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.
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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