Earlier this month, I wrote about the need to start focusing more on sales and less on cutting expenses. (See article.) Many dealers took me up on my offer in that column to send something I thought was a great idea: a cover letter that I recently received from a local roofing company as part of a bid. The cover letter isn't something that a lot of dealers have traditionally included when providing quotes to their builder customers, but I believe it can make a big difference in whether you win the bid.

Chris Rader This week, I would like to introduce another item to help you sell successfully. It's a simple way to help you track and categorize leads that I call the Sales Funnel.

Lots of companies offer lead-handling computer programs that go under the general title of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software. But very few companies in our industry use CRM, and some that do don't utilize it well. Why? Often it's because LBM salespeople lack the time and discipline to input their customer information into a CRM package.

The Sales Funnel is a simpler way to accomplish many of the same objections as CRM software. It enables the salesperson and/or manager to see what leads are outstanding, where you are in reference to closing the leads, the dollar amount of the lead, and the probability that you will close the lead. You put all of your jobs into the top and watch your business grow out of the leads that come out the bottom.

A Sales Funnel isn't difficult to set up, nor does it take many man-hours to manage. Here's how to get started.

Collect the necessary data. Begin with the customer's name, type of customer, date of the lead, location, where the lead was generated, value of the possible sale, a comments section about the lead, and the likelihood you will close the sale. All these will lead to one more key piece of data: The job's rank on your list of prospects.

Define your customer types. Examples include: Blind Lead, Prospect, Quoted, Interested, Committed (or "Got the Deal") and Delivered. If you review weekly permits and you cold-call a customer, this might be a Blind Lead. Once you establish communication and are able to bid you can move the job to Prospect. After you have quoted the job, assign it as Quoted. Then, depending on your conversations after the quote and your follow-up calls, you can hopefully move the job to the Interested category. When the customer gives you a commitment that they will do the project with you, they are now in the Committed stage and you "Got the Deal." That is my favorite, though the last category--Delivered--obviously is the most important.

Start on a whiteboard. Enter the columns with your sales team on a board in a conference room. I like to have the information in the open where all salespeople can see the leads. By putting it out in the open, you will notice that salespeople will begin helping one another move the projects into the "Got the Deal" and Delivered stages.

Review daily for the first week. I know your time is limited, but I don't think this will take more than five hours in the first week, and no more than one hour per day. On the second day, you should update the information from the first day. Add to the funnel at all times and focus on ways to move to "Got the Deal" and Delivered.

Rank is the key. Make sure you rank each potential job, from 1 being not likely to close and 10 being likely to close. This number will fluctuate as you communicate with the customer. One day you might assign it a 5, but after further conversations with subs or other contractors, you might move it to a 7 or 8.

Add comments after each contact with the customer. It is sticky to put this into spreadsheet, but necessary to track correspondence.

Analyze the results to manage your time. If you have one hour to make outgoing calls, look at the board and decide if you are going to call a prospect that is a level 1 with a job amount of $100,000 or an Interested customer that's at level 5 but has a job amount of $10,000.

After Week One, migrate to a spreadsheet. I like the spreadsheet idea because you can take it with you. Spreadsheets also can be emailed in, printed, or reviewed by a manager, and you might even want to create a new version each week to help you see changes over time.

Share the spreadsheet with other salespeople and managers. Your company already may have systems by which you can put spreadsheets into a folder for others to see. If you don't, or if your company system doesn't operate outside the office, consider using one of several free programs that let you manage documents via the Internet. Two such services are Dropbox (http://www.getdropbox.com/) and Google Docs (http://docs.google.com). If you go the Internet route, you won't need the IT Department to make this happen. I like this option because it will update different versions of your spreadsheet and you can control who has access. I use Dropbox. The spreadsheet is actually saved in the "My Documents" folder on my PC as well as a secure location on the 'net. So, you can work when not connected to the Internet and the spreadsheet will be updated the next time you connect.

Get started today. Meetings are worthless unless you leave the meeting with an action plan. There is no better action plan for a sales meeting than tracking leads through a sales funnel. I have seen super results and I highly recommend that you get started today.

Contact me to see a sample spreadsheet using the Sales Funnel principles. Now, go take some business away from your competitors. Close more deals and know what percentage you are closing. Make it a game among the salespeople and become the winner.

Chris Rader is a consultant based in Lafayette, La. Contact him at crader@radersolutions.com.