Network to Grow Your Business

You probably want more customers so that you can grow your business? There are quite a few ways to achieve it, but the most effective ways typically involve getting out of your office. By all means take a look under the desk, behind the filing cabinet, in the cupboards… but I doubt you find find any new customers in your office! No, the harsh reality is that all your new customers are out there waiting for you to find them. It’s time to go looking.

It’s fair to say that very few business owners relish the opportunity to go to a networking event and walk up to complete stranger and start a conversation. The mere thought of it will give most people a feeling of cold fear. Apart from those people we all know who are those strange people called extroverts. You know the ones - always sounding confident, happy to walk up to complete strangers and start a conversation. You walk down the road with them and they stop three times to talk to complete strangers. It’s OK for them… but that’s not us. So the rest of us will place adverts, send emails, and in an occasional brave moment - make a phone call.

My advice is to get out there and make a start. Go and meet some people, even if you don’t think they’ll include your target customer audience. You might be anywhere on the scale from scared to death to mildly bored by the idea, but just do it! Google “Business Networking” and your local town name and you’ll soon see some of the opportunities. Don’t hesitate, don’t dwell on all the reasons why it might not work, just do it. Make contact immediately and get yourself invited along to see what the group is like. Visit several different groups and see which ones you like. And yes, you do have to go there to know.

I never used to even know that local businesses got together. It was all a complete revelation - finding out there are literally thousands of groups of businesses networking worldwide. They’re getting to know each other, and trust each other. They understanding what they do and passing work to each other. But only to the businesses who are actually there! I now know business owners who regularly attend networking meetings who have gained more than 50% of their clients through networking - some have gained more than 80%! So imagine if you’re one of the business owners who is NOT there… the business you have might be only the 20%... the other 80% of your business that you felt sure you ought to have is there waiting for you at your local networking groups!

Often people tell me that it’s unlikely that anyone there would be their target customer, so what’s the point going? Well you’d be surprised to know that people who network are well connected. Usually they aren’t when they first attend… that’s the point… the more you attend, the better connected you become. If there are just 20 people at a meeting, chances are they all know upward of 100 other businesses - their own customers, their suppliers, ex-colleagues, family members, school friends, members of clubs… it’s probably more like 500-1000 each! So when you visit a few times and have told each of 20 members what you do… you can reach 10,000+ people. The cost is minimal, the time is reasonable, and the results are usually excellent when you make the effort. And although it may not seem like it from the safety of your desk… it’s actually really enjoyable getting out and meeting like-minded business people. Give it a try this week!

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By: Rob Pickering

Smile if You Want Repeat Business

Repeat Business advice from Rob Pickering

Winning new customers is always harder and more expensive than selling to existing customers. There are many ways in which you can keep customers and sell to them time and time again. But there are also things you can inadvertently do that drive your customers away. Could you be driving customers away without realising it?

My wife and I recently visited an old favourite historic site and went for lunch at the restaurant. The staff appeared to ignore us as we entered. We waited ten minutes for them to take our order and at one minute past three in the afternoon they told us that there was no hot food now because they stop serving at 3pm. We never saw one of them smile. They clearly weren’t happy to be there, and so we didn’t enjoy being there either. When we left we agreed that it would be a long time before we returned.

The way that you and your team act toward customers is hugely influential on your long-term profitability. Imagine a customer spends £50 in an interaction and that they buy three times per year, so a customer is worth £150 per year. If your team were so welcoming and friendly and helpful that they came back one extra time per year, you increase revenue 33%! And if you train your team to ask the right questions and identify something extra that the customer wants to buy, you could increase it even further.

Often when I work with a business owner to increase their average sale value or average number of transactions they are resistant. Although they would like extra profit, they hate the idea of pushy selling and trying to squeeze extra sales out of their customers. So I take them to buy a sandwich for lunch and then review the experience so that they can reverse roles and be reminded of how it is to be a customer.

I recently went to the excellent sandwich shop with clients. When I say ‘excellent’ I mean from the point of view of food quality and choice, but I suspect their profitability is less excellent! Four of us queued to order our sandwiches that were made exactly to order. At no stage did anyone recommend any extra fillings, a different bread roll, nor did they smile and have a laugh. Sure, they were busy, it was lunch time. At the checkout we were told the price. Then someone remembered maybe we should buy some cold drinks. We hurriedly decided what we wanted with no suggestions from them. As we left I realised they had a large coffee machine but never mentioned the possibility of us having one.

When we’re on the receiving end it’s easy to see the difference between good service versus bad service or excellent service. But when we’re dealing with customers it’s very easy to forget all the basics. Don’t look at it as extracting more money, think of it as helping customers to buy what they might not realise they want. Smile, compliment them, make suggestions of what they might like. Set a goal that every customer walks away smiling. They will come back more often, and not only will they spend more money, more often, but they’ll be happy to do so. And they’ll recommend other customers to you as well.

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By: Rob Pickering

Are You Trustworthy?

Would you choose to work with someone who you don’t trust? Would you buy from someone who you don’t trust? Would you spend more with someone who you trust more? How much do your customers trust you? Trust is one of those concepts that we all have in the back of our mind, but it’s hard to focus on deliberately doing anything about it. We tend to think that either people trust us, or they don’t. It’s not something like profit that we can measure and put in a bank account. Or is it?

Actually there’s a lot you can do to establish and build trust. I break it down into the following: HONESTY x CREDIBILITY x RELIABILITY x LIKEABILITY

If you can demonstrate all of these, you’re a long way toward having a very high level of trust with those around you. To gain new customers, you really need to establish this kind of trust very rapidly - when you meet them or when they look at your website, for example. You could put yourself in the shoes of your prospects or existing customers and score yourself on each of the measures. Try it with different people and see how your scores vary, and see which measures score lowest, then work on improving them. Or have someone else look at your website and score it on these measures. Let me give you a few examples to improve your scores.

HONESTY: Admit you’re not perfect. Mention occasions when you made mistakes. Speak honestly about things that others know to be true.

CREDIBILITY: Provide customer testimonials. Market based on referrals. Talk about past successes. List trade organisations. Gain industry awards.

RELIABILITY: Under-promise and over-deliver. Be specific about times, prices, and expectations. Remind people what you said you would do, and that you did it.

LIKEABILITY: Take an interest in the other person. Smile. Speak well of others. Look for positives and highlight them. Demonstrate belief in others. Be human - show images of customers and your team on your website.

What actually matters is people’s perception of the above, and past history can influence that. Ideally you need to demonstrate all of the above consistently for a number of occasions and with consistency to increase the level of trust.

All of these positive measures can be undermined by one key thing:

SELF INTEREST: If people get the impression that the reason you’re saying something or helping them is all about your own self interest, it completely undermines the trust. If a salesman is only recommending something because they’ll make a better commission, we don’t trust what they say. If a friend recommends something because they’ll get a free gift for introducing you, we lose trust in them. By focusing consistently on establishing Honesty, Credibility, Reliability and Likeability, and ensuring we focus on the others, you will establish and build trust with those around you, and your business - and life - will grow. 

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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


What’s Your Call To Action?

Whatever marketing you’re working on - website, advert, networking - ensure you have a clear call to action. I always advise when creating a marketing communication to consider:

  • What do you want the prospective customer to think?
  • What do you want them to do?

The first part is all about getting your message across in a way that leaves your prospect thinking that they want to buy or at least to know more. But it’s pointless unless you give them the next step, ie your call to action (CTA). It could be very blunt like “Buy Now!” or it could be very passive such as “Read more...”. Think carefully about your choice, it’s critical. 

Generally speaking your CTA should be a directive statement, which basically means you should tell them what to do. Some people don’t like being told what to do, and you’ll put them off if they feel you’re being too pushy. However, most people shy away from looking too pushy and consequently they go too far the other way and become too passive or have no call to action at all.

Take a look at a few websites or pick up the local paper to see what others are doing in their marketing. See what you think they want prospective customers to do? If you can’t see what you’re supposed to do next to buy or to get more information... chances are they would benefit from a clearer call to action.

Now look at your own website or adverts or brochures. Will your prospects see your call to action? Will they take the action you want? In a website a call to action is best enhanced graphically and made into a button that’s a colour and design that stands out and entices the prospect to click. Whereas in an advert or on a brochure the call to action is necessarily a little more complex because the action may be more complex too. Either way, you might want to bridge between getting your message across to the call to action with an enticing statement.

For example, you might say something like “These business owners increased their sales by an average of 300% by using our service. If you’d like to significantly increase your business, find out how by calling 012 345 678 now. The use of exclamation marks or capitalised words can create a sense of importance or urgency, but they can also put people off or make the message seem rather cheap. Consider what fits with your style, but don’t be too passive - people usually need a push! On a website the use of a button to select the next action can make a significant difference to the number of people who click and therefore the number of leads you gain. The colour, shape, size and position of the button can make a huge difference. And a button is almost always more effective than just a text link. The button wording needs to be short and directive, for example:

  • Buy Now
  • Add to Basket
  • Start here
  • Click for more
  • Try free
  • Get Started

Remember that as with everything about your website - it’s not about what you like, it’s about what will appeal and be effective for your prospective customers. If you’re not sure, try one option for a week, then another option for a second week, and compare the number of clicks. Monitor the number of clicks you get at all times and see if there’s a difference between the number of clicks and the number of completed requests you receive. If you have a lot more clicks then you may be making it too hard or putting people off, perhaps presenting them with a form that has too many questions? Make it easy. Make your call to action generate the maximum number of good quality leads by continually testing different approaches and measuring the results. And remember it’s not just about quantity - you need quality to maximise sales and reduce wasted time.

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By: Rob Pickering


Are You Easy To Do Business With?

Have you ever thought about how easy it is to do business with you? Are you driving people to your website, only to drive them away again? Are you sending existing customers to your competitors by annoying them? And would you know if you were? Sometimes I visit a website that leaves me feeling so confused or frustrated that after a while I just click the close button. If you get 100 people interested enough to make contact by viewing your website, phoning, emailing or speaking face to face, how many buy? It’s unlikely to be 100%, but is it even close? Let me give you some examples. 

I recently wanted to book a restaurant for lunch in an hour’s time. I searched for their website and there was no obvious online system to check availability or book online. So I phoned the number and it rang and went to voicemail. I didn’t want to leave a message and stand around waiting, hoping they’d call me back. I left it five minutes and called again, got voicemail again, so hung up and booked at a different restaurant.

I understand that staff at a restaurant will be busy at lunchtime, but there are alternatives. A simple message on the site saying “we have vacancies for lunch today” would have been enough for me to risk going. A twitter message saying “5 tables left for lunch today” gives a clue.

I frequently run events and book conference rooms. One of my favourites recently imposed a rule of a £150 deposit 30 days prior to the event, and a surcharge for any change to the attendee numbers in the final 7 days. I explained this wasn’t convenient, and wasn’t necessary since I’d spent a lot with them over the past two years and always paid fully on-time. They told me it was clearly stated in the terms and conditions. Woah! If you want to annoy customers, just mention terms and conditions!

I turn into an unpleasant customer in a situation like this and said that either they ignore those rules or I simply won’t go there again. It was only when I told a friend about this, who happened to know the venue manager, that we got a phone call saying sorry and those rules won’t apply. Great, I’ll be making lots more bookings throughout the year. Do you have rules that you’re enforcing to drive customers away? I know people sometimes let you down and behave badly, but if you treat every prospect as if they’re a criminal waiting to rip you off... don’t expect to have many repeat customers. Your customers need to feel that you are there for them, not that they are lucky to do business with you and have to fit in with your convenience. Your attitude in person and in writing on all your communications needs to be friendly, welcoming and accommodating. If you need to be firm - about payment terms for example - be firm in a friendly way. The words we use have an effect on people in a subliminal way, beyond any logic.

For example, you could reasonably state “Bookings MUST be confirmed in writing 14 days prior.”. That’s a hassle for the customer and entirely for the supplier’s convenience. And I for one don’t like being told what I MUST do. How about phoning the customer and saying you’d just like to make a final confirmation so that the customer (not you), can be confident of the firm booking. Then send an email or postal confirmation of the conversation and firm booking. If that’s not sufficient, you’re saying you don’t trust the customer.

Most customers will go along with whatever crazy barriers you create, but you’re demonstrating zero trust and in the back of their mind... they know! We do business with people that we know, like and trust. Trust is a two-way concept. Beware when you design your business such that customers won’t like and trust you. This destroys any loyalty that might have existed and if a competitor happens to reach them, they’ll switch in the blink of an eye. When you create a high level of both, not only will they return, they’ll probably recommend you to others.

Action: Write a list of things that might currently reduce the amount that new and existing customers like and trust you and your company. Prioritise and identify ways to reduce these issues. Make another list of strategies you could introduce or do more consistently to increase how much customers like and trust you - so much so that they will want to go and tell everyone how brilliant you are should buy from you. Then introduce one of those ideas each month, and enjoy the results.

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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

Are you a Business owner or just Self-Employed?

Many people who believe they own a business are in reality self-employed. Now, if you’re self-employed by choice it’s fine by me. However, make sure you fully realise the risks and negatives:

  • It’s hard to take holidays and days off
  • Your business has no value - no one will buy your ‘job’
  • You need to make sure you’re fully insured against being too ill to work
  • Be sure you have an exit strategy and strong pension/investments
  • Keep cash in reserve - you need to be able to weather a storm
  • Beware - if you aren’t working, you aren’t getting paid!

If you have all the above covered and choose to stay self-employed that’s great! It’s good to be doing exactly what you want to with a secure future.

But if you’re working alone and don’t have all the above covered, you might want to build a business. Our definition of a Business is a profitable commercial enterprise that can work without you.

If you’ve set up a limited company and call yourself a Business Owner, just consider whether you really own a business or you’re actually self-employed with a business name. The vast majority of ‘businesses’ consist of one person and don’t meet our definition, don’t have all the above points covered, and the owner runs in circles trying to do everything. Many tell me confidently that they don’t ever want employees. The reason they don’t want employees is because either they can’t afford them yet, or they don’t want the responsibility. Isn’t that interesting? If you employed someone and, as a result, the business made less additional profit than was being spent on the employee... it would be a bad choice of employee! Let me be clear - the reason you employ staff is so that the business makes more money.

Say you spend £25,000 per year on a new employee, you’re going to want to see the business generating £50,000 or more additional profit per year as a result. This might seem obvious, but I continually speak to people who haven’t got their head around this and think that an employee is a cost they can’t afford. In terms of employees being an extra responsibility or hassle, I understand, but it’s often a feeling or a fear that comes out of a bad experience or misunderstanding. Someone recently commented “I’m not sure I could generate enough extra business to cover the cost of one employee, let alone a team!”. My question in response was “would they be working for you, or would you be working for them?”. I admit there are plenty of bad employees around who will sit and do nothing unless you’re hassling them. But if that describes someone who works for you - why did you employ them and why do you continue to? Deal with it, you get what you tolerate. When you think of employing someone, consider whether there is potentially enough business out there that your company can gain to more than cover their cost?

Next, consider who’s going to get that extra business. Do you need to prioritise employing a salesperson or marketing person to get more business before or at the same time as an employee that will generate more work or handle more admin? Then, when you’re interviewing and certainly when you recruit someone, make certain that among other goals they know exactly what they need to be generating to keep their job and maybe to achieve a pay rise or promotion. If you have work that isn't yet or never will require a full-time employee, consider the alternatives.

You could employ someone part-time, or you could use a Virtual Assistant (VA). Using a good VA can be an excellent solution because you can contract as little as an hour at a time as needed, and get the specific skills you need at the time. What takes you three hours might take a good VA only an hour, so the saving potential is excellent. The necessary skills to manage employees are relatively easily learnt - there are hundreds or probably thousands of books on the subject and endless training courses. But first you need to start with a clear understanding and belief that you employ people to generate more profit for the company and that you don’t do the work for them. If someone has to work late... it’s the staff. If someone needs to get more money in to pay the bills... the staff need to do it. Your job is to set the direction, employ the team, make sure they know what they have to achieve, then make sure they’re constantly motivated and achieving the goals.  

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By: Rob Pickering

Develop Sales Skills to Increase Profit

Hands up everyone who’s involved in selling? Yes, it’s that old trick question. You and every person in a business are involved in selling. Anyone who isn’t clear about their role in selling is possibly sabotaging sales! Think about when you deal with someone in an organisation. When you visit an office and speak to the receptionist, a poor attitude will make you less likely to do business. A good attitude and an awareness of what they can do to make you WANT to do business makes a difference.

A delivery driver with a bad customer attitude is creating a risk that the client will go elsewhere. Conversely a delivery driver that’s aware of his sales role will look for opportunities and report back to their organisation when they see one. I could continue with every role in a business. Everyone can help generate sales and retain customers longer - or they can do the opposite. Everyone is in a sales role whether they realise it or not. So I have three questions for you to ask yourself:

  1. Are you sure that everyone in your team is aware of their sales role, knows what to do, and is doing it?
  2. When was the last time you sent all of your staff on a sales training workshop, or got someone in to train them, or even bought them a book and suggested they read it?
  3. When was the last time you recognised a non-sales person (a role without “sales” in the job title) for their contribution to your sales?

A good response at this point is “Great ideas, I’ll get right on to it. What do you recommend we do?”. The responses I usually get fall into the categories of Blame, Excuses and Denial, including:

  • “Sales training is too expensive!” - Hold on... the point of sales training is so that staff are trained and will generate a higher level of sales. If your staff were trained, how much extra do you think you could gain over the course of 12 months? Is that greater than the cost of the training? If it is... the sales training is better than free! If you’re unsure - ask a sales trainer to give a guarantee!
  • “My staff don’t like selling” - I find it worrying when people don’t like selling, because this means your own staff don’t believe that people should buy your products or services! They don’t think they’re worth the money! If they honestly believe that a customer would be better off having your product or service than the amount of money it costs - they’d be eager to sell. Guess what? They need some sales training.
  • “They don’t have time to be selling” - then create time, even if that means recruiting more staff. Anyone that has or could have contact with customers is a valuable selling resource that you need to maximise. Often they don’t have to spend a lot of extra time, just do things in the appropriate way.
  • “There’s no point, they wouldn’t bother” - You’re right. Leave it to your competitors who will know how to motivate their staff.

Don’t forget the sales team Far too many organisations employ sales people and assume that they’ll automatically get better and do their jobs to the maximum by simply doing it every day. Last week I was told “John’s my best salesman, he’s got 12 years’ experience”. I asked whether that was 12 useful years of experience, or simply one day’s experience repeated 2880 times over 12 years? The point is, without time to reflect and learn a repeated experience does not necessarily lead to better performance. On the contrary, it often leads to sloppiness, boredom and poor results. Even high-performing sales people need motivation and training. Investing in sales training is one of the best returns on investment available. How much will you invest in sales training this year?    

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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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What’s Your Personal Best?

A great way to drive ever better performance is to know and monitor your personal best performance as one or more measures. For example you might focus on a number of sales in a month, a number of calls in a day, the number of products manufactured, number of orders shipped, and so on. 

When we focus on something that we want to improve, and measure it, then monitor it regularly, we can improve it. Break it down into the steps that create the achievement and look at what you can do to make small improvements here and there. I remember that years ago in a start-up software company I not only did programming, I packed boxes too! If I had a stack of boxes to pack I would naturally start to time how long it took to make and pack each one and try to make each one more quickly than the previous one. I’d get into production line ways of thinking - what order did I need the components laid out in, which way round did each need to be placed... anything to shave a second here and there. In sales I would be testing and measuring - what were the words I could say to get through to the person I needed to speak to? What was the best way to describe what I was offering to get the best conversion rate in the shortest time? How many calls... and how many successful calls... could I make per hour?

So if you look at your own performance in business, what measure would represent your most important personal best performance? If you find you think of one and shy away from it because it feels too difficult - that’s probably the one to choose!

Create a measure so that you can express your Personal Best (PB) as a number, or two or three numbers if that’s what it takes. Write that number large and put it on the wall in front of you, or on a sticky note on the corner of your screen, or wherever else you’re going to see it frequently. Underneath it put a target of what you want to achieve as your new PB, and a deadline such as by the end of the day, week or month. Many people need someone to hold them accountable. We find it too easy to set goals and then sweep them under the carpet when we don’t feel like working on them. In which case a coach would help - that’s one reason why athletes and successful business leaders work with a coach, to keep them focused on the goals they’ve chosen. Your coach could be a business partner, friend or partner. Tell them your PB, your goal, and your own deadline. If they say anything along the lines of “no way you’ll do that!” go find yourself a new coach, you need someone who tells you that you can do it and will be supportive. Someone to ask difficult questions and push you into action when you don’t feel like it and to cheer from the sidelines when you do.

If you have a team of people working for you, get them focusing on their PBs. Make it all about their personal achievement, not about doing it for you. Allow them to pick a PB that interests and inspires them. Now imagine how much better the whole company results will be when everyone is beating their own personal best performance.

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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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Use Sales Scripts

If I say “Sales script” it probably creates a negative emotion for most people. That’s because most of us have experienced a really poor cold-caller following a script to the letter and not listening to our responses: Caller: “Good morning, how are you today?” Customer: “Terrible, my dog died” Caller: “Excellent! Now the reason I’m calling today is....” Set aside any sales script related negativity, because you wouldn’t read from a script and use it badly - would you! However, scripts are vital to maximise sales and achieve consistency. 

Imagine you have three sales people selling exactly the same product to a list of prospects. One of them continually achieves twice the level of sales that the other two do, but why? It’s easy to say “he’s a better salesperson” and you’d probably be right. But it would be foolish to simply accept that, rather than examining the detailed reasons. If you were able to get the other two sales people doing exactly what the best one does... the total results would be significantly better! Are you doing that? Sit and watch the best salesperson. How do they initiate the greeting? What words do they use, what’s their attitude, what process are they naturally following? For starters they’re probably speaking confidently, enthusiastically, smiling, and being friendly. They’re probably asking questions and listening to the answers rather than just talking. How do they get the prospect interested, how do they judge the speed of progress, and importantly - they probably ask for the order. How do they end the call and what do they organise as the next step if the prospect was interested?

These are just examples of what to look at - sales calls are actually very complex processes that “good” sales people do naturally or learn to do naturally. And I’d argue that anyone can learn to do it, if they want to and have the opportunity. Set about observing your sales people - or yourself if it’s just you. Write a bullet point list of all the key steps you follow within a sales call. Especially list the key questions that you’d want to be asked on a call. When completed, consider this your sales script.

Each of your salespeople should be trained on this until they’re able to do it to an agreed standard. It’s no use just telling them or giving them a copy, they need practice to convert the knowledge into skill. In reality you’ll probably find that you need to create a number of different scripts for use in different circumstances. The steps and the questions are likely to be different between calling with a special offer to sell versus a regular account management relationship call, so use an appropriate script. When you introduce a new member of staff into your sales team, these scripts will form a significant part of the training process. Not only will you be able to get a new starter trained faster, they’ll also be more effective and more consistent with the existing team. But allow some scope for each person to modify what they say so that it sounds natural for them. Are you using sales scripts in your sales team?

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Create A Sales Process

Businesses of all sizes need to create a sales process. This should be a written series of numbered steps covering initially sales leads all the way through to an eventual sale. The majority of businesses I meet have operated for years with no documented process. Predictably the results are varied and it’s hard to know what is working and what isn’t. It’s also difficult to train new staff because there’s no process to train them on. 

Use the following as a guide, but add or remove steps as appropriate for your business. I find that once someone sees an example, they can soon create a version for themselves.

Step 1: Greeting: Use a consistent greeting, eg when answering the phone say “Good morning XYZ Electronics, John speaking, how may I help you?”. Have versions for calling out, visiting clients, using at a trade show, etc. Consistently do it the best way.

Step 2: Permission: It’s rude to suddenly start asking questions, and your prospect will react poorly if you do. So ask permission first, eg “Would it be OK if I ask you a few questions so that I can better serve your need?”.

Step 3: Understand the prospect’s need: What would be your initial three questions to ask every prospect to pre-qualify that they might want your product or service? Then what are the follow-up questions? Enter these directly on your database system or have pre-printed sheets for recording leads.

Step 4: What’s your solution?: Now that you know enough about the customer’s need, you can start talking about the appropriate product or service that you have to offer, referring back to how it meets their needs.

Step 5: Agreement: Check that the prospect agrees that you’ve understood their needs, and that your solution sounds relevant. If you determine the person has no immediate need for your product or service, determine if they EVER might, and if so, ask if you can add them to your newsletter mailing list and note a follow-up date, even if it’s a year or more ahead!

Step 6: Arrange a meeting: If your product is low-cost and simple you might be able to close a sale on an initial call. But in many cases all you’ve done so far is to identify a qualified prospect. We’ll assume it’s a larger sale and you want a meeting. Suggest dates and agree the time and place.

Step 7: Send Confirmation pack: You might use email or post, but send your prospect a confirmation of the time and place agreed for the meeting. What else could you send them to enhance the chances that they will eventually buy? If you don’t have anything to send, create something.

Step 8: Confirm Receipt: Allow appropriate time then call to check they’ve received your confirmation pack and they’re ready for the planned meeting. Show enthusiasm for the forthcoming meeting!

Step 9: Prepare: It’s surprising that people invest a lot of valuable time and money visiting a prospect without actually preparing. What information might you need, what documents, eg a contract to sign.

Step 10: Meet and sell: Once at the meeting, check where they stand. If they’re about ready to buy, do only what’s necessary! But otherwise go back over determining their needs, offering your solutions, and checking agreement, before closing the sale. And obviously I can’t cover the necessary skills here to achieve that! When you implement a sales process in your business you will increase your sales success rate and decrease the time it takes from interest to sale. Train existing staff to follow the process, and use it as part of the induction process for new staff. And if you have no staff at all... do still create and use a sales process. There’s much more to say about all the sales process steps that will increase your sales. Go ahead and ask any questions you have. Or book a meeting with me to review your process - send me an email

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