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.
Does your business website have a blog? If not, it should! Not only are blogs great for building brand loyalty, they’re also incredibly useful for improving your search rankings. Think of a blog as your own personal newspaper. What do your customers want to know?
Blogging like a business pro isn’t all that hard, it just takes planning. Here are 13 steps to get you started.
It’s easiest to host your blog on the same platform your website runs on. If you prefer a free site like Wordpress or Blogger, talk to your IT guru about creating a subdomain for your blog. If you must create a totally separate domain for your blog, get as close to the business name as you can.
Don’t get too creative here. For the best SEO results, pick a name that will hit the keywords you want. Use subtitles if you need to convey more information.
Most businesses shoot themselves in the foot by beginning to blog, then abruptly stopping when things get busy. Have a content plan in place as well as a concrete blogging schedule to prevent this from happening, and bring in an outside content person if necessary.
Before you start promoting your blog, fill the “drafts” folder with a few reserve blog posts that aren’t too time-sensitive. Be sure you’ve got a few posts live on the site before you start pointing people there, too, so they have something to read!
Before you get too deep into posting, be sure your blog is connected to your social accounts like Facebook and Twitter. You’ll want some social widgets on the blog, too.
Business blogs simply shouldn’t steal photos — it’s a recipe for a lawsuit (and unethical!) Spend a couple hours and even bring in a professional photographer to create a library of business images you can pull from when posting down the road.
Aim for at least once a week for the first few months of blogging, more if you can. And remember that although every blog post should contain correct punctuation and formatting, they don’t always have to be long-form reads.
Every single time you post, you should be promoting, especially via social media. Be sure to reach out to people you think would be particularly interested in the content one-by-one.
Have like-minded professionals or industry figureheads write a guest post or give you an interview. It will make great blog fodder and you’ll get double promotion points when they promote the post, too.
You own a business…give people a reason to follow you! Whether it’s useful information delivered in emails to blog followers or coupons for discounted service for people who follow, people need a reason.
It’s easy to get stuck in a routine of creating the same type of posts week after week. Mix it up! Post a video one week and a white paper the next; you’ll seem more adaptable as a company.
Your IT pro may be helpful here, but you should learn the basics of proper SEO formatting. Headers, links… know what these things are to best position your blog.
Once you’ve established a great group of loyal followers, get their opinions! Find out what they’d like to see more of and less of and never forget what a valuable resource your comments section is.
Business blogging isn’t complicated, it just takes preparation.
Ryan Currie is a product manager at BizShark.com, with 5 years experience in online marketing and product development. In addition to web related businesses, he also enjoys the latest news and information on emerging technologies and open source projects.
“That’s interesting, tell me more.”
These are the five words that should guide every aspect of your digital marketing strategy.
For each blog page you write, advertisement you place, landing page you produce, all we’re trying to do is garner a simple five word response — “That’s interesting, tell me more”.
Step by step, you’re leading your audience down a path towards purchase or conversation. You light the way through engaging written and visual content.
This is about absolute marketing basics. We’re not talking about content marketing or search marketing strategies, we’re talking about good old fashioned marketing. People respond when they read something that is of interest, an article that leaves them desiring more information.
So why do we miss out on so many opportunities to incentivise a “tell me more” response? And why do so many business websites fail to include strong Call To Actions (CTAs) that resonate with their associated content?
Picture the scene. Your breath is leaving a ring of vapour on the window. Your eyes are squinting as you focus on the carbon fibre dashboard. You can almost smell the leather upholstery as you walk back and forth pondering your next move. The car salesman strides over. Does he ask you if you want to buy this car? No, his years of training and experience guide him with a logical opening line tapping into your obvious interest — “she’s a beauty, isn’t she?”. And so the conversation begins.
You want reassurance that your brain is making the right call. Lo and behold, here’s another person to reassure us that yes, that car really is a beauty. This is simple psychology that we usually fall for pretty quickly.
Each aspect of the car is discussed, we nod along… the interest is well and truly there. Does the salesman now close you? He doesn’t need to, you want to take that test drive. You want to find out more.
Admittedly, few decisions in life trigger desire as much as the purchase of a new car. Whether we’re buying software, a book or a piece of art, somewhere along the line there’s that single trigger (at this stage I highly recommend Roger Dooley‘s book Brainfluence) that takes us from contemplating our next move to making our next move. It’s that “phone a friend” moment. If your audience has built trust in your service, you are that friend.
Take a look at the landing pages you produce or the ad copy you have written. Does it really evoke interest? Does it leave your audience asking to be told more? The art of business storytelling allows you to position the reader in a pre-purchase and post-purchase scenario. You develop personas that are rich with association between the main character and your reader. You tell the story of how your product can impact upon the reader’s own life. Whether it’s as short-term as the relief provided by cold remedies, or, as we all hope, long-term as the assurance that life insurance provides us.
The smart advertiser tells a story.
That story delivers the interest, your sales logic delivers the appropriate “tell me more” statement. Your audience listens, your audience believes, your audience acts.
What are you doing to ensure your own audience responds with “tell me more”?
The golden rules of writing apply whether you are writing a novel or a blog. Your purpose should be to get the reader’s attention and keep it. You want them to go away with a clear understanding of your core message and ideally, be so impressed that they spread the word about what you’ve said.
The recent death of crime writer Elmore Leonard — known as the writer’s writer — has put the spotlight on his significant contribution to the world of fiction and film. His 45 novels — he was writing his 46th when he died — include many titles made familiar on the big screen, such as Get Shorty, Out of Sight and Rum Punch (which was filmed as Jackie Brown by Quentin Tarantino).
Leonard shared his golden rules in an essay on writing. George Orwell did the same. Stephen King wrote a brilliant book called On Writing. So what can these great fiction writers teach us about writing marketing copy?
Elmore Leonard said “never open a book with weather”. In other words, avoid unnecessary scene-setting. So if you are writing a blog, make a bold statement at the top and then expand on it and back it up. On your website, highlight what you offer before you go into the history of your firm.
It’s good practice to wait before you send or publish something online. Read your writing back a few hours later and delete anything that deviates from your main message.
George Orwell said: “Never use a long word where a short one will do. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.” These are wise words.
Leonard, King and Orwell also agree — adverbs are the work of the devil and dialogue should always carry the word “said”. In the world of fiction, that means avoiding phrases such as “he admonished gravely”.
What can this teach us about copywriting? Use simple language to make your points clearly. Short sentences are better than long ones. The simplest words are the most powerful. Verbal trickery is a distraction.
Leonard said: “Avoid detailed descriptions of characters. Don't go into great detail describing places and things.” And, for good measure, he added: “Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip”.
Stephen King put it another way. He said: “Kill your darlings”.
It’s tempting, when you are writing a blog or white paper, to include all your knowledge and expertise. There’s so much you want to say. One way to avoid unnecessary rambling, is to think of your blog or white paper as a story and cut out anything that detracts from the plot.
Leonard said: “Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose." He also said: “Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.”
Orwell said: “Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.”
The message is clear — avoid clichés and jargon. Cliches cause readers to disengage. They skim over these familiar but ultimately meaningless phrases and before you know it, you’ve lost them.
Jargon is another no-no. Sure, every industry has its acronyms and technical terms. But make life easier on your readers. No matter how clued up they are, write in plain English. And don’t forget, your in-house terminology may not be at all familiar to your customers.
Leonard said: “Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.”
You’re not writing an epic novel — so I would avoid exclamation marks altogether. They are a clumsy way to flag up a joke or any strong statement. It’s a bit like saying “ta da” after you’ve spoken. F Scott Fitzgerald said it was like laughing at your own joke. According to the BBC, there's a word for it — bangorrhea.
Above all, exclamation marks distract the reader. The same goes for the practice of adding quote marks to "unusual words" — much better to change the words and drop the quote marks. Similarly, avoid capitals as much as you can. Giving Some Phrases Initial Capitals is another major distraction for readers.
Happily for anyone that writes marketing and sales copy online, there are lots of additional ways to make your messages stand out — ways that novelists may not use.
Headings, sub-headings and bullet points attract readers and allow them to find their way around your writing. Summaries, handy hints, useful links, images and infographics support your messages. And social media, SEO and email give your writing rocket fuel to reach the widest possible audience.
Content marketing has become so powerful today that you can’t afford to miss a trick.
As if the process of devising an effective online marketing plan is not hard enough, small businesses also have to come up with creative approaches that will capture the attention of their target market.
Design matters — whether it’s for a website, a blog, a newsletter or a social media page. You need to use the best possible approach to ensure you get results online.
Split testing — also known as A/B testing — is a crucial part of this process. Without it, it is impossible for you to achieve an optimum online presence. If you are a small business owner and you want to effectively reach out to your consumers online, then you should use split testing to create the best online designs.
Split testing is the process of developing multiple designs and using them alternately to determine which one is more effective. Marketers aiming for the highest possible conversion rates on their websites and blogs commonly use this practice. It can determine which design works better in selling a product, generating leads, and channelling and maintaining a website’s traffic.
Above all, it’s important because it allows business owners to learn about their market’s online behaviour and taste. Pin down which creative look, design, and approach works with your market to help you sell your products and services. Split testing is the single most effective way to find out how to get potential customers and clients to convert.
Here are some of the most effective split testing tools that you can use for your business.
Google Website Optimizer: To optimize your site, you need to develop alternate versions of your webpage and determine which one works better. Along with a conversion URL, you need to submit these pages to Google through the Google Website Optimizer. This powerful and simple tool will help you put together an optimized site free of charge.
Split Testing Pro: This desktop-based application combines all the possible tools that you need in order to test multiple versions of your website or blog. In exchange for a low-cost monthly subscription, you will be able to run multiple versions of your online marketing platforms and determine which ones will give you the conversion rate that you need.
Optimizely: Optimizely is a web-based application that copies web pages from a given URL and substitutes different variations for the script used for each one of them. After that, users are granted access to variations through an in-browser editor. Display features can get a little messed up after the substitutions, but you will be able to use this app to come up with the best copies and scripts for conversion.
There are some guidelines that you should keep in mind as you use split testing to improve the conversion rate of your blog or website.
Some people respond better to text, while others respond best to visual images. In the process of creating a high-conversion website or newsletter, split test text-heavy studies against image-heavy designs. Doing so will help you determine which text-to-image ratio will work best for your website.
While there are certain opt-in processes that are too complicated to squeeze into a single page, there are some that can sit perfectly in a single web page. For the best possible conversion rate, you have to find out whether a multiple-page opt in process works better for your consumers or whether they will respond best to one-page opt-in schemes.
If you are selling a particular product, you need to determine whether adding an image will be beneficial and which product shot will do the best job in inviting potential customers to convert. Test multiple product shots and find out which one will appeal to your market best.
Split testing can be a time consuming. However, it will pay off in the end, helping you achieve the best conversion rates. The power of effective social media marketing design is phenomenal and through using split testing you can achieve the best results possible.
Olivia Rose blogs about business and uses split testing and multivariate data analysis to conduct effective online marketing.