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Sales Strategy & Management

Expert Advice on How to Get Repeat Business

Top 10 tips to ensure your business venture will have the repeat customers it needs to survive.

Brad Sugars

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Every time you turn around these days, a business hands you a loyalty card. From the paper stamp card for your local coffee store to plastic bookstore rewards cards and frequent flyer memberships, your wallet is undoubtedly stuffed with bait that companies use to lure you back time after time. After all, it’s easier and more profitable to generate business from repeat customers than to troll for new ones.

For that reason, new ventures must develop strategies for generating repeat business even before they hang out their shingle. The process begins with the business concept itself and continues with everything from how you answer the phone to how you keep your name in front of your customers.

The mission is to cultivate loyal customers who not only keep coming back themselves, but who also spread the word to friends and family.

Developing this kind of solid customer base requires a mix of art and science. Creating memorable branding, for instance, is easier said than done. But there are some standard rules and tools you can use to help.

1. Build your business plan around a product or service that has a repeat buy.

Razor manufacturers have razor blades; iPod has iTunes; nail salons, landscapers, accountants and window washers have services that people need again and again. It’s critical to either go into a business that has inherent repeat sales opportunities, or create a business model that’ll bring customers back on a recurring basis.

2. Never compete on price alone.

If you do, there’ll be no reason for customers to return if a competitor has a better deal. You need to offer added value, whether it’s a strong guarantee or better call handling, to draw customers permanently into the fold.

3. Capture customer information.

If you don’t know who your customers are, you can’t stay in touch with them. Gather names and contact information any way you can. If you’re an online business, you can offer opt-in registration for email communications. If you’re a brick-and-mortar establishment, you can offer a gift certificate for filling out a contact card, collect business cards in a fishbowl for a drawing and request information on feedback forms. Be creative.

4. Send handwritten thank-you notes.

It’s old-fashioned, but it’s still a good way to show customers that you want their business. Even US retail giant Nordstrom’s salespeople send an occasional note. Just be sure it’s personalised. “Dear Valued Customer” will defeat the purpose.

5. Call your customers.

Sometimes just asking for repeat business does the trick. Consider the case of a local chiropractor whose appointment book was getting noticeably thinner. She hired a high school student to call clients she hadn’t seen for three months or more. The effort doubled her business at virtually no cost.

6. Send “it’s time” reminders.

Dentists send cards; auto mechanics post stickers with odometer readings on your windshield to remind you of your next oil change. The same technique works in any business that offers regular or seasonal service. In one case, a barber shop that started sending self-addressed reminder postcards boosted business by decreasing the average time between haircuts from six weeks to four.

7. Create customer rewards programmes.

Whether it’s a discount during the customer’s birthday month, “Buy 10 cups of coffee, get the 11th free” or an invitation-only sale for preferred customers, rewarding customers for loyalty is a good business practice.

8. Communicate through email and direct-mail channels.

Informing customers about promotions, new products or other news gives you an excuse to keep your business top-of-mind. And contrary to popular opinion, email doesn’t require deep pockets or a technical staff. There are companies that will handle both email design and mailing for a few cents per customer.

9. Invest in leave-behinds.

Calendars, refrigerator magnets, pens and mouse pads branded with your corporate identity are another tried-and-true method of reminding customers you exist. It’s hard for a customer to ignore something that’s staring him in the face.

10. Make customer service your top priority.

There’s simply no substitute for the brand experience. If you can’t win battles like delivering on time and soothing customers’ ruffled feathers, you’ll lose the war. For practical advice refer to the column on the left of this page.

Remember, the path to profitability is paved with repeat customers. There are many ways to build repeat business, but you need to lay the groundwork from the minute you start writing your business plan. The goal is to sketch out a scheme that’ll create customers for life. If you can do that, you’re at least halfway to ensuring your business will be around for the long haul.

Brad Sugars is a startup expert and the writer of 14 business books including “The Business Coach”, “Instant Cashflow”, “Successful Franchising” and “Billionaire in Training”. He is the founder of ActionCOACH, a business coaching franchise.

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Sales Strategy & Management

Get Those Quotas Moving (Upward!) In 2018! 5 Things Your Salespeople Can Do

Fewer than half of salespeople make quota, on average. Here are some best practices for to help them hit their targets in the new year.

John Holland

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Whether they had a tremendous 2017 or a difficult one, sellers likely hit the re-set button with the start of this new year. And that button push probably was accompanied by more aggressive quotas for those sellers to achieve in 2018.

So, what should sellers do to gear up for the coming year? As 2018 gets under way, here are five things I can share to help sellers get off to a good start.

1. Avoid stale quotes and proposals

Unlike fine red wine, proposals that have been in the sales pipeline more than 45 days old aren’t getting better. Many of them, in fact, are likely to have “no decision” outcomes.

So, if you’re the seller, what’s going on? There may be instances where your prospects have chosen a competitor and not given you the bad news. My suggestion is to send a snail mail letter, “return receipt requested,” to the highest level you’ve called on within the account. State in the letter how long the proposal has been outstanding, noting that you haven’t been updated on its status and that you intend to withdraw if you don’t hear anything back.

Related: 3 Questions To Guide You To Success In 2018

The hope is that your letter will cause the buyer to contact you and say there is still interest. If that’s the case, you can ask to revisit the opportunity (help facilitate a cost vs. benefit analysis) and see if a revised recommendation can be made.

If your letter doesn’t elicit a response, you can safely remove it from your forecast. While that’s not the desired outcome, you’ll have the benefit of a more realistic view of the size and health of your pipeline.

2. Create add-on opportunities

Sellers often believe that if customers have additional needs, they’ll proactively reach out. Certainly, close rates will be higher when there is an existing relationship vs. when sellers are closing new accounts. That’s why sellers should take a look at each client and try to determine potential business needs that might be addressed through the use of their company’s offerings; they should then proactively contact the key players who might be interested.

The key to initiating add-on opportunities is taking executives from latent to active need for a company’s desired business outcomes.

3. Be realistic with nurtured leads

If the cost of your offerings exceeds $50,000, you may want to take a hard look at the entry level that nurtured leads provide. My view is that many of those leads get sellers in touch with people that are doing product evaluations. So, those people may not be working with budgets and have not identified potential areas of value/payback that can be realised through the use of your offerings.

Ask yourself if the contact you’ve been given is a potential champion who can provide you access to the key players you must call on to sell, fund and implement the offering being considered. If not, I suggest you treat the contact as a coach that may be willing to get you an introduction to a higher level that may then serve as your champion. My thought is to gain access to people who will see value in your offerings.

Related: How South Africa’s Small Businesses Plan To Invest Their Money In 2018

4. Ask for referrals

Satisfied customers can be under-used assets, especially if sellers can help them quantify results.

My preference is that sellers break down benefits and values specific to titles and outcomes that have been achieved using those sellers’ offerings.

Once quantified, sellers can ask if their customers know of any other individuals or companies they could be referred to.

5. Plan a sales cycle ahead

When I was in engineering school, I was a “just-in-time” learner in that I studiously avoided professors who assigned homework and also approached midterm and final exams with some last-minute cramming.

Some sellers follow my academic model – and that’s not smart: In terms of their year quota, many sellers who are not YTD against their numbers believe they can close enough business in the last quarter to make up for their previous gaps. But this is a very stressful strategy, and there will be times when sellers run out of runway.

An alternative I’d suggest is for sellers to break their quota into monthly increments and multiply that number by the months in an average sales cycle. They can then estimate their close rates and set pipeline thresholds they should try to exceed.

Once they’re at the stage of interviewing committee members, sellers can then negotiate their activities and time frames via a written document with buyers (I call this pipeline “E”). Here’s an example of how to project ahead:

  • A seller has a $2.4 million quota ($200,000/month).
  • Her average sales cycle is four months and her close rate is 50 percent.
  • Therefore, her “E” target is to close $800,000 or more every four-month period.
  • At any time, if she is YTD or better, her E target will be $1.6 million in her pipeline.
  • In a given month, any shortfall from YTD must be doubled and added to that $1.6 million; business development efforts must be ramped up.

Being aware of YTD performance to date and projecting the sales cycle that’s ahead on a monthly basis can reduce stress levels during Q4.

And reducing stress is good, right? I hope these tips can help make your 2018 a great, and de-stressed, year.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Sales Strategy & Management

(Podcast) Are All Prices Negotiable?

Person, socialisation, product, place – what are the key differentiating factors between those who negotiate price and those who don’t? And who determines the value of a product?

Nicholas Haralambous

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What is up for negotiation? When should you be negotiating prices, and when should you be open to negotiating prices with your customers?

Person, socialisation, product, place – what are the key differentiating factors between those who negotiate price and those who don’t? And who determines the value of a product?

Listening time: 8 minutes

Related: (Podcast) Phone Calls Often Solve Email Problems

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Sales Strategy & Management

Sales Leadership: The New Frontier

The Leadership skill of Influencing people increasingly trumps “hard selling techniques” as people enjoy the feeling that they are forced into buying a certain product less and less.

Dirk Coetsee

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“Once upon a time only certain people were in sales. Every day, these folks sold stuff, the rest of us did stuff, and everyone was happy. One day, the world began to change. More of us started working for ourselves- and because we were entrepreneurs, suddenly we became salespeople, too. At the same time, large operations discovered that segmenting job functions did not work very well during volatile business conditions-and because of that, they began demanding elastic skills that stretched across boundaries and included a sales component.” – Daniel Pink

The transformation of sales persons to Sales Leaders is not only the essence of this article but increasingly becoming a necessity, considering the skills demand required to convince people to buy your product or service within an modern environment wherein the consumer is spoilt for choice.

Related: 3 Strategies For Closing Sales Without Picking Up The Phone

In general staples in the make up of old school sales training was and in some cases still is: Product knowledge, fielding sales calls in a friendly way yet creating urgency, learning the ability to overcome client objections and of course do not forget the all-important methods of upselling.

All those elements of selling are still important in general yet “soft skills” such as active listening, handling conflict, and above all removing the emphasis from selling a product or service to selling an enhanced lifestyle or life experience has become the new frontier for the sales game.

The Leadership skill of Influencing people increasingly trumps “hard selling techniques” as people enjoy the feeling that they are forced into buying a certain product less and less. The “parrot method” of drilling sales scripts into the salesforce of the company is slowly but surely becoming obsolete as people want to feel that they are being cared about and considered within the sales process as individuals. “Caring for the other person is the only leverage in any conversation”, Gary Vaynerchuk says.

The above theory calls for a balance between Sales Leaders whom inspires their sales teams to create a personal, professional, and vibrant environment for their customers wherein which they are highly motivated to buy, and Sales managers whom monitor the key sales metrics and checks that sales procedures are being followed. In the modern world both Sales Leadership and management are needed at each end of the balancing scale.

Still, to this day an unfortunate large proportion of sales people are like lambs put to the slaughter, within some situations, as the only weapon taught to them is product knowledge and wearing a smile and then suddenly a very unhappy customer unleashes their anger upon them, and now the poor sales person has no knowledge in terms of how to deal with conflict, generally speaking. How to cope with and overcome conflict and other negotiation skills has become paramount in sustaining very good client relations.

Ethical Leadership is also strongly put forward as a necessary component of any sales training or course through this article. Sales techniques filtered through the companies Vision, mission statement and value system to test its validity and alignment to the companies’ culture can be increasingly effective as opposed to simply applying generic methods of selling which is not always aligned to the company ethos. A high level of ethics amongst Sales Leaders can ensure that after sales promises are kept and that the product sold is in effect as good as propagated by the sales person.

Related: The 5 Best Actions You Can Take To Improve Sales Calls

When a servant leadership culture is prevalent within your company it goes a long way to ensure that your sales people create a caring and positive experience complimented by an enhanced after sales service. Servant Leadership within a sales context is to put the customers’ and teams’ purpose above the individual team members purpose and that by itself is a potential multiplier of sales performance.

A highly important factor within the context of sales performance is the sales Leaders’ ability to formulate the right questions to be asked of the client in order to create a very pleasant experience. Statements in general can be quite dangerous as it is normally viewed as final and very hard to take back once communicated. Questions on the other hand requires an answer and when posed in a caring way can quickly establish rapport with a client.

Subtle nuances picked up by the Sales Leader through asking the right questions can greatly assist in creating positive client engagement. A practical example would be to refrain from the very obvious question of:  how are you? People are so used to being asked this question that they are not likely to give you a very open and honest answer and will be likely to provide you with very generic answers such as, “Fine thank you, “Well thanks and you”, and so forth.

By very simply changing the question to: “How are you feeling today? “, the very perceptive Sales Leader can relatively easily pick up on the client’s emotional state and adjust the conversation from there in order to create rapport.

In Summary, this writing actually asks one question to all CEOs’ and/or boards that must take their companies forward towards a desired future state: Do you want sales people and managers whom are likely to maintain the status quo, or do you seek Sales Leaders whom will challenge the status quo and will always be willing to ask more of themselves in terms of increased skill levels and performance?

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