International Selling Programme: Converting Sales into a Process

Enterprise Ireland’s International Selling Programme aims to help companies transform selling from a win-some-lose-some lottery to a carefully calibrated process. But does it work? Gordon Smith asks two alumni to put real figures on how the tools and techniques have boosted sales.

Andy Simpson and Shane Callanan can pinpoint to exact detail how their companies’ international sales have increased in the past year – and why.

“Before, it took 10-12 months to close a deal. Now it’s between two and three months, so there’s a 75 per cent saving on the time to close. This year, we’ll probably triple our US business over last year,” says Simpson.

For Callanan, the aim was for 2015 sales to China to match the combined sales for 2013 and 2014. By early September, his company had already achieved 80 per cent of its target.

Their markets are on opposite sides of the world and their companies are in very different sectors, but what they have in common is that both took part in the 2014 International Selling Programme [ISP], delivered by Enterprise Ireland and Dublin Institute of Technology.

Simpson is head of global consulting with Channel Mechanics of Galway, which develops cloud-based software for helping technology vendors manage their routes to market. Callanan is director of applications engineering with Excelsys, a Cork-based designer and manufacturer of high-efficiency, low-profile power supplies for military applications, x-ray scanners and cancer treating equipment.

Both attribute their companies’ recent growth directly to attending the ISP, which comprises eight two-day modules and a one-day finale, over its 11-month duration. The ISP is also the reason why Simpson and Callanan can be so specific about their growth – because it’s tracked and verified.

With key themes covering strategy, skills and process, the programme’s primary goal is to help companies to increase exports by turning sales from an art into a carefully calibrated science. This way, it becomes a repeatable process of intelligence gathering about the market, qualifying the right kinds of prospects to target and understanding the triggers that make those customers ultimately buy.

The Science of Sales

Using processes learned on the programme, Excelsys divides its sales funnel activity into five stages: identify the appropriate solutions for a prospect; a customer takes a sample for testing; that customer performs testing; obtaining safety certification; and lastly, purchase order. Excelsys can now track the probability of a sale for each stage.

“If they take a sample, it’s 25 per cent chance of a sale, if they perform testing, that jumps to 50 per cent. By stage four, there’s a 90 per cent chance of a sale,” Callanan says.

Excelsys now has a better structure around its sales support activity, from salesforce, lead generation and forecasting through to project reviews, channel management and marketing communications. It recently recruited a new engineer to directly support sales in China and signed up three new distribution channels in the market. “Our growth in China is purely based on having a more structured approach, and a closer alignment between the engineering and sales teams,” says Callanan.

Defining the Market Opportunity

For Channel Mechanics, the ISP programme helped it to distil the company’s business strategy to its essence. “We were very clear on our proposition, and very clear on our target market, which was US technology vendors of a certain size and scale. By definition, we were then able to size our market opportunity,” says Simpson.

A further payoff came through one of the programme’s key takeaways: an international growth plan tailored for the company to guide its future strategic sales activities. Channel Mechanics adapted this plan into an investment document and is using it to close a seven-figure funding round to expand its presence on the US west coast. “The international growth plan we put together made us very credible with those investors. We can stand behind the plan and demonstrate everything in the plan – and those disciplines came out of the ISP,” says Simpson.

Practical Tools

Channel Mechanics’ marketing communications turned 180 degrees on foot of attending the course, Simpson says. “We believed the product could do anything, so our messaging was: ‘ask us what you want’. We spun that round to ask ‘what problems do you have in this area?’ It made us move away from talking about the product to talking about the solution to the customer.”

He praises the tools provided as part of the programme, such as a spreadsheet template for managing lead generation and the business battlecard for developing a growth strategy through identifying selected customers, making them buy and choosing a route to market. “With the business battlecard, you take a high-level view of: what is the value of that customer and why do they buy from me? I am using these tools a year later on a regular basis, which is a testament to their relevance and practicality,” he says.

Callanan also praises the high calibre of lecturers delivering the course, reckoning he absorbed a decade’s worth of experience in 11 months. “If you can learn from your own mistakes, that’s good, but if you can learn from somebody else’s mistakes, that’s even better,” he quips. 

Visit www.enterprise-ireland.com to learn more about the International Selling Programme.