If you listen to the news, or anyone commenting on it, they’ll tell you that we are “officially” out of recession.
However, it might not feel like that at the coalface. Even though we may be officially out of recession, many businesses are still experiencing recessionary conditions and that means they’re selling in a tough market.
A tough market for some companies might mean that they’re selling against a lot of competition, or that potential prospects are beating them down on price — meaning lost margins and lost profit.
Whichever of those situations is affecting you and your business right now, here are some tips on how to sell more in tough market conditions.
My first tip for anyone selling in a tough market is to increase their new business or prospecting efforts. If people are taking longer to decide whether to buy or not, having more prospects is a good exercise in risk mitigation. Secondly, the more prospects you have, the choosier you can be who you work with. What’s more, you can then prioritise your prospects, based on who can make quick buying decisions — which mean quick sales.
For most small businesses I work with, their levels of prospecting just aren’t high enough. In this tough market, they sit there and think, “if only the phone would ring more” or “I wish I got more enquiries over the web”. It’s time to take some action and to get some prospecting done, instead of waiting for it to come to you. Because it probably won’t.
One of easiest things to do to get more sales, more quickly, is to increase the levels of interest in you and your business from your network of existing contacts. The advance of social media has made this very easy.
How are you communicating with your prospects and existing contacts over social media? Now I’m not saying that all social media is useful (there are plenty of so-called social media gurus peddling that kind of rubbish), but I am saying that you need to be where your prospects are and communicate with them.
Are you posting success stories for your business? Your new business wins? Examples of how you’ve helped people? Positive feedback and testimonials from customers? If not, now would be a good time to start.
When you’re selling in a touch market, it is vital that you ring fence your existing customers, in order to stop them going to your competitors.
Think about it, you’ve invested time and money in getting that customer to buy from you in the first place. So why on earth would you let them go without a fight? Surveys have told us for years that the biggest reasons customers leave an existing provider is because of supplier apathy. They just didn’t feel like their business was valued; that we didn’t care. So they took their business elsewhere.
Can we afford for that to happen in a tough market? I don’t think so. So make sure you ring fence your existing customers as a matter of priority.
Sometimes there are additional sales opportunities sitting right under our noses. And often we don’t spot them, or sometimes even think of them in the first place.
One of the most effective sales questions of all was simply, “would you like fries with that?”. So simple but did it work? Of course it did! That question has triggered millions of dollars of additional sales all over the world.
Now, if something that simple can have the impact that it did, what could you introduce in your business to have a similar effect?
It’s simply about spotting the additional sales opportunity at the right moment, or even preparing for it in advance. Think about the process that a customer goes through when they are buying from you. What opportunities are there for additional sales that you’re not taking right now? Or not taking consistently enough? And if you did, what kind of difference would it make to you and your business?
“I’m sitting on database gold,” says the owner of a consulting firm.
“I know exactly who I want to do business with. I have a cleaned database of 1500 names. None of them know us yet but we have a really strong track record.
“I really need more clients. What’s the quickest and best way to approach people, get them on side and generate sales?”
This business owner asks a very valid question, one that I know many other businesses struggle with.
Business development is tough today isn’t it? In pretty much every firm I speak to it’s the number one challenge. And so much has changed. Back in the day — well, the early 1990s to be precise — I was a salesperson. At the birth of the telesales era I’d phone people up and they’d sometimes thank me for my call! Can you even imagine that today?
When it comes to doing business today, the big problem is trust. We are all too busy, too oversold to, mistrusting of companies in general and self-oriented selling in particular. When I think of the number of cold sales emails I’ve junked, the number of times I’ve put the phone down on a salesman, the adverts I’ve ignored then this is the only course of action I can recommend.
It’s the day before your big presentation. You’ve crammed as much information as you possibly can into your PowerPoint slide deck and you’re confident that you haven’t missed anything out. Yet, you can’t seem to shake that nagging doubt that it might not go as well as you had hoped…
In today’s multi-media age, generating audience excitement and engagement armed only with a slide deck is no easy task. Even if your presentation is highly polished, the chances are that your audience will remember just a fraction of the messages you’re hoping to deliver.
And unless you manage to grab their attention in the first two minutes, they could end up plummeting into the catatonic state of boredom characterised by the phrases “death by PowerPoint” and “PowerPoint hell”.
Yet, by keeping in mind a few golden rules, it is possible for presenters to get their point across — and win over even the toughest crowd.
As most of us will have witnessed, even the most confident presenter can slip into bad habits. Among the more frequent mistakes are not having a clear objective or call to action, packing in too much data, failing to excite the audience and the all-too-tempting trap of using PowerPoint as a script.
Yet by far the biggest mistake — identified by 33% of 600 UK professionals in a recent Citrix poll — is the failure to understand your audience.
To overcome this and ensure that the presentation meets or exceeds audience expectations, it is always worth finding out who is likely to attend, as well as thinking about why they are participating. Is it a learning opportunity? Are they escaping work for an hour? Or has the boss told them to come?
Another worthwhile tactic can be to address likely objections head-on by building them into the narrative. This could include, for example, acknowledging that your product or service is among the more expensive in the market and counteracting this by explaining why it makes a better choice than cheaper alternatives.
The best and most memorable presentations tend to be limited to just a handful of key talking points. This way, you’re more likely to lead with your best ideas, generate more impact and increase the likelihood that your audience will remember what you’ve told them.
With time at a premium for most professionals, it’s simply bad manners to speak for longer than the audience had anticipated. And while it might sound obvious, invariably you’re more likely to encourage a sale or achieve positive feedback if you close by reiterating your key objective and qualifying audience benefit.
We’ve all cringed at presentations that rely too heavily on distracting PowerPoint tricks. Yet, there is a good case for using subtle animation and “builds” to introduce each of your points as you’re making them to help ensure that your messages are delivered in palatable chunks.
In addition, bringing in good visuals and keeping the presentation moving at an upbeat pace can also serve to maintain audience attention — an increasingly tough task in today’s multi-media age.
You’ve given your presentation or made a speech. It has gone brilliantly — although you say it yourself. You ask if there are any questions … and over the next few minutes your smile begins to fade as you are caught off guard by a series of tricky and complicated questions from the audience.
Your failure to answer them convincingly undoes much of the good work you had put in during your speech. So how did it all go so wrong?
Here are eight tips to help you prepare:
You can get more appointments from your cold calls — if you follow this advice. Make these techniques work for you and I promise you’ll see a marked difference in your sales figures.
There are a number of so-called experts out there saying that cold calling doesn’t work but they’re wrong. Cold calling is still one of the best and quickest ways to get new business and it is far from dead — it has changed, yes, but it is growing and is an area that continues to evolve. You need to be on top of what’s changing in order to stay ahead of the game and your competition.
This is one of the things that loses you credibility, rapport and respect straightaway. But what do I mean by stupid questions? Questions such as: “How much do you currently pay?” and, my personal favourite, “What will it take to get your business?”
This is another thing the average salesperson fails to do. The prize for worst ever call reason goes to someone who I once heard say: “the reason for the call is to find out when your contract is up for renewal”. Brilliant. Abject failure to understand tip number two! You have to grab your prospect’s attention and an important part of that is having a strong call reason — something that will engage them.
This part is often missing — particularly if the salespeople concerned are making lots of calls. Prospects can hear confidence and belief in your voice and they notice when it’s missing. You need to persuade people to buy into you and what you offer. They need to have faith in you and trust that you know what you’re talking about.
It often astounds me how little preparation your average salesperson does. The minimum preparation you should be doing prior to a call is to get the name of the decision maker, direct phone number and email where appropriate, an idea of your call reason and what you’re going to say, likely objections and how you’re going to handle them, plus access to your diary to book those appointments in. You also need to know the date and time that you’re trying to make the appointment for before you start to close — otherwise you’re less likely to get a date set up.
If you’re starting any sort of calling session, whether it’s cold or warm calling, make sure you’re focused before you start. This means getting away from any distractions such as colleagues chatting, incoming phone calls, emails, people putting the kettle on and so on. If you’re going to start a calling session, make sure you’re focused on it. As well as the end result you want to achieve.
Another big mistake the average salesperson makes is sounding bored and tired. Your voice is all you have to persuade people, so make sure you give it your best shot. You need to have energy and enthusiasm in your voice in order to persuade others.
The longer the calling session goes on, the more you have to be careful of your energy levels. Sometimes short breaks between focused calling sessions actually produce better results. Remember, If you’re going to make a call, make it sound like a good one!
One of the major advantages of an economic downturn (even a landslide like the current one is shaping up to be) is that there are great deals to be had. The challenge is that many of us are very bad at negotiating.
There is clearly an element of nature vs. nurture here; some of us are clearly genetically more inclined to haggle, while for others the process is more unpleasant and degrading than having teeth pulled.
This is especially true for salespeople who are typically outgoing and persistent, with a hide as thick as a rhinoceros. But when it comes to negotiating the detail of a deal, many experienced sales people crumble, especially under pressure from a well-trained negotiator or purchasing director.
Negotiation is a basic skill we use every day of our lives, whether it is making sure we get a cup of tea in the morning at home or in buying a car, when we are up against an expertly trained and highly motivated individual. Negotiation is not a black art: it can be studied and learned, and I have had advice from a true expert: Derek Arden.
Arden started his working career in a bank, in training and development; but soon found himself in major account management, negotiating with hard-nosed senior buyers at a large supermarket chain. He says he often left meetings with a strong feeling that he had come a distant second in the negotiation, if only because he was operating solo against a team of four people who were clearly expert in identifying and exploiting any of his personal or business weaknesses.
He resolved to read all the books available and go on courses to develop his own best practice for negotiation. He has since spent more than eight years passing on this knowledge to everyone from teams of salespeople to a high-profile individual in the Middle East who needed one-on-one coaching for family as well as business negotiations.
Arden explains that developing negotiation skills is a constant process; you always learn new techniques. Where most people fall down is in understanding the timing of a deal. This is aptly illustrated in his first major personal negotiating challenge, which was to arrange a favourable exit from the bank where he was working.
Arden's advice is that the secret to making a graceful departure from your current employer is to understand the timing: there will be a perfect time to leave, and forcing your own schedule on their internal processes is likely to be very counter-productive.
This leads us naturally into the key element of negotiation: preparation. Arden believes strongly that the most important work is done well in advance. The better prepared you are, the more likely you are to secure a good deal for yourself and for the other party. Successful deal-makers always ensure a win for both sides as they are always looking for a long-term relationship with the buyer.
The hardest part of negotiation is always the price, especially if the buyer gives no clue about what they want to pay. Arden suggests having three prices always to hand. First you should always have a high-value dream price, which buyers will accept more often than you might suspect, for example if they need your products or services in a hurry or are looking to empty a budget before the end of the financial year or risk losing it for the following year.
Then you should have a target price which represents what you feel the customer should pay, based on both value for money for them and a sensible profit for you. Finally, you have a walk away price, below which you cannot go, based on hard evidence developed internally from your delivery and finance people.
In a friendly negotiation you can even share this information, and a fair buyer should appreciate your openness and respond favourably. It is important to remember that very rarely do people buy the cheapest offer; what is more important, especially in these hard times, is your providing proof of value for money and return on investment.
Arden also trains people in advanced techniques including influencing and body language, all based around asking good questions, prepared in advance. As Rudyard Kipling aptly put it, "I keep six honest serving-men; they taught me all I knew. Their names are What and Why and When, And How and Where and Who.”
Copyright ©Mike Southon 2012. All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced without permission in writing. Mike Southon is the co-author of The Beermat Entrepreneur and a business speaker.