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A CEO’s Insider Secrets for Making the Sale

The odds of success are so much higher when the sales pitch is tailored to how the company operates. Here are six tips.

Brian Fielkow

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Secret

It drives me crazy when people perceive the sales process as glad-handing or wining and dining. Salespeople are skilled professionals. Yet as a company president and business owner, I see sales from a different perspective.

I’ve been contacted by salespeople for just about every product or service imaginable and seen excellence and disasters. The best salespeople not only know their product or service inside and out but have also taken the time to study my company and its culture. The odds of success are so much higher when the sales pitch is tailored to how the company operates. Here are six tips:

Related: How to Build Your Network Like a Super Connector

1. Understand the organisation

Many sales professionals assume that approaching the CEO is key to making a sale. In most cases, that assumption is wrong.

If a salesperson goes right to the proverbial top of my company, he or she is bypassing the people who will make or break the relationship.

As CEO, I am not going to usurp the decision-making authority vested in my employees. If a purchasing decision is made that circumvents these employees, this is certain to demoralise and deflate them. I am more concerned about employee respect, empowerment and morale than any product or service.

If salespeople understand my company enough to find the relevant decision maker, their chances of success increase dramatically. If I receive a positive recommendation from my decision makers, then they have my attention.

2. Understand that organisations change

When a company is of modest size, a certain senior executive might confer with the salesperson directly. As companies grow and responsibilities change, though, stay tuned. Don’t bank on yesterday.

For example, I used to handle my company’s benefits. Over time, I transferred that responsibility to another executive better suited to the task.

Despite several attempts to inform a certain salesman of the change, he refused to recognise it. He continued to bypass the right party, thinking he’d be OK as long as I was around. A competitor studied our organisation, went through the correct channels and built credibility with the right people. Who do you suppose is handling my company’s business now? I am running a business not a country club.

Never rely on a relationship with a company executive as a long-term sales strategy. People change and roles change.

3. Become a strategic asset

My company is relocating and building a new office building. I’m very involved with the new office planning and have met with several prospective vendors. All but one immediately began to promote their furniture, prices or service. Only one salesperson came in with a different game plan.

He asked: “Why do you have an office in the first place? After all, you could perform most things remotely. So, why are you spending the capital on an office?” These questions led to a discussion about teamwork, the need for communication and tearing down silos. All these are core values at my company.

This value-based discussion led to some strategic thinking about my company’s office design including the limitations of the space and the organisation’s vision for the future.

The sales representative offered to prepare a preliminary design that was aligned with my company’s objectives and values. He indicated that my company was free to use the design and choose another vendor if he could not meet our objectives when it came time to buy furniture.

This ranks as textbook perfection for positioning a product or service for a sale at the executive level. This salesperson took a commoditised product (office furniture) and approached it as a strategic sale. The vendor showed how his products support my company’s values and strategic goals.

4. Respect my time

Take the advice of President Woodrow Wilson. When an official congratulated the president on introducing the vogue of short speeches, he inquired about the preparation time involved.

He said: “It depends. If I am to speak 10 minutes, I need a week for preparation; if 15 minutes, three days; if half an hour, two days; if an hour, I am ready now.”

Be prepared. Be concise. If there’s a need for background, do research before the meeting. Don’t use the meeting to probe for a value proposition that I want to hear. Instead using the meeting to investigate what’s giving the company pain (consultative selling), do the homework. Arrive at the meeting knowing with reasonable certainty about the company’s needs.

Be prepared to put a best foot forward based on the strength of the product or service. Do this by networking with the people in my organisation who would be closest to the product or service involved.

Related: How To Make The Most Of Your Network

5. Know whom I trust

Cold calls and letters are not likely to land a meeting. The most effective salespeople operate within a network. The odds of a meeting soar if a referral comes from a trusted business associate or advisor (not just some friend of a friend on Facebook or LinkedIn).

The odds of a meeting are increased if a salesperson has served as a value-added resource inside a network. If a trusted source raves about a certain product or service, I will want to ensure that a meeting with the appropriate salesperson occurs.

Don’t try to get around my company’s gatekeeper. The gatekeeper is there for a reason. A salesperson pretending like he and I are old friends does not work. My gatekeeper knows my trusted network quite well. Treating my company’s gatekeepers with disrespect means zero chances of doing business with my organisation.

6. Leave the gifts at home

At a previous company I worked for, a box arrived at my office with a beautiful Mont Blanc pen set and a request for an appointment. Needless to say, the vendor was banned and the gift returned.

Know and respect a company’s vendor gift policy. I don’t allow any sort of entertainment or gifts during the courtship. It makes me feel like a salesperson is trying to buy my business. Once a vendor is selected, then limited, reasonable entertainment (such as a lunch) may be appropriate. Never violate written or common-sense integrity principles. There’s no faster way to kill the chances of doing business.

Related:  Why Leaders who Trust, Grow Better Businesses

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

Corporate culture and management advisor Brian Fielkow is the author of Driving to Perfection: Achieving Business Excellence by Creating a Vibrant Culture, a how-to book based on his 25 years of executive leadership experience at public and privately held companies. With a doctorate in law from Northwestern University School of Law, he serves as owner and president of Jetco Delivery, a logistics company in Houston that specializes in regional trucking, heavy haul and national freight.

Techniques

Night-owls And Commerce – Doing Business 24-7

With the exceptions of some industries such as the financial sector which in many cases still requires customers to be present at a branch for compliance’ sake, customer interaction resolution around the clock is at your fingertips.

Wynand Smit

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Within recent memory, businesses would labour all day and then knock off at 5pm. The world of the 9-5 career is now a thing of the past. Your customers (and your workforce) have moved to a landscape of flexi-time, shift work, 7am-3pm or more, with a view to accommodating freelance work, family commitments or the enjoyment of lifestyle pursuits such as sport or gym.

The point is, your customers now expect to do business at equally unrestrained hours – over the weekend, late at night, or early in the morning. Are you delivering customer service that meets this expectation?

For the most part, companies have access to customer service options that allow for this, with the introduction of digital channels, automation and self-service, it’s far easier to interact with your customers 24/7. With the exceptions of some industries such as the financial sector which in many cases still requires customers to be present at a branch for compliance’ sake, customer interaction resolution around the clock is at your fingertips.

Related: Understanding Your Responsibility As An Employer

A case for round-the-clock availability

Increased business opportunities

Instead of asking your customers to come back in the morning (Mondays to Fridays only or shortened operating hours on weekends), you can assist them when they need it, allowing more hours for more opportunities to resolve queries, sell products and services or conduct campaigns. In effect, you are magnifying your market, just by being available for more hours of the day.

Ease of doing business

So many interactions can be conducted without involving human agents. You can have chatbots assisting with general queries, product information and even facilitating sales. Automated processes can assist with simple enquiries and more. In turn, this means that either fewer human agents need to be on hand to deal with customers, and/or that those human agents who are present can handle the more complex tasks. This means that efficiency is being optimised in the contact centre environment, and more often than not, CX enhanced for the customer.

Rapid response and feedback

In an age of instant gratification, your customers want service now. Even if this is not always possible, it is important to manage their expectations and communicate timelines every step of the way. Who is dealing with their query, what are the contact details and name of the person or department managing it and how long will it take? Customers expect this information to be readily available and communicated, particularly if the process is complex and there are multiple tasks that need to be completed to achieve a result (e.g. a successful loan application).

This can aid in defusing problems before they get out of hand, leading to improved customer retention and an opportunity to build customer loyalty.

Related: Is Working From Home More Stressful Than From The Office?

Working with your data

The data you have accumulated on customer interaction preferences can guide you in developing more targeted business and customer support strategies – via insights gained through data analytics, you could find out when individual customers are more likely to be available and open to doing business according to the time of day that they typically interact with you or buy from you. This will help you manage and schedule your workforce better, as well as provide an opportunity to offer a more personalised service to customers.

Your customers should no longer feel like they have to wait to speak, email, chat or approach you, and your business has the opportunity to work effectively through extended hours without taxing your workforce too hard (remember, some people prefer to work at night, for example, while others need to be available to do the school run). It’s about meeting human preferences and being able to match these with efficiency in the contact centre environment.

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Techniques

4 Tools For Perfecting Your B2B Sales Funnel

Cloudlead, GrooveJar, Stripe Checkout and Drip can help you customise your first-time visitor’s journey, to ‘customer.’

Thomas Smale

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The B2B customer journey from visitor, to lead, to customer, to promoter is often broken down into four steps: Attract, convert, close and delight.

These steps are the foundation of inbound marketing, a term first coined by Hubspot CEO Brian Halligan. And each one of these steps is intended to guide visitors to your website through your sales funnel, with the end goal being to not only close that first one-time sale but convert your customers into repeat buyers and advocates for your business.

Here are four tools your business can put to work today to optimise your B2B sales funnel and boost your sales.

Attract: Cloudlead

Typically, the top of the sales funnel for online business focuses on generating relevant organic traffic. Traffic generation can be achieved with a solid content-marketing strategy covering the creation and promotion of quality content that engages your target audience through blog posts, social media, guest posting and link-building.

While content marketing is the best way to increase your organic search traffic, its results are far from instantaneous. If you’re in the B2B space, for instance, you may find that your strategy to reach the decision-makers you need, to close a sale through content marketing, isn’t producing results quickly enough. That’s where tools like Cloudlead come in.

Related: Creating a Sales Forecast for your Business Plan

Cloudlead harnesses the power of machine-learning coupled with human research, to find qualified leads for your business. After you provide this tool with a detailed description of your product and buyer persona, Cloudlead’s proprietary research tools provide you and your sales team with detailed contact information for decision-makers relevant to your product.

This in turn enables you to target potential customers with pinpoint accuracy and move them to the top of your sales funnel without having to wait for your content marketing efforts to pay off.

Convert: GrooveJar

groovejar-logoOnce you have attracted a visitor to your site, the most crucial incremental step you can take to edge him or her toward a purchase is to capture the visitor’s email address. According to a 2017 survey by Episerver, “92 percent of consumers visit a brand’s website for the first time for reasons other than making a purchase.”

So, when targeting first-time visitors, capturing an email address is a much more realistic conversion goal to aim for than an outright sale.

Email capture enables you to follow up with targeted marketing emails, such as special offers and discounts or engaging content relevant to your lead’s interests. This process is often referred to as “lead nurturing,” and it helps move potential customers further down your sales funnel, closer to the ultimate goal of achieving a sale. But how do you convince a visitor to your site to part with his or her email address?

GrooveJar is a suite of eight intelligent pop-up apps that have been shown to triple the industry-standard email capture rate of 3 percent. The most popular app, GrooveUrgent, uses the psychological principle of urgency to convince visitors to provide their email address by creating  a pop-up window with a countdown timer; this gives visitors a limited time to heed a call-to-action that you specify.

The latter offer can be a discount, a free trial offer, the opportunity to download an ebook – whatever you think may entice a visitor to leave an email address. Once you have captured that address, GrooveJar’s Collect and Convert function utilises the power of email automation to retarget your leads and turn them into buyers.

Close: Stripe Checkout

Once you’ve nurtured your lead sufficiently to the point where this person is ready to make a purchase, how do you close the deal? While this may seem straightforward, 67.4 percent of checkouts are abandoned before the purchase is completed, according to CoxBlue.

Abandoned cart email apps, such as MageMail for Magento, can be highly effective in helping recover those sales, but it is essential to optimise the checkout process itself. Payment processor giant Stripe is popular for a reason: It has been making it easy for businesses to accept payments from major credit cards since 2011.

More recently, Stripe Checkout was developed to allow online businesses to embed highly optimised checkout forms anywhere on their site. Stripe uses data gathered from its many users to continually refine and optimise the checkout process, helping ensure you don’t lose sales due to poor checkout form design and functionality.

Stripe Checkout renders seamlessly on desktops, mobile and tablets. As an added convenience, consumers have the option of having Stripe Checkout “remember” their payment details, enabling faster checkouts on repeat purchases and on other websites that use Stripe. Stripe Checkout can help ensure you don’t stumble at the finish line when your customer is ready to make a purchase.

Related: Mastering The Sales Process

Delight: Drip

Many business owners assume that the ultimate goal of any sales funnel is to make a sale. While that is inherently true, Halligan’s hierarchy of inbound marketing states that the sales process doesn’t end there. The crucial final step is to delight your clients, turning them into repeat customers and advocates for your business.

Many businesses devote most of their marketing efforts to acquiring new customers, but a BIAKelsey study showed that 61 percent of SMBs surveyed reported that more than half of their revenue came from repeat customers, rather than new business. That’s just one reason why it’s so important to stay in touch with your customers after they make a purchase, and not just with an order confirmation email.

You should deliver personalised, engaging content and incentives to encourage a repeat purchase or upsell to more services. You can even incentivise your clients to send other potential customers your way by offering a reward for referrals. Drip enables you to do all of these things at scale through email marketing automation.

While automated marketing campaigns that send out emails based on defined intervals or customer actions – usually referred to as “drip campaigns” – are often employed at an earlier stage in the sales funnel, they can be just as effective in delighting your existing customers. Repeat customers are often one of a business’s most valuable assets. Clever use of marketing automation using Drip can help turn customers into advocates.

Final thoughts

Optimising your B2B sales funnel means maximising your chances for success at every stage of the customer journey, from visitor to brand advocate. Cloudlead, GrooveJar, Stripe Checkout and Drip can help your business do just that.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Techniques

Want To Become A Supplier To A Big Company? Consider This First

A giant customer can be highly profitable or cost you your business. Have you considered all the angles?

Ed Hatton

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customer-service

“How do I get into the big corporates or Government?” Business owners visualise huge sales and profits by becoming a supplier to a giant, and that is often the case. For a big organisation with billions to spend, a trivial expenditure to them may be a large fortune to you. Do not let the number of zeros dazzle you, riches are not guaranteed; many entrepreneurs have suffered losses or businesses collapse from such dealings.

You must understand the motivations of managers of large organisations, and the risks they face. They are KPI-driven and risk serious damage to their careers if something goes badly wrong. Compared to these issues, your profitability, work hours and ego are minor considerations. You may believe that you only have to perform in terms of your agreement, but in reality, you need to make your contacts look good. Aim for a zero fail rate; deliveries that are late, faulty or incorrect may cause a disproportionate explosion because that means your contact has let someone down. If you are smart, you can help your contacts get a reputation for superior internal service.

Related: How To Stay One Step Ahead In The Knowledge Era

Understand the risks that big customers pose to your business

There are risks in any unequal buyer/seller relationship. The biggest risk is if the giant stops buying. Large customers can be extremely demanding; they see you as an extension of their business and can be intolerant of your need to service other customers. Many small suppliers will be familiar with a peremptory summons to an immediate meeting and occasional rudeness. A supply contract inevitably favours the big guy, and this means pricing and other terms of trade are vital. You must protect your ability to make a reasonable margin even if circumstances like inflation, exchange rates or sector wage agreements change.  

Large organisations care about meeting their budgets, not about your profitability, and many suppliers have failed because they were bound to supply goods at an unsustainable price. Managers move around, and if your champion is promoted, the replacement manager may prefer their favourite suppliers, so out you go. Broaden your range of contacts in the organisation to avoid this risk.  Large organisations are huge bureaucracies; decisions may take time and payments may be delayed, especially if your paperwork is not perfect.

There are opportunities — but evaluate them carefully

The major opportunity is significant growth. They will buy if you supply a product or service that suits their needs and budget at service levels that make the managers look good. It is entirely possible to make your company almost indispensable by solving problems and offering them innovative new ways of exceeding their KPIs at reduced cost. There are opportunities to supply other parts of the giant, as well as their supply chains. Be careful with growth. Your primary contact will be used to your full attention and if he or she senses that this is no longer happening because you have grown, they can seek alternative suppliers. Never let growth reduce your customer service level.

A very large and prestigious customer gives your company credibility, allows you to attract the brightest staff, makes selling to other giants easier and gives you funds to develop new markets and new products.

Related: Are You Forgetting To Think About Your Business Strategy?

Is it worth it?

Is it worth the big money? Yes, if you can manage the risks, chief of which is becoming too dependent on one customer. However, dealing with the big gorillas is not the same as having a more balanced supplier/buyer relationship. It works if you use your ability to be nimble and flexible to solve their problems. It helps if you are innovative and can use your creativity to respond rapidly in ways that big corporations cannot. It works if you can give very personal service, even if that means you, the owner, are the primary interface. By doing these things you can become an indispensable cog in a huge machine.


REMEMBER THIS

You need a champion in your client’s organisation, but ensure you have other contacts too. What happens if they leave or are promoted? Is your contract safe?

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