Receiving good referrals from your business contacts is a great way to bring in new business. The prospective customer is more comfortable with the possible transaction as you have been recommended to them and a lot of the initial hard work of engaging dialogue is removed. Referrals are good news all round but how do you get more of them?
Here are my top three tips on how to make the most of potential referrals.
Nobody enjoys sounding confused or not being able to answer questions. If they don’t know how to articulate what it is that you do they won’t be able to refer you, so make sure your proposition is simple and that they have the tools to be able to refer you effectively. I was fortunate enough to have an excellent group of non-execs involved in a business a few years back, they were very well-connected but never brought any referrals into meetings. I challenged them on this and after much discussion it became clear that the company proposition was too cumbersome for them to articulate easily when they met potential referrals. I refined it, they brought referrals.
It is essential that if someone takes the time to give you a referral that you follow it up properly. Basic courtesy dictates that even if you feel that the referral is a waste of time it is important that you at the very least email/ call the referred party. You may be wrong, you really never know what potential business is behind the referral until you speak with the prospect. I received a referral a couple of years ago that seemed very random and a total waste but once I spoke to the company it transpired that they were looking to launch something new and that was what they wished to speak about, it was a great piece of business. You just never know until you make the call, so make the call.
This may sound like the most obvious tip of them all but it just doesn’t happen often enough. Whether the referral results in business or not you need to make the effort to thank the person that make the intro. In a recent exercise, a client of mine found that he had received over 50 referrals over a three-year period but not one had referred more than once, a stat which surprised us both. We went back six months and thanked them all, with an email update on what had happened with the referrals, sending an email plus a couple of bottles of wine to the ones which had led to business. From those 14, eight have since referred again. Not only is it the right thing to do, but thanking your referrers actually generates more business!
Craig McKenna is a managing partner at The Growth Academy.
Qualifying a prospect is probably one of the most important elements of selling if you are a small business. The time you can save by not trying to sell to prospects who ultimately never would have bought anyhow is invaluable, as well as the mental advantage that can be gained by being able to focus only on the right prospects.
The eight key stages that should be followed can be remembered easily using the term SCOTSMAN.
(S) Solution — Have you clarified if your prospect understands what it is that you wish to sell them. What is your solution and why will it work for them?
(C) Competition — Have you an awareness of whether there is anyone competing with you to sell to your prospect or for the money they may use to buy from you? Your competition could be internal as well as external.
(O) Objective — Have you a clear understanding on what your client is looking for, what are they in the market for? What is important to them now and in the future? Do you improve their services or processes, or do you save them money?
(T) Timescales — Have you clarified what timescale the prospect is working to? Can you deliver within that timescale? Does the timescale work for you? Is there a timing factor that could be used in your favour, for example a financial year end?
(S) Size — Is the potential size of the deal worth the effort going to be needed to win the business? Have you a clear picture on what size the deal will be? Is it smaller than ideal but could open doors? Is it too big and may have a detrimental impact on your business?
(M) Money — Does the prospect have the money in their budget to pay for your solution? If they don’t have a budget, can they find the money or do you need to consider walking away?
(A) Authority — Are you speaking to the decision maker? The person who ultimately will sign the cheque? Are they even aware that you are speaking to their company? It is no longer imperative to deal with just the decision maker, there is a value in dealing with another contact within the business but very few pieces of business are completed without the main authority signing off on it.
(N) Need — Does the prospect actually need your solution? Very few deals happen in the current climate without a clear need. There are many reasons why they may need your solution and it is key that you find out which one is relevant and focus on it.
If you can answer all of the questions in a positive manner, then your chances of closing the deal are significantly higher than if you can’t. Very few deals will actually happen if one or more of these eight key stages are missing, and the time you may waste on chasing shadows is valuable.
It can be easy to get sucked into thinking that every deal will happen, and there is also a sort of comfort that some small businesses value in having a large pipeline that “could” close but I would encourage you to qualify properly and allow yourself to focus only the deals that have a chance. You are better off closing three out of five good prospects than two out of ten prospects as your focus was stretched thin.
Craig McKenna is a managing partner at The Growth Academy.
All business owners get busy — it comes with the territory and we all have to make choices on what we prioritise and what we don’t. Human nature tends to encourage us to prioritise the tasks that we like or are stronger at, and this, more often than not, does not include selling.
To achieve sustainable growth and drive a business forward it is essential that we have a consistent approach to sales. How do we ensure that we continue to sell effectively during the periods when we are flat out and crazy busy?
When we are busy it is vital that we don’t waste time chasing shadows or lost causes and the best way to achieve this is by qualifying targets properly and only chasing the targets that could close.
There is a real value in meeting potential clients face to face and I am a huge fan of ensuring that the personal touch is always given precedent over email and phone but we have to be careful we don’t over do it. When you factor in prep, travel and the actual face to face time, meetings cut heavily into your diary. Pause and think — do you really need to attend a meeting to move the deal forward? Would a call be more appropriate? Does the meeting even need an hour?
Networking is an essential part of the majority of small business sales strategies. It is important and it needs to be done properly, but plan it. Work out how much time you can designate to networking and work a plan around that. If you can only attend one group, attend it properly and make sure you get value from it. Don’t try and attend a lot of groups sporadically, it won’t work. You need continuity to get benefit from any networking and if not done right, it is just time wasted.
If we have properly set targets and work towards them, it becomes a lot easier to focus our selling and avoid wasting time on the wrong activities. Too often small businesses either don’t have targets or don’t work towards them effectively and this can result in a lot of wasted time. If you know you are close to achieving a target or you are miles away it helps you make the right decisions on which meetings to take and what other activity you need to make time for.
No matter how busy we get we cannot afford to let activity levels drop to zero! It is a lot easier to keep activity going than it is to restart it. Too many businesses only sell when they have very little or no business at all and then they find it difficult. No matter how busy you get, your selling must keep ticking over. Identify your key targets and work on them, whether you choose 40 or 200, it is up to you, make a call on the number and get to work on them.
Craig McKenna is a managing partner at The Growth Academy.
It’s a simple question really. Many of us are passionate about selling products and/or services that we wholeheartedly believe in. Because, let’s face it, if we aren’t passionate about our own product then we can’t expect our customers to be. But selling someone something they need but don’t particularly want can be incredibly difficult.
Selling someone a product or service they want is often just a matter of closing the deal. What many people fail to realise is that it’s incredibly difficult — perhaps nigh on impossible, to sell someone something they might need, but don’t think they want.
Occasionally, I’ll meet a business owner struggling to make their business model work. And often, the root cause lies in the fact that they’re on a crusade to change the world. They believe so passionately in their business, product or service that they are convinced everyone else should too.
They look to the branding and the marketing to solve the problem. They revisit their sales process. If they’re not careful they can embark on incredibly expensive campaigns that result in very little. Why? Because they’ve failed to grasp that their customers don’t want what they’re selling.
They might need it. But they don’t want it. Nightmare.
As we know, business development is a continuous and cyclical operation. The cycle is one of extremes; it’s either going fabulously well and opportunities are in abundance, or there’s precious little on the horizon.
All business development professionals question their ability to produce good quality leads when at this juncture.
With over a decade of front-line practice, this is something I have consistently experienced; exhilarating highs and frustratingly low periods of drought. Although, with the right formula and robust processes in place, thankfully these droughts don’t last very long!
We all consistently strive to perfect our methods to engage our audience and enjoy a higher success rate, yet often neglect to consider that people only buy from people that they like, can trust and that they can relate to.
Understanding the stages in the sales cycle and following good practice should go hand in hand with the development of the individual qualities that all successful new business openers seem to be unconsciously competent at.
Here are my top five essential attributes of a successful new business marketer:
A relaxed manner only comes to those who have prepared, are confident and that have a good level of understanding of their audience. Respecting the audience’s precious time and good manners will result in a positive all round experience that builds rapport for future potential.
Knowing when to talk, what questions to ask and at what level, when to listen in order to take in the right intelligence. These skills will help shape the conversation in order to get the most from it.
Immersion in the sales cycle on an on-going basis at all levels is necessary when you are in communication with director-level decision makers.
Problem-solving propositions are the best method of approach (above solutions based and offer based approaches). Asking what issues and problems the contact is faced with provides an opportunity to demonstrate how these problems could be overcome.
Respectful consistent communication when the contact has agreed for further contact works. Particularly when new insight/industry analysis/further evidence of suitability is presented as part of the warming process.
How are you selling? Are you old school or new school? There is a lot of talk about sales targets, selling style and features versus benefits. But at the end of the day, your approach, tone and brand style should tie together with your approach to selling. Here are some questions you may want to think about as you launch into 2011.
Many business people fear that sharing their knowledge will empower their competitors and they believe they should keep their expertise close to their chest. It’s one thing sharing your knowledge and another thing applying it. Let me illustrate this. Tips on how to style my curly hair are great but I’m not about to attempt cutting my hair on my own. I’ll always need a hairdresser to do that. So don’t confuse the knowledge you can share, with the skill you have in applying it. The opportunity to apply your skills (sell them) comes up more often when you set yourself up as an expert.
Today authenticity is absolutely essential. We are bombarded with meaningless adverts, worthless pitches and annoying messages. Why not stand out and be yourself? People buy from people. Even when we buy from faceless large brands we buy from the people employed by them. How many times have you been to a big brand shop and experienced poor service and then slated them, avoided them or told someone about your bad experience? On the other hand, give me a good shop assistant who has some personality and I’m the happiest person. You can communicate authentically by developing an honest brand style and using social media to develop personable relationships.
So you are convinced you know what you are doing. But do other people believe it? This might seem blindingly obvious but many people are still not using testimonials. No one likes those people at parties that never shut up about themselves. So you can talk about your great products and services till you are blue in the face but if you’re the only one saying it then you are likely to go unnoticed. Your customers can help you sell by sharing the positive experiences they have had with your products and services.
Do people understand what you’re trying to say in your brochure or are they tripping over too many words, bad grammar and poor quality imagery? When people land on your website are they overwhelmed with mixed messages, flashing adverts or streams of useless blurb? Here’s a tip — if you give people too many choices such as multiple links on your website, they feel bombarded and run away! Your customers are busy and they need help making buying decisions. Make your communications (print and websites) logical and easy to navigate.
Who wants to be sold to all of the time? The answer is no-one. So why is this one of the biggest problems I experience today? Selling is an essential aspect of any business and I’m definitely not suggesting we scrap it. It’s about how we sell. People want personality, benefits and meaning. So avoid the kind of selling that is in your face, doesn’t shut up, tells lies and is a one-way street of blurb.
The best way to know what your customers actually want is to listen to them! Sounds simple? Then why are most businesses talking at their customers rather than listening? One of the simplest and most innovative things you can do is make your customers feel important by listening to them and trying to solve their problems.