It was the beginning of another year. The December holidays felt like they were months ago. Already work was becoming overwhelming.
Charlotte held the hard-earned post of regional operations manager in one of South Africa’s biggest tile retailers, she had been with the company for eleven years. For some time she had felt she needed a change.
She also had a creative side that never found expression in the day-to-day humdrum of operations. For three years before she started her own business, Charlotte had been keeping herself busy over the weekends.
Every week she would collect the broken tiles that were discarded as a result of careless material handling – dropped boxes, forklift damage incurred during the long journeys from manufacturers all over the globe. She only collected the decorative tiles with colours and patterns to suit the tastes of eclectic South African consumers.
The tile pieces were taken home to the garage where Charlotte’s other life took over. On the walls and floor were tile mosaic patterns expressing emotions and images that would appeal to the homeowner.
Her journey into the world of mosaics began on a trip to Chartres, France in 2004. There she visited La Maison Picassiette, a home covered completely in mosaic made of broken ceramic tile. The care, dedication and beauty evident in the work inspired her so deeply that she decided to make mosaics.
Inspiration and passion are key attributes needed when starting a business which she certainly had in large doses.
In 2006 she left her previous employer on good terms and started her own business. She produced mosaic kits including the mosaic pattern, tile pieces, tools and materials needed for home mosaic enthusiasts to create their own pieces of art.
In 2010, her business was generating an annual turnover of R13 million with exciting growth prospects.
Few retail suppliers are pure cash businesses; terms of payment often sit on both sides of your business model. Retailers demand payment terms and you want their business.
On the supply side, Charlotte sourced the broken tile pieces from her previous employer. Her orders were made up of broken tiles collected in nylon bags or end of range whole tiles which she broke up into the fragments.
The relationship was invaluable. Charlotte could order as and when she liked and the pricing was reasonable. The biggest distribution centre of the retailer which supplied stores across the country was a convenient 12km from where she lived.
The early years saw her learning the lessons that cannot be avoided. At first she marketed her product too broadly. Not everyone likes the idea of buying a mosaic kit.
During the first two years, Charlotte worked hard to understand the consumer market.
Turning your business to face your customers and not your ideas is a very humbling and difficult task to achieve.
She found a market and matched the products she developed to retailers that she could market to.
In 2008, the impacts of the global credit crunch began to bear down on the global economy. The South African economy responded soon afterwards. In order to sustain her growth, Charlotte had to innovate. This meant two actions.
First, she had to get the price of her materials down. At the same time, she had to broaden the range of products she had under specific price points and increase the range of designs to appeal to established customers. Her first trip to China was being planned.
After two weeks in Guangdong, China, Charlotte arrived back in South Africa with her first order placed. She found a range and variety of tiles that fitted exactly what she needed and at prices that were almost 30% cheaper than her current line of supply. It was a dream trip.
When I met her in 2011, her annual turnover was a solid R18,7 million.Charlotte complained that while her turnover had grown and things were looking good (she was about to list her products with a national garden product retailer), turnover was not translating into the profit margins she once enjoyed. She was in a terrible cash crunch.
[box style=”gray,info” ]The Importance of Not Letting First Sales Go Bad[/box]
I ran the diagnostics on her business. We included the numbers, a site visit and business systems evaluation. What I discovered sent a chill down her spine.
Charlotte’s materials inventory, work-in-progress and especially finished stock ratios were a mess. After additional analysis, we discovered that the problem lay with the Chinese inventory. The levels were too high and cash was tied up in what increasingly looked like unsaleable stock.
Before importing from China, Charlotte procured locally. At most she would have a three or four day delivery cycle. Her ability to order ‘just-in-time’ was on offer all-the-time. While this was great for the first few years of her business, the demands and pressures that led to her having to import required a different approach.
China required an increase in the size of the average order and she also had to endure long lead delivery times, as the tiles were transported by ship.
Despite her experience, the stock she ordered often arrived when the season for its demand had passed. Mosaics have a fashion and novelty factor and so we quickly went to work on developing a system to create an inventory order foresight capability. It’s called a sales forecast.
Charlotte had to prepare a forecast on sales over the next year. The forecast needed to specify sales into product units. For the first time, she could get a sense of what the future plan of the business would look like. Supporting the forecasted sales was a promotional plan, something she had never aligned against a forecast.
With our ability to read the market signs and present them in product units, we developed an inventory ordering capability that took into account the manufacturing and delivery processes from the Chinese suppliers.
Included in the February orders were samples for the development of products for the following summer season. This allowed Charlotte to move to a point with her retailers where she could pre-sell the season’s products before placing orders from the Chinese manufacturers.
Forewarned is forearmed
The power of doing a well thought out sales forecast in your business provides you with advantages that you would never have thought of. In Charlotte’s case ‘forewarned is forearmed’.
Today Charlotte’s business generates a consistent R27 million with an average stock turn of around 1,4, dramatically down from the terrifying 3,2 that we first discovered. Goods are almost completely sold before they are even ordered. A nice place to be. And profitable too.
[box style=”gray,info” ]Become a Sales Process Master[/box]
Sensing the future
Forecasting isn’t about mind-reading. It’s looking to the future, and then using the numbers to make intelligent decisions today.
What does your inventory look like, and is it hurting your business?
Build your forecasting tool
Create 12 columns marked with the months of the year.
Identify all the activities this year that will impact sales e.g. school holidays, strike season, elections, the seasons etc.
Forecast the business from your current clients.
- Organise your profitable clients. It’s likely that the top 20% of your clients make up 80% of your sales. If you are dealing with consumers, segment them and identify which segments make up your 80% of sales.
- Forecast their performance this year: Take a view on growth given the poor economy — say 10% and take your 20% customer segment and grow their revenues over the period by 10%.
Forecast sales from new clients against your product/service range.
- Take all your products or services and do the same — segment them into the top 20% that brings in 80% of your sales. List them over the 12 month period.
- dentify what promotional activity you want to implement this year and locate these activities over the 12 month period.
- Take a view on what new sales you will generate against your top 20% products/services in response to your promotions.
Aggregate your sales forecast for this year by adding the expected sales from current customers to the hope for sales of the new customers responding to your promotions over the year together.
You now have a forecast
It will never be right. Every month register what sales you brought in and compare to what you thought you would bring in. Did you over- or underachieve?
Ask and interrogate why and in so doing you develop the intuition of foresight through a most useful tool called the forecast. Do it now and it will serve you beyond your dreams.
Take Your Sales Skills To The Next Level With These 5 Simple Steps
Learn to sell nearly anything.
Entrepreneur Network partner Brian Tracy says one of the most valuable skills a person can have is the ability to sell anything to anyone.
The motivational speaker provides a few tips to help even the most beginner of salesman to improve their skills dramatically:
- Understand the needs of your customers.
- Sell yourself.
- Do research on the client.
- Ask questions and engage in a dialogue with your customers.
Finally, keep in mind that you should not only be selling – but also helping your customers. Selling is part of a relationship and the more established the relationship, the more effective your sales tactics will be.
To hear more about selling from Tracy click on the video below:
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
Boost Your Business With Smart Delivery
Differentiate your business in the one way that customers value the most: deliver the goods on time.
It can be difficult to carve out a competitive advantage in today’s cutthroat business environment. For some companies, investments have been focused on creating digital advantage through measures like apps or fancy websites, or improved processes with clever technology to make things run faster and better. While all those strategies have their place, there could be a far simpler way to put your business ahead of the competition. Deliver the goods, in a very literal sense.
The Internet revolution has made today’s markets very competitive in all sorts of ways. Barriers to entering many markets have tumbled and new competitors are everywhere. Consumers have greater choice than ever and can easily compare prices and service. That is good for consumers, but it makes it hard for companies to attract and retain a loyal following.
By now, it should be no secret that people are willing to pay for convenience. In fact, many of the digital initiatives we see today are succeeding because of the convenience they provide. Take the Uber example: Using technology services, it brings together willing sellers with willing buyers, with the ultimate convenience of being able to see where your Uber is, who the driver is and what car to expect. Even more convenient, your Uber shows up when you need it.
Extend the same concept to physical goods, no matter what they may be and it is not difficult to see how a delivery service can easily put a big smile on your customers’ faces. Whether you are selling horse saddles, operate a bicycle store, run the local grocer, hardware outlet or restaurant: bringing your goods to your customers saves them time, makes it easier to buy and has the added effect of establishing further rapport to build trusted relationships.
According to Forbes, the Internet has habituated today’s shoppers to instant gratification. While physical goods obviously cannot be accessed at a click, there is no doubt that speedy delivery has become a driver of competitive advantage.
Getting a delivery service set up can be easy and low-cost provided your market is fairly local and your product relatively easy to transport. There are a range of options for vehicles, from a versatile bakkie or minivan capable of handling large loads or bigger items, through to a delivery motorbike or scooter. For those providing smaller items, scooters or motorbikes are a great option, as they enable convenience when your customers might most need it: during rush hour. A bike can zip through the traffic, impressing your customer by ensuring that they get what they need, without wasting time stuck in the car due to traffic or lack of parking.
A big question would be whether your deliveries are handled in-house or by a third party. There are pros and cons, but there is an increasing trend for many smaller businesses to make use of specialised logistics/ delivery operations. After all, this means you do not have to make the capital investment in a vehicle or scooter, pay a staff member to do the job and take on the insurance and management issues. Not only are you engaging an expert, you are also doing your bit to support another business.
Third-party delivery partners also work well for deliveries in far-flung areas, or if your product is bulky.
It is a good idea to see what other businesses of your size are doing and who they are using. It is important to choose a delivery partner whose service ethos matches your own.
Whatever option you choose, make sure you understand the risk and have the right kind of business insurance in place. It is also a good idea to have the ability to monitor where your deliveries are in real time. If you have a third-party partner, they should be able to provide this for you.
With most big stores offering delivery services as part of their value proposition, adding this choice to your service offering increasingly makes good business sense. Customers are quite prepared to pay a slight premium to get what they want, right to their front door – and they will keep on coming back for more.
MiWay is an Authorised Financial Services Provider (Licence no: 33970)
5 Reasons Why Your Business Is Losing Customers
Ever think about why people keep buying iPhones, even though they’re so darned pricey?
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.
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
Price 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.)
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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