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Seven ways to stay ahead of the competition

January 30, 2014 by Andy Preston

Seven ways to stay ahead of the competition/123 track to get ahead in business{{}}Whenever I’m talking to business owners, a question I’m often asked is, how can I ensure I stay ahead of my competitors? So here are seven things that you can do to ensure you stay ahead of your competition for 2014 and beyond.

1. Ring-fence your existing accounts

The first thing you need to do is ring-fence your existing clients. More and more businesses are looking to replace lost revenue and profitability through acquiring new clients — and some of the new business your competitors are targeting will include your existing regular clients.

As a lot of businesses have got complacent. They’ve tended to neglect existing accounts — and those are now the ones that have been taken by their competitors, or the ones most at risk.

What are your relationships like with your existing accounts? What about the ones you haven’t spoken to for a while? The ones you don’t get on as well with? Would they tell you if they had been using a competitor’s services? And if they did, would you keep the business at the same price or would you have to price match to keep it?

2. Target your prospecting

The quality of your prospecting will be one of the biggest factors in how successful you are (or not) in 2014. As the individual salesperson is asked to do more and more, it’s vital that the time you spend prospecting is time well spent.

That means knowing who is a good prospect for you. Most people think they know. But often they don’t. There will be certain specific criteria that make certain prospects more ideal than others. If you don’t know what they are, you need to find out — and fast. Take a look at your existing client base. What was it that made them stay with you at the moment they did?

3. Increase your activity

The next thing you need to do is crank up the volume. I’m a big fan of a high level of activity — as long as that activity is good quality and is done with the right mindset.

The more deals you have in your pipeline, the more you can afford to lose. If you only have just enough in your pipeline (or close to), then you’re always going to be struggling as you’ll be counting on every deal converting, and it’s devastating when any of them drop out.

Just by increasing your activity, you increase your chances of success — and therefore increase the amount of money you can earn.  Who wouldn’t want to do that?

4. Become a valued resource

Some of the best salespeople I know are a valued resource for their clients. They’re someone whose opinion their clients respect and who they turn to first to get information about purchasing decisions. They’re someone that has a high level of credibility and clients trust their advice.

Not all salespeople are in this position however. A lot of salespeople complain that their clients ignore their advice; that they don’t listen; that they don’t take their calls or see them when they pop in. What bigger signs do you want that clients don’t see you as a valued resource?

In order to be seen as a valued resource, you have to earn it. You have to give value first. You have to get updated on industry trends, technological advancements and understand the impact that these could have on your client’s business. You have to be able to hold a business conversation with the level of decision makers you’re meeting. Invest the time to do things like this, and it will pay you back tenfold.

5. Plan your attack

One of the best ways to get ahead of the competition in 2014 is to win some customers from them. This is a great way of distracting them from their own new business efforts, plus it’s a great motivational factor for you and your team.

If you’re in field sales, why not map out competitors’ accounts in your territory? Then create a call plan for getting to see them and focus on winning their business.

If you’re in internal sales, make notes on the prospects that are currently using your competition, then filter the data by competitors name. Then you can create a phone campaign designed specifically to convert their customers to your customers instead. Dedicated and focused approaches have a far better chance of success — and they put a big dent in your competitor’s confidence.

6. Develop consistent motivation

We all know that motivation is important for a salesperson. But it’s the salesperson’s ability to be consistently motivated that will help them stand out from the rest.

In order to be motivated on a consistent basis, the salesperson has to take charge of their own motivation, rather than waiting for other people (or things) to motivate or de-motivate them. They need to have compelling reasons for doing what they do, especially the tougher jobs such as cold calling.

7. Sharpen your sales skills

If you really want to stay ahead of your competition in 2014, you’ll need to sharpen your sales skills.  This means getting up-to-date, relevant sales tips and advice from trusted sources.

Internal training at your company is great and hiring an external trainer or motivator is even better. However, you don’t have to spend money to keep your sales skills updated — there are articles, videos and podcasts that are free to access and there are plenty of seminars you can attend.

Just make sure you put into practice what you learn.

Andy Preston is an expert contributor to Marketing Donut and a leading expert on sales. His website is at www.andypreston.com.

Why communication is the opposite of competitive sport

January 23, 2014 by Andy Bounds

shutterstock_125840186.jpg/tennis ball on net{{}}One key rule when playing competitive sport: do what your opponent least wants you to do.

So, when Andy Murray plays someone with a weak backhand, he makes them play lots of backhands. It’s the obvious thing to do if you want a win, yes?

With communication, it’s the opposite: do what your audience most wants you to do.

So, if they like to be involved, ensure your communications are interactive by asking lots of questions. It’s the obvious thing to do if you want a win-win.

Here are a few simple ideas, to make sure you’re doing what others want you to. Some of this list might sound obvious. But how many do you actually do? And more importantly, how many do others think you do?

  • People like to feel understood, listened to, and that your agenda ties into theirs.
    So, ask good questions upfront, so you can then tailor what you say to their perspective
  • They like to be entertained.
    So, be entertaining. Think of things they will find enjoyable — stories, examples, trivia…anything — and include it.
  • They don’t want to be worried about anything.
    So, ask if there’s anything they’re worried about. Then remove it.
  • People don’t enjoy having challenging conversations, where you both go over old ground, blaming each other (remember: persuading someone they’re wrong is never a good way to win an argument).
    So, explain that you would like to find a mutually acceptable solution that improves things for you both. Then work with them to do so.
  • They don’t want to read/hear content that’s irrelevant to them.
     So, ask them upfront what they want you to include/exclude.
  • People despise going to meetings they didn’t need to attend.
    So, when it’s your meeting, ask yourself whether any of your attendees needn’t be there, and suggest to them they don’t need to come. You can always send them any actions arising, of course.

Unlike sport, with communication, your aim is to get a mutually acceptable outcome as quickly as possible.

Action point

Identify one or two things others would most like you to change; then, think of easy ways to do so.

Andy Bounds is a communications expert, speaker and the author of The Snowball Effect: Communication Techniques to Make You Unstoppable. You can sign up for his free weekly tips here.

Posted in Sales | Tagged Business communication | 0 comments

Are you prepared for your next face to face sales appointment?

December 17, 2013 by Andy Preston

Are you prepared for your next face to face sales appointment?/Have you done your homework-note{{}}Preparation is one of the keys to sales success, especially for face to face appointments. It should be one of the main focuses when it comes to winning new business. However, more often than not, I find that lots of people are still doing the wrong sort of preparation.

Mistake number 1: Are you too worried about yourself?

In my experience when training businesses and salespeople, people often reveal that they are more concerned about their own preparation, such as: Have I got enough business cards? Are my Power Point slides done right? Or, have I got my product samples in my case?

This is a big mistake — surely you should be more worried about your client than yourself?

Mistake number 2: Are you doing enough client preparation?

The best preparation is client preparation, such as looking at and printing out pages from their website. You’d be surprised how many people do not even visit a prospect’s website before meeting them face to face, only to be left faced with awkward situations that involve them asking questions such as: “tell me a little about your business”.

Mistake number 3: Not using Google!

There is no excuse for not even carrying out basic preparation — after all, anyone can use Google.

Google the company name (to see what else comes up, not just checking out their website); Google the name of the person you are meeting; check out their competition and see who you've worked with in a similar industry or situation.

Instead of asking questions like “tell me a little about your business”, ask questions like, “I was looking on your website and noticed that....” or “I noticed on your website that you worked with...and I wanted to know a little more about it...”.

Do you think these have a different impact on the person you're meeting? Do you think they would perceive you differently than your competitors who ask the same tired old questions, time after time? Absolutely.

If you do the right kind of research, do you think it might have a big impact on the results from your sales calls and appointments? You can bet on it.

Andy Preston is an expert contributor to Marketing Donut and a leading expert on sales. His website is at www.andypreston.com.

How to tailor your sales process to your customers

December 09, 2013 by Richard Edwards

How to tailor your sales process to your customers/tailor measuring the size{{}}Are you confident that your company is able to capture your customer’s needs? And more importantly, are you using them to create a viable sales process?

Far too often the traditional structure of a sales process talks about opportunity rather than customer needs or requirements — the focus is very much from the seller’s point of view.

In order to help your potential customer make a decision you need to approach the process through their eyes. It’s essential to think about their needs, not yours.

So how do you create a successful sales process that is designed around your customer’s needs? Here are some tips that we have used successfully and which are integrated into the processes that we design for our clients’ sales teams.

1. Don’t sell

Recognise the customer as an individual person and create a process that adapts to them — don’t expect them to adapt to it. At the forefront of your mind should be customer satisfaction, not sales.

A salesperson’s ultimate role is to present a solution to a problem, or a perfect fit for a desire. The end result is ultimately the same — the customer chooses you and you make that sale.

2. Active interaction

People want to be served in a way that fits their situation and their buying habits. Whatever direction the sales process takes, it needs to have listening as the first step.

Customer feedback is a big part of this and can be both the end and the beginning stage of your selling process. Feedback provides you with the knowledge to refine your sales technique and/or product. It’s also a marketing tool to show new customers that you are a) actively engaging with buyers and b) providing the solutions they are looking for.

3. Share the load

The responsibility of researching the customer is not restricted to the sales team. As social media and ecommerce increasingly dominate Internet and mobile usage, customers are looking to other channels to get the information and, ultimately, the service that they require.

This is why you need a focus on internal collaboration. Your online marketing, social media and customer service teams need to know where to look and what to look out for in order to ensure you are visible to potential buyers.

Restructuring your sales process to suit customer needs can really improve your business. Not only can you create more harmonious relationships with your customers and your staff, a revamped sales process can produce tangible results.

A sales process designed around you customer really does lead to happier customers, more collaborative teams and a measurable increase in business. What more could you ask for?

Richard Edwards is director at Quatreus.

What are your customers really buying?

November 28, 2013 by Andy Bounds

What are your customers really buying?/buy on keyboard{{}}When I’m in London, I travel between meetings on the back of a motorbike taxi. I use them because the journey times are quicker and more predictable than my other options. I don’t choose them because “it’s a motorbike”.

Also, my company chose our IT service providers because they could free up our time; not because “we do IT”.

And we selected our accountant because he could help us grow our business; not because “he is an accountant”.

You see, when we buy things, we aren’t interested in the things. Instead, we’re interested in what they give us. Or, as I call it, the afters — why we’re better-off after buying.

Weirdly, we often don’t realise we want these afters. For example, I imagine you recently bought a newspaper, thinking you wanted a newspaper. You didn’t. You wanted the news. Glasses? Better sight. Toothpaste? Clean teeth.

Smart companies use afters to persuade us to buy. For instance, Kodak doesn’t sell by discussing their photographs; they talk about preserving our memories. Disney doesn’t sell by focusing on their cartoons. They talk about making our dreams come true.

So when you want people to buy-in to your messages, what do you focus on? Your ideas? Initiatives? Proposals? Research? Yourself?

Or, do you focus on why others will be better off afterwards? The time you save them. Or the costs. Or the hassle. The fact you reduce their stress, grow their business, help them look good to their boss… Now, those are great reasons to buy-in.

So, engage others instantly by beginning with their afters. This can be hard to do — after all, you are passionate about what you do. But I would never have chosen a motorbike taxi if some motorbike enthusiasts had spent ages telling me about their motorbikes.

People will never buy into your content unless their afters are crystal clear. So next time you’re looking for quick buy-in, start by explaining why the other person will be better off afterwards.

Andy Bounds is a communications expert, speaker and the author of The Snowball Effect: Communication Techniques to Make You Unstoppable. You can sign up for his free weekly tips here.

You can read more about Andy’s approach to sales here: No more fears — selling made easy

Posted in Sales | Tagged selling, sell, sales | 0 comments

Five reasons why you struggle with negotiation - and what to do about it

October 28, 2013 by Andy Preston

Five reasons why you struggle with negotiation - and what to do about it/two business shadow shaped like fighting{{}}As an ex-professional buyer, negotiation is always a fascinating topic for me. Whenever I’m working with salespeople or business owners, they often fail to get the price for their products or services that they wanted — and often get even less than they deserve.

And the pressure is even greater in today’s market conditions — where savvy buyers are looking to get the best value when they’re purchasing. Therefore to get good results, the salesperson or business owner has to be able to stand their ground in a negotiation in order to get the price they deserve. Sadly, this often doesn’t happen.

So why is it that the buyer often has the upper hand when it comes to negotiation?

Reason one: They’re better prepared to negotiate

One simple reason is that the buyer is often better prepared to negotiate than the salesperson is. Often a salesperson gets caught up in a negotiation when they aren’t ready for it.

So if you think that a meeting or phone call could result in a negotiation, make sure you prepare for it beforehand. If a negotiation starts before you’re ready, don’t be afraid to postpone it and re-schedule it for another time when you’ve had chance to prepare.

Reason two: You’re too desperate

Another typical reason that salespeople struggle to get better results from their negotiation is that on most occasions, they’re so desperate to win the deal that this comes across to clients, and they use that as leverage to swing the negotiation in their favour.

Prospects and clients can smell desperation and it certainly isn’t attractive. Once a client knows the salesperson is more desperate to do the deal than they are, that just gives them the green light to get the best deal they can.

It’s about time that we realised that prospects and clients often want to do the deal as much (or sometimes even more) than we do — but often we don’t know it.

Reason three: You fail to spot their tricks

Any buyer or decision maker worth their salt will attempt to play tricks during a negotiation. If you can spot these and deal with them, then you’re usually fine. However, most salespeople aren’t even aware what the other party is doing and end up falling for them.

You need to learn how buyers and decision makers operate so that you can deal with their tricks and handle their objections.

Reason four: You don’t know enough about the other party

Another reason salespeople often come off worst in a negotiation is that they fail to find out enough about the other party before the negotiation starts. The decision-maker may well have strong reasons to purchase now. Very often there are pressing issues that mean they want a quick deal. But if the salesperson doesn’t know this, then they lose the advantage.

Reason five: They have more skills than you

Think for a moment: When was the last time you went (or sent a member of your team) on a professional negotiation skills course, lasting for, say, one to three days? Possibly never.

Think about the other side: If they’re a professional buyer, you can guarantee that they will have been on such a course. If they’re a key decision-maker in a business, they’re also likely to have been on a similar course. At the very least, they’re far more experienced at negotiation than you!

Andy Preston is an expert contributor to Marketing Donut and a leading expert on sales. His website is at www.andypreston.com

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