Unlocking the potential of businesses

  1. Get Through the Right Doors

Businesses that involve face-to-face meetings with their clients need to keep in mind that they might be knocking on the wrong doors, or that they’re not the only people knocking on the right ones.  Identifying and targeting the key decision makers in a prospective customer firm is essential to getting your foot in the door in dealing business to business.

Do your homework

Whatever it is that’s being sold has to meet the exact needs the firm’s decision maker has identified as right for their business. This means doing research into the customer’s industry, their position in the marketplace, and learning about their business. This knowledge provides you with a level of personal credibility with the customer and the knowledge to be able to present your product as the best solution to their needs.

Talk to the right person

Every organisation has a set of levels of authority that it may be difficult to recognise from the outside. Trying to sell a €10,000 item to somebody with a spend authority level of €500 is a waste of time. So is trying to sell stationery to the purchasing officer of machine parts. In fact, if the organisation is big enough you may find that no single person has the authority to purchase everything you’d like to sell them, and it’s even possible that the contact person you have been calling on for years has changed positions and is now the ‘wrong’ person to be pitching sales information to. Try and target the most appropriate person in the firm for what you are selling.

Cultivate the managers

Just as important as knowing who your competitors are is to know who those competitors are talking to at your customers’ offices. You might have a terrific relationship with a buyer who’s quite happy to select your products, but if your competitor knows somebody higher up in the organisation who can order your contact to change suppliers regardless of how strong your relationship is with them, then you are talking to the wrong person. Make contacts as far up the pecking order as possible, even if they aren’t the ones in the business who actually issue the purchase orders.

Suit your offering to the customer’s options

There’s increasing emphasis in most medium to large-sized organisations of the need to present a financial case to management for purchases before approval is given. This is especially true of big-ticket items when decisions about repair or replacement are being made. Your salespeople have to be prepared to sell the case for your offering which may not be the product itself. If you are aware of the customer’s alternatives to making an outright purchase, such as rebuilding older equipment or subcontracting the work outside the company, you can make an offering that covers those possibilities.

Get outside advisers onside

Third parties are frequently brought in to provide their input on a prospective purchase. The best approach to use with them, whether they are familiar with your products or not, is to treat them as the prospect – but one with different needs from the actual customer. What they really need is the information to make a decision, and if you’re able to give them enough information to justify purchasing your product (as well as for rejection of the alternatives) they will become an ally in your selling efforts.

Stay in touch while the decision is being made

Circumstances within a customer’s business can change as information about a prospective purchase is assimilated and analysed. It may be that you will be asked back to provide further details, but often you won’t be and what you’ve proposed first time around is considered to be your best and/or most complete offer. Stay within the purchasing process as closely as possible, letting everyone involved know that you’re there to help them in any way possible. This will put you in the best position to become aware of changes in the customer’s requirements while it’s still possible to do something about it.

  1. Cut The Costs Of Finding And Managing Leads

Every organisation with a sales force keeps an eye on the leads it generates – how many does each salesperson get and how many are converted into customers. But as most companies now appreciate, the costs of generating and converting leads need to be carefully managed or they can become a real drain on profitability.

The basic tasks of lead management are to lower the costs of lead acquisition while at the same time increasing the rate of conversion into customers. To do this it’s best if you separate the lead-getting activity from the selling activity and develop metrics for monitoring each.  The two are actually separate functions and require different sets of skills and resources. Lead-generation is a marketing function, while the job of converting those leads to customers is a sales function.

Lead quality is essential

Leads are acquired in any number of ways. For marketers who purchase prospect lists the content and quality of the list should be far more important than the cost, yet how many lists are bought on the basis of price? The answer is, far too many.

Those who specialise in lists know that good lists are worth what they cost. They’re regularly updated, their data is accurate, and it’s possible to nominate prospects by geographical area, by age, by occupation, or any other profile that will allow the sales team to target suitably qualified prospects.  You don’t have to pay for a huge list if you’re only a small company or are restricted in your geographical coverage. Carefully targeted prospects are available on a cost-per-lead basis; it’s even possible to rent or buy lists of people who have previously responded to the same form of marketing you intend to use.

The most important metric to monitor is not the cost per lead, but rather the relationship of leads to final sales, by dividing the number of leads purchased by the number of conversions obtained from those leads. The closer this result is to ‘1’ the better the quality of the leads you’ve paid for.

Another way to improve the quality of the leads you get is to have your existing customers provide you with referrals or word of mouth. Referrals are really a way of leveraging off a high level of customer satisfaction and represent a much more likely set of prospects than leads gained from cold calling.

Raise conversion rates

High quality leads make it possible for your sales team to achieve better rates of conversion from leads to customers. This effectively lowers selling costs and will go a long way towards offsetting any additional costs incurred to ensure that lead quality is consistently high. There are many more steps you can take to improve the conversion rate your sales force achieves.

Have a system that assigns a relative value to each lead at the first contact. ‘Hot’ leads are those who are definitely looking to buy; ‘Warm’ leads are those who might buy; and ‘Cold’ leads are probably not interested in buying. Discard ‘Cold’ leads at the outset of the selling process. Concentrate selling efforts on ‘Hot’ leads. Give them priority and only after all the ‘Hot’ leads have been processed should the sales team turn its attention to ‘Warm’ ones.

Leads are often obtained through offers. Before the handover to the sales team the lead should be provided with any information they may have requested – a sales brochure or product order form for example. Have a system that records what was requested and what was provided. Be persistent. One enquiry handling expert estimates that 45% of all leads turn into a sale for someone, but only 22%-25% actually convert within the first six months. That means that 45 out of 100 leads might eventually convert to customers if they’ve correctly handled.

Keep in touch

Another consideration is that competition usually decreases over time.  The reason is simple – most businesses lose interest in a lead if it doesn’t turn into a customer pretty quickly. Patience and ongoing communication will eventually deliver all the conversions you’re going to get, but many won’t convert until several months have passed.

This tells us that every lead management system must accommodate the need to stay in touch with leads over a fairly long period of time.  So communicate with leads – perhaps by telephone, email or a newsletter – until they either convert to become customers or must be reclassified as ‘Cold’.

Keep in touch for an appropriate length of time until you’re absolutely certain there’s no hope of ever converting that contact to a customer.  Remember too that most businesses have competitors and if you’ve done your prospecting correctly even the people who initially reject you are somebody else’s customers.  They may eventually become yours if you don’t give up.

Each member of your sales team will have a conversion rate that shows how successful they are at converting leads to sales. This metric can be used in conjunction with total dollar volumes when you’re comparing the results of individual members of your sales team and determining which salespeople are your top performers.

  1. Become A Better Communicator

Most of us perform better in one part of the communications process, as either a Speaker or a Listener, but don’t go to the effort to make the most of our communicating abilities by improving the weaker skill. But our communication is likely to be so much better and more effective if we did. It’s not too difficult.

Speakers need to be aware of their audience

Speakers are good at sending out a message. They’re focused on what they’re saying and how they say it. What they too often miss is how it affects their audience – the listeners. Speakers who don’t think about their audience when they speak are likely to be talking mostly to themselves.

Listeners should think about what they hear

Good listening involves thinking about what the speaker is saying and integrating new information with the existing body of knowledge so it becomes relevant on a personal level. Good Listeners actively work to understand what the speaker is saying and focus their thoughts on the content of the message directed to them. Listeners who don’t listen actively will miss out on much of the speaker’s message.

Listening isn’t the same as just hearing what other people say – that’s what the ears do. It’s the brain that does the actual listening, and the more mental power you apply to what you hear, the more you’re going to understand.

You’re only going to apply this extra effort if you’re interested in what you’re hearing. That means thinking about what’s being said, word-for-word. Repeat the other person’s words in your mind and analyse what’s been said.  Don’t try to think about what you’re going to say in response; that will take you away from active listening and make you partially disconnect from the conversation.

A message is more than just the words

The content of the message isn’t just what the speaker says; it’s also the thoughts and feelings the speaker is trying to communicate. It’s the sum of what the speaker’s words really mean, which can also be conveyed by their facial expressions, body language, and even their tone of voice. The ideal communicator is aware of all the subtleties involved in communication and understands that it’s not just about the words used in a conversation.

Give feedback and learn how to receive it

All human communication is a two-way process.  Getting feedback from your audience is important so that you know if your message is being understood and also whether it’s being accepted or generating a hostile response. It can help to imagine yourself as your audience and ask: “How is this speaker going? Do I understand everything or do I need clarification?”  Good speakers always get audience feedback and can adjust their presentation accordingly.

Improving your technique

The simplest way to improve your speaking technique is to invest in a simple webcam and record yourself giving a 60-second talk on your favourite subject. When you play it back you’ll notice so much about the way you speak and quickly get an idea about how to improve it.

By thinking about how we speak, how we use our voice, and how we sound, we can greatly improve our skills of communicating to an audience, whether it’s to one person or to a roomful.  Establish a communications link with your audience and maintain it while you speak. Eye contact is essential, but you should also watch for changes in facial expression and posture to see how your message is being received, and pause from time to time to give the other person a chance to respond.

Communications are the way we relate to other people. They’re the basis of how we make friends, influence others – and do business. Start working today to become a better communicator and it will have a positive impact on every aspect of your life.

  1. Start Early To Beat The Rush

Most businesses experience fluctuations in demand and it’s not always easy to predict such things as staffing requirements, quantities of stock, storage space needs and sales. The majority of organisations have quiet times and rush times, and being prepared for the next rush can become a critical factor in determining overall annual profitability.

Christmas is one of the biggest rush generators in the world, although there are holidays and celebrations in every country and culture that involve similar revenue opportunities and planning problems. In retailing terms, Christmas begins well before October when the first decorations appear in stores, along with Christmas cards and a massive increase in the range and quantity of toys available from retailers.

Plan staffing needs early

People are needed to help most businesses cope with holiday rush periods, yet there’s every likelihood that this will also be the hardest time to get staff because they’re planning holidays themselves. Line up your supplementary staff early and get commitments from your permanent staff that they’ll be there when you need them.

If you’re a retailer and intend to sell products that are specific to the theme of the forthcoming rush, get your orders in early and follow up with suppliers for delivery. Be realistic in your calculations, but realise that if you under order there’s a very good chance you won’t be able to get additional stock in time to meet the seasonal demand.

Customers plan ahead too

Even though there’s usually a last-minute rush at holiday times, there are also many customers who plan ahead to beat the rush and will do their purchasing early. Don’t be slow in bringing out the seasonal music and decorations; this includes carrying the theme over to your website and your advertising.

Websites are especially flexible. You can put seasonal goods on a separate page and have a prominent link on your welcoming page that will attract early purchasers. Let this area be developed over a period of a month or two until it becomes your featured area as the rush gets underway.

Remember too that people often shop for presents to send to friends and relatives overseas. They need to be able to make a purchase and have it despatched to another country, and to have it arrive before a designated time.

Don’t lose the space race

A very important consideration for any business with times of the year when extra stock is required is – where to put it?  If your own premises won’t be able to accommodate your needs, prospect neighbouring businesses to see if one of them can rent you the space you need. It’s also possible to find a broker who’s looking for a long term tenant but who can let out space on a short term basis until the permanent tenant is found.

To make use of the opportunities such holidays and other rush periods represent takes a lot of forward planning and preparation. Orders have to be placed, stock has to be stored and distributed, and advertising and other promotions have to be planned well in advance.  The earlier preparations begin, the more likely it is that the hoped for revenues and profits will be realised.

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Memorable Quotation

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