A Golden Nugget of New Business Development

This past year (2009) was tough for most businesses, and 2010 will be tough too. Current account lists have been trimmed (in both numbers and profitability) because of the global economic contraction, and the focus of most business has turned to new business development to drive revenue growth. In fact, the majority of sales job listings on careerbuilder.com and monster.com are for salespeople that can develop new business, rather than organically grow existing business. Because new business development is so important to so many, I thought I would post an article on what I consider to be one of the “golden nuggets” that sales executives should think of to help boost his/her sales organization’s new business productivity.

The golden nugget is your sales force’s ability to QUALIFY NEW PROSPECTS. To better understand the implications of good/bad qualification on new business development, I find it’s insightful to take a look at the sales funnel. There are two characteristics of the sales funnel that I find to be telling about new business development. The first is that as opportunities move down the sales funnel, they require an increasing investment of your company’s resources (time and money). The implication is that if you let an unqualified opportunity move down the funnel it will become very expensive (in time and money) very fast, and you will lose out on the opportunity to invest those resources in other opportunities. The second characteristic is that the greatest number of prospects sit within the first stage of your sales funnel (often called prospecting or initial contact). The average amount of time that your salespeople spend qualifying a prospect in the first stage has a HUGE impact on your sales force’s time. If your sales force reaches out to 100 prospects a week, an average qualification time of 30 minutes versus an hour can free your sales force of 3,000 hours per week; that’s equivalent to adding 75 full time employees per week.

So where does qualification fit into the sales funnel? Qualification is the process by which your salespeople identify the quality of the prospect, and determine if the prospect is worth pursuing. In the sales funnel this is reflected by the movement of a prospect either from the first stage (often called “initial contact”) to the second stage (often called “needs analysis”), or the elimination of the prospect from the sales funnel altogether. Qualification has a profound impact on both the number of expensive bad opportunities that leak into the advanced stages of your sales funnel, as well as the time your salespeople will spend trying to qualify prospects. If you could use 75 new salespeople, or would love to have invested more resources in a big opportunity that got away, here are a couple tips to help your sales force qualify opportunities efficiently and effectively:

–Define Qualification: Generally speaking, a qualified opportunity is one in which the salesperson has spoken with someone involved in the decision making process, has found that the target company has a need, and is certain that the target company has an interest/commitment to take action to meet that need. As I am sure you know, there are different degrees of quality and you will want to invest your resources accordingly. I generally find that there are roughly three characterizations that businesses gravitate to once a prospect is deemed to be over the quality threshold: 1) Good enough to let a salesperson invest their time. 2) Good enough to assign local resources (engineers, regional marketers, local sales managers) to the opportunity. 3) Good enough to assign corporate resources (regional sales VPs, directors of product management, C-level suite) to the opportunity.

–Create Qualification Questions: After you have defined what a qualified opportunity looks like, you will need to determine the key questions that your sales force must answer to determine the quality of the prospect. I’m a big believer in looking at my best employees for insight, and almost always find that the best new business development salespeople will have a good understanding of the questions they ask to determine if the prospect is worth putting more effort into. For example, a good qualification question I see elite salespeople answer is “Does your prospect have an assigned budget for the project/product/service?” That might give you insight as to whether the prospect has made a commitment to meet their need.

–Answer Qualification Questions: Once you’ve determined the right questions to ask, it’s time to ingrain these questions in your sales management, sales process, coaching priorities, and CRM software. The key here is to emphasize the importance of answering these questions in as many places as possible; this will help to create an environment (as opposed to a “flavor of the week” initiative) that exudes the importance of answering qualification questions. You can always just require that they answer them, but unless they see those questions as important they are likely to game the system.

–Training!: As a manager and a leader, whenever you set a strong direction for your people it is important to surround them with the resources they need to do accomplish their goals. Seek out an internal or external sales training group that specializes in helping salespeople qualify, and follow up with support: here are a few tips that will help you with sales training.

–Set Goals and Measure Results: As with anything, measuring progress towards your goals is crucial. If you aren’t sure about what goals you need, set-up your qualification infrastructure (steps above) and then start to gather data to help you set a baseline. Set up your goals so that they are consistent with the other goals for your sales force.

One important note: The reason why I see most companies struggle with qualification is that they over rely on one of the two different types of questions they make their sales force answer: objective and subjective. An objective question requires a black and white answer, such as “Is there an assigned budget for the project/product/service, and what is the amount?” Customers have never fit neatly into objective boxes because they are all unique, and a salesperson’s value often lies in their intuition. Holding back your investment in all prospects unless the answer to this question is “Yes” might be a mistake. A subjective question relies solely on the perspective of the salesperson, which often varies from salesperson to salesperson. Of a ten prospect account list, one salesperson might see five qualified prospects while another might see two. This makes it very hard to truly see the ripe opportunities that you should invest resources in winning. In order to be as accurate as possible, it is vital that you use a mix of both subjective and objective questions.

How and Why to Invest For Yield

With interest rates so low, investors are looking for more profitable things to do with their funds than keep them in cash. Certain equities look undervalued from a dividend yield perspective – and offer the prospective of increasing returns over the medium term.

Defensive stocks such as the utility companies are an obvious place to look for dividends. Utilities have underperformed since the start of the bull rally as investors have looked for stocks better geared to recovery. However, it’s worth remembering that most of the utilities are at the mercy of government regulation – which could dilute their returns to shareholders if the pricing regime toughens.

Telecoms stocks have some of the same characteristics and tobacco is another interesting area. As anyone who is, or knows, a nicotine addict can tell you, spending on ciggies is one of the last household expenditures to be cut. However, there are only two listed UK tobacco stocks so choice is very limited.

There are also some excellent dividend yields available in sectors that offer a higher risk/reward ratio, being more highly geared to an economic recovery – but also more at risk if we get a ‘double dip’ recession. Income investors who stayed away from the banks over the last couple of years (and there are some) will have done well, but could this be the time to think about getting back into the banking sector? In this sector, though, you do need to do your homework.

Much more interesting for dividend investors who want some upside exposure may be the property sector. From the peak of the commercial property market in 2007, values dropped nearly 40%. Many of the UK’s property stocks are now REITS (Real Estate Investment Trusts). They have to distribute 90% of their rental income (as defined by the government) or give up their REIT status – so if they can pay dividends, they will. The basic business of investing in property generates strong, long-term cash flows, which should support the yields of 5-6% that are common throughout the sector.

Successful income investing is not easy – particularly at this stage of the economic cycle. Just buying the yield is not enough – dividends can be cut or completely destroyed if the company hits the skids.

Looking at dividend cover (the factor by which earnings per share exceeds the dividend paid) can help sort out those companies which are overstretched. The wise investor will also look at the balance sheet backing up the dividend – how high are distributable reserves? And is the company’s gearing so high that it might be tempted to omit the dividend in order to economise on cash?

Still, with the right research, income investing can be highly profitable. You should get a regular, growing income – and in the long term, if you’ve selected the right companies, it’s possible that you will get capital growth, too.

How to Get Started in Real Estate Investing

Introduction

This article has been written to provide a novice person considering real estate investing some fundamental concepts to consider as you commit yourself to this area of interest. Like all new endeavors explored, it will be to your advantage to have some basic knowledge on the particular topic before you can truly appreciate if this is right for you.

What Are The Financial Benefits Of Investing In Real Estate?

There are various opportunities that will financially benefit you by investing in real estate. Based upon your current financial condition and future investment goals, there are many factors that must be considered when selecting both a business model as well as a specific project. The following section will provide an overview on the significant financial benefits that are achievable when you invest in real estate.

Property Appreciation

Although predicting future appreciation with great certainty is not feasible, by looking at specific economic indicators can assist the Real Estate Investor in understanding future trends with regards to property value and possible appreciation. Some of these key indicators are as follows:

Job growth

Job growth is a key contributor in establishing possible future appreciation. As Primary jobs (those jobs that export products outside of the local area like the car makers of Detroit) increase, the need for Secondary jobs will also increase by 2-3 times the number of Primary jobs. Secondary jobs provide services to the people performing the Primary jobs. Examples of secondary jobs include the following:

Restaurant workers

Retail store workers

Local trades (plumbers, electricians, builders, etc.)

School employees

Demographic Trends

Demographic trends are another factor to consider when trying to determine if an area has the potential for future appreciation. Demographic research will provide data on the general population of an area which includes the following:

Population Changes

Age distribution

Income

Family Size

Race

Owners verses renters

Marital status

Revitalization Initiatives

Another factor that can affect the appreciation of an area is any revitalization initiatives the local government is undertaking. Revitalization can include the following:

Improvements of roads and transportation

Condemning and removing abandoned houses and buildings

Crime reduction

Tax credit, grants, and loans to developers and Investors to come into the area as well as programs to help keep the current employers from moving away.

Economic development offices from the local government are typically responsible for implementing and managing the revitalization efforts.

Cash flow

Another aspect of how to financially benefit from real estate investing is through the creation of cash flow. Although there are many factors that are taken into consideration that derives your cash flow, simply put, it is the amount of money left over for you after all of the expenses have been paid.

The term cash flow is usually associated with properties that you are holding and generating income from rental units or homes. The great thing about creating a cash flow stream is that it will typically continue whether you stay in bed all day or off on a vacation. However, sustaining this cash flow will take some effort on your part and may include the following:

Maintaining the property

Managing the existing tenants

Keeping the property occupied

Managing property management companies

Equity

Property equity is the difference between the fair market value of the property and the sum of all of the loans against the property. For example, if a property is worth $250,000 and there is a first and second mortgage totaling $200,000, the property has $50,000 in equity. Having equity in your property is essential in order to have a cushion in the event the market exhibits declining value during the time you are holding the property. By utilizing strategies like a refinance or Line of Credit, it will allow you to pull this equity out of the property and use it as you see fit including a return of your initial investment or to leverage this capital to purchase another property. Although having strong cash flow with your properties is vital during your hold times, this income stream will disappear if you ever need to sell the property. Ultimately, it is the equity in your properties that will help set the stage for your long-term wealth creation and financial security.

Tax Incentives

In addition to the benefits mentioned above, there are outstanding tax incentives that the real estate investor can benefit from, they include the following:

Depreciation of the actual property and any capital equipment that may be utilized in your business.

Deductions resulting from expenses from owning and managing the property the property as well as business expenses you may incur.

IRC 1031 exchanges, this is a powerful tax strategy that will allow you to leverage Capital Gains taxes that you would normally pay on the sale of an investment property and defer paying those taxes by purchasing a “Like-kind” replacement property with the full proceeds you received from the sale.

Why Do You Want To Invest In Real Estate?

It will be important for you to understand what reason(s) have motivated you to be interested and involved with real estate investing. Over the years, I have spoken to many new Investors on this subject and I have boiled it down to the following reasons:

Supplement Your Current Income

There are some people who are looking at just supplementing their current income without the intention of leaving their current profession and look at real estate investing as their second job. The Investor’s that fall into this group are fortunate because they are not relying solely on real estate investing as their primary source of income, this will be very beneficial during the time you are developing you real estate skill set and investment portfolio.

Take Control of Your Financial Future

Based upon the many years of speaking with Real Estate Investors, perhaps the most compelling reasons people consider real estate investing is the ability for you to have a significant influence of your financial security and for you to control the level of income you would like to receive.

Create a Retirement Plan for Yourself

Using real estate investing as a vehicle to establish or augment a retirement plan is another common motivator I hear frequently from new investors. It is understandable that when economic conditions include downsizing, cost of living increases, and the fear of Social Security meltdown, people are concerned about having an adequate financial foundation to sustain them during their retirement phase of life.

Critical Things to Consider Before Considering Real Estate Investing

Investing in real estate is certainly not for everyone and it will be important for you to honestly assess if this is the right path for you. The following section will provide some basic questions you should ask yourself as you evaluate the feasibility of becoming involved as a Real Estate Investor.

How Much Time Will You Have To Dedicate Towards Real Estate Investing?

As we all know, you can’t create anymore time; there can only be 24 hours in a day. As you consider real estate investing, you will need to be realistic with regards to how much time you will have to devote to this endeavor. With today’s fast paced society that requires multiple income sources combined with the commitments you may already have with your family, many people can be left with little or no time to devote towards their real estate investing goals.

Are You Able To Motivate Yourself And Have The Discipline Required To Succeed?

Having the desire to be a successful Real Estate Investor is only part of the equation for ultimate success. Along with the desire to succeed comes the need for you to be able to motivate and discipline yourself. Real estate investing is certainly not for everyone despite the late