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Sales Strategy & Management

That’s Not Going to Fly

Sales leaders share their wisdom on why a business will not grow without a sales strategy and a value-driven sales process.

Ivor Jones

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Yes, you do need a sales strategy

Here’s why: No strategy = no business. It’s that simple. With a sales strategy in place, research is better targeted, cold calls are more productive, sales resources are more cost-effective, and sales performance is more predictable.

The nuts and bolts

For a sales strategy to be effective it must have these key features:

  • The strategy must be specific and detailed
  • The strategy must be measurable
  • The strategy must be attainable
  • The strategy must be realistic
  • The strategy must be time sensitive.

Without a sales strategy, a business will chase its tail – pointlessly pursuing something and moving no closer to its destination. Without getting too complicated, a sales strategy simply describes a business’s approach to selling a product or service. Strategy is the most effective way to drive more sales.

Everyone believes that strategy is important, so it’s surprising to see how many businesses have no sales strategy at all. Regardless of the size of your business, the effectiveness of your sales strategy is what will determine success or failure. Without this fundamental element in place, it will take that much longer to get a business off the ground, or to grow a business that has set its sights higher.

As a framework for fine-tuning the marketing mix, the four Ps of sales strategy – product, place, price, and promotion – continue to serve sales leaders well.

1. Product

This is your tangible product or service. You need to think about the needs and wants of consumers, market conditions, how to keep production costs down, and quality high. When it comes to the product, can you improve on what your competitors are offering? Or can you add value in some way for the consumer?

2. Place

This is the location where the product or service is to be sold. It may be brick and mortar or online. You need to look at areas where buyers would seek your product, ways to access the right distribution channels, and differentiate yourself from your competitors.

3. Price

Pricing your product involves research, planning and careful consideration. You need to cover all expenses and have a reasonable profit margin. You will also need to look at elements such as pricing strategy, suggested retail price, volume discounts, wholesale pricing, seasonal pricing and price flexibility.

Determine whether you can price your product or service better, and how you want to position it – is it aimed at the high or low end of the market? The narrower your target market, the less you will sell and the higher the value needs to be.

4. Promotion

To reach your target audience, you will need to get information out there about your product or service. This involves a promotional strategy, advertising, public relations, publicity and media, among other elements.

Related: How to Build the Ultimate Sales Team

Identify the total available market

A common (and very important) item missing from many entrepreneurial businesses is a breakdown of the company’s total available market, which is simply everyone you wish to reach with your product.

Here’s an example: You live in Mpumalanga and you’ve decided to start a business that manufactures and sells fly fishing flies. Let’s say your town has 150 000 people. Through market research, you may find that the total possible demand for your business in your town is 15% (or 22 500 people), with spikes in demand occurring during the April and December holiday periods.

Bear in mind that if you have a competitor in your market, your total available market would be smaller since you will be sharing this market with another company.

This process is really about finding out where the opportunities lie, who your competitors are and whether or not they are doing a good job. Much of this type of research can be done electronically, thanks to the Internet.

I always advise entrepreneurs to take the time to go through this process systematically. In addition to more analytical research, talk to friends and family. Talk to people in your social network who you know and trust.

Customer segmentation

Most market sectors today are comprised of a diverse range of niche players who have varied needs and business drivers. Companies that target any market as one broad vertical run the risk of developing positioning that misses its mark, making the sales and marketing process more difficult and more expensive than it needs to be. To maximise your marketing and sales effectiveness and minimise selling costs, it is necessary to understand the market from a more detailed perspective.

Once you have identified your total available market, you should begin to segment your customers. This separates prospects and customers into sets of people or companies that are similar and related from a marketing or demographic perspective. For example, a business that practices customer segmentation might group its current or potential customers according to their buying habits, age group, special interests.

Use data sources that are freely available about companies’ lines of business, areas of operation, number of employees, IT infrastructure, fleet sizes and so on to give you an idea of what the potential could be. The ability to calculate or estimate the potential spend or purchases of prospects or customers in the target market you have chosen means drilling down to a granular level to calculate the average spend of each customer in each area or sales territory.

Prioritise the geographical areas with the greatest sales potential and the least cost to cover.

Sales force structure

Once you have prioritised the areas depending on size and potential within each, you can structure the sales team. How are you going to cover all prospects, from telesales through to taking care of existing business, and breaking into the lucrative new market potential within the area? Territory reps, product reps, major account reps – all must be aligned with the identified potential and deployed at micro market level according to expected future opportunities.

The one factor that will determine success is how well the sales people are trained with regard to handling the opportunities and the relative size of the organisation. Critically, they must also know their competitive position – are they breaking in, sharing or dominating?

Remember that circumstances change constantly. For this process to work, you cannot do it once and then forget about it. Continuous updating of data, either through research or a CRM system is essential. Your sales people play a huge role in keeping data up to date. Make sure that all new information is fed into your system all the time. Then, analyse, reassess and recalculate on an ongoing basis. There are many companies that gather, analyse and sell data to businesses of all sizes – it’s worth making use of their services.

Sales and marketing

Once you have identified your market, segmented your customers and structured your sales team, your go-to-market strategy becomes a lot simpler to implement than you might think: You have your product, your people, and your areas. Now you have to focus on how you will sell – that is marketing. People tend to grossly overestimate what is required here. If you have done all the previous steps properly, how you actually fulfil the transaction is easy – whether it’s through a direct sales force, tele-channels, distributors, retailers or online, the groundwork is done.

There are many consultants out there who will create marketing campaigns for your business, usually at great cost. Once again, remember that much of the information you need is available online. If you know what your business is trying to achieve, time and effort is all you will require to create the right marketing campaign for your business.

Marketing and promoting your business is after all where you can get really creative. Have think tanks with your team on how to promote your products better and as cleverly as possible within the budget you have.

Advertising, for example, can eat a great deal of capital. There are other imaginative ways to reach your target market. The point is that if you know who they are, you will know exactly how to find them.

One word of caution: Strategic sales and marketing is often where companies fall short, and where they can be extremely inefficient with budgets. This is because there is no concrete, definitive blueprint. So much depends on gut feel, experience and market knowledge. That is why it is so critically important to do your homework.

Whichever route you choose to take, remember that the online world has given people the ability to compare products and service and to decide what they want to buy, often before they even meet a sales person for the first time. Online has given everyone the ability to compare, which is why it’s critical to have a web presence that is professional, attractive, informative and easy to navigate.

Related: Don’t Let Those First Sales Go Bad

Ivor Jones is the chairman of ThinkSales Corporation. He was employed by Dun & Bradstreet from 1972 to 1981. In 1982 he launched KreditInform, building it into South Africa's largest business-to-business credit management solutions company. It was sold to Experian in 2008.

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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