Posts Tagged ‘Sales’


How to Close the Gap from Prospect to Happy Customer

Sales is a scary thing for many small business owners, but if you can figure out how to turn your sales fear into sales courage, you will change the game in your business. The key lesson I have learned about sales, in my almost 17 years in business, is that the gap between getting a prospect and turning that prospect into a customer can become shorter and shorter with only a few steps. Here are ways you can shorten that gap:

  • Speed up your sales cycle
  • Weed out unqualified prospects
  • Convert with confidence
  • Remove the fear from sales for good

Step 1: Know who your target audience is with 100% certainty. Nothing else in removing the gap between prospecting and completed sales will work without this foundational step. You want to know:

  • Who they listen to
  • Where they hang out both online and offline
  • What their sense of humor is (this is very important believe it or not!), and
  • What the one problem or challenge is that keeps them up at night.

Step 2: Tighten up your business brand. Design your signature content and your business around your ideal customer. Use the lingo of your ideal customer. Mimic the style of the experts they pay attention to. Create Facebook posts based on what they like to see from businesses similar to yours. Create a brand image with attractive logos, tag lines, and clear messaging about who you are as a business, where you are going, and who you’d like to come with you. Note: A blog is a great place to make this step a reality; you can create, nurture, and control well into the future.

Step 3: Review your previous sales cycle. Ask yourself how long it took to go from prospect to sale with all of your products – even if it was one sale of one product or service. You need this as research for how to cut down on time – and extra steps – in the sales process.

Step 4: Beef up your brand awareness: Use what you’ve learned about the length of time and the steps necessary to close a sale. Did your ideal customers in those past sales convert faster than customers who were not in your ideal target audience? Most likely the answer is yes. Solution: Beef up your brand awareness. Consider using one social media platform more to draw your target customer to your website.

Step 5: Make them testify to your greatness. When you have strong brand awareness around your business, sales that normally take one year shrink to six months or less. Sometimes you can close up in ten minutes with one phone call. The key is to get your ideal clients to say amazing things about you – and record them! Video testimonials are the Holy Grail, and they’re just as tough to get, too. Start out with written testimonials on trusted platforms such as LinkedIn or Yelp. The more of these you have, the shorter the steps in your sales conversion cycle and the more your sales funnel is filled with highly qualified prospects.

Put these steps to work and let me know how you are succeeding with this. I am confident this will shorten the gap between meeting a prospect and closing the sale and ending up with a happy customer.


Mondays with Mike: Preparing To Pitch: Getting To The Decision Maker

There is almost nothing more frustrating than delivering a passionate, compelling sales pitch, only to discover at the end that you’ve wasted your time and spent all your energy making your case to a person who isn’t empowered to pull the trigger.  It doesn’t matter how good a salesperson you are if you’re not sitting down with the decision maker.

But it ain’t always easy to get to the decision maker. 

Let’s face it.  Folks in charge have a million things and people competing for their attention, and if they didn’t figure out a way to make themselves unavailable, they’d spend all day with reps trying to sell alarm systems, better phone service, or advertising.  Decision makers have to say “no,” and they have to get pretty good at it if they want to get anything productive accomplished.  And that makes it hard for you – the one person with something of value to sell – to work your way into an opportunity to pitch the decision maker. 

Until now.

I’ve developed a strategy to get around the defenses and make it into the inner circle.  First, I realized that nearly every decision maker has a sizeable ego.  The ego comes from the hordes of salespeople clamoring for approval, time, and attention, and while ego can be an obstacle to doing business, it can also be a point of entry.

Back when I owned a computer forensics firm, I had my sights set on one particular company – the category leader – who I’d wanted to land as a customer practically forever.  I knew they needed my services, but the challenge was getting to the head honcho and convincing him.  He was impossible to reach.  I called, emailed, tried to leverage mutual friends … no joy.  I swear at one point, I figured he was enjoying my pursuit, and that’s when it occurred to me.

I wrote a letter (yes, a real paper-and-pen letter) and asked him to be my mentor.  I promised not to make a sales pitch, but I asked for fifteen minutes of his valuable time so I could get some advice.  I was shocked when he agreed, and I kept my end of the bargain.  I told him I wanted his perspective on what I could do to make my company better.  He told me.  I took notes, asked a few questions, thanked him for his time, and I left.

When I got back to the office, I went to work.  I looked at his recommendations, and I make a plan to improve on every area he’d mentioned.  My staff and I worked hard to deliver better service and really improve the company from the ground up.  When I’d accomplished the goals I’d set, I called my new mentor and asked for a second meeting, again making the promise not to make it a sales call.  We met, I showed him the progress I’d made, and I asked for another set of suggestions.  Rinse and repeat.

When I showed up for my third meeting, it was clear that the decision maker – my ideal client – took great pride in the changes he’d helped me make, and then the magic happened.  He looked at me and said, “I want to be your customer.”

I’d kept my word.  I hadn’t tried to sell him a thing, but simply having access to the decision maker gave me the opening I needed to convey the dedication I had to being the single best computer forensics guy on the planet.  If I hadn’t asked for his advice, he never would have had the opportunity to get to know me, and he never would have understood how much he needed me.

Now, you’re not going to get to every decision maker simply by asking for some advice.  Some are too busy; some aren’t interested.  But what I’ve found is that when I can get that first meeting, I know somewhere down the road, I’ll convert my new mentor to become my client.  Build your relationship with decision makers, and you’re opening up those choice opportunities.


How to Develop a Sales Process For Your Small Business

12-16 sales process smallHaving an organized sales process is key to building a sustainable small business. A sales process is an organized system to create an offer that persuades others to pay you in exchange for your product or service. In order to meet your monthly sales goals It’s best to develop an integrated sales process. That is a system that brings in sales based on repeatable actions that predicts conversions for each step in the process. It’s measurable and predictable.

Here is how to develop an integrated sales process:

Develop a Sales Strategy: A sales strategy is best laid out in a sales plan. It is your roadmap for generating leads and closing sales. It should include revenue goals such as how much money you plan to generate on an annual, quarterly, and monthly basis. It should explain exactly where your leads are going to come from. It also defines the sale messages you will share with target customers. Don’t struggle to build the plan include team members, especially your salespeople.

Build the Pipeline: You must always be working on generating leads, and sometimes those leads are existing customers. You need to have a process for building a sales pipeline and tracking customer contacts. Set sales goals for a given week, month, or quarter. As you understand your sales cycle, you may need to nurture a relationship six to 12 months until a new budget cycle creates an opportunity or an existing vendor makes a mistake. We call these trigger events.

Track Your Sales Leads: Your sales plan can be tracked in a spreadsheet or CRM system, such as Insightly. The key is to monitor your lead conversion ratios against your revenue goals. If you create a data-driven sales culture, you will be able to add additional salespeople with ease. It’s important to understand how many leads must you generate to meet your monthly sales goals.

Automate the Sales Process: There are several software tools, such as, Salesforce, HubSpot, and Infusionsoft that make automating the sales process easy. Track ongoing sales activities and lead traffic channels–referrals, networking, upselling, cross-selling, direct mail, paid search, organic search, social media, exhibitions, PR, and response to website promotions. You should track open rates, and test sales messages with your target customers. If you use automation to create a predictable sales process, you can guarantee sales will grow.

Sell, Sell, Sell: In order to make a sale, you must ask for the business. You must make an offer to a customer willing to buy to make a sale. You must build offers into your sales process. Cross-selling is the art of getting existing customers to spend a little more money with you. Amazon is one the best I’ve seen at this. They always let you know what customers like you also purchased. And it doesn’t take a whole lot to upsell. It could be something as simple as a “Buy one, get a second item half-off” deal.

Thank Customers: No one owes you business. Be sure to thank your customers for their business. Showing gratitude with a personal call or note of thanks can go a log way. Over deliver if you can. Surprise a customer with an early delivery of their products. If you build a relationship and constantly add value to the relationship you will have customer for life.

Building an integrated sales process is the best thing you can do to generate and watch your revenue grow.


Six Ways that Small Businesses Can Go Green for St. Patrick’s Day

3-13 St. Patty's Day for Biz smallAs a small business owner, you undoubtedly spend every day looking for ways to promote your business and increase your clientele. Just about every business takes advantage of Christmas to increase sales, with “Black Friday” representing the first day of profits in the retail world. Do you really want to wait until the end of the year to drive your bottom line? Why not get started earlier in the year? Perhaps the green in St. Patrick’s Day really stands for money.

Here are six ideas that can help you grab enough green to encourage company growth and prosperity.

1. Save Customers Some Green

Whether you offer a new customer discount or take cash off of orders for existing customers that provide referrals, the connection between money and St. Patrick’s Day green is an obvious one, but this particular holiday offers some natural benefits. For one thing, it lets you take shameless advantage of the color green in promotional materials. It also provides a natural time limit, allowing you to make your offer last for the entire month, for a week or even just on the actual day of the holiday. Most important, it helps jump-start your business early in the year.

2. Green Up the Environment

As many as 15 percent of local individuals define themselves as environmentalists. Your company may not make biodegradable diapers or cleaning products formulated from veggies, but the green tie-in lets you demonstrate your environmental interests. This is great time to tout your recycled product packaging or advertise your company’s sponsorship of a local recycling effort. For example, if you run an auto repair shop, offer to shoulder the recycling charges for all oil changes performed in March. And don’t worry about competition from eco-friendly businesses — they’re probably busy preparing for Earth Day in April.

3. Make Green a Lucky Color

A luck-of-the-Irish contest can attract more clients to your business. Make it easy to enter. Customers can “like” your Facebook page, provide an email address on your company web page or walk into your store to complete an entry form when they see a sign in your window. Entrants get a chance to win valuable gift certificates and other prizes — and you increase your customer database for future sales and promotion efforts.

4. Wear Green While Participating in Local Events

Chicago St. Patrick’s Day events begin by dying the Chicago River bright green, followed by a big parade. Naturally, bars and restaurants sponsor the events, but the list does not stop with alcoholic beverage providers. Sponsors include a wide array of businesses, including dance studios, beauty salons, banks and even trade unions. Of course, the media will be there, too. So, whether you sponsor a parade float or hang out with the spectators on the sidewalk, you can increase your brand recognition — or maybe see your company represented on the evening news.

5. Give Away Some Green Bling

Did you know that you can put your logo (and maybe a shamrock) on just about anything? Any visitors to your place of business can walk away with a variety of promotional items, from T-shirts and coffee mugs to flashlights, sports bottles or even USB hubs. Place these items in a re-usable grocery bag with your logo and maybe a few words about your business (go green!), and your logo can remain in front of potential customers for years to come.

6. Offer an Evergreen Movie at Your Place of Business

Admittedly, there really aren’t too many St. Patrick’s Day movies out there, but what about a classic 1952 Irish movie like The Quiet Man? If your customers prefer humor, maybe Waking Ned Devine is more to their liking. With a little extra effort, you can even make green popcorn. Attracting a movie audience gains you an instant audience for your business message as well.

Before the movie, use a welcome message to introduce your business. If you have a promotional video or TV commercial available, play it before and after the main event (wow — double feature!). And a discussion group after the movie enhances the movie experience while enhancing your personal relationship with customers. If they walk away carrying bling bags, all the better.

Be Sure to Make it Unique and Relevant

Doing the same things as everyone else gains your business no more visibility than if you were to jump into the green Chicago River wearing a green wet suit. If you use a little creativity to capitalize on the things that make your business unique, adding a little green will make it pop.


Mondays with Mike: What They Told You About Sales Is Wrong!

1-26 sales trips eye contact smallWhat’s been written about sales tactics could stretch from here to the moon and back.  There are seminars, webinars, and even one-on-one coaches who promise to give you the low-down on surefire tips to close a deal.  What’s wrong with the accepted truths about sales?  Many of them are wrong!  When you look at evidence, we discover that sometimes these techniques can backfire and actually hurt your chances for making the sale.  Here are some tips to watch out for:

  1. Make eye contact.  The goal of this tactic is to create a connection between you and your prospective client.  While you do want to connect, too much eye contact is frequently interpreted as aggression and can actually make a client uncomfortable and less likely to buy what you’re selling.  Intermittent eye contact is much more comfortable and still helps you create a connection.
  2. Quote a range of prices.  Say you’re working to land a new client for your cleaning service.  You tell the client it’ll cost between $100 and $200 monthly for your services.  You think that by giving a range you can settle in the middle and satisfy both parties, but here’s the trouble:  your client hears $100, and you’re hoping for $200.  If you settle at $150, then your client feels ripped off, and you’re disappointed.  A much better strategy is to quote a specific price, preferably one with wiggle room.  If you quote $170, knowing you’re willing to negotiate downward, then when you settle at $150, your client feels like he got a bargain, and you’re precisely where you wanted to be.  A specific price with room for expected negotiation is more likely to give you a win-win outcome.
  3. Assume the sale.  In the old days, we were taught to make your pitch assuming success.  The trouble is that consumers are wise to this not-so-subtle attempt at manipulation, and engaging in it can make you seem a little sleazy.  Telegraphing your attempts to toy with clients’ emotions is a fail, in part because it makes customers feel like you think they’re suckers – easily manipulated and not very smart.  Respect your customers enough to let them make their own decisions.
  4. Give them no way out.  High pressure sales can work, at least in the short term, but it’s not a recipe for long term success.  Consider this:  there’s an entire legal niche for attorneys who specialize in handling cases for clients who have buyers remorse after being pressured into purchasing a time share.  The tactic of shutting a client in a room and holding them there until they sign has major negative ramifications.  If your customers feel like they’re in control, they’re going to walk away thrilled to have given you their business, rather than walking away feeling like they’ve been ripped off.

The best sales people are psychologists, in a way.  They understand what consumers want, and they find a way to deliver it.  Assuming the goal isn’t just a one-time sale, building business deals that treat your clients like partners will result in consumer loyalty and future sales, as well as referrals based on great experiences.  Don’t let tired truisms guide your sales pitches.  Take the time to use tactics that are proven effective.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Who Are the Online Influencers, and How Can You Reach Them?

Stocksy_txp89ac3847maA000_Small_295975Is your business taking advantage of online influencers to build your reputation, build relationships and make sales? Online influencers—or people whose opinions are shared online and disproportionately influence others—come in several varieties, including:

  • Bloggers with lots of followers among your target market (check out Klout or Alltop to help you identify these),
  • Journalists who report about your industry (you’ll know these by reading industry publications, major newspapers and business publications), and
  • Decision-makers (and those connected with them) at companies you want to sell to (LinkedIn is a useful tool for identifying these).

To successfully reach and influence online influencers, follow these steps:

  • Know what your goals are. Do you want a key influencer to write about your company in a newspaper, review your product on her blog, or introduce you to someone who can help your business grow? By determining specific goals, you’ll be better able to identify which influencers will be most useful in achieving them.
  • Be active on the social channels your influencers frequent. That includes social media as well as the influencers’ own blog and/or website. Spend some time “lurking” to get a sense of what the person cares about and thinks before you reach out to him or her.
  • Start small. Retweeting or sharing an influencer’s post is a good start to getting yourself on their radar. Then move on to commenting on posts. Don’t just say “Great post!” but offer a brief, thoughtful insight—ideally, you want to engage the person in an online conversation or get a conversation going among other followers.
  • Acknowledge any interaction. If an online influencer responds to your comment, retweets something you tweeted or even just thanks you for a comment, be sure to respond!
  • Move it on up. Once you feel that the influencer is aware of you as an individual and you’ve built up some goodwill on social media, you can reach out via email. To avoid being perceived as spam or a “cold call,” refer to your social media relationship and any mutual connections you may have. You don’t want to seem like a stalker or salesperson, so if email doesn’t get a response after two or three tries, go back to social media.
  • Once you’ve made a connection, be straightforward. Politely ask for what you want from the person, be it an introduction, an article or a review: “I’d love it if you’d review our new product X. May I send you a sample?”
  • Maintain the relationship. Don’t go dark once you get what you want. Keep the relationship going by interacting with your influencer just as you would any friend or colleague. 

Mondays with Mike: How To Prep Your Business For Sale In 90 Days (Or Less!)

I know a thing or two about selling businesses.  I’ve done it both hard way, and the easy way, and it’s not hard to figure out which way I prefer.  Even if you plan on turning your company into a legacy that your children will run after you’re gone, the best time to get your business ready to sell is today!  Before you ever want or need to sell your business – that’s when you should start.  Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Identify strategic buyers.  Strategic buyers are those who want your business for some reason other than just your company’s revenue.  They may want your customers, your intellectual property, or even your employees.  If you can identify these buyers, you can learn which of your assets are most desirable – and you can protect them.
  2. Resolve any legal troubles.  Buyers won’t want to touch a business that has lawsuits or liens against it, so you need to clear up any old business and get your company in the clear. 
  3. ??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Focus on profitability, rather than debt.  Businesses are often valued by a multiple of their profit, so you’re better off directing extra revenue toward measures that make you more profitable.  Paying down debt with your extra money doesn’t add nearly as much to your value.
  4. Protect your key employees’ positions.  We all have those staff members who are critical to our survival, and it’s smart to make a plan for what you’d do if one of them left.  Whether your discreetly cross-train employees or keep a list of potential new hires, you want to make sure that if one of your key employees leaves, that your business goes on as usual.
  5. Get out of the office.  Not only is your business more valuable if it can run in your absence, but you also need to be out in the marketplace as the face of your company.  You need to continue running your business as if you’re going to hand it down to your children, and that means cementing relationships with important clients and maintaining your market share.  Don’t slack off!
  6. Cut costs.  You’ll boost your selling price if your company is lean, efficient, and profitable.  Make sure you trim unnecessary expenses and eliminate anything that doesn’t directly contribute to the health of your company.
  7. Work with a business broker or investment banker.  You’ll want to make sure your business is ready to sell when you tackle this step, but you’ll often find that brokers have a stable of businesses looking to acquire others.  Not only can you sell your company more quickly, but a broker can also help you get top dollar for it.
  8. Be hard to get.  If you appear to be desperate to sell, your value diminishes.  Cultivate a field of buyers and watch your price go up.  You want buyers to have competition in order to ensure that you get every penny you’re worth.
  9. Keep it quiet.  The news that you’re looking to sell your company can potentially frighten off employees and even deter new clients from signing on with you.  You want your business to continue to grow and flourish … just in case a sale falls through.

The time you spend preparing your business will give you one additional benefit other than just getting you ready to sell, and it’s actually a huge one.  Your business will be healthier.  Much of the advice I’ve listed here is stuff you should be doing anyway – measures that make your business more efficient and profitable, in addition to making it more attractive to buyers.  


Should salespeople be doing customer service?

Prosser BlogThis is a question of great importance to companies with 20 to 50 employees. While there are exceptions, companies with only a few employees don’t have the resources to allocate separate people to sales and customer service. Larger companies tend to divide up these roles, providing different training and compensation plans for employees that do sales and customer service. But, there is not necessarily a clear path for companies in the 20 to 50 employee range. Here is why my former company decided not to separate these functions at first, and then went with a hybrid solution in which certain types of support were done by specialists.

My former company was in an industry with a really bad reputation (ten years ago). The industry was known for high-pressure sales tactics and shady practices. Our company was different.  We wanted to create a reputation for outstanding customer service, instead of pushy sales people.

We believed that having the sales professionals handle responsibilities for both closing the sale and dealing with any communications that occurred afterwards would dramatically change the way they approached selling. It would encourage them to do a good job setting expectations and educating customers prior to closing the sale. If they didn’t, the salespeople might have to deal with unhappy customers later on.

This approach was “mostly” successful, however, it did create some problems:

  1. Great salespeople tended to dislike this system and felt they were undercompensated. Some left the company, because they could make more in a “pure” sales job where they wouldn’t have to devote time to customer service.
  2. Many of our customer service oriented salespeople did not make any effort to close sales.
  3. Resolving certain types of customer service issues like a hard technical support question, sometimes took a while.

Before I discuss how we dealt with these challenges, I would like to emphasize that combining these functions did achieve the intended goal. Our company received very high marks for customer service, and established a reputation as having more integrity than our competitors.

Great salespeople want to both be recognized and rewarded for their skills. The key to both is tracking their performance. We heavily relied on our CRM system to see how different salespeople were performing.  We measured both their performance on the sales side (new leads that opened accounts) and customer service side (how many interactions they had with existing customers, and how frequently they were able to resolve the customer’s issue).  This information was used both for performance reviews and in making decisions regarding bonuses. While salespeople may not have been able to devote all their time to closing, they received praise and financial compensation for bringing new business.

It should be stated that we did not pay salespeople a commission, but a base salary and a quarterly bonus based on both the company’s and their personal performance. We believed that providing commission based compensation would lead to poor customer service.

We did lose some good salespeople, but many good salespeople liked the customer friendly environment.

The bigger problem was getting customer service focused employees to close sales. Surprisingly, the solution to this problem turned out to be “social” pressure. While these employees earned 0 or smaller bonuses, this did not seem to motivate them.  After a few warnings about putting more effort into sales, the company had to let a few of them go. However, there was a better solution that we found only years later. When we put the sales numbers of each employee on public whiteboards, there was a dramatic cultural change, and we saw an improvement in their performance. Because bonuses were based on personal and group performance, the weaker salespeople and their colleagues were suddenly aware of how these people were hurting their own compensation.

As the company grew, we did start separating certain customer support functions. The first area was technical support. Instead of having a general salesperson be the client’s point of contact in handling difficult tech issues, the company created technical support specialists which only dealt with technology related issues. This enabled tech support issues to be resolved more quickly.

Bottom Line: Keeping sales and customer support together sends a message to employees that customer support is not a second class job, but integral to the company’s success. On the other hand, it makes it harder to keep sales stars happy, and can create motivational issues for less sales driven employees. Combining sales and customer services puts more pressure on management and in the short-run can hurt sales.

Marc Prosser is the publisher of Fit Small Business.


7 Lies Entrepreneurs Tell Themselves

Posted on by Barry Moltz

Stocksy_txpd72b69c8tH5000_Small_100354In order to stay positive, entrepreneurs need to lie to themselves a lot. Unfortunately, this can get them in trouble when they have improbable expectations and surprising outcomes. Here are the 7 biggest lies and the truth about what to do instead:

  1. Sales will be better next month. Many entrepreneurs believe that sales will always increase in the future. They reason that with more revenue, there will be more profit. The truth is that they don't change their sales and marketing efforts to give their company a better chance actually increasing sales. To boost revenue, companies need to be there when customers want to buy. Only a systematic sales and marketing effort will accomplish this.
  2. The next big customer (or product or employee) will change their company forever. The belief is that the next big break will take their company to the next level. The truth is that progress in companies typically build slowly and success doesn't usually have a tipping point. Think about the essentially building blocks that will grow the company step by step.
  3. Big money means taking big risks. They read the urban folklore of the few who took big risks and made billions. The truth is that most people fail. The success in business comes from taking small steps, evaluating the results, and taking the next action.
  4. Competitors are slow. Many entrepreneurs think that their competitors are not innovative and can't react quickly. Tell that to Blockbuster and Borders. The truth is that there will always be a competitor thinking up a better mousetrap. The entrepreneur needs to know what their competitive advantage will be when that day comes.
  5. Keeping the financials in their head. Many entrepreneurs believe that they do not need to review their company financial statements. The truth is that most of the time  their expectations do not match what is actually going on. This is why it's important to read and understand these statements every month.
  6. Getting paid last in their business. They reason that they are investing in their company and this is how they justify living off of savings while running a start up. The truth is that if an entrepreneur does not draw a livable wage from their company, they have a hobby, not a business. Always include the owner's salary in the monthly budget.
  7. Being busy means being productive. Many entrepreneurs believe if they are busy at work then they must be adding to the value of the company. The truth is that with all the distractions and interruptions that can enter an entrepreneur's daily life, they need to be very disciplined that they focus on projects that will make a deep impact on the company. Pick the two things that need to get done today and complete them before starting any other task.

What lies do you tell yourself?  




 
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