Are you forgetting your current customers when it comes to sales? So many do as we’re so fixated on getting people in the top of the funnel.
Are you forgetting your current customers when it comes to sales? So many do as we’re so fixated on getting people in the top of the funnel.
Sales can be a dirty word to a lot of people. For me, it’s the life blood of any company, after all without sales, you have no work and without work you have no money. SO I’m sorry folks, if you were thinking of starting your own business and thought you could side step this one, you’re going to need to be incredibly lucky or have invented the next big widget that everyone wants!
I’ve been selling for 13 years. I started when I was just 19, in Exeter (UK) in a world that was dominated predominately by guys that were 40+ and had been in business as long as I’d been on this earth! A scary place and one that I made lots of mistakes in. Here are a few tips I’ve learnt along the way.
1). Qualify, qualify, qualify
When you get to that wonderful point where people start making enquiries, you need to qualify whether they are a fit for your business. The gut reaction is always to take anything that comes your way (especially when you start out). The truth is this leads to lots of unnecessary running around for nothing, dealing with people who don’t respect you and bad business. It may well be that you need to pay the bills but my honest feeling is that if I had my time again, I’d have spent a significant amount of time working out who to target and going for them rather than the scatter gun approach I used back in the early days. Does your sales process include a qualifying step?
2). Make friends
It’s a cliché to say that people buy from people. That said, it’s completely true. If you can’t bond with a prospect within 10 mins of meeting you’re going to struggle. No one wants the sleezy sales person with all the answers (did we ever want that?). We want someone human that understands our needs, our problems and then demonstrates knowledge and the skills to help us with both. Quick tip: When you first go into someone’s office, take a look around the walls for things you might share in common; pictures showing a certain sports persuasion, certain types of books, posters or pictures. Don’t go overboard or change the lifelong football team you’ve supported to that of theirs – it may just be that when the time is right you can bring something less sales related into the conversation and take the pressure off the meeting.
3). Talk openly about money
How many times have I sat there talking to someone I thought needed a website and in my head I know this project is 10k but after two meetings and a proposal I’ve found out they only have a budget of 2k? Too many to embarrassingly mention! How about using a line like this to get you started (yes in your first conversation). “So John, I just want to make sure we’re on the same page here. Our ecommerce sites start at around the 10k mark. There are cheaper alternative options which certainly have their place in the market. Before we meet to discuss all the exciting functionality, how does that sit with you as I know neither of us would want to waste the time of the other?”. You need to work on delivering this in a nurturing way but it can be done and it will save you days and days of wasted time.
4). Build relationships
There are lots of quotes about how much easier it is to sell to current clients than it is to secure new business. Some say 5x, some say 7. Whatever the true number is, you need to work out a strategy for building your client base and selling within it. I tell you one great way of keeping clients loyal – look after them. Amazing isn’t it! Don’t look for the quick buck, keep an eye on their needs using social media sites, be there to help them when they need it. Try and hook them up with your other clients, try and find them sales without the expectation of getting something back in return. Don’t allow yourself to get so blinkered that all you do is look for that next new sale or you’ll make really hard work for yourself.
In this day and age, my clients and prospects can connect with me in many different ways and where possible I always do my very best to respond quickly. They can get me on Twitter, LinkedIn, Email, Google+, my mobile and a number of other places if they want. I don’t turn off at 5:30pm (maybe a bad thing in some people’s books). I’m available because I want the edge and if that edge is helping someone after hours because I can then I’m there.
6). Become a student
…of your industry. Sales these days is about positioning yourself and becoming a trusted advisor for your clients. If you’re the goto guy for something (a product/service etc) because you know the most about it and how it can be used to solve your client’s challenges then you’re going to make sales. If you simply turn upto work, make a few cold calls and go home at 5:30 then good luck to you, I’ve got a felling you’ll be looking for work elsewhere soon.
I’m interested, do you consider sales a dirty word? What are your experiences of selling and can you add any more tips to this list which will help the people reading this?
Today I have a guest post from a guy that I consider a close confidant to my business and me personally. I’ve worked with Andy for over two years now in the areas of sales and management. He’s delievered huge value to my business as a coach and trainer. Andy is, in my view, the sales and management guru in the South West. In this great post he talks about a particular favourite topic of mine, failing! Take it away Andy.
When was the last time you failed, didn’t complete an important project on schedule, fell short of achieving a meaningful goal or simply didn’t accomplish what you set out to do?
If you haven’t failed lately, that’s unfortunate. Because accompanying every failing experience is an opportunity to learn and to grow. People who never fail are, for the most part, people who never take chances. They typically don’t set goals, or if they do, they are ones which are easily achieved or within their capabilities. Those people rarely suffer major disappointments but at the same time, they rarely accomplish anything great.
Life is richer and work more fulfilling when you set goals that take you out of your comfort zone – when you have something challenging to aim for each day.
But you can’t set goals, especially stretching goals unless you’re willing to risk failure.
Because you won’t succeed at everything you set out to accomplish, even after several attempts. But don’t let that scare you – a valuable lesson will have been learnt.
If you’ve been afraid to take risks, afraid to fail….STOP. Think about what you’d like to accomplish in life, what you’d like to be known for, where you’d like to go and the relationships you’d like to have. Take time to let the idea of moving your life to another level sink in.
Identify the steps or tasks necessary to accomplish each of your goals. This gives you a sense of control over the outcomes and allows you to work steadily towards success.
Challenging goals can make the difference between a mundane life and an exhilarating one…but only if you’re willing to risk failing. Are you?
You can find out more about Andy here.
Photo by fireflythegreat
A few days ago I was talking to a potential supplier for my wedding next year. Somehow conversation turned to their website and we got chatting about their overall, online presence. Conversation then turned to the challenges they have (needing more traffic, spending too much on adwords, no way of emailing their database easily) I offered up a bit of free advice and naturally this lead on to what I did for a living (they didn’t know until this point). It transpired that they’d been wondering what to do about their site for some time now, so applying the ‘don’t ask, don’t get principal’ I asked if we could perhaps quote for their digital work. They said they’d be delighted for us to do so.
My partner and I have a bit of a running joke that I somehow manage to turn normal conversations with people in my personal life into work related ones, which in turn, often end up with opportunities for my business. She turned to me on this occasion as we got back into the car, and said ‘you really are so lucky‘.
Now I have a strong belief that this isn’t luck. Why? I believe that as a business owner/entrepreneur/salesperson/whatever you want to call yourself, you constantly have to have your antenna up, open to opportunities. If you’re doing this regularly enough then its merely a matter of time before one of these opportunities comes off. Some might even call it a game of numbers!
So the old adage, ‘you make your own luck’ is, in my opinion, a very true one.
New to business? In Sales? Consistently put yourself in situations where opportunities arise and when they do, grasp them with all you’ve got. I can promise you it works, I practice what I preach
Now Your Thoughts
Post written by Alastair Banks
Someone asked me today, “Alastair, what’s the number one trait you expect or want from your staff”. Hmm interesting – this made me think very hard. Some of the obvious ones sprang to mind immediately:
They all came close.
Do you know what I ended up answering and on reflection still consider up there at the top? (enough to write a post about it! at least!)
Someone who ‘Accepts Responsibility’
What do I mean by this?
This person never blames anyone else, they accept responsibility themselves in a positive way and offer a solution which they learn from and better themselves with. In sales especially this is very important and easy to explain using the following example:
Sales person A returns from a pitch, and say’s the following: “Boss we didn’t get it because the customer doesn’t have the money just now – times have been tight because of the recession and the chips are down – it’s hard out there right now.”
Sales person B returns from the same pitch and say’s, “Boss I didn’t get the pitch for these two reasons – I didn’t qualify the person hard enough, so hadn’t realised they didn’t have the right budget for our product and I didn’t build a good enough relationship with the decision maker. I tell you what though, I’m not going to make the same mistakes again and I’ll nail the next one Boss.”
Who accepted responsibility in that scenario? Who would you rather have working for you? Yes of course, the second guy right?
This doesn’t just apply in sales, it happens in all areas of business and I personally want to surround myself with people who have the ability to accept responsibility. If someone comes to me and says they made a mistake but they’ve learnt or they know how to fix it then that’s a HUGE tick in the box. If they come to me blaming someone else or some external factor then it has the opposite effect.
There is a great article on the Livestrong Blog which goes into far more detail about the topic and is well worth a read if you agree with my points above: http://www.livestrong.com/article/14698-accepting-personal-responsibility/
Now Your Thoughts
This week I spent some time interviewing friend and now supplier of my firms book-keeping services, Ben Didier about starting his own business earlier this year.
Why did you choose to go it alone?
I have always wanted my own business, ever since I was young. For me it was the plan from the start – College then Uni then business and management experience – then my own business! It has been far from plain sailing but that is near enough the route I have taken. I actually wrote down the reasons for taking the step when I started, as I knew there would be tough days ahead and I needed to be clear about why I was doing it. Here they are:
1. Create something of my own that I can build and develop. I get a real sense of achievement from that and hopefully, eventually it will produce a strong income.
2. Set my own terms of working. I want the freedom to choose my own projects and working methods. On the other side the responsibility and risk that comes with this it is not for everyone and not all circumstances – sometimes you can’t afford to take the risk.
3. Direct risk and reward. I want to get the direct benefit of my actions and decisions, and am also prepared to accept the consequences of those when it doesn’t work out. Employment can shield you from both sides of this, to an extent.
What attitude do you think you need to go it alone?
The single most important part of starting out on your own is – Wanting it. Resilience is the first quality of business – because if you give up before you have had chance to make it – then you wont. People outside of business often focus on their service or product when thinking about starting up, rather than about winning work. This can prove a shock when starting out, as business is primarily driven by winning customers – and looking after them! Winning the work requires determination as it takes time, people aren’t always ready for what you offer at the time you offer it, and there are always many set-backs. If you can’t get beyond those mentally, then business may not be for you. As a bookkeeper I would always say you need to be interested enough in the figures to ensure that more money is coming in then going out!
What was the scariest thing about doing it?
The unknown market –“ is there the appetite for the services I want to provide in the area?” You never really know until you actually start. I had planned to get a part time job if the clients did not materialise quickly enough, and had cut my personal outgoings to the bone, so I had considered the risks carefully. I knew sales may takes some time and wanted to survive long enough to be able to build a reputation and client base – the low overheads were crucial to this.
How you are getting on?
Fantastically! Having started in January this year, after 8 months I now have 8 clients I provide services for every month and have worked on some other interesting projects. I am independent and self-sufficient which is great. One good thing about bookkeeping is the regularity of the work, this reduces pressure to get new sales all the time, so I can focus more on looking after the clients I have. A commercial perspective on internal finance in producing the figures is really helping the owners I work with to make more informed decisions – so there the feeling of delivering something of value which I also get a great deal out of.
Now Your Thoughts
Have you made the leap from a stable job to a startup? Want to add anything to the post that you’ve learnt along the way?
It’s funny, almost every one of us would celebrate making a sale – and so we should, it’s a big thing, but it’s not the whole deal and never forget that!!! Strong opening statement? It’s probably not strong enough…
You only have a complete deal when you’ve made a sale, done the work and then collected the readies. Don’t disillusion yourself into thinking that you’re doing amazingly well just because sales are being made – getting the money in the other end is just as critical and sometimes just as tricky
Its very easy when you’re new to business to let your clients get away with not paying you very quickly – don’t worry I’ve been there and done it myself. This, however is not a good strategy and will only leads to problems, here are just a few of them:
If you’re about to start a business or are still fairly new to it all, make a strict policy for how you’re going to deal with the collecting of monies and stick to it.
Here are a few quick suggestions:
One last tip, if you employ sales people who are have any sort of commission, make it a condition of that commission that’s its only paid when the money owed from the client is in the bank. Give them the responsibility of getting the money in – this will make your life easier in keeping on top of aged debts.
How have you found getting money in? Do you have any further tips for business owners regarding this tricky issue?
p.s. If you like what you’ve read here then you should sign up to my RSS feed and every time I update this site the post will be sent to your reader automatically
Missed a week due to travel folks so firstly apologies for that – clearly my first trait should be the inability to keep an appointment with ones blog
OK so there are probably hundreds of things you need to be successful in business but I’ve been day dreaming this last week and working out my top 5 – I love a top 5 as you know
So here they are in no particular order
1). Passion – In bucketfuls. I spend an awful lot of my time with other businessmen and women. In my working life, networking constitutes at least half my time. It’s one of the key ways we build our brand and get our company noticed. From there, when people want a job done, we’re at least in with a chance. One trait of seriously successful businessmen and women I’ve met over the years is passion for what they do. Passion is catching; you know when you’ve met someone who is passionate about their business – you come away feeling good about yourself. Without this trait you’re going to start off on the back foot. If can’t get passionate about your business is it the right business for you? Think on that for a while.
2). Sales skills – Every start-up business needs to bring in sales. If you’re on your own then that’s you pal If you’re not and you don’t like selling you better hope you’re in partnership with someone that does. You could have the best product or service in the country but if no-one knows about it then you may as well give up now. Sale’s doesn’t need to be cheesy, it doesn’t need to be immoral, it doesn’t need to feel dirty! Much of good quality sales is about building relationships and making the customer want to buy (not be sold). I strongly suggest reading the book below (affiliate link) which will, without a doubt, help with your sales process. In fact, even if you’re not in sales or running a business, read it anyway because its awesome.
The Little Red Book of Selling: 12.5 Principles of Sales Greatness – You can buy it from Amazon here.
3). A good product or service – Not technically a trait, but the ability to either come up with or be involved in selling a good product or service is a trait that I see all the time in successful people. You make your own luck, you earn it. These people have a sixth sense for getting involved with projects that do well. They fail a lot as well but the difference is the ones that work, really work. I know there are an awful lot of people out there selling sub standard products and services in their business – forget that – it’s a short-term attitude if you ask me. It won’t be long before you’re found out and the churn rate on customers will be huge meaning you never build relationships with people, you continually need new prospects poured in the top of your sales funnel. If you ask me, without a good product or service that you truly believe in, just don’t bother. You need to believe that your customer is truly better off by choosing you over your competitors.
4). A head for numbers and in particular cashflow – Since I started this blog almost exactly a year ago I know for a fact the most blogged about topic has been cashflow. There is a good reason for this – because it’s so damn important Without cashflow you have no business. I’m not going to go over old ground again on this. I wrote quite a lengthy post about cashflow here and even gave a step by step guide on how to write a cash flow forecast – you have no excuse
5). The ability to accept help and support – Business is a lonely place sometimes, help and support is essential but how often have I seen business owners that think they know it all and therefore are not prepared to accept it fail – Too many is the answer!!! Friends and family without their own business may not understand quite what it takes to run a business and unless they ever do it themselves they may never understand. This doesn’t mean you don’t listen to these people or dismiss their input – it can be just as valuable. It’s important to build a network of support around you that you can bounce ideas off. I’m lucky to have a great business partner at Optix Solutions who I bounce ideas off and chat with about strategy regularly. We also have a couple of mentor figures who consult us on the business regularly and keep us on track. We also have supportive families and friends – all of which make the days when it’s not so fun, easier to deal with. The successful businessman or woman doesn’t know it all and is willing to listen to others…do you?
So what are your top 5? Maybe you just want to add in a couple? I’m keen to hear from you
As a small business owner it’s all to easy to get completely consumed by your business. I didn’t take a single holiday for at least the first five years, I worked through weekends and spent every hour I could in the office during the week just to keep things going. It’s what you do when you’re a start-up. If you’re about to start your own company and don’t like the sound of that, forget it – you’re not right for this – go and get a nice 9-5 somewhere.
There is, however, a problem with this strategy when in start-up mode – it gives you no time for reflection, and reflection is essential. This is the time you need to step back from the business and take stock of everything. You’re too close to things on a daily basis to reflect and plan properly.
So this weekend, while you have some time off here is my suggestion:
Reflect on your overall business
Reflect on your sales and sales processes
Reflect on your company’s relationships with customers
Reflect on your brand
Reflect on your staff & what they do for you
Reflect on your finances and how you can improve them
Reflect on your internal processes for getting work done / products delivered
Reflect on yourself – are you working efficiently? What could you do differently?
I find it useful when doing this kind of exercise to write things down. The danger, if you don’t, is that the ideas you have get lost again as you get busy. Mind mapping is a very useful technique to learn for visualising this kind of information.
Now here’s the thing – When you’ve done all this and you go back to work on Tuesday – action some of the things you’ve reflected on. Don’t let this list form part of your ‘never read’ pile. Make sure it’s somewhere you can see regularly and ask yourself whether you’re making the changes and trying the new things at least once a week.
Good luck and have a great Easter