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Sales Prospecting

How to Recognise Which Customers Are Bad for Business

How to avoid the effects of a bad customer.

Joe Worth

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Q: How can I identify the customers I should shed- the ones who suck up my time and energy in exchange for meagre returns?

A: Most business owners know in their guts that a good chunk of customers are not profitable. But in a universe in which it’s drummed into us that the customer is always right, it amounts to heresy to admit that a customer may, in fact, be wrong and should go.

It’s difficult to send any potential revenue packing, but culling the client list is worth it – it frees up resources to take better care of your best customers.

The Pareto principle, more commonly known as “the 80-20 rule,” can be applied to customer profitability. In short, it means that 20 percent of your customers likely provide 80 percent of your profits. Inversely, it says that 20 percent of your customers may be sucking up an astounding 80 percent of your direct customer costs.

The problem is that many small-business owners don’t have the tools they need to determine if one unprofitable client is worth nurturing for a big payday down the road, or if they should say, “Sorry, I can no longer work with you,” and move on. That’s why I’m here to help.

Analyse Profit By Customer

Profit equals revenue minus costs. Simple, right? To analyse customer profitability, we must assign revenue and costs to each customer. For those of you with thousands of customers, you’ll want to put them into groups.

For example, a restaurant could divvy up its patrons among the breakfast, lunch and dinner crowds; a building-supply house could group retail and wholesale customers separately.

Revenue is usually pretty easy to pull, since accounting systems can match each sale or invoice to a specific customer. Costs, however, are trickier to determine. Without burying you in the arcane world of cost accounting, I’ll lay out a simple yet effective approach.

Assign the costs of goods sold plus the direct costs of acquiring (marketing), serving (your staff’s time) and retaining (follow-up) customers to an individual or customer group.

Keep in mind that for this exercise, overhead costs are not assigned to customers. But even without including overhead, you’ll have enough information to make good decisions.

The actual number-crunching is, unfortunately, not trivial. You may need the help of an experienced analyst, controller or CFO to do the work or to set up and train your staff to periodically run the numbers themselves.

I often find that a company’s chart of accounts needs to be tweaked to get costs into the right “buckets” to make the profit analysis correct and straightforward.

The Numbers Game

With a revenue-cost number attached to each customer, you can easily identify those who are ruinously unprofitable. And now you have a choice: You can work to make them profitable- i.e., raise their prices or cut the costs associated with serving them – or get rid of them.

On the flip side, you’ve also identified customers that make up the majority of your profits. Don’t just use that information to send them a nice thank-you note; consider exactly what it is that makes them profitable.

Can you turn other customers into better ones? How can you find new customers like the most profitable ones you already have? And what do you need to do to keep them?

After running through this exercise the first time, make it a regular task (quarterly is a good frequency to shoot for). This way you can catch problems before they seriously affect your business; for example, a longtime great customer who suddenly turns into an unprofitable one. That’s one client you want to nurture, not cut.

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Joe Worth, Vice president of operations and partner at B2B CFO, has been a CFO for several public and privately held companies.

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Sales Prospecting

Ditch The Sales Script And Do This Instead

Sales frameworks are a key stepping stone to building better relationships with customers.

Stephen M. Lowisz

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We’ve all been there: Your phone rings. You pick it up. Before you even utter “Hello?” you’re bombarded with a pitch. “It’s your lucky day, because … ” You’re hearing about a special discount. The person on the other end is talking fast and with confidence, but you can tell he has no interest whatsoever in what you actually need.

Perhaps you ask a question. Suddenly the call feels even more stilted, because the answer you’re given has nothing to do with what you actually asked. Maybe this person does have something of value to bring to your business. But, it’s painfully clear that you were just the next faceless name on a list of a thousand names. A drop in a bucket. You hang up the phone. Maybe the next person that calls is actually interested in what you need.

Using a sales script is a conventional way for a business to scale a branded sales approach. It may allow a business to execute a sale with those who don’t notice or don’t care that it’s using a script. Ultimately, however, sales scripts will time and time again fall short of creating a personal and emotional connection.

The value lost in doing so cannot be understated. A study by the Harvard Business Review found that emotionally connected customers are more than twice as valuable as highly satisfied ones. They buy more products and services, exhibit less price sensitivity and are more likely to recommend a business to others.

In other words, creating an emotional connection is the secret formula to not only making the initial sale, but also beginning a lasting relationship with a customer that will yield unexpected dividends. And there’s no better way to establish an emotional connection than by implementing a sales framework to close deals.

Related: Sales Strategy Example

Frameworks: The science which enables the art

Frameworks have long been used in other facets of business to great effect. They’re commonly used by developers when building new programs or applications. They provide guidance while still enabling a level of creative freedom, often resulting in efficiently built and intuitively run digital platforms.

In the context of sales, frameworks are step-by-step guidelines for sales reps on how to structure a pitch. They are the scientific building blocks which give sales reps the freedom to leverage their strongest personal traits, build genuine relationships and master the art of closing deals. They allow sales reps to be authentic and build up a rapport with a prospect during the conversation, which is crucial.

In turn, organisations can overcome some of the major issues facing their sales teams today. Consider, for example, that in a survey of 1,289 salespeople by The Miller Heiman Group and CSO Insights only 53 percent of respondents made their quotas in 2017. Not to mention the challenge it is to hire quality salespeople in the first place: Salespeople remain one of the top three most difficult jobs to fill.

The numbers show that building and maintaining a successful sales team can be difficult. Nevertheless, a quality framework – based on authenticity – that steers salespeople through conversations without imposing a uniform approach is the first step to growing a company’s bottom line.

Closing deals with the art of authenticity

To close deals and build an emotional connection, sales reps have to come across as genuine. It’s all too easy for a prospect to decline a sale or simply hang up if they feel that the person speaking to them isn’t taking their needs into account. Scripts fail every time at personalising a pitch to suit those needs.

This is something that renowned sales advisor and bestselling author Ian Altman also hints at, writing, “The major mistake [that kills sales scripts] is that the salesperson is reading the script, but not paying attention to the answers.”

Frameworks are effective because the relationships they foster are built on genuine, naturally developed trust. According to a new survey from HubSpot Research, just 3 percent of respondents consider salespeople trustworthy. The lack of trust is often due to a lack of authenticity on the part of the salesperson, and that often appears to be the case when they are reading from a script.

A rep can spend 30 minutes detailing the benefits of a product, but if the prospect isn’t made to feel like her specific problems can be solved by using that product, the sale has no chance of happening. Word-for-word scripts don’t leave any room for personalising a solution to solve a prospect’s problems. They stand in the way of a genuine emotional connection.

Simple frameworks fare so much better than detailed scripts because they create an environment where both the salesperson and the prospect are comfortable. It empowers the sales rep to have a normal, natural conversation. They can pick up on character traits, adapt their pitch to meet the prospect’s specific needs, and provide credible answers on how the company can help solve their problems.

Not unlike the way they’re used in the world of coding and developing, frameworks allow sales reps get creative, try out different approaches, and hone their sales technique. As a result, they provide the playing field for sales reps to learn, practice, and ultimately excel at the art of closing a deal.

Related: 4 Tools For Perfecting Your B2B Sales Funnel

A practical framework for businesses

So, what would a sales framework look like in practice? Here’s an example of a framework a company could use to provide standardised, guided steps for pitching a prospect on a first call:

Step 1: The problem (80 percent of first call)

  1. Identify the prospect’s problem.
  2. Expose the pain associated with this problem.
  3. Expound on the monetary, physical, mental and emotional ripple effect of not fixing the problem.

Step 2: Envisioning two realities (15 percent of first call)

  1. Envision a reality without this problem.
  2. Expose the pleasure that can be associated if a solution is provided (a solution; not your solution).
  3. Expound on the monetary, physical, mental and emotional ripple effect of fixing the problem.

Step 3: The Solution (5 percent of first call)

  1. Pitch the next step in solving the solution (i.e. the next, more in-depth call)

As this example shows, a framework requires a sales rep to have a strong, working knowledge of the company’s core principles, vision, products and team mentality, which are communicated to the prospect during the pitch. Frameworks illustrate a clear process, but unlike spelled-out scripts, sales reps are free to tackle each step however they see fit. Improvisation is not only allowed, it’s encouraged. Sales reps need to improvise, be creative and figure out exactly what resonates with the individual human being on the other end of the line.

At the same time, sales reps need to operate in line with a company’s principles, know what they are selling inside-and-out, and be able to explain exactly how that product can solve a prospect’s problems in a way that communicates clearly. Sales frameworks do just that, while enabling salespeople to facilitate personal connection in a way that best fits with their personality. In short, it can accelerate a team’s ability to master the fine art and science of closing deals.

The end result? Far more than just a dramatic increase in conversions and ROI. Sales frameworks are a key stepping stone to creating a more effective team that runs on integrity and, most importantly, customer relationships that are fostered with trust and built for the long haul.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Sales Prospecting

Want Higher Response Rates? Start Treating Your Sales Prospects Like People

You can’t expect to sell anything if your prospects don’t trust you.

Sujan Patel

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Sales isn’t an easy job. It takes the right personality and a certain set of skills to be successful. That’s why whenever I’ve hired for a sales position, I’ve found that it’s very hard to find that right person.

That’s because so many salespeople have the wrong attitude when it comes to communicating with their prospects. They’re so focused on the numbers game – from pricing to commissions to quotas – that they forget that they’re talking to real people.

I can’t tell you how many times a sales rep has come to me complaining about how a prospect has ghosted him (or her), and wondering what he did wrong.

But the truth was, he was the problem. You can’t come charging out of the gate, pushing the sale and expect the prospect to fall in line. Sales is about communication, about nurturing that relationship and building trust. And you can’t expect to sell anything if your prospects don’t trust you.

Why your prospects don’t trust you

Sales reps already have a reputation for being shady. In fact, according to research from HubSpot, only 3 percent of buyers trust sales reps. And for good reason! After all, sales reps are doing so many things wrong:

  • Talking too much and not letting the prospect share his or her needs
  • Grilling the prospect with too many questions
  • Being overeager when it comes to making the sale
  • Going into a conversation with a prospect unprepared
  • Not taking the time to understand the prospect.

Related: Sales Strategy Example

The point is, it’s through trust that you find success. Prospects know when they’re being treated like dollar signs, when you’re talking through a script and focused only on the transaction. And the minute they feel mistreated, they’ll walk away. Believe me.

That’s why when talking to the prospect, you have to forget about the sale. I know that sounds like the exact opposite of what you should do, but hear me out. If you’re too focused on the sale, your prospects won’t trust you. They won’t open up and share their needs, and they won’t believe in the value of your products or services. So, you have to forget about the sale – at least temporarily.

What do you focus on instead? Building that trust. And the best way to build trust is through open and honest communication.

How you can improve your communication with prospects

In any relationship, communication is key, and sales are no different. How you communicate will dictate how your prospect responds to you and whether or not he or she will ultimately buy from you. That’s why having strong communication skills is essential.

Here are the three things you need to do to communicate effectively with your prospects:

1. Connect

The first thing you need to do is slow down. Don’t be in such a rush to talk about your products. You need to nurture the prospect and ease him or her into the idea.

Start by getting to know this person. Ask questions, and let the prospect do the talking. Better yet, research your prospect ahead of time to find some common ground. Maybe you both like the same sports team, or maybe the prospect wrote a really interesting article recently. Whatever it is, lead with that commonality to start building a rapport.

The goal is to get the prospect to feel comfortable around you and then open up more and share his or her needs.

Related: 5 Tips To Generate Sales Leads Through Social Media

2. Listen

Remember how I said you should let the prospect do the talking? According to HubSpot, 69 percent of buyers surveyed said that the number one way to create a positive sales experience with them was to listen to their needs. You need to truly hone in on what your prospect is saying. Then you can identify where you can help.

Sometimes, that may mean you discover that your product isn’t actually right for that prospect. Rather than trying to push the product further, you can part ways gracefully. Don’t look at this scenario as a bad thing; it will free you up to focus on other prospects who are a right fit for your product.

3. Solve

In truth, sales reps are more like consultants – or at least that’s how they should behave. As you’re listening to your prospect’s needs and pain points, focus on what the right solution for those pain points is. Once this person has explained his or her situation, show how your product would be of value to that situation specifically.

The key is to see things from the prospect’s perspective. Put yourself in his or her shoes. You’ll find that your prospects are people just like you, and they want to be treated with respect. They don’t want to be “sold” to; they want to solve their problems. And if you can provide that solution, they will likely trust you.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Sales Prospecting

3 Steps To Healthier Client Relationships

Do you have clients that constantly push the boundaries, who have unrealistic expectations and inconsistent feedback? What if you could have a client base of only people who value your work? Firing the wrong clients can help you get there.

Dominique Sandwith

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It’s not easy to admit that a client is actually doing your business more harm than good. When it gets to the point that you are spending all of your time and energy trying to please one client, then it’s time to look at what they are contributing to your success.

In the early days of your business, it’s understandable to hold on to difficult clients as every penny counts. However, as time goes on, firing a disproportionately time-consuming and challenging client could free you up to go looking for new and better business.

Here are three steps to take to healthier client relationships:

1. Get perspective

Step back from everyday tasks to make some notes about the client relationship in question. Ask yourself what you value in your client versus what drains your energy and puts you in a bad mood.

Understand what the deal-breakers are and whether the client in question has crossed the line. It’s possible that you just need to have a frank conversation with the client, but often these kinds of client relationships are too far gone.

Related: 1 Simple Rule To Avoid Bad Client Relationships

2. Fire the wrong client

There’s no one-size-fits-all for this process – you have to do this in your own way, but be clear on the reasons. If the client has been as unhappy as you are, they will most likely understand that this relationship is not a good fit.

However, there are times when a client has no idea that they are being unreasonable or thinks that this relationship is productive. That’s when it’s difficult to explain why you are deciding not to take their money.

Make it factual and don’t bring in your feelings. If you have examples of situations or email threads as proof show them that this is not how you believe a successful relationship should be. Be clear on your values and what you envision for your business.

Be polite and professional throughout the conversation and focus on the relationship fit, rather than pointing out their personal flaws. Explain the next steps and how the handover process will take place. You want to make sure that the end of the relationship is as amicable as possible.

3. Find the right clients

Firing a difficult client is likely to affect your bottom line in the short term but it will give you the motivation, and headspace, to go looking for the right clients.

Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Make sure you know what you want in a client – make a list of things you won’t stand for again with future clients, and one that describes your dream client.
  • Use your time and resources wisely, and aim high to secure clients that will be worth your while.
  • Identify potential clients and projects that are profitable, that will inspire you and that you enjoy working with.

Tip: make sure the Terms and Conditions on your website, and in your quotes, are well-defined. State your prices clearly, don’t leave room for interpretation. Don’t back down if a new client quibbles over a cost estimate. Take complaints of this nature as a warning sign and walk away.

Related: How Well Do You Really Know Your Customers?

Don’t ever think that you’ve wasted your time with the wrong client. Each client you work with helps you to refine your offering and progressively understand what you’re good at. Firing a client is never easy, but sometimes it’s a necessity for the successful and sustainable future of your business (and your sanity).

When you fire the wrong client, you can streamline your business to play to these strengths, and ensure you offer a world-class service or product.

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