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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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