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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.

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Sales Strategy & Management

Why Creating Value For Your Customer Beats Giving Price Discounts

Customers want value for money. It’s time to rethink your pricing strategy (without losing your margins).

Ed Hatton

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Win More Sales

Businesses that can prove and deliver the greatest value can ask their price.

Pricing strategy may be low on the priority list, but complaints about competitors’ low prices get a lot of attention. It’s time to rethink your pricing strategy and rules.

For most of us, pricing is a cost-plus system, the calculated cost of an item is marked up by a percentage to get the selling price, which may then be discounted to match competitive prices. This method assumes that your cost is the lowest it could be, which is rarely true. It is likely you could drive down costs by smarter purchasing or more efficient manufacturing.

The second wrong assumption is that the mark-up percentage is correct; it is more likely to be a long-ago rounded off thumb suck of what you need to run the business, and out of date in this economy. Crucially, cost plus pricing ignores the value that a customer gains when buying the product.

Research shows that customers increasingly seek value for money and will even pay a premium for value. This is especially true of young people, but all classes of buyers, from giant corporates to very poor individuals, seek value over price. Many tenders are not awarded to the lowest bidder but to the supplier best able to deliver. Very poor people buy expensive branded food because they are trusted.

Companies hesitate to switch suppliers only for price, particularly where delivery and quality are vital. With all this evidence that value is important, it’s time to rethink your pricing.

Related: Take Your Sales Skills To The Next Level With These 5 Simple Steps

Determining value

Ask your customers what factors are important when choosing suppliers. Price will always be one factor, but focus on the others. Your goal is to become the supplier that best matches all their needs. In many cases, you may even be able to increase your price. Bottled water sells for anything from R5 to R50 a bottle, simply based on the buyer’s perception of the health and other values of that brand. You can get a website and brand identity for less than R10 000 or more than R1 million — neither are the wrong price, it depends what the buyer needs. Get all the information you can and don’t rely on your own or your sales team’s perception of customer needs.

What happens if you cannot make money at the price the customers see value in the item? Start a harsh examination of your buying or manufacturing efficiencies. At the same time re-examine the margin calculation — lean businesses need less margin than lazy ones. If you still cannot make or buy it economically, consider changing your pricing strategy.

Pricing strategies

Convenience pricing is offering a bundle of goods and services for a single price or monthly fee. The customer can easily assess affordability and decide if this offers value. Cell phone suppliers and motor dealers adopt this pricing method. You buy a car for a single monthly fee including the car, warranty, maintenance plan, roadside assist, financing and other items. Both customer and seller are satisfied.

Value-based pricing sees the price determined by the value of the product or service to the individual buyer. The most skilled value-based pricing experts are the street hawkers who are quick to assess the value a student, a businesswoman or a tourist may put on an item. Public speakers have different prices for different audiences like large businesses, start-ups and NGOs — I use this method.

Related: Accurately Predict Future Sales With These Two Things

Incentive-based pricing is widely used in the IT and construction industries. It works on the basis that the price is variable and depends on the performance of the supplier. An IT project may have a nominal price but bonuses are paid for early completion, being below budget or developing more than the requirements. Conversely, not meeting deadlines, delivering late, poor quality or incomplete systems will reduce the price eventually paid. Consider if your business can use one of these highly effective pricing strategies.

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Sales Strategy & Management

What Is Customer Intimacy And How Do You Use It?

If you think that maintaining a close relationship with customers is not as important as selling your products, you are wrong.

Clarissa Fleischer

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Knowing your customers well is a major part of being a successful marketing company. When companies do not connect with their customers, this is when they lose loyalty, revenue and positive customer sentiments. And in today’s world of hyper-connectivity and improved brand interactions, not being connected to your consumers can damage your brand in the long run.

If you think that maintaining a close relationship with customers is not as important as selling your products, you are wrong.Customer intimacy should be a top priority for any company who wants to maintain their success.

But, what exactly is customer intimacy?

Simply put, it is a business strategy that is based on paying close attention to the needs of your customers and ensuring that these needs are met and prioritised at all points of their journey with your company. It often involves close contact with customers using a variety of different channels and techniques. You need them to know that you care about their needs and understand what they are asking for.

You could think of it as segmenting your audience and creating specific offerings to precisely match their needs. If you want to excel at using customer intimacy, you will need to combine your in-depth knowledge of your customer with the ability to be flexible in your operations. This way, you can respond to any customer needs as quickly as possible, maintaining the high standards they have come to expect from your brand.

How do I use it?

Now that you understand what customer intimacy is, you are ready to delve deeper and figure out how to use it. There are some simple tips that you can use to implement customer intimacy in your current marketing strategy. Outlined below are just some of these effective methods.

Always prioritise your customers

This is the first step to any successful customer intimacy strategy. Prioritising your customers means that you need to set up operational processes which are “customer first” in their thinking. You will need to start by listening to customers and analysing their concerns. Only once you understand these concerns, will you be able to provide solutions.

It is important to look into processes that prioritise these concerns rather than react negatively to them. An example of this is avoiding looking at how many calls your client service team takes in a day but rather looking at the goals that they achieve when answering customer queries. Have they answered the customer’s question? Is there a resolution in sight for the problem? These are a more important metric to look at than how many calls are answered in a day.

Try to resolve problems

In order to become more customer-intimate, you should strive to solve the problems that arise rather than discourage people from coming to you with issues. And your brand should make customers feel as though they can share their grievances, either by contacting you directly or by writing a review on your social media page.

Statistics show that customers share a bad experience twice as often than they do a positive one, which could be highly detrimental to your company. So, when your customers do take the time to contact your business with either a positive or negative review, you have to have steps in place to resolve these problems. Use these complaints to improve your processes and your customer service section, so that the next time someone contacts you, it will be with compliments and not complaints.

Set goals that your entire company must follow

One of the most effective ways to become a customer-centric company is to set common goals that all of your employees must follow. For example, one goal could be to answer customer questions within 24 hours with a solution that is realistic and achievable. Or you could aim to improve your project turn-around time by gathering information from clients at every stage of their journey.

Whatever goals you set for your business, you will need to ensure that every employee adheres to them. Leaders need to set an example for their staff so that the customers, ultimately, reap the benefits. But be sure that your goals are attainable. You cannot expect your employees to reach the unreachable, as this will negatively impact the level of customer service you can provide consumers. Look at the data that is coming in from customer calls and interactions and use this to come up with goals that you can reach. 

The customer is always right

We often use this saying in a joking or derivative way, but it is truer than you might think, especially for marketing companies. In today’s world, the consumer wants brands to focus on them. In fact, if a brand ignores even the smallest form of contact with a customer, there could be an issue. And this is why you need to become a customer-intimate brand.

You need to prioritise the needs of the customer at every touchpoint in their journey with your brand, solve any problems that might arise and ensure that everyone is on the same page in your company. Soon you will see that your customers are singing your praises to everyone they meet.

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Sales Strategy & Management

How To Use Sales Skills To Build Your Business

If you want to build your business up, read on below for how to use sales skills to do so.

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Building your business from the ground up is no easy feat. You might feel overwhelmed by all the ways and methods that are available to you but there is one way that can help your efforts immensely, and that is by using sales skills. Sales skills might not seem like they are applicable to building a business, but what is a business without sale people?

You could look into a sales accelerator for business development course to improve your selling skills. Sales training courses can be useful, as they will teach you about sales techniques and sales strategy, which you can apply to other aspects of your business. So, if you want to build your business up, read on below for how to use sales skills to do so.

Listen to existing customers

An effective way to improve your business offerings is to listen to your existing customers. Listening is actually more complex than it seems, and it means that you have to do a lot less talking. This will help you to truly hear your customers and take stock of what they are saying.

Listening to existing customers is one of the best sales and marketing strategies you can use to improve your business. This is especially true if you have built a relationship and rapport with your current customer base, as this will encourage them to give you insights into any issues they might be facing. Whether you are a small business or a large company, listening to customers is always helpful.

Related: The 15 Characteristics of People Who Succeed at Sales

Try to solve a problem

Solving a problem is a marketing plan that is effective and sure to work in building your business. And a great salesperson knows that solving the problem of a potential customer is a sure-fire way to improving the conversion rate of their business.

You will need to do some research into the problems that your target market faces and then focus on how your products or services can be used to solve these problems. This ties into the first step of listening, not only to your existing clients but to potential ones too. Listen to what people are saying and learn to read what is being said. This way, you will be able to ascertain the problems your customers are facing and you can come up with solutions to fix them.

Use word of mouth

Existing customers can be a huge help to your business, in that they can provide you with positive referrals to use to boost your client base. If a customer is happy with the services or products you have provided them with, you can ask them for the name and contact details of other business owners who might benefit from your help.

You can also ask for positive testimonials from customers that you can place on your business site and social media platforms. You should always ask permission before using testimonials, and be sure that they are factual, true and relevant to your brand. Referrals and testimonials are common sales tactics that can be applied to boosting a small business or improving the reputation of an established company. And while nobody enjoys receiving negative reviews, it is important that you use these reviews to learn from your mistakes and improve your customer experiences.

Sell your vision

Building your business might involve reaching out to investors to help with monetary issues, and this is where your sales skills will really need to shine. This is because you are not only selling your business, but you are selling your vision of your business as well.

You will need to give specific details as to how your offerings will help customers to solve problems and answer questions. And you will need to sell a successful vision to your investors of how you want your business to success. Show them that your employees will be happy with how well they are taken care of and that customers will live a better life by using your services or product.

Related: Take Your Sales Skills To The Next Level With These 5 Simple Steps

Exceed customer expectations

When a salesperson goes over and above what the customer expects, it is likely that the customer will become a return customer. And this is what you want for your business, right? So you should look into ways in which you can meet and exceed customer expectations.

One of the benefits of always exceeding expectations is that you will no longer have to rely on the “hard sell” to encourage people to use your business. Word-of-mouth will travel about your excellent customer service, which will sell your business for you. If your brand is passionate about providing customers with the best possible service, you will be selling your business and improving it all at once.

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