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.
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.
I see it all the time. I even take advantage of it. Some businesses have too many discount sales and special offers — in fact it can seem like a permanent sale. I call this the DFS effect.
But what happens? No-one buys at full price.
Now it is, of course, very tempting to drop your prices when you have stock to move, and I am not suggesting that you don’t ever have sales, just don’t have them all the time.
If every email you’re sending out to your list is just what’s on sale, or that you’ve knocked so-and-so-many per cent off “this weekend only”, and if you send them often enough, it’s not going to take long to wipe out all your full price sales.
There is a certain children’s mail order company that I often use to buy things for my small people and I know that I only have to hang on for another week or so every time I want to buy something and sure enough a discount voucher will plop onto the doormat through the post. I am regular customer and so I know I don’t have to wait long. Now what’s silly about this is that yes I do buy when I get my discount voucher, but the business has lost my momentum, and also the cash I was ready to part with “on the spot”.
Now for a big mail order catalogue, or a large chain of furniture stores (ahem!) the continuous offers and discounting is part of a major marketing plan, but if you’re a small business you don’t always have the luxury of bigger margins and a constant flow of orders. If you’re a smaller business you value every sale, and all of those that are not at full price just mean you have to work harder or sell more (or both!). You also then set a precedent that your prices are not “real” but “inflated” (yes I know those DFS sofas were on sale somewhere for a week at £1500 but no-one was buying them, right?).
So stick by your guns and don’t be on sale all the time. Think about value-added offers instead, or extras you can include. Once you lower your prices (which is effectively what you do when you’re always on sale) it’s really hard to push them back up again to the same customers. Then you’re left with either finding new customers, or accepting that you’ll only ever be able to sell for less.
And don’t even think about offering five years interest free credit if you’re a small business either! Money up front thank you very much.