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Six steps to improve your sales results

Having worked with many businesses over the years, to help them improve their sales results, I have found that there are often a similar set of core issues that each faced. This is a summary of those issues and some initial pointers on how to overcome them.

1. What is your market and position in it?

Being clear about your market, where you are in it and where you want to be are essential foundations to creating a plan to get there. A few simple questions help to clarify this.

  • What do you sell?
  • Who do you sell to today?
  • Who are your ideal customers?
  • Who are your competition?
  • What is your Unique Sales Proposition (USP)?

What is a USP?

It can be identified by completing the phrase "Customers will buy from me because my business is the only/best..."

As well as a USP, it is useful to develop a strap Line, which summarises what you are about in one short phrase. Examples of some are:

  • Heinz Baked Beans: Beanz Meanz Heinz
  • KitKat: Have a break, have a KitKat

What is yours ? Does it really sum up what you do, or reinforce your brand?

2. What does your offering do for your customer?

I often find that, in particular for clients with a technical product or service, their promotional materials talk lots about the technology and little or nothing about the benefits of using them.

This leaves the prospective customer to work out the benefits for himself, which is a risk you need not take. The answer here is to sell the benefits, not the features.

Look at features through the eyes of the person you are selling to. The more you know about your customers' needs, the easier this will be. Ask "So what?" to each feature: the answers that you come up with are your potential benefits.

Ask your customers about what they percieve as the benefits of your product. You'll sometimes be surprised.

For your own products and services, for each feature, make a list of all the possible benefits that you can think of, then match the needs of each customer to what your product or service can offer. Don't forget the softer issues, often personal and emotional, which despite our best efforts often govern the buying decisions that we make (whether we realise it or not).

3. Getting the right message out

There are potentially many ways of getting your message out to your potential customers, but I often find that businesses get stuck in a rut and that there are often better approaches that can be taken.

All promotion should focus on getting the right message out to:

  • the right people
  • in the right way
  • at the right time
  • at the right cost

The secret here is to try several different approaches on a small scale and the measure the return on investment (ROIfrom each, working out how much each sales lead costs. Do more of the ones that work best and modify or drop the ones that don't work as well.

It's also a good idea to do split testing where you run two versions of the same promotion and see which works best. This is very easy to do with tools such as Google Adwords. In general, you ought to have a range of promotional activities in progress at any time, so that if one dries up you have other channels delivering leads and a basis for comparison.

This approach really does work. Simple changes to wording of advertisements can make a dramatic difference to response rates. The effects are often not what you might predict, so experimentation is vital to get the best results.

How many different ways do you promote your business? You should experiment and see what works best for you. What PR do you do? This can be a free way of getting your message out and often works much better than advertising. Are you making best use of social and business networking facilities such as Twitter and LinkedIn?

4. Sales tools

Would you try and work as a car mechanic without some basic tools? If you did, at best, it would take you much longer to get the job done, at worst you simply could not complete the work.

Apply this principle to marketing and selling and you'll soon discover that having the right tools makes the job a whole lot easier, more fun and more profitable.

Examples of some suitable tools are:

  • client testimonials from happy customers
  • demonstrations
  • samples
  • case studies
  • templates

Testimonials are probably the most powerful tools available as they are an independent indicator of your ability to do a good job. Assuming that you do deliver a good product or service, most clients are happy to give a testimonial if approached in the right way at the right time.

5. Qualification

In sales there is always more work that could be done and it is not unusual to have more potential activity on the go than you can handle. So you have to choose between trying to give everything equal priority (the scattergun approach) or carefully select the best opportunities (the guided missile approach). Guess which would work best?

If you are not choosing which opportunities to go for and which to pass over, in a repeatable, measurable way then you are wasting money on wild goose chases and missing business that could be yours.

A simple tool to help with qualification is called BANT, which looks at the four key ingredients that must come together to make a deal

  • Budget: have they got any money to spend on this? Have they got enough? Are we on the same page on costs?
  • Authority: am I talking to the REAL decision maker?
  • Need: how much do they need this? How much pain are they in with the problem that you could solve?
  • Timescale: does this fit my schedule? Is their time-frame realistic?

In my experience, one of the main differences between the most productive salespeople and average salespeople is that the most successful are better at qualification, so spend their time where it is likely to produce the best results. They may well work less than some poorer performing sales people, but they work much smarter.

6. How much to charge?

Setting the right price can easily make the difference between a business succeeding or not, as a relatively small increase in price can make a dramatic difference to profitability.

Pricing and profitability is influenced by many factors such as supply and demand and competitive activity, but it is mainly perceived relative value that counts. In other words, in the mind of the customer, does your offering represent better value than the alternatives that he is considering.

Often the best approach to maximise profitability is to look for niche markets, where your offering is of particularly high value to a specific group of customers.

Your ability to negotiate well will also make a big difference to the prices that you can command. The alternative is to compete all the time on just price, in which case you are selling a commodity.

Unless you are working with high-volume sales and can invest in technology to automate as much as possible, then commodity sales are unlikely to make you rich.