Thursday, April 2, 2015

Small business and how to boost your sales success

small business sales
Making a sale begins with finding a prospective customer
Attracting a customer and making a sale goes to the heart of any business. It’s sales that pumps money into your business. But this can’t mean sales at any price! It’s got to be a profitable sale and a win-win for both parties - particularly if we’re talking about you as an entrepreneur building a sustainable small business that is viable for the long term.

Quite often the entrepreneur is a brilliant technician. Maybe you’re like the bulk of small businesses in Australia - people who started out as “self-employed”. That is for example a mechanic, or plumber, or consultant, or hairdresser, or electrician, or musician, or artist, or accountant, or lawyer, or landscape gardener, or ……
Sales require strategy + process + selling skills
Sales and selling is often something that isn't particularly easy for many people in business – certainly this was the case for me when I began my consulting business over 25 years ago!  Perhaps this could be because many of us retain a distasteful stereotype of the old-school “pushy” car salesman seeking to manipulate us with tactics. None of us want to be seen like that …… And selling can become even more uncomfortable if you’re not naturally a so-called extroverted personality!

But in business – sales is as much about having efficient customer-friendly processes and procedures in place as it is about having selling skills. There's not much point to gaining an order for your product or service, if it's not delivered in good quality and on time as promised.
But let's return to the people side of the equation ..... I am convinced that anyone can improve their selling skills ….. It is about a combination of gaining techniques to help you listen better, to help you understand what your customer is wanting to achieve, and to help you present your solution in a clear and enticing way.

Effective sales comprise identifying opportunities and potential customers, generating leads from these opportunities and converting these leads and enquiries into sales at a profitable margin.  Sales is about attracting new customers to your business – just be careful it’s not at the expense of retaining existing customers …. And sales is about being alert for up-selling and cross-selling opportunities that genuinely benefit the customer.

I had a fascinating conversation recently with Ingrid Maynard, the founder of Melbourne, Australia based business The Sales Dr, who has more than 20 years’ experience working and consulting in the field of sales. She conducts master-classes in Selling Skills and advises business owners around Australia, Asia, the U.S and the U.K on how to leverage both their people and their technology to increase sales

1.     What was your early motivation in starting up your own business and what do you find most fulfilling about running your business now ?
I’ve always known that I wanted to create a business doing something that I loved.  It became a must for me even when I was working with The Body Shop….I just didn’t know what it would be!  What I discovered was that a business finds you, and that’s what happened to me. 

I won’t go into the whole story, but an opportunity I had grew and grew and grew to the point where I knew I had a business on my hands and could use a little help!  When I started Harvest (my first business), I wanted to bring some of the values I’d lived from The Body Shop into my own business.  So part of that was employing mums returning to the workplace and providing them with free childcare.  This meant that I was able to attract and retain loyal employees: Two of them stayed with me for 6 and 7 years respectively.

I love the creativity of having my own business, knowing that I can express what I love in a way that brings value for others.  I also love that my business will only grow to the extent that I grow, and to me, having a business is the best personal development tool in the world.

2.     You talk about the sales machine of a business comprising three core inter-dependent elements – prospecting, conversion and retention. .... In larger organisations these may be quite separate functions, with different staff specialising in each different part of the sales process  However as you know, the small business entrepreneur starting out will typically attempt to wear many different hats themselves. When should they look at outsourcing prospecting – which can be most time consuming - and what advice would you offer with this?

When I talk about creating a sales machine, what I mean is creating a sales system that works for your business.  Like any machine, it works for you not the other way around.  You program it, you monitor it, maintain/service it and make any adjustments or improvements as required.

The machine needs to have 3 key elements:

       i.         Attract new customers
     ii.          Convert contacts to sales
    iii.          Delight customers so they become part of your sales team
When it comes to small business, these functions don’t necessarily need to be people like they would be in a larger organization so leveraging technology, processes and content, with software such as InfusionSoft, sales machines are more readily available to everyone.

As the business owner, know which element of this process is your greatest strength and ensure you own it.  With the elements that you’re not as strong, get support.

Prospecting is something most people avoid, so if you know you’ll get more leverage meeting more of the right sales opportunities to convert than spending time on the phone, then it makes sense to outsource this element. 

When selecting the right provider, you’ll need to consider:

·         Investment vs return: don’t just choose the least expensive option.  Remember that for many of your prospects, this call will be their first impression of your company, and you can’t afford to get it wrong.  And you’ll also need to determine your budget or cost of acquisition.  It shouldn’t cost you more to acquire a new client than you’ll generate in revenue.
·         Training: how do they recruit and develop their callers?  How confident are you that you’ll be represented in the best possible way?
·         Reports: how transparent are they with their activity and what is their expected rate of conversion from hours to meetings
·         Be realistic: remember it’s an opportunity to meet with more of the right prospects so be clear about what is important for the callers to identify, and focus more on relationship and first impressions than on “selling” your service at this very early stag

3.     Let’s take a look at converting leads and enquiries to sales ...... Why do some businesses fail to effectively convert –  have you found that the fault tends to lie more commonly with the poor quality of  leads generated or is it with deficiencies in the personal selling skills of sales people?

Failure to convert leads and enquiries is usually a combination of both poor quality leads and deficiencies in the personal selling skills of sales people.  

Start by having absolute clarity as to your company’s why.  Once you know this, you can determine who to target and how to target them.

Without wanting to sound clich├ęd, take time to understand the pains and pleasures of your prospective clients and develop a question deck to use in a face to face meeting with prospects that will help you both identify their pain fast, and identify what they want to achieve and why in order for you to establish the best way for you to create value for them.

Train your team to enable them to confidently understand how to skillfully navigate these questions to qualify prospects and enquiries.

In addition, even if someone has made an enquiry, they may still have fears about working with a service like yours and it’s your job to bring any objections or commonly asked questions out on the table first.

And your process needs to reel them in gradually so that at every opportunity you’re building a sense of what it will be like to work with you, and get them keener and keener as you go.

Ask your team to individually write down your sales process.  If you have more than one version, it’s a sign that you need to regroup, and ensure everyone is on the same page for maximum momentum.

So essentially, it comes down to:

       i. Knowing why prospects have come to you  
     ii.  Possessing a comprehensive sales toolkit
    iii.  Training your staff, so that everyone is singing from the same songbook
    iv.  Efficient processes to ensure your customer receives what was promised

4.     Through your sales coaching work, you’ve observed hundreds of sales people – what are some of the most common mistakes that you see them making? ..... Do you still see sales-people out there, attempting to too quickly “sell a product” rather than find the right “solution”?
All the time!  And it’s an easy trap to fall into. ….. I’ve found the most common mistake is when we get into a scarcity mentality: “I’ve got to make my target!” and then desperation in achieving a sale at any price will flavour any conversations with prospects.  Prospects will sense this and will rarely be attracted or engaged.  Because the conversation or meeting is all about what the salesperson wants/needs and ceases to be about the prospect. 

This is where salespeople get locked into a narrow “convince and persuade mode”, where prices/margins are squeezed needlessly, where a transaction instead of a long play approach is taken and when a salesperson won’t say no, even when they know the outcome won’t be good for one or both parties.

improving sales in small businessComing from a mind-set of abundance means you can be totally present with a client or prospective client.  The conversation becomes about solving your client’s underlying pain and creating value.  Even if that might mean not taking them on as a client. 

When you are a business owner who is also a sales person, your job is to find prospective Raving Fans, so you’re qualifying prospects “out” as much as you’re qualifying prospects “in”.  If you’re not a good fit for one another, it will be better for both parties that you recognise when to walk away and refer them to someone else.

5.     What are the differences and similarities with B2B sales compared to B2C selling?
To me, sales is about building relationships and making connection and treating every person as a client (knowing they’ll either buy today, in the future or refer someone to you or all 3!)

Every customer should have an exceptional experience as they have their pain points addressed and their desires fulfilled. 

The temptation with B2C sales is to treat customers as transactions as the sales cycle is shorter than it is with B2B clients.  While that’s true, having a” long play” mentality will create a tribe of Raving Fans who are so connected to you, to your brand and organization that they drive others to your business as well as choosing you over anyone else in your space.

With B2B, you’re able to be more selective with the prospective clients you want to target and proactively approach them as well as using other marketing strategies to generate inbound enquiries.  With B2C it’s more typical to use attraction strategies such as advertising, brand and marketing to drive business to you, in order to then capture them.

6.     I know that you’re passionate about the need for small business owners to have the right mind-set..... Can you share some thoughts on this theme?
Absolutely!  “State” or mind-set is key to achieving anything. 

It’s difficult to be resourceful when you’re fearful or in a scarcity mindset because your brain literally shuts down.  So you need to have practical ways of changing your state of mind to be as useful to you as possible in order to achieve what you need to!

Regardless of whether my clients are part of a sales team, are sales leaders or business owners, I teach them why the following mindsets are crucial to their success, and how to build rituals around creating and maintaining them:

Abundance: creating a sales and business philosophy that recognizes that there is more than enough for everyone, and where I create the most value is where I’ll be the most successful

Accountability: recognizing that there is always part of an outcome that has been the direct or indirect responsibility of you as an individual.  Owning your part in it, learning from it and then moving forward

Commitment to ongoing growth and improvement: when we enter into any situation with an open mind and a sense of curiosity, we are open to learning something new.  As soon as we think we already know, we close ourselves off to possibility and new information.  It’s never ending, and as such, is exciting.

Having a clear why: when you have clarity around your purpose as a business owner, it crystallises what you need to do, how you need to do it and creates a stronger sustained desire for taking action.  Clarity of purpose enables you to eliminate activities that are not core and aligned to your purpose.

Part of my role as a sales coach is to help business owners develop rituals and routines that will empower them and anchor them in positive mindsets.  These are as individual as the person themselves, so I work to explore what works for each client, and help them to ritualize them so they can go into that state whenever they need to.

 7.     Any final tips?
Keep on learning and growing.  As a business owner you’re always selling:  whether it’s an idea to your team, selling your value to customers, getting a bank loan or marketing to your database.  Because selling well is both a science and an art, there is always more to learn about yourself so you can build on your strengths to let the world know about you and support yourself in the areas where you need help. Whether you do this formally through training, coaching or study - or informally through podcasts, books or networking, make it a regular habit. Investing in your own growth will invariably grow your business.
Thank you to Ingrid, for some great tips on both sales strategy, process and selling skills
About the interviewer
Brian Carroll is the founder of Performance Development, a training business in Melbourne, Australia.  He is an experienced management coach with a passion for helping people achieve their goals in life and business. You can find out more about Brian at his Google + profile