon? A portfolio of clients and prospects is not an undifferentiated whole: to determine your priorities you need segmentation and analysis.

3. CLARIFication of sales STRATEGY

You should not expect your sales staff to reach out to unfamiliar sectors or long shots without support. You need to define the sales strategy in relation to your goals for the business: Volume growth? Profitability? Acquisition of strategic customers? Extension of the range? You need to make decisions and put this strategy in writing, so that it is well understood across the business and doesn’t alter over time.

4. ‘rolling’ ACTivitieS AND TOOLS

An effective sales campaign assumes that for each of your targets (see point 2), you have planned activities for the year, your records are kept up to date, mailshots are sent on time, quotes are systematically chased up, indicators are reliable and monitored.  Make sure you keep pace and don’t be tempted to improvise (‘what about taking part in the X trade fair, after all?’): For SMEs who complain about not having enough customers its all too often because they delay their planning and make U-turns.


Any diligent, efficient Owner/Manager will periodically check how the sales department is structured and how the team actually operates. The reason for this is simple: the more important a client (or prospect) is, the more he or she deserves a high-level contact person.

Let’s take the extreme of a loyal, influential, strategic customer: it’s wholly appropriate for a business relationship to be orchestrated in such a case, by the Owner/Manager themselves. It may even be considered essential.

Conversely, occasional or low-potential clients may not even justify the involvement of the sales team: the sales assistant can undertake telesales and help in customer retention. When the sales team does join the fray, it will be for larger or higher potential customers and for more important tasks: gaining greater loyalty from ‘occasional’ customers, whilst ensuring greater volumes of business from regulars.

The sales team should spend most of their time in the field. Not on telephone prospecting, arranging trips or putting mailshots in envelopes! For that you can use direct and digital marketing tools – which are much cheaper – and a talented sales assistant for all the back-office work: maintaining the database, managing mailshots/correspondence, website maintenance, blogs, telephone calls, client follow-up and appointments etc.

6. TOOLS for measuring PROGRESS

An Owner/Manager who has invested several tens of thousands of pounds or more and  sees the months pass without tangible results, will naturally start to worry. Money has been spent and there’s now a waiting game for revenues to come in.  It’s at this point that we see the importance of measuring tools to assess how productive the activities are, their profitability and their contribution in terms of future turnover.

The term ‘productivity’ refers to the efficiency with which the system succeeds in transforming leads into prospects, or turning prospects into customers: one sale per two appointments, or for five or ten.

Of course there won’t be a norm, but the company will be able to judge whether the new system works better or worse than the previous one. If this productivity indicator is kept up-to-date over several years, it can also track progress, detect failures and successes more quickly.  Useful lessons can be drawn from it.

The same monitoring and managing approach applies if you use multiple profitability indicators. On the one hand, cost indicators: cost of acquiring a prospect or customer, cost of maintaining a customer. On the other hand – to allay worries and validate the approach – revenue indicators: the average amount of a sale and the average ‘life’ of a customer.

This approach was the subject of a book by Michel Courtois (WiKane) entitled ‘Boost your turnover. The mindset for conquering sales’, published by Editions d’Organisation: