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.
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?
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?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
Getting noticed is often a matter of showing up when somebody is looking for what you’re selling.
To do this, you need to master what I’ve taken to calling Three S Timing:
You’ll often find that a customer reports that winning their business was a result of lucky timing. That is, you happened to show up when they were looking for what you sell. Luck has very little to do with this.
What’s actually going on here is selectivity. And, it’s where marketing frequency is absolutely essential.
Have you ever noticed how when you learn a new word, it seems to crop up on the news, in the book you’re reading, or in conversation with a friend? It was always there… you just didn’t notice it.
The same is true when you’re on the look out for a new car, you’ll suddenly see the model you have in mind passing you at every turn or parked next to you at the supermarket. This is a trick of the mind. To enjoy the fruits of lucky timing, your company needs to crop up when a person happens to be thinking about what you’re buying. Which, effectively, means being there all the time.
To do this, you need to commit to a number of regular marketing activities rather than one-offs, or big bang campaigns. The frequency of these will depend on buying cycles in your industry. What you’re aiming for is to act a little like a lighthouse, with a beacon flashing regularly enough to be seen at the right moment.
Tip: Commit to a small number of regular marketing activities such as a weekly blog, a monthly newsletter or quarterly direct mail.
How this works: When Comet Global Consulting, customer technology specialists, were looking for some strategic marketing support, one of their directors recommended my consulting business. I had worked with him for about six months when I was in corporate marketing some three years earlier, and we had connected on LinkedIn. He had never signed up for a newsletter, or clicked on a blog. However, every week (without fail) I update my LinkedIn status with my latest blog post so my blog was popping up in this buyer’s newsfeed regularly. When it came to needing what I offer, he finally clicked on a link. But, without the previous 150-odd updates, he may not have noticed this one.
With a commitment to a steady stream of ongoing activities, you can further increase your chances of showing up at the right time by understanding and matching your buyers’ work and life patterns and scheduling your communications to match.
Mapping a typical day, week and year for your buyers will help you to work out when to get in touch. For example, Mondays and Fridays probably aren’t the best days to send direct mail and calling a consumer at home during working hours is pretty futile.
Tip: Use scheduling tools to maintain a presence outside normal office hours. If you need to respond in these times, think about using a call-handling service.
There’s also seasonality to consider. Even if you’re not an ice-cream vendor, there will be seasonality in your market. Financial year-ends, school holidays, industry events, funding cycles and the like, can all lead to seasonal changes in demand. Map things that happen over the course of a year that you could talk about or help with.
There will be events that happen every year, like getting your tax return in on time, and there will be one-offs in that year specifically, like a big sporting event.
The former should be worked into your ongoing marketing plan; the latter should form part of your specific 12-month plan. There may also be dated triggers that relate to an individual or specific company, like renewal dates, that would allow you to time your communications perfectly.
Tip: If you collect key data, like year-end or birthdays, when people sign up for your email newsletter, you can set up automated emails to go to them at these times.
Bryony Thomas is an expert contributor to Marketing Donut and a marketing consultant, speaker, and author. This post has been adapted from Bryony’s 5-star business book, Watertight Marketing and it originally appeared on her own website.
The pompously named “customer/client relationship teams” just don’t get it. In fact, the majority of the marketing team don’t get it. That certainly applies to many corporates but it could equally apply to small firms like yours — so read on.
Some marketers just don’t understand the whole “customer” thing. This isn’t a new fad or a naïve but sales-hungry business school professor’s idea of a good wheeze. This is here to stay and until your business gets it then you will lose sales to those businesses that do get it. This is the “it” they don’t get:
Meanwhile, like rabbits in the headlights, the large company marketing and customer care departments are frozen stiff, not knowing what to do next.
Your customer relationship is not something that you can outsource and control with service level agreements. Customers want to talk to and relate to you. Otherwise they will feel out of control and believe they have no real relationship with you (and vice versa) and they will tell the rest of the world. And they will vote with their feet.
So, rather than waiting for the consultant’s report, how about doing the simple stuff?
Get out there and talk to your customers and clients. Ask them what they think and feel about your product and your service. Stop following the conversations and join in.
They talk about you because they care. You can show them that you care. You can explain what’s gone wrong and what you are going to do. But you can’t do that by hiding behind the next report. Try it. You’ll be surprised.
Robert Craven is an expert contributor to Marketing Donut. Robert shows directors and owners how to grow their profits. As well as running the Directors’ Centre, he is a keynote speaker and the author of business bestseller Kick-Start Your Business. His latest book – Grow Your Service Firm – is out now.
Lifecycle marketing can:
A brave new concept that is slowly being nurtured by marketers, lifecycle marketing represents the birth of a new era. A drastic shift in marketing, it’s a technique that focuses on more than attracting a customer, but on converting them into your own personal brand advocate.
Lifecycle marketing requires thought, research, a hands-on approach, a finger on the pulse and staff that are as excited about a product or service as you are. It isn’t easy, but the rewards far outweigh the time and thought it takes to implement such an approach.
Lifecycle marketing embraces the entire customer experience process, not just the sale. It relies on rich customer experiences that transform clients into our best advertising tools.
Customer experience is the sum of all the encounters a customer has with a business. From initial awareness, through to discovery, attraction, interaction and purchase, to use and development, and finally ending in advocacy. So whilst they may not be shouting from the rooftops, a tweet and a positive review on your Facebook page will certainly go a long way in generating leads and attracting new customers.
This isn’t all about concepts though, this is about tangible results, and the use of technology to support the business/consumer cycle.
Lifecycle marketing uses lead nurturing pathways and marketing automation technology such as HubSpot to feed tailored content to prospects and engage with them before they buy, when they buy and after they’ve completed the buying process.
These technical resources provide a platform for tracking and analysing customer engagement, including detailed information about what content leads have read, and when. With technology like this, it’s easy to strike up the sort of conversation that your customer wants to be a part of.
Above all, lifecycle marketing is a thoughtful approach — it considers not only the customer experience, but also the employee experience. It relies on a degree of internal marketing that engages employees and motivates them to deliver the best possible customer experience.
Businesses have listened, learned and embraced the idea that the customer is at the heart of the marketing process.
Rhian Morgans is an online PR executive for Tomorrow People.