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.
Packing your site with valuable content is the best way to showcase your operation – and case studies are the kings of valuable content. Demonstrating how you add value, case studies bring your website to life, and will always be clicked on by prospective buyers.
There’s an art to creating good ones – here are my tips for writing case studies that sell.
Set aside proper time to interview the client at a time that suits them. Set the agenda. Have your questions ready. Record the conversation so you have time to listen properly without scribbling like a maniac. Give the client time to say other things that might not be on your agenda. Keep asking “why?”. This can be a hugely valuable process, and you can learn a lot about what it’s like to work with you.
If the idea of this makes you uncomfortable, ask someone else to conduct the interview for you. People often find it easier to talk to a third party, so this approach has other advantages too.
Case studies are the heavy-weight proof of your expertise, but don’t treat them too reverentially. You want people to read them. So apply the usual rules of smart business writing and grab attention with a headline — don’t say “Monetizing the Web Operations of AN Company: A Case Study” — say “Profits doubled in three months — here’s how”.
Your case study is your chance to show precisely how you add value, so explain it in lovely plain language.
In the real world, projects can be fairly rambling affairs. The parameters change, people change roles, life happens. The project had a bit of a hiccup in the third month when Jane from HR went on maternity leave… But for the purposes of the case study, keep to the brief. Your aim is to show how you moved your client from A to B. Show your focus.
Use your client’s words. Speech lifts a piece of writing and makes it much lighter to read. More importantly, it adds real credibility. It’s show not tell. An advantage of getting someone else to write your case studies is it makes that harvesting of this kind of valuable information much easier. Tell me again, how great am I?
As well as using speech, use bullet points to highlight your points. Keep the busy web reader in mind and make it really easy for people to read.
Make it clear and unambiguous. How your help raised the bottom line. It’s the most important bit. Don’t let your case study dribble away at the end. End on a high.
Put your case studies up at the front of your website. Too often companies stack them at the back of their site, like dusty old volumes on the top shelf of a library. Make them grabby and appealing and stick them in the waiting room. Think glossy mag not the Encylopedia Brittanica.
Have you ever tried to bid for a public sector contract? If you have, I’ll bet you’ve never had to wade through so much red tape and jump through so many hoops in your entire life.
If you haven’t, you’re not alone. Nearly three-quarters of small firms rarely or never bid for public service contracts.
Just five to ten per cent of public sector business is awarded to small and medium-sized businesses - despite the fact that small businesses account for close to half the UK’s turnover. And that public sector business is worth billions.
But there’s good news for small firms this week.
Prime Minister David Cameron has promised to help more small businesses bid for and win public sector contracts. His aim is to see 25 per cent of all government contracts being awarded to small and medium-sized firms.
It has to be said that there is some confusion over whether he means 25 per cent of the value of all contracts or 25 per cent of the number of contracts. But who’s quibbling — the difference is only a few billion quid.
Still, it’s a step in the right direction.
So how’s he going to do it?
He’s pledging to break up large contracts into smaller chunks. And where that’s not possible, he’ll encourage large suppliers to increase opportunities for small firms in the supply chain.
Forgive my cynicism but I can’t see larger suppliers giving up a slice of the pie.
However, let’s focus on the positives. With this announcement comes the launch of a new online tool — Contracts Finder — that will show all central Government tender opportunities.
Best news of all is that the Government has removed the need for bidders to fill in a PQQ (pre-qualification questionnaire) for smaller contracts. In addition, David Cameron is promising much less red tape and more transparency.
Will it work? Let’s hope so. It could be a brilliant boost for small firms. And, with the Government promising to publish figures on the amount of contracts going to smaller businesses, we’ll be able to measure their success.
In the meantime, tell us about your experience bidding for public sector contracts and watch this space.
Rachel Miller, editor, Marketing Donut
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A new business quick fix — it doesn’t seem possible, does it? I’m afraid that’s because it isn’t.
Many small businesses find themselves in need of new clients and they are looking for quick results. But getting new business is about building relationships and that can take time.
The problem is that many firms fail to focus on new business until they are suddenly facing a drop in orders. That’s when firms tend to look for a magic quick fix. But a short-sighted approach can easily be perceived by the target audience as aggression and ultimately may be damaging to the reputation of a business.
The best approach is to work on new business relationships over time, showing potential customers what you can offer and gaining their trust. Then, when those customers need a service like yours, they are more likely to come to you.
A successful new business programme is based on a long-term vision and achieves a steady flow of good quality opportunities. There are a number of phases that need to be realised before optimum new business results can be seen. A new business typical cycle looks like this:
1. Groundwork: steady, focused and tailored activity to gradually warm up your target audience;
2. A pipeline of mid-term opportunity is developed: clearly scoped against targets and a timeframe;
3. Trust is won and doors are opened.
As with any relationship, there needs to be an initial chemistry before trust is won and that interest then needs to be cemented before you’ve won over your conquest. To get to this stage you need to ensure you have the right approach in place and make sure your message is appropriate to your audience to get you noticed.
Good new business development is a skill and it is also a perpetual and evolving cycle. Those that adopt a long-term strategy will enjoy the greatest return — assuming the approach is researched well, pitched well and managed closely.
You don’t have to look far to see concrete signs of the recession hitting small businesses hard. Walk down any UK high street and the empty shops say it all.
But boarded up shops is one thing — the danger is that they could soon become piles of rubble as unused properties are demolished to avoid paying rates.
Parliamentary under-secretary of state Bob Neill has announced this month that the government is to take an extra £400m per annum from businesses next year, by scrapping business rate relief given to the owners of empty properties.
But don’t blame us, says Neill.
"This is a Labour tax,” he says. “There are many Labour taxes that we would like to scrap, but we are simply unable at this point because of the disastrous fiscal legacy left by Labour. But we are taking action to tackle problems with business rates — such as scrapping Labour's retrospective ports tax and by increasing small business rate relief."
In fact, Labour introduced this tax in order to encourage regeneration schemes before the recession took hold. Obviously, this “incentive” to keep business premises occupied could not compete with the global recession.
So will we really see businesses bulldozing their own premises to avoid rates?
It’s happening already according to the British Property Federation. What it calls the “bombsite Britain” tax has led to millions of square feet of property being demolished since its introduction two years ago.
There are plenty of empty premises, that’s for sure. According to the Local Data Company, 13 per cent of all town centre shops are now lying vacant. The majority of the boarded-up blackspots are in the Midlands and the North with a shocking 29 per cent of all businesses in Blackpool closed up.
Napolean Bonaparte called us a nation of shopkeepers. The fact is that our high streets reflect the state of our nation and it doesn’t look good — some are turning onto ghost towns, others are high street clones with few independent stores.
So what can be done to encourage more enterprise on our high streets?
People power is one way. Pop-up shops, cafes and galleries are moving into empty premises and using them to improve community life. By starting small, many projects have been able to get off the ground. Some have turned into permanently successful going concerns — like the Dock Kitchen in West London which was set up in the old Virgin recording studios complex.
But pop-up shops aren’t going to save the high street single-handedly. Even economic recovery may not immediately change the fortunes of our shop-keepers, according to the British Retail Consortium. Director general, Stephen Robertson, has said: "Many of the problems of town centres have more fundamental causes than simply the economic slowdown. High street shops are often battling to pay big bills for business rates and rents”.
The BRC has called for a moratorium on business and property rates. Certainly, national and local government have to find ways to reduce the barriers that stop entrepreneurs setting up businesses on our high streets — from business rates to planning and even parking.
Something’s got to be done — before boarded-up Britain becomes bombsite Britain.
Phone and email for new business generation are still at the heart of all new business marketing programmes when reaching out to an audience; however social media is playing a growing part in these strategies.
Here are a few suggestions showing how you can widen your reach to be noticed, to persuade your audience, engage them and stand out from the crowd.
Join discussion groups — those your key targets are part of and active in. Get involved and offer your expertise, help solve their problems.
Follow key targets, including a sample of their targets, to get a feel for trends, issues, challenges and popular topics being discussed.
Independent expert status will deliver a deeper level of trust. Get involved with forums that will be most valuable to you and share relevant content across these platforms.
Have a close look at media in your sector, the angle taken, your targets’ positioning and the audience they are reaching out to.
Attend all key industry events and engage with your target audience. What are your targets showcasing, how strong and professional is their positioning, collateral, understanding of their audience?
You’re an expert. Share your knowledge and industry opinions.
Attend carefully chosen conferences and seminars, consider speaking at them, particularly those that are the benchmark for your specialism.
Your website needs to be interactive to allow your audience to connect with you. Make it easy for them to reach you through an online blog where they can post comments or find you through other social media platforms and connect with you there.