Avoid Killer Clients

Ideal Customers

Do you ever dread answering the phone and discovering it’s one of those clients that’s always getting you down? Complaining or demanding more for less with unrealistic expectations? Asking you to do work you hate doing, at times you don’t want to, for prices that are too low? Then it’s time to fire the dud clients and hire the ideal ones!

I really like all my clients. I look forward to spending time with them on the phone or in person, and I really want them to do well. And I’d like to think think the feeling is mutual. I’m careful to work only with clients who I believe I can help, and with whom I feel aligned.

Many business owners I meet tell me that some of their clients are great, but others are a complete nightmare! It’s easy to understand that in any business there’s a pressure to find more customers. This leads people to literally work with anyone that can pay.

If you operate a retail business it can be hard to choose your customers, but they don’t tend to hang around long either. The real issue is in a business where you’re dealing personally with the same client over and over. These are typically service businesses such as accountants, financial advisors, lawyers, coaches, and many others. To enjoy our work we need to like the people we’re helping. Merely tolerating them or worse, loathing them, is no good and makes for a miserable working life.

I was lucky to have a colleague recommend a book called “Book Yourself Solid” by author Michael Port (Google it and download a few chapters free). The part that really struck me was what he called his “Red Velvet Rope Policy”. It’s like when you go to an event and there’s an entrance with a red velvet rope stretched across the door - only selected people are allowed through. Michael Port says we should all have a red velvet rope policy for the clients we work with. Further, they should be people who “inspire and energise” you. It’s some of the best advice I’ve had in my business and it means I enjoy what I do, every day.

What would be your “red velvet rope policy” for your business? What would be the attributes of your ideal customers? Probably they would appreciate what you do, value the service and not quibble about price, pay on time, show up on time, make reasonable requests and refer you to lots of other great clients. You might include attributes about the size and type of their business, their location, and more. Think about this carefully and get really clear on your ideal customer - then go looking for them and target your sales and marketing efforts toward them.

Remember that there’s not necessarily anything wrong with customers that don’t fit your ideal; Chances are they’re ideal for someone else’s business, but not yours. Be gracious and helpful and rather than just turning them away, be honest that “We’re not the best choice for you to work with” and consider recommending they try someone else who they would be better suited to.

The more you work with ideal clients, the more you’ll enjoy your work and the better the business will perform. In turn it will lead to you attracting more of the right clients.

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By: Rob Pickering

What's Your Guarantee?

Every business provides a guarantee - your business provides a guarantee! But do you know what your guarantee is? And do you promote it overtly to increase your sales?

Let me explain what I mean by a guarantee, because most people immediately think of it like the warrantee you turn to when your new toaster breaks down. And that’s a form of guarantee  “your new toaster will work for 12 months or we’ll replace it or give you your money back.”. However, guarantees don’t have to be about buying electrical goods.

I once asked a florist who was attending one of my seminars if he offered a guarantee to his customers and he said “no”. I asked him what would happen if I bought some flowers from him today... and tomorrow they were dead? He said “Well, that wouldn’t happen with our flowers, but if it did we would obviously replace them immediately.”. That sounded like a guarantee to me, and to everyone else, and to the florist himself - yet he wasn’t telling his customers. I asked what would happen if the other florist in the town put a sign in their window saying “Guarantee - our flowers will last at least 5 days or we’ll replace them free of charge”. He didn’t much like that... because it might imply to customers that their flowers were better than his. 

What’s the purpose of a guarantee?

If you think about it, a guarantee is really just something to help your customers get over the fear of making a purchase. They won’t tell you, and they’re probably not even conscious of their fears, but they’re worried “what if I buy and then I don’t like it?”. Or “What if I buy here and find it cheaper down the road?”. Or “What if I buy it and when I get it home, I realise it’s the wrong size?”. And so on... The purpose of a guarantee is to remove or reduce the fear so that a customer will buy now. We don’t want them to go away and think about it, or see if it’s cheaper elsewhere, we want them to buy now!

I’ll bet that if you think about it, there’s an implied guarantee that you offer in your business - so what is it? What would happen if you boldly put it in writing on your website or on your shop window or your company vehicle? The main reason we don’t overtly offer a guarantee is our own fear! We worry that if we made a truly generous, no-strings guarantee, then lots of people would claim and it would cost us a fortune! But would it really? Actually very few people claim on guarantees that are offered in good faith and with a few obvious and reasonable exceptions.

When I first started running training workshops I offered a guarantee that if you applied what you learnt for at least three months and didn’t earn back more than the amount you’d paid - I’d give you your money back. Several people asked if I was crazy, because surely people would simply lie and ask for their money back! After a few months of no one claiming, someone asked “If you’re that confident, why do you even have the clauses?”. Ever since then, that’s exactly what I’ve done: “If you’re not completely satisfied, I’ll refund your money in full”. Sure enough, no one has ever claimed. I expect that one day someone will ask for their money back, and I’ll give it willingly. Even so, it will have cost a lot less than the sales I’ll have gained by offering the guarantee.

So here’s the question again - what guarantee do you implicitly give in your business, but don’t actually tell anyone? Turn it into a benefit by telling your prospective customers. Put it on your website. By all means add safety clauses to protect yourself, but after a while, you might want to remove some of those. If you’re confident of your offering, couldn’t you offer “Satisfaction or your money back?”. 

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By: Rob Pickering

Self-diagnose and Increase Sales

As a Business Coach I regularly meet with business owners to see what actions they could take to increase profits. Someone recently asked “How do you go about it?”. It’s not easy to explain, there are too many variations and it’s one of those things that I just know how to do after years of experience and training. However, let’s see if I can cover some of the fundamentals so that you can diagnose and improve your own business.

The first question to ask is what are your goals? See the earlier article “Where will you be in 5 years?” for advice on setting goals. You need to have clear goals!

Assuming the goal is “more sales” - which is what most people initially tell me - then the diagnosis can get more precise. So here are some questions to ask yourself:

  1. How many leads are we receiving per month?
  2. What percentage of the leads are we converting to sales after 1 month and after 6 months?

If you know the answers I’ll be impressed, because as fundamental as this knowledge is to your business, most people have never tracked their results.

Do you need more leads?

Imagine that you found out you were getting 100 leads per month and after 6 months you’d converted just 5 of them into sales. That would be a 5% conversion rate and could indicate one of two main possibilities:

a) The quality of leads is relatively poor
b) Your ability to convert the leads into sales is relatively poor

Either way, I wouldn’t be advising a doubling of the marketing effort to get 200 leads per month, because that would probably be very expensive and hard to do, compared with the alternatives. The main alternatives would be to refocus the marketing so that you get better quality leads, or to focus on the sales process and the sales skills to close more of leads. And remember that if you can improve from 5% to 10% you’ll double your sales and most likely more than double your net profit!

Another common scenario is that, for example, the number of leads is 10 per month and after 6 months all 10 have converted to sales. This would suggest a choice of two actions: either the price should be increased, or that you do need to generate more leads. If you’re converting more than 80% of the leads I would always look at when the prices were last increased and would expect to increase them. And assuming that the business has capacity to handle more than the current level of sales, I’d be looking at how to generate more leads. And there are lots of ways to generate more leads - about 90 ways actually - so I’d start looking at which ways have been tried and which are likely to work for your kind of business. Once you know how many leads you’re generating and what your conversion rate is, you will start knowing the important questions for your business. You might now need to ask “How do I improve my conversion rate?”, or “How do I improve the quality of leads we generate?”, or “How do I generate more leads?”. You’ll be a significant step forward at this point, but if you don’t know the answer to your question... ask me?

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By: Rob Pickering


Market to New and Existing Customers

Are you focusing all your marketing on attracting new customers, or are you remembering to value the ones you already have? If you think you value existing customers, check how much you spent in the past 12 months on marketing to get new customers compared with marketing to existing ones - you might be surprised! When I look at most small and medium businesses I regularly find that the budget for marketing to existing customers is zero. That’s odd when you consider how much was spent to get each customer to start with, and that you know your existing/past customers are willing to buy from you.

When I look at a business, either an established one or a new startup, one of the first things I look at is the potential for repeat sales. A company that is well suited to repeatedly selling to the same customers is likely to be much more profitable than one that doesn’t. Even better is when sales are on a regular recurring basis, especially if it’s set up on Direct Debit and is just going to keep the money rolling in.

Think about it - the major cost in dealing with a customer is typically getting the new customer in the first place. You might need to get ten or even a hundred leads, ie identified prospects, to get one new customer that you sell to. For example, imagine you placed an advert at a cost of £500 and got 10 sales leads from it. You respond to all of those ten and make a sale worth £100 to half of them. That’s £500 revenue from a marketing investment of £500. But if your profit margin is 50% you’ve actually spent £500 to make £250 back, which doesn’t seem very good! In the case where a customer is buying every month, you’d be getting £500 revenue and £250 profit from those five new customers every month. And let’s assume that on average they keep buying for 12 months... that’s actually 12 x £250 = £3,000 gross profit over the course of the year from the initial £500 investment.

Of course, not all businesses are able to sell the same thing every month to the same customer. But if that’s the case for you, the question is whether you could sell them different things every month, or the same things every few months, or add a new service you could sell them time and time again. If you can find a way to do that, your business will be much more profitable and stable. You can look at this perspective of marketing to get a customer as ‘buying’ a customer. In the case above it cost £500 to buy five customers, so each customer cost £100 each to buy. If you only sell to them once, you need to be certain you’re making more than £100 profit on the sale! And your marketing spend will need to be enormous.

The key is to make repeat sales. In the next two articles I’ll talk first about marketing to win new customers, then separately about marketing to retain existing customers and make repeat sales.

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By: Rob Pickering

Authentic Sales & Marketing

So much of what is taught about sales and marketing is manipulation. Yet ask any prospective purchaser if they would choose to buy from someone who they think is deliberately manipulating them and I’m sure the answer would be “no”. As buyers become increasingly aware if the trickery that passes as sales and marketing, there’s a danger of being ‘found out’. I steer clear of get rich quick methods like bombarding people with emails filled with ‘click here to buy’ and ‘this isn’t for everyone’. The ‘half price sale’ that never ends is a way to destroy trust and make it harder for customers to believe what they’re told. Do these manipulations work? Yes, sometimes, but they’re very short-term.

A stable and valuable business will always have customer loyalty and repeat business at its core. For a business and a customer to continue in a long-term relationship there needs to exist a level of trust and a fair basis of trade: An exchange of goods or services at a fair price for BOTH parties. Charge too much and customers will go elsewhere, charge too little and the business suffers and can’t provide the right level of service and innovation. Sometimes customers are their own worst enemy - they drive down the prices in a market so far that the suppliers can’t offer a decent service - and that in turn backfires on the customers. This tends to happen in commodity markets when one supplier appears to break ranks and lower prices, but in most cases they’re cutting something. Usually that something is what customers do need in the long-term - like the business still to exist when they make a warranty claim! So what can you do in business to offer and maintain a fair trade and retain loyal customers for repeat business?

  • Be a step ahead of knowing what customers want and provide it
  • Establish trust, value loyalty, demonstrate that you care
  • Communicate with honesty and authenticity
  • Operate consistently with the company values
  • Recruit, train and retain staff that live your values and love your customers
  • Provide goods and services at a fair price

You probably agree with this list, but do you actually have strategies in place to achieve and maintain them? Are these true in your business today? If not, what specific actions do you need to take to achieve them? And if they are true today, what do you need to do to ensure they are maintained for many years ahead? One strategy to embed these into your business is to have a quarterly focus on one or more of them so that you revisit them all regularly - it doesn’t need to be daily or weekly. Find ways to involve staff and customers - BUT be aware that they don’t necessarily know the answers - you have to interpret their needs and wants to plot the course for your business and maintain the balance. Don’t get caught up in short-term schemes and manipulative offers - focus on your customers and deal with them with honesty and authenticity.

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By: Rob Pickering

Make Your Added Value Visible

It’s important to add value for your customers, but they have to know about it to appreciate it. What value are you adding, and if I surveyed your customers would they know about it and what value would they put on it? This might connect with your USP (Unique Selling Proposition) or your Guarantee. It’s all about standing out from your competitors and ensuring that your customers value what you provide so much that they continue to buy from you rather than anyone else. 

Many businesses understand and add value. Some do it naturally and some go out of their way to do it deliberately. But either way, it’s pointless unless customers actually understand. You need to ensure customers recognise the value you add. Let me give you a little example. Most of you will be familiar with buying a printer for your computer at home or in the office. You go online or visit your favourite retailer, make a choice and buy. Either way, you get the printer on your desk, unpack the parts, plug it in and off you go. And if all else fails you read the manual.

How much did you appreciate the value that the retailer added in this situation? Let me give you another version. You unpack the box, go to plug the printer in and there’s no cable. You search, but there isn’t one. So you now have to contact the supplier and discover that the data cable is not included! Now you have the hassle, cost and delay while you get the cable. In the situation where the cable was included you probably wouldn’t notice because it just seems obvious. And the problem is... the retailer had the cost of the data cable - or the loss of the extra sale - and yet they gained nothing because you didn’t even appreciate the value they were adding! Good customer service dictates that the retailer should check that you already have the cable you need, or to offer to sell it to you, so that you’re not surprised and inconvenienced. But for you to value their service, they need to point this out to you. Ideally I would have the retailer ask the question and highlight “You wouldn’t want to get all the way home and find you couldn’t use the printer and have to come all the way back again!”. Now you appreciate them adding value - either the value of their service in meeting your true needs or the value of a free cable. You can only value something if you know about it. And here a cable that costs the retailer very little becomes worth ten times more to you by preventing hassle and delay. Chances are you’ll buy from that supplier again, and maybe recommend them. In your business what value are you adding and do your customers know? And how much hard cash value do they think it’s worth?

What else could you do so that they appreciate and value what you do?

Focus on these questions and see what you can do to make improvements. If you have staff, why not set aside 30 minutes to brainstorm ideas? And survey or ask your best customers - “When you buy from us, what is it you value most about dealing with us?”. Whatever that is... make sure you’re telling new prospects and even telling existing customers to help them appreciate it. If it’s as simple as “Our customers just like dealing with us...” then at least say that on your website, in your advertising, in your email. Don’t just compete on price, add value - and be sure that you’re doing it in ways that your customers recognise and value what you do.

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Whose Inspiration Are You?

Who do you like being around? Who makes you smile when they walk in the room? Who says things that make you stop and think? Who is it that makes your life richer and more enjoyable when they’re around? And who - when asked this question - will name you? When you walk into a room do people smile and feel pleased that you’re there? Think carefully about this, you might take actions that change your life and those around you for the better. 

The good news is that anyone can become this kind of person. It starts with a recognition of who we are being, and that it’s a choice, or more accurately a continual series of choices. Next comes a thought of who we want to be, then a decision that we will be that person. Someone who inspires and brightens the lives of others. Consider the alternative for a moment: Who do you know that is constantly complaining, finding what’s wrong in things and people, living a life based on blame, excuses and denial? How much do you enjoy being around them? Probably not much. It’s hard when it’s someone we’re likely to be around through work or social life. Sometimes we’re not even conscious of it and the negative effect on our own motivation. We all have a choice about who we are BEING.

We can choose to smile, to make kind remarks, to demonstrate small kindnesses, to be generous of spirit. We can choose to take ownership of our own lives, to be responsible for our actions and to be accountable to ourselves. Whether at work or at home, we have an impact on those around us, and we can choose what impact we want to have. Know yourself and the impact you have, and choose to be the inspiration that those around you will appreciate. It’s about pausing long enough before acting to decide what you want to achieve, and then choosing your appropriate response.

It was Victor Frankl who said that “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”.

This is what sets us apart from animals. An animal will respond instantly to a stimulus - poke an animal with a stick and it will probably immediately turn and attack. As human beings we often follow the same stimulus and immediate response, but alternatively we can use that “space” as Frankl called it, to pause, even for a fraction of a second and choose whatever response will achieve our purpose. When you are aware of this space and start using it, with practice it becomes easier and more natural by the day. Each time you get out of bed, or walk into a room, or respond in a conversation - use that ‘space’ to choose the effect that you want to have on people, and act accordingly. Even in a heated argument you can learn to create the space and bring about a result you want. Be the person you want to be, the inspiration that those around you will appreciate.  

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Too much Digital Marketing?

Going back 20 years before LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and when even websites were relatively new, most marketing involved printing something. Oh, and colour laser printers were still a dream so you did have to print thousands of anything to make it cost effective. Marketing on a zero budget was pretty difficult if not impossible.

We’ve come a long way and now if you’re not using social media marketing then you should be planning to. Let’s get something clear - I’m a total believer in digital marketing. If you don’t believe it, talk to me and I’ll tell you why and how. But while some people are yet to really get into digital methods, other companies have, in my opinion, gone much too far! Whatever happened to printed brochures? Ask for a brochure these days and you’re liable to be told “it’s all on the website, you don’t need a brochure”. Last weekend I was considering a sizeable purchase and was given this line by the salesman. When I said that actually I’d rather prefer a brochure that pulls all the information together in one place to review and to easily show to someone else, he agreed and said that their marketing people won’t let them have expensive brochures any more.

There’s a time and a place. If you don’t have at least one or two really nice printed brochures, I’d like you to ask yourself if your leads might be more plentiful or your sales conversion rate higher if you did have one? A good place to start is one that shows the range of products and services that you offer. You’d be amazed at how few of your customers and prospects really know the range that you offer, or the options they could choose. And while they might spend 30 seconds flicking through your brochure, they won’t all proactively log on to your website and browse around it. You’ll get some of the leads and sales, but not all. Wouldn’t you rather have them all? Or would you rather your competitor gets those? Picture the situation selling to public sector or larger business clients. There’s often more than one person involved in a purchase.

Imagine they’re considering three options, each from a different supplier and one of those is you. The engineer who desperately needs the product goes to his manager for approval because it’s above his authority level. He explains the need to his manager who understands and asks about the options. The engineer puts on the desk two nice brochures from your competitors and a scrappy black and white laser printer bunch of stapled sheets for yours. Obviously you didn’t give him that - your information is the most complete and most details and is on your website. But your prospect realised he’d better print something to present it to his manager. The good news is that you save thousands per year printing brochures! The bad news is you lose tens of thousands in sales per year. Another key point about good printed material is that it tends to hang around and be seen. If someone looks at your website then closes it, they’re quite likely to forget about it. If you give them or mail them a good brochure, they tend to leave it on their desk for minutes, hours or days.

During that time it’s continually catching their eye and reminding them to take action. And if they think someone else in their company should see it, they’re likely to pass it along. Emails are also good for being passed on, but you know what it’s a like, you close it and aim to come back to it but forget. In most situations a printed brochure is more likely to generate results than an email or phone call - and remember you can use them all: email, phone, send brochure, call/visit. An experienced printing company these days will have a digital press. They’ll be able to print as few as one single copy of a very nice full colour brochure.

A run of 100 can be economical, but remember it’s all about return on investment: as long as the design and print costs less than you make in increased sales, it’s worth doing. And often, when the sales are higher value, a single extra sale can justify a whole lot of print! But the quality has to be good. Whether we like it or not, we do tend to perceive quality in relation to the brochures and packaging, so invest appropriately. Make sure your marketing plan includes digital print along with the rest of your digital marketing in the right balance. If you don’t know what’s possible, call your local digital print specialist and find out. Maximise your leads and conversion rate.

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Operate a Sales Pipeline

Sales pipeline management is about keeping track of your prospects all the way from interest to sale, and managing them efficiently from one step to the next. Work out how much each lead costs you, on average, to generate. For example, take your entire spend on marketing for the year (staff/time and spend on advertising, website, etc) and divide it by 12 to get your monthly marketing spend. Now look at how many leads you get per month (if you don’t know... estimate). Now divide your monthly average spend by the average number of monthly leads. This is how much you paid to buy each lead. Often this shocks people the first time they do it, and they insist it can’t be right. It is. Now that you know how much those leads are worth, you’ll want to make sure that you’re looking after every one of them.

I often find that half the leads a company gets are just frittered away. They’re left ignored for long enough for them to go cold and then put in a pile or left in a list and never seen again. Even more common and more of a delusion is the situation where a lead is followed-up, but then no next action defined. Consequently they fall into a black hole. If you take away only one point from this, it should be:

  • Every lead should have a date for the next action in your diary

It’s easy to think at the time of speaking to a prospect that you’ll give them a call tomorrow or next week or next month, and honestly believe it. But believe me when I say again - unless you set an actual date for the next action - ideally in your diary with a reminder - it won’t happen. Most leads are squandered this way. The key to all of this, especially in a business with more than one person handling leads, is to operate a formal sales pipeline. This will probably need to be in a database of some kind, a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system, or a spreadsheet at the very least. But even though you’re likely to need a CRM system, I think that it’s good to start with a simple spreadsheet. This allows you to create column headings, ie the information you will keep about each lead, in a very flexible way. Once you’ve got that working for a few months, then move it into a CRM system. These start as cheap as free and then the sky’s the limit. Some of the information you need to keep is obvious:

  • prospect name
  • prospect company name
  • prospect email address
  • prospect phone number
  • prospect address (probably)

Then come the pieces of information specific to the current buying interest and the current situation:

  • Product/service of interest
  • Likely timeframe (eg do they need it today or are they thinking about next year)

Then you need to know some information about the progress with this lead right now:

  • Status (eg initial enquiry, arranging demo, organising finance, etc)
  • Date of most recent contact (eg date of enquiry or most recent call)
  • Comments (Key points of discussion - briefly)

And finally the most important points:

  • Next action (eg call)
  • Next action date (eg tomorrow, next week, etc)
  • Who’s responsible

Now I usually recommend that the first column in your pipeline spreadsheet, or the main sorting order in your CRM system, is the NEXT ACTION DATE. Basically you don’t need to do anything until this date. The whole point of operating a pipeline is to look at it and know which leads you need to follow-up on today, and do it. If you create and operate a sales pipeline including the above information, you’ll maximise your sales, and perhaps just as importantly, your prospects will be looked after and feel that you care and are efficient. Hopefully at least some of you have noticed a very important piece of information missing from the above? OK, I was testing you. What do you think is missing? You need to track the source of every lead, eg where they heard about you. You need this vital information so that you know which marketing is working and what to do more of and what to stop. What else would you need to record in the sales pipeline for your business?

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What’s Your Referral Strategy?

When you look at the sales leads you’re generating, chances are the best leads come from referrals. Yet when I ask business owners what their referral strategy is I’m often met with a blank stare. Let me be clear: A referral strategy does not include “If I wait long enough and stare at the phone, someone will eventually refer a prospect to me”. But what do we mean by 'good quality' leads anyway?

The quality of leads can be measured in three ways:

  1. What percentage convert into sales?
  2. How long do they take to convert?
  3. How profitable are they when they do convert?

Leads generated by someone clicking a website and being forced to enter their contact details are typically very low quality ‘cold’ leads. They’re usually a long way from being someone ready to purchase. It’s good to have this kind of activity going on in the background, but generating business today or next month is better achieved with higher quality leads. At the other end of the scale comes referrals from trusted partners. A prospect who’s referred to you is most likely to be genuinely interested and be ready to buy from you the soonest. But are you getting as many referrals as you could? A poor strategy is to wait for someone to spontaneously refer a prospect to you! As the Chinese proverb says: “Man stand long time in field with mouth open, waiting for fried duck to fly in”. In other words... get off your seat and do something to make it happen!

  • Create a referral strategy and ask existing/past clients for a referral
  • Create strategic alliances and generate referrals for each other
  • Join a local business networking group
  • Make it clear to your suppliers that you’ll make the most of leads they pass you
  • Get to know the best-connected people in your industry/community

Existing customers should be the first place you should look to for referrals. They know what you do and they know first hand how well you do it and why someone should be your customer. But they’re not consciously thinking about who they know that would be your next good customer. Yes, you actually need to ask them. When did you last ask your best customers for a referral? Typically you find that happy customers would be delighted to refer people to you, they just need prompting - regularly.

Strategic alliances are the next great way to generate high quality referrals. In your industry, what kind of business has the same or similar customer base but doesn’t compete with you? These are people you could initiate a strategic alliance with and introduce each other to your customers. If you do it loosely you’ll probably get results, but if you do it in a planned way you can get regular good referrals (and give them too of course).

Business networking groups are another excellent way to give and to get referrals. Google your local area to find business networking groups and visit one new one each month and you’ll find a few that suit you. There are people in groups I attend who get more than 80% of all their business via referrals from the group! If you’re not in such a group - perhaps you’re only experiencing 20% of the business you could be getting. One point of advice - you’ll get as much as you give.

Suppliers are often overlooked when it comes to sources of good referrals. They probably have people asking them where they should buy, and they’re probably recommending someone - make sure it’s you! Guess what their biggest frustration is? Having been in this position several times I can say confidently that the biggest frustration is knowing that the company I recommend is going to serve the referred prospect in a really professional manner. Assure your supplier that you’ll look after any referrals well. Make it easy for all of your referral partners by giving them more than just your name and phone number. And I don’t mean just a business card... but a pile of those would be a good start. Create something that would work well for a partner to hand to a potential prospect, or better still, an introductory voucher that has some genuine value. Feedback counts - for every referral someone gives you, start by saying thank you, and give them feedback updates so that they know you looked after the person you referred. That way they’ll refer again. Creating a referral strategy that works for your business is an incredibly effective way to generate high quality leads regularly.

Many of the things you need to do that make all the difference are not obvious. If you’d like me to analyse your current strategies and help get you on the right track, call me now and ask for a 2-hour business diagnostic.

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The Recession Obsession

The main way that recession holds back businesses is not about banks and lending, it’s about attitude and beliefs. If you think there’s a recession and that there is less business out there - most people batten down the hatches and go into hibernation. But it’s probably the worst thing to do. 

Take marketing for example - what happens in a recession? Businesses cut their marketing spend because they feel they should cut their overheads, ready for a reduction in sales that they think is inevitable. But the whole point of marketing is that it’s about investing and expecting a greater return. You invest £1,000 and get £2,000 of additional profit. Then you take as much of that extra profit as you can and reinvest it in marketing to make even more profit. The more frequently you do it, the faster the business grows. If the recession is a reality, the £1,000 investment might now only generate £1,500 of profit. So that means you need to work harder on marketing and do even more!

Cutting marketing makes no sense.

It comes from fear, but rarely from a decision based on facts or calculations. If the marketing investment suddenly generated less profit than the investment - that could justify cutting it, but really it’s just a sign that you got the marketing wrong and need to re-think your strategies. What worked before is not necessarily going to work during a recession mindset. Often in large companies the news of recession initiates a series of actions such as imposing spending limits, reducing budgets, freezing recruitment, and so on. If you did this without a recession what result would you expect? Zero growth at best! And sure enough, growth reduces and everyone concludes what? Good job we cut our costs because look how much our sales dropped due to the recession.

Most of the effect of a recession is psychological. As human beings we are ‘meaning-making machines’. Our brains provide us with an ability to make connections between things we see happening and then we decide what it means. At its best this leads us to fantastic scientific and other discoveries. At its worst we leap to foolish conclusions and make crazy decisions. We tend to look for what we expect, so when we’re told there’s a recession - that becomes the cause for things. In a time when we’re told economic growth is high, we hear that a business has failed and we know it must have been a bad business idea or poorly run. If a business fails during recession - it must have failed because of the recession. When we see sales drop - it must be due to the recession. No! It’s because bad decisions are being made and the right actions are not being taken! In life we there are some things we can control and some things we cannot. Sometimes we might be able to make a small effect, but not enough to make a difference. Time and energy expended on things we cannot significantly affect is wasted. Focus on what you can change. I recently organised an event and invited people to attend. The response was very poor.

Someone I know and respect told me “Don’t worry, it’s not you, it’s the recession; people are attending less events and have less money to spend.”. I hear views like this regularly, and they may or may not have any basis for truth, but what matters is how we react? I decided that recession or not, what CAN I do to make a difference. If I believed what I’d been told, I might have cancelled the event. Instead I looked at what I could do differently and additionally. I changed to different messages and different channels and enlisted support from people around me. The results increased dramatically. If you think we’re in a recession, think about what you need to do differently and take appropriate actions. If you think people aren’t buying as readily - work harder to convince them. If you think the market is more competitive - compete more. If you don’t know how to market or organise finances or achieve sales at the level you need to - get out of your seat and attend seminars and training! Recession is not a time to do less, it’s a time to DO MORE.

What actions are YOU taking to grow your way out of recession?

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Recommendation Marketing

If I tell you I’m good... well I would say that wouldn’t I. But if someone else tells you I’m good... well it’s probably true. There are many ways we can tell prospective customers about our product or service in the hope they’ll choose to buy from us. We can advertise in magazines, newspapers, or online. We can create brochures and websites. We can give out business cards or even meet people face to face. But no matter how well we do any of these things they fall down in one important respect: We probably won’t be believed. 

Recommendations or testimonials from other clients of a potential supplier count much more than a glossy advert. So it’s important that you include positive client feedback as part of your marketing. There are many different options for doing this, depending upon your type of business. In most cases, especially if you provide services, getting recommendations on LinkedIn is a great strategy. I always check people and companies on LinkedIn before dealing with them. The LinkedIn system shows the real person that recommendations have come from and the date when they were added, both points ensuring they’re likely to be genuine. So if you don’t have at least a dozen recommendations on your LinkedIn profile - start requesting them. There are several services such as Check-a-trade, Disc Directory, and many others that gather feedback scores from customers, validate them and publish the results.

Or for companies doing e-commerce sales you could use TrustPilot. Again these systems are good because they validate feedback and create averaged scores, but even if you don’t use these, at least include testimonials with real customer names on an area of your website. Even better, include case studies that explain how you helped customers so that other prospects get a better understanding. Waiting to get good feedback is a poor strategy. Make sure that you take steps to gather good customer feedback. Send emailed surveys, request feedback a few days after successful completion of an order or work completion, provide feedback forms, and use LinkedIn’s own system to request recommendations.

Have a plan and be deliberate - perhaps aim to gather and publish one good testimonial per week, and stick to the plan. Regularly publish good client testimonials and you’ll see an increase in enquiries and a higher conversion rate to sales.

Do you have any good examples of strategies to gather customer testimonials?

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Create a Marketing Plan

To achieve the best sales, you need to do appropriate marketing. To do a good cost-effective job marketing, you need to have a plan. I doubt many business owners would argue with these points, yet surprisingly few businesses actually have a marketing plan. Why is that?   Like many aspects of running a business, few business owners have ever had the opportunity to learn other than from what they have worked out for themselves. If they’ve never experienced the benefit of creating and using a marketing plan, it’s not going to be an urgent priority. “I didn’t get where I am today by having a marketing plan!”. (Sure, and to get any further you need to have a marketing plan!). 

Whole books have been written on this subject so naturally I can only provide a very brief insight, but enough to get you started.  

  1. Work out what your objectives are for a period of time, eg for 90 days.
  2. Break down the objectives into marketing objectives, ie related to generating leads from new prospects or existing customers.
  3. I recommend making a list of 10-20 ideas that are each likely to generate some leads. For inspiration, look to what you’d successfully done before, what others in similar businesses do, or get a copy of “Instant Cashflow” by Brad Sugars (or email me for a list of strategy ideas).
  4. For each idea: a) Estimate the cost to implement it b) Estimate the number of leads and the number of sales it will generate c) Estimate the Gross Profit (GP) you’ll gain from each sales within your target time period d) Calculate the ROI (total profit divided by total costs) and show as a percentage, eg 250%
  5. Now sort the list into order, best ROI at the top is the simplest way. You now have a list of marketing ideas for your business and the best return at the top.
  6. Now here’s a part that few people, including marketing experts, actually do (and hence often fail) - add together the GP from the various ideas. Does the total exceed the goal you set? If it doesn’t - you need to keep working at the ideas because so far you don’t have enough good ones!
  7. When you have enough ideas that they’ll generate your target GP within the timeframe - get started on the best one first and work through them.
  8. Set up each activity so that you can measure the results. This helps you know what the ROI really is... and in future you’ll know whether each was a good idea to use again or one to dump!
  9. Before the end of the period, eg the calendar quarter, start planning the next quarter’s marketing so that you can start on day one.

I didn’t say marketing was easy! Most people think marketing is really creative, and some of the ideas can be. But most of all it’s a numbers game and all about planning, calculating, testing & measuring. If you want some help with your marketing plan, feel free to ask questions here or get in touch.

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Marketing Objective vs Method

When you set out to do some marketing, make sure you’ve got a clear idea of what you want to achieve: Know your objective and make it measurable. Some examples will make it easier to understand. Marketing methods:

  • Advertising
  • email newsletters
  • Websites
  • Seminars
  • Videos
  • Blogs
  • Telemarketing
  • Webinars
  • Twitter

...and then list goes on. 

Example objectives:

  • Add 1,000 new names to the mailing list
  • Announce a new product
  • Promote an event and register attendees
  • Clear excess stock, generate a 10% increase in sales

Often what happens is that someone thinks “...better do some marketing, we’ll do an email newsletter”. The resulting newsletter is usually a struggle to write; The focus is on anything that springs to mind - a complete mixed bag of information with no purpose. It usually leaves the recipients thinking “so what?”. The internal measure of success is “we did a newsletter”. But there was no measurable objective.

After a few months there’s no visible increase in leads or sales, and the ill-fated newsletter dies a death. But at least email newsletters are usually a relatively low-cost marketing method. The situation’s worse when the activity is costly, like advertising in a magazine. Here the advert tends to be a similarly lacklustre collection of information. The measure of success? “We did an advert”. Is this marketing? Well, it often passes for marketing, but it will rarely achieve much.

Few business owners have ever had any training in marketing, so it’s entirely understandable that mostly the work is off-track and the results dubious. But with guidance the results and the return on investment can be greatly improved. The starting point is to stand back and examine what needs to be achieved. Only then should you consider the different marketing methods - different ways of communicating - and choose the most appropriate ones for the objective at hand. As an example, an email newsletter can be very good for communicating to existing customers to stay in their minds and keep them returning. But it would be a poor choice if the aim is to gain new customers. Twitter would be a better way to reach a new audience and grow your customer base. Adding the two together would be even better - tweet about your new newsletter and invite new subscribers. Identify the objective, then choose the best methods to achieve it.

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How to Have the Best Ideas

I’m going to share with you one of the biggest secrets to success! Actually it’s one of the few things I learnt at school that’s been of significant value in business. You can apply this principle in many areas, but I’ll discuss it here in terms of marketing.

I’m forever having people ask me “What do you think of this idea?”. For example, “I’m planning to send a mailshot to 5000 names on a mailing list - what do you think?”. My rather sarcastic answer is usually “This is by far the best idea you’ve told me in the past five minutes”. The point is - having ideas is easy. Having good ideas is harder. But all I’m interested in is the BEST ideas. How on earth can you know if something is the best idea if you only look at one idea?

If you just take away one thing from reading this, here it is: Always create a minimum of three alternatives, compare the pros and cons, and choose the best one. I can guarantee that whatever you do will be much more successful when you pick the best of three. 

Often in a business there is more than one product or service available for sale. As you start planning some marketing, start by determining which product or service you aim to focus on selling. Ideally this is going to be one that represents the best all-round opportunity for the business, for example - good profit margin, low hassle, easy to sell, short sales cycle, available now. Often people dive in, randomly pick a product or service, and start working on marketing it. It could be that the marketing is successful and sales are made, but how much more profit could have been made by working on selling the item that’s twice as profitable? Think strategically. Consider different products and services and think about the pros and cons of focusing on increasing the sales of each one. Not just in the short term, but in the long-term. Which one, if sold in bigger volumes this month, is going to lead to even greater sales if it or of something else later? If you focus on selling more razors, will it automatically lead to selling more razor blades for the coming year? If you sell more printers this month, will it lead to sales of more ink and paper in the coming year? If you offer free mobile phones this month, will it lead to increased airtime sales in the coming year? But again, choose three good alternatives and pick the best of three, not just the first one that springs to mind. At school and college I studied design technology - basically how to identify a problem and design the best solution to it. The method I was taught was as follows:

  1. Think of one way to solve the problem and work through a design for how that solution would work.
  2. Set aside the first idea and start all over again! This second solution must use a completely different approach to the first.
  3. Set aside the second idea and start all over again. This time, the solution can be completely new again or can include good aspects of the first and second combined with new thinking.

The third solution was always much better than the first. But you know, once I’d worked on that first one, I was convinced it was a great idea and didn’t want to set it aside and start again! The discipline to create and review three alternatives is critical. Only when you look from different angles do you see the flaws in the first. Once you’ve decided which product or service to focus on marketing, next create three alternatives for how you’re going to market it. Look at the pros and cons of each one, ultimately calculating the ROI (Return On Investment) for each one. Only then should you go with the method that is calculated to be the best one. So next time someone comes to you with an idea and asks “What do you think, is this a good idea?”. Ask the killer question - “What are the alternatives and what makes this the best one?”.

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Test & Measure

Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.

It always astonishes me how business owners will spend money on an advert and never actually know if it’s generating more profit than the advert is costing. I saw a great recruitment advert last year seeking a Marketing Manager. Written by the business owner, the advert read “Job description : For every £1 I give you, you’ll generate at least £2 of profit.”. That was literally the whole job spec! The reason I love it is because that encapsulates the financial purpose of successful marketing - you invest and expect a higher return. 

It’s common in marketing and business generally to speak of R.O.I (Return On Investment). If you spend £100 on marketing and it generates £200 of profit from the resulting sales, that’s an ROI ratio of 2:1 or 200%. As long as your ROI is greater than 1:1 you’re on the right track. Do you know the ROI on all your marketing investments? You must! Whenever you start a marketing activity, put in place a procedure to measure the results. Let’s say decide to try a small advert in your local paper and it costs £100. Ensure that you and anyone else answering your phone, checking emails or otherwise serving customers asks the question “Where did you hear about us?”. And at the same time, keep track of how much the customer spends. Assuming your advert resulted in 10 sales of £20 each, you got £200 of sales for your £100 investment. But before you celebrate too quickly, what’s your profit margin?

If it’s 50% you spent £100 to make £100. You wouldn’t want to keep doing that! So next week change the advert - a better headline, better call to action, and place the improved advert. The second week with your improved advert you get 20 sales so you’re winning with £200 profit for £100 spent. Now you can celebrate. You tested an advert, measured the result, tested a possible improvement, measured again, and saw better results. That’s usually how it goes… but not always. If the results had been worse the second week, you’d know that what you tried was a bad idea and the next week try something different. Keep testing and measuring to see what works and keep improving your results. I often see business owners just doing the same old thing, over and over, never knowing if it’s working OR if it’s the best ROI. Use test & measure to try different advert designs, different offers. But also use it to test between different advertising media - different newspapers of course, but also internet advertising, social media, LinkedIn, Google Adwords, and so on.

Stop spending on marketing that isn’t working. Test and Measure all the time and ensure that your marketing investment is delivering the best possible return.  

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