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Sales Strategy & Management

How to Give Your Sales Strategy the Winning Edge

A sales plan that will sky-rocket your profits.

Casandra Visser

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Sales is all about getting customers to buy from you instead of your competition across the street but sitting around and hoping it will happen is not exactly a sound strategy.

A well thought out sales strategy is going to mean the difference between your business barely surviving, if at all, and getting your slice of the profits.

“The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.” ― Michael E. Porter

What is a Sales Strategy?

A sales strategy is your game plan. It’s a way for you to implement, measure and monitor your sales processes so that you are continuously growing, innovating and most importantly making sales.

The same way that a business and marketing plan are important when starting a business so too is a sales strategy.

Without knowing how you plan to approach customers, pitch your product or service to them and get them to sign on the dotted line, you and your sales team are going to be aimlessly making calls or attending meetings only to be told no. Many business owners make the mistake of thinking that a marketing strategy is enough to help them achieve their goals when in fact sales and marketing work hand-in-hand.

Developing a Strong Sales Strategy

There are several steps that you can go through as you develop your sales plan.

  1. Determine Your Short and Long Term Revenue Goals. This section of your sales strategy will relate back to your business plan if you’re a start-up or to your annual financial goals if you’re already an established business. Keep a record of your financial objectives so that you can set targets for your sales team as well as refer back to it on a quarterly basis to make sure that you are on track.
  2. Determine Your Current Market Position. How are you positioned in the market in relation to your competitors? Your marketing plan should be able to assist you with this information. If you aren’t exactly where you want to be, set yourself new goals so that you can plan for how you intend to get there. In this section you can also develop or reaffirm your unique value proposition as this will be key when pitching to clients.
  3. Map Out Your Sales Process. Step-by-step, walk through the process that one of your sales people would go through from start to finish with a potential client. Are you making use of the best possible techniques and approaches based on your product, sales cycle and type of customer? You can even turn it around and walk through the process from a client’s point of view and ask yourself whether you would be happy with this approach. If need be, re-evaluate the steps in your sales process and what you can do to not only save your business time and money  but also what can be done to increase customer satisfaction, speed up the sales process and ultimately boost your sales.
  4. Marketing Plan vs Sales Plan. It’s important to establish whether your sales and marketing plans marry to avoid conveying a different branding and sales message to your market or even the wrong market. Read through your marketing plan again. It might just give you ideas about which sales techniques would work best for your market.
  5. Brief Your Sales Team. Your sales people all need to be on the same page when it comes to company and financial goals, your unique value proposition and of course your sales processes in order for your business to have a fighting chance against your competition. Train your sales team on a regular basis and ask them for feedback to ensure that everyone has the best possible understanding of what needs to be achieved.
  6. Monitor and Adjust. By keeping an eye on your financial targets you will quickly be able to see if your sales plan is not effective so make a point of constantly reviewing incoming sales and how close you are to your revenue goals. This way you can find out what isn’t working and how your sales processes can be adjusted or improved upon.

A sales plan should be simple enough to be adjusted at any stage of your business should something not be working out. The point of having a plan is having the ability to keep track of your progress so refer back to your sales strategy regularly if you want to stay ahead of the pack.

How and Where to Find New Customers

Don’t feel bad if customers aren’t flooding you with phonecalls or flocking to your doors. Finding new clients is a battle that many new entrepreneurs face but with a sound sales plan and a few tactics up your sleeve you can overcome this rather quickly.

Here are a couple suggestions for how you can attract new customers:

  1. Attend industry events. Networking is a tried and tested way for connecting with potential customers in a relaxed environment.
  2. Open day. Promote a day or evening when customers can come and try your services or products free of charge. Make sure you wow them to get them to come back.
  3. Create a PR campaign. You don’t necessarily have to hire a PR company for this. You can send a press release to publications and websites that your target market reads on a regular basis for some exposure. You might even want to throw in a discount offer to the readers.
  4. Partner up. Find another business that targets the same market as you and find a way to team up with them in order to access the same database. Make sure that there’s a benefit in it for them too though.
  5. Try something new. If your business is really struggling to attract new clients, perhaps you should look at trying a new marketing method. Brainstorm with your team to discover hidden opportunities that you might have overlooked.
  6. Ask for referrals. If you already have a handful of clients, why not ask for a referral from them. You could even create an incentive for receiving new business via a customer referral.
  7. Get listed. Depending on the nature of your business, listing it in directories such as the Yellow Pages might be the perfect way to start developing a customer base.
  8. Design a brochure. Create a simple flyer advertising your special opening offer and hand them out in peak time traffic. This is a great low cost idea for retail type businesses.

Remember that in sales, as soon as you stop making an effort to attract new customers, the quicker you will run out of profits. You have to make an effort every week to find, impress and retain new clients if you want your business to survive so live your brand and get your team on board too.

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Increase Sales & Your Customer Base

Just because you have a stable client base in place doesn’t mean that you can now sit back and relax. There’s always another company out there looking to give your customers a reason to leave you so you and your team need to do everything in your power to make sure that, that doesn’t happen.

Customer Retention Strategy

When it comes to retaining your customers you need to keep them as happy as possible and it all starts with outstanding customer service.

Consumers will always return to a place of business where they were treated well by all staff members. In some cases, great customer service even beats having a cheaper price so make it a priority. Train your staff on a regular basis on company values and how the business operates to provide your customers with the very best experience possible.

Give your customers a chance to provide you with feedback from time to time too. This could provide you with the most valuable insight into what you could be doing better and processes that could be improved upon. You can never receive negative feedback, just lessons on how to keep your business at the top of its game.

If one of your clients is experiencing an issue with your business resolve it as quickly as possible. Many consumers don’t have a lot of patience and would rather move to a brand that can offer them what they need.

Tip: Know which clients are bad for business. Even though turning away revenue seems ridiculous, there are some clients who will take every bit of energy that you have and still provide you with small returns. Recognise when you need to make the decision to remove certain customers from your list.

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Landing Bigger Clients

Landing that first big client is a dream for many business owners but make no mistake that it will require some hard work and dog-headed determination.

Networking is going to play a key role in getting in touch with executives from the larger companies that you are looking to pitch. Sometimes you might even get lucky and connect with the decision maker themselves so know your elevator pitch and have a business card at the ready. Asking customers for referrals would be the next option for possibly getting a meeting with a larger firm so keep your current clients happy.

The lead up to getting your dream client means you have to think long term. Larger companies generally won’t spend a large sum of money with a business they don’t trust. You have to be prepared to build a strong relationship with them first before any decisions can be made and this can sometimes entail convincing multiple parties that your product is worth their while.

The first step will be to get your foot in the door. Know who the final decision maker will be and work your way up to getting them on the phone or better yet, getting a meeting with them. This usually means that you are going to have to get through a few gatekeepers so they should be your first priority. Impress the gatekeepers and treat them with respect as they could be the one thing that stands between you and your first big client. If you only manage to get the email address of an executive then send them an email introducing yourself and find out when would be the best time to give them a call instead of trying to sell them your product or service in an email.

If you do manage to get through to a top executive or manage to secure a meeting with one, make sure you know their processes and exactly how they go about doing businesses with new firms. Should you be speaking to someone from a specific department? What sort of turnaround time can you expect due to multiple sign offs that are needed? Showing a prospect that you understand their business and respect their processes will only increase your chances of a yes.

Since larger prospects are always a bit weary of doing business with someone new, why not offer them a trial run with your business or offer them a six month discount so that they can get a feel for what your business is like without breaking the bank.

Tip: Landing a big deal could take a year or two so don’t rely on one big client to help your business survive. Ensure that you are still getting smaller customers on board and that you are taking care of them.

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Successful Sales Techniques

The number of sales techniques that you can use to promote your products or services is endless but there are a few key tips that you can remember that will help you along the way regardless of the type of business you are running.

Feedback!

Deciding on a specific sales technique will require a little trial and error so get as much feedback as possible from both your prospects and your sales team.  How you sell to potential customers will also depend on your specific product or service and how it fits into their lives so keep this in mind when developing your sales strategy.

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Sell Value

Ask yourself: Why should my customers care?

So you have a great product but why should your customers be interested and what value is it to them? If you don’t have an answer to this question, you’re going to have a hard time trying to convince potential customers why they should invest their hard earned money in your product or service.

What is it about your product that is different from your competitors and how will it benefit your clients. For example you might be able to offer a well-priced Photoshop course but what you really want to sell is the fact that your customers will be able to advance their own careers by completing the course and can eventually be earning a lot more money. Once you sell your prospects on this, the price will be a secondary though to them.

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Killer Presentations

It’s hard work trying to get in front of a client so once you do, be ready to wow them. Selling is going beyond the basic PowerPoint presentation so find a way to make your sales pitch catchy and to the point. Don’t forget to make it more about how your prospect will benefit and less about product features.

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Listen Up!

There is nothing worse than someone who doesn’t let you get a word in or ask any questions so instead of diving right into a pitch, engage in a two-way conversation with your potential customer so that you can establish their core needs and how you can fulfil them.

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Don’t Sell for the Sake of It

Your product or service is not for everyone. Sometimes sales people might be so eager to make a sale that they will waste time on the wrong prospects. This is where the importance of a sales strategy and training comes into play. Help your sales force to build a pipeline that consists of the right kind of prospects so that they can dedicate their time to what counts.

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It Doesn’t End There

Making a sale is a great feeling but if you think it ends there then you are making a grave mistake. After-sales service is just as important as everything that comes before it. Why settle for one sale from a client when by looking after them you can get five more? Many companies tend to use a CRM system to assist them with this.

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Preparation is Powerful

Going into a sale unprepared nearly always leads to a delayed decision or complete rejection so you aren’t doing yourself any favours by winging it. Be on time, dress the part and remember to smile. Confidence is directly related to how prepared you’re so know who you are meeting with, how their company operates and how you’re planning to close the sale.

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Casandra Visser is a Digital Marketing & Content Strategist and writes for Entrepreneur Media SA.

Sales Strategy & Management

5 Reasons Why Your Business Is Losing Customers

Ever think about why people keep buying iPhones, even though they’re so darned pricey?

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Like it or not, your business is losing customers. Recent research from McKinsey & Company revealed that only 13 percent of customers surveyed said they were loyal to a single brand. The research found that 87 percent of customers surveyed said they shopped around, and 58 percent had switched to a new brand.

Why do people shop around? What motivates them to abandon the businesses they know and buy products or services from competitors? It’s time that you take a close look at why your business is losing customers – and, what you can do to fix it.

Here are five common reasons why customers leave small businesses … and effective tips you can use to start turning the tide.

1. You’re guilty of poor customer service experience.

Few things can sour a customer experience more quickly than poor customer service. To a customer, your support team is your business. Shauna Geraghty, a clinical psychologist and head of talent at the global customer support innovator TalkDesk revealed on the company’s blog that over 90 percent of customers who are dissatisfied with your customer service experience will — rather than telling you that something is wrong and how you can improve it — just not come back.

So, if you’re not paying attention to your customer-service policies and performance, there’s a good chance that neglect is costing you customers.

This is one reason why some companies, including Comcast, create create support-focused accounts like @comcastcares on Twitter. These accounts are public and are known for helping customers to resolve problems quickly.

Related: How to Lose Customers through your Website

What you can do:

Outline thoughtful, positive customer service practices. Start with an internal audit of the policies that govern your team. Conduct interviews with customer-support managers and representatives.

Assess what company policies have led to customer dissatisfaction. What internal issues are preventing your reps from supporting customers quickly and effectively? Use this data to improve your customer service practices.

Then, bear in mind these three golden rules of customer service:

Respond quickly. Acknowledge when a mistake is made and make it right.

Treat the customer with respect and empathy.

Support your customer support team. Give your customer service team the resources they need to provide your customers with awesome service. This includes the technical infrastructure as well as the autonomy to make choices that will benefit your business and support your customers.

2. Your product or service failed to meet expectations

Disappointed customers are likely to share their disappointment with friends on social media. And angry customers will post angry reviews for other prospective customers to see.

What you can do:

Design and build a quality product or service. Don’t think that marketing magic or any amount of other business trickery is going to make up for a poor product or badly executed service. So, work with a talented product designer.

Test. Build with quality materials. Adapt your service based on customer feedback.

Do whatever it takes to create and deliver a service or product that is worth paying for.

3. You didn’t show the value

valuePrice is what a customer pays. Value is what a customer gets. Sales expert and emotional intelligence coach Liz Wendling pointed out on her blog that customers don’t necessarily choose only “the lowest price or the cheapest in town.” Customer preferences, she said, have nothing to do with price and everything to do with the value you are conveying. When your potential customers tell you it is about the money, wrote Wendling, that is actually customer code for “show me the value.”

This is certainly one reason why Apple continues to dominate when it comes to smartphone profits. In Q4, 2017, Apple captured 87 percent of smartphone industry profits but accounted for only 18 percent of total units sold. Customers, clearly, are buying iPhones because they believe that Apple products deliver more value, despite the higher price.

What you can do:

Identify your unique value proposition. What awesome value do you bring to your customers that other businesses don’t? This is your unique value proposition.

Clearly articulate your unique value proposition on all platforms. Publish the benefits of your product or service on your website home page.

Educate your customer support and sales staffers so that they can speak fluently about the value included in your pricing.

Feature your unique value proposition on the landing page for every offer. (Check out https://www.crowdspring.com/blog/landing-page-guide/this article to learn more about creating effective landing pages.)

Related: 3 Ways To Stop Taking Your Most Loyal Customers For Granted

4. Your business is Inconsistent

In business, and in life, consistency breeds trust. Things that are consistent can be relied upon. And, things that can be relied upon don’t need to be worried about. Inconsistent branding, including using your company’s name or logo differently on your own site and on social networks, plus inconsistent quality or service, all have the potential to drive customers away.

United Airlines learned this lesson the hard way when young women wearing casual wear were not permitted to board a flight unless they changed out of Spandex leggings. Yet any traveler is going to see many, many women at the airport wearing leggings. And there’ was no previous record of United barring others from flying for wearing leggings. That’s why this particular decision created a social media firestorm and lots of confusion.

What you can do:

Deliver an experience customers can rely on. This starts with you and your employees.

Educate all of your employees about what a good customer experience should look like.

Create a branding guide to establish uniform branding guidelines and share it with your team.

Hold your employees accountable for delivering a consistently positive customer experience.

Create strong customer interaction policies. Whatever your policies are, make sure that they will serve your customers well before you implement them. Then stick with them! Be consistent.

5. Your sales tactics are out-of-date.

Aggressive sales techniques are more likely to drive customers away than lead to positive results. Leslie Ye, for HubSpot, wrote that the old sales playbook — dragging prospects through a sales process and strong-arming them into a purchase — worked only because there was no better way for buyers to buy.

If your sales techniques focus on manipulating or coercing a sale, your business is actively chasing customers away.

What you can do:

Employ value-based selling techniques. Take the time to learn what your customer actually needs. Then offer value-based solutions that address those needs. Show how your product benefits the customer and allow them to decide if it’s the right fit for them.

Build relationships with your customers. If you’re trying to sell with every single customer interaction, you’re doing it wrong. Instead, focus on establishing trust with your prospective customers.

Have honest interactions and provide value through useful content and entertaining social media engagement. Then, when a customer needs the product or service you provide, he or she will turn to you, a trusted resource.

The key to growing a business is to maintain the customers you already have while acquiring new ones. So, stop leaking customers. The success of your business depends is at stake.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Sales Strategy & Management

How To Find The Right Salespeople: And Attract Them To Your Business

A key part of finding star talent to join your business is to start the process much earlier than you need to, by building a strong talent pipeline – also known as a Virtual Bench.

Andrew Aitken

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In a previous article, we discussed the 3 things business owners and sales managers should be concerned about when trying to increase sales in a systematic, more sustainable manner. The first of these is to hire a sales team consisting of A-players, and as the owner of a business, you’ll know how hard it is to find this kind of talent.

A key part of finding star talent to join your business is to start the process much earlier than you need to, by building a strong talent pipeline – also known as a Virtual Bench.

Related: 3 Ways You Should Use Data Science to Skyrocket Sales

What is a Virtual Bench?

A virtual bench is the concept of building a pool or pipeline of strong, A-player talent before you need it. Like sports coaches in team sports who always have players on the bench that are ready to play when needed, you too, need to have a pool of people that can fill new spots and substitute existing players on your team when necessary. A virtual bench is about ensuring that you don’t only think about hiring when the need arises – as doing so can have painful, costly effects on your business.

Always be recruiting, even if you don’t yet have a position to fill.

How to build a Virtual Bench of A-player talent

1. Use your existing contacts

Go through your existing contacts – on your phonebook, on LinkedIn, etc. and shortlist, from your past experiences, which of them are A-players that you would like to have working with you one day.

  • Keep in contact with the people on this list – let them know that you believe they are talented and have a great attitude, and that you are always looking for great people to join the business. Make an appointment to meet with them to discuss where they are in their careers and what their future plans are. Use this meeting to get to know them even more and unearth possible synergies where you could potentially work together in future.

2. Keep an eye open at social functions and networking events

Use regular social interactions to identify people you could work with one day. Speak to the people you meet about what they do and about their future plans. Also ask mutual friends or acquaintances about your new contacts, so that you have a clearer picture of who they are. Then keep in touch to nurture your relationships with them.

Related: How To Structure A Fair Salary That Will Motivate Your Sales Team

3. Work with your marketing team

Most of the support you need when building your virtual bench should be from your marketing team and not necessarily your HR team.

Sit down with your marketing team to see what content and campaigns they can run to attract the right people to your business. A-players are attracted to organisations that have a clear mission, distinguishable energy and drive, as opposed to merely seeking a job and a regular paycheck. So, create content that portrays:

  • Who you are as a business and what you stand for
  • Who your customers/clients are
  • The wins you are getting
  • What the working culture is like in your organisation

If you think about hiring in this forward-thinking manner, you’ll be sure to not only prevent a scramble when you need new talent to join your business, but it could help you prevent a lot of costly mis-hires.

Keep an eye out for our next article in this series: What core skills do your salespeople need to have?

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Sales Strategy & Management

5 Lessons On How You Can Deliver A Product Your Customers Actually Want

By learning quickly and failing fast, yourself, you’ll be better able to keep in step with customer expectations and respond to their needs.

Victoria Lawson

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When Zappos.com founder Nick Swinmurn had the initial idea to launch an online shoe retailer in the ’90s, he sought out the leanest way possible to test whether customers were willing to buy shoes online. Instead of spending time building an infrastructure and inventory systems, Swinmurn went to local shoe stores, took pictures of products and posted them online.

If a customer purchased the product, Swinmurn bought the shoes from the brick-and-mortar store at full price to ship to his customer. When the concept actually worked, he knew it was go-time.

Almost 20 years later, in today’s retail environment, adopting this type of low-risk, lean-startup mentality, with a “fail fast, fail cheap” approach, is the number one strategy for success. Here are five lessons to help you nail product innovation through an agile approach.

Take lean to the extreme

Forget about scaling at the beginning. Instead, identify and embrace the bare minimum you need to develop an end-to-end solution, even if it’s manual.

Then build out a basic product infrastructure to mimic a more scalable process and iterate as you progress through development and validation.

This is called the “garage phase” of innovation. Thought leader and author Marty Cagan explained a similar “light-weight” process to product development in his book, Inspired: How to Create Tech Products Customers Love.

Related: What You Need To Know About The Lean Start-up Model

By embracing a lean approach, Cagan wrote, you’re making room for the next great idea and continuing to discover and improve with each step you take along the way.

Don’t overcomplicate

Consider simple solutions that are as innovative and personalized as they are valuable for your customer and business objectives.

Related: Saab Grintek Defence’s Strategies For Staying Lean and Competitive

Recently, our company, CarMax, launched 360-degree-camera technology to allow shoppers to interact with 360 photos on carmax.com and experience the inside of a prospective car as if they were sitting in it.

The goal was a more optimized and personal online customer experience, and it started with a selfie stick. This basic low-cost solution required little time, training and resources, and was quickly scalable.

Starbucks is another example: The company excels in creating a simple customer experience because of its focus on seamless personalization: Baristas serve coffee ID’d by the customer’s name, and each location has the same look and feel but is personalized to the geographic location.

Recognise that innovation doesn’t happen in a lab

Don’t isolate your R&D in a lab; instead, send your team out to the field while developing your solution, in order to deliver real-time adjustments and build your awareness of variables you may not have considered before.

Test different approaches, speak with customers and stakeholders and understand all the possible challenges or failures that could happen.

When Nordstrom was attempting to develop a digital way to help sunglass shoppers make a purchase decision, members of the innovation team embedded themselves at a Nordstrom store for a week, talking to real customers, showing prototypes and adjusting those product samples based off those customers’ feedback.

Innovate for both internal and external audiences

Remember the two “customers” you’re innovating for — both the end user and the associates who will be using the product.

By finding a simple solution that works for everyone and training for the rollout, you’ll be setting yourself up for success.

Qualitative testing and immediate feedback can also help your team better understand usability and the overall customer experience the product is delivering. A product just might fail if there’s a lack of understanding about its functionality.

Avoid product remorse

By starting with a minimum viable product, you’ll be able to get something in front of customers as early as possible before you’ve invested too much time and energy into it.

Related: How To Determine Your Minimum Viable Product

Take a page from Jeff Gothelf’s book, Lean UX, and don’t sit on value or wait to arrive at a perfect solution before implementing at the level of “good” can be good enough and be your starting point for further iteration.

You’re not going to learn everything and anticipate every problem before you introduce a product. And, if you wait too long, the market may shift.

Before co-founding Groupon, Andrew Mason spent almost two years working on a product called The Point, an online platform for social activism.

While The Point never gained steam, Mason did observe his customer base using a featured offering for a group discount on products. Because of good timing and openness to learning, he was able to pivot and create Groupon.

By learning quickly and failing fast, yourself, you’ll be better able to  keep in lock step with customer expectations, to leave behind the ideas that aren’t helping your customers and to deliver the experience your customers want today.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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