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?
Bored? Unfulfilled? Then why not just re-invent yourself?
Back in the eighties, Christine Comaford and I were both upstarts in the computer industry; I was opening up an office in Boston for my first start-up, The Instruction Set, while she was working as a contractor at Lotus. Who would have thought, all those years ago, that one day we'd both be best-selling authors?
But we are. Christine's Rules for Renegades is full of expert advice and motivation for entrepreneurs, illustrated by episodes from her own life, including interacting with Bill Gates, Larry Ellison and Hillary Clinton. One of her key messages is that, as an entrepreneur, you can and should re-invent yourself.
This isn't very British, is it?
Our attitude to failure seems amazingly negative to me. Americans respect you if you try something but fail, while over here, fail once and you're banished, laughed at in the street, or worse.
I met recently with a friend whose last company was wound up, owing money. He picked himself up, dusted himself down and used his skills and contacts to develop another business. As soon as he put his head above the parapet, the hate e-mails started, anonymous of course, implying “impeding investigations” and asking why anyone would want to do business with this “crook”.
A few months on, the negative e-mails are drying up and he seems to be doing quite well. Of course he feels for his former creditors, but he set out originally with the best intentions, worked his socks off and never did anything illegal. The bank, in its infinite wisdom, decided suddenly to pull the plug...
He's had to re-invent himself the best he can, and so long as he remains on the right side of the law and does his best, he has my moral support.
Christine admits to making many mistakes — she got mixed up with a false guru, and some ventures failed; she lost several million dollars at one point. But she has also got many things spectacularly right, investing in over 200 start-up businesses, including a small outfit called Google.
Over the years she has founded and sold five of her own companies for an average 700% return on investment. Her group and private mentoring programs at Mighty Ventures enable her clients to regularly triple their value in a year or less. She has now re-invented herself as an author and business mentor, and her book has topped the business best-seller lists in the USA.
I can thoroughly recommend re-inventing yourself; it's tremendous fun. I've variously been a chemical engineer, a computer-training salesman, a spoof rock star, a salesman-for-hire, an author, a professional speaker and now a columnist. I tend to gloss over the adventures that went terribly wrong, of course, but all the gurus that I meet remind me it's all about the journey, not the destination.
I'm sure many people reading this are thinking about re-inventing themselves as an entrepreneur. The benefits are clear and real, not just dreams: doing something more interesting, being your own boss, generating some serious wealth and making a difference.
Turn your idea into a simple, logical model. Then test this model, getting a small group of people together and looking at the three aspects of the idea: can we deliver the product or service; will it make money if we do; and most crucially, will anyone buy from us in the first place?
The difference between a good idea and a bad idea is that in the former people actually want to buy your stuff' I worked on three start-ups that went broke, essentially because I was unable to sell the stuff, however hard I tried. I never really found out if it was my lack of sales skills or the shortcomings of the company; I quickly moved on.
Wise re-invention is usually about taking qualified risks. Can you start quitting your day job or mortgaging your house? If you never even try, you may regret it all of your life. When speaking to groups of entrepreneurs I often quote one of the saddest movie lines of all, from On The Waterfront: "I could have been a contender!"
And if it goes wrong, there's bound to be a useful lesson (or three) from the experience. One of Christine Comaford's less successful ideas was for an American geisha service. It failed. "But I did learn how to make a great cup of tea," she says.
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. This article is a chapter from This Is How Yoodoo It — a collection of Mike’s Financial Times columns.
Most of us hate cold calling, and this job has became more difficult with the advent of voicemail. Nowadays, it is almost impossible to speak to anyone directly. Instead, I recommend sending carefully targeted and well-constructed e-mails.
It is important to research your prospects carefully, identifying the right person in the company that theoretically should be interested in your products and services. If you do not have the skill or time to find these e-mail addresses, a reputable telemarketing company can do this task for you, without their attempting to do any selling on your behalf at this stage.
Then, the skill is in composing a very short initial e-mail. Most people think that the more features that are crowded into this first-e-mail, the better; in fact, the exact opposite is true. I always recommend a four-line e-mail, which is designed specifically to raise some interest for an initial fifteen-minute meeting.
The first line is the most important and should be specifically tailored for each individual client. It should suggest the specific problem that you can solve, such as improving their revenues or reducing costs.
The next line should be a simple premise of what you do; how you have acknowledged expertise in helping customers solve that problem. People are generally sceptical about sales pitches, so your third line should feature some proof, such as a similar customer you have worked with, who could potentially provide a reference.
The final line should suggest a short meeting at a specific time and date. Ideally, they will be able to agree immediately; if they are interested but cannot make that specific date, they might suggest another.
This type of “Magic E-mail” (as I call it) is inexpensive and unobtrusive. If they are not interested at that particular time, they will delete the e-mail and swiftly forget you. People who have used this approach tell me the response rate is much higher than for more traditional methods.
It has the added advantage of significantly reducing your unanswered voicemail messages and the curt, dismissive customer replies that are often endemic to cold calling.
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.
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.
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.