In our last article we discussed how to develop a true customer focus. This month we focus on how best to respond to your market place by identifying new trends and ‘benchmarking’ best practices, learning from the competition, clarifying your unique business strengths and weaknesses, and planning marketing and promotional activities.
By becoming a member of your local Chamber of Commerce and by subscribing to relevant trade journals, you increase your exposure to business networks and the latest information and trends. Most chambers are mandated to support small companies in their quest for new opportunities.
This is achieved through a number of services (including enterprise development, business intelligence and training) and opportunities to swap ideas with similar minded individuals. Over half of chamber members are small, medium and micro enterprises with turnovers below R5 million per annum, so they’re definitely the right company to keep. The tough trading climate means chambers have adopted a more pragmatic view and spend more time helping companies drive efficiencies, reach export potential and run their operations within national compliance regulations.
The CapeChamber of Commerce, for example, aware that ‘deal flow’ is critical to small business growth, has developed an aggressive pan-African policy which sees it connecting with other African chambers, governments and agencies. A quick glance at online magazine news stands like www.magazines.co.za, which showcases several categories of South African magazines, including free digital ones, reveals there are many options to choose from. You should search trade publications related to your industry sector and preview latest issues (if you can) before subscribing to the actual publication of your choice.
Learning from competitors
In order to learn from competition one needs to set aside all prejudices and be prepared to learn from other companies. Having correctly identified your competition you can begin to plan comparative shops. Be sure to think as broadly as possible. Competition in food retailing, for example, is diverse and numerous. Everyone from the large supermarket across the highway, to speciality food retailers/food standalones at the end of your driveway, convenience shops at garages and numerous ‘mom & pop’ style small businesses are competition.
It’s important to conduct thorough desktop research before you leave home. Search websites for clues on strategy and product positioning; check advertising and promotional activities in the mass media (local and / or national press, radio and on TV). Is your competition focused on selling ‘quality’ goods or price leadership? Once you view them close-up, what messages are prominent in their window displays? What happens once you’re inside their premises? Take note of everything from shop layout through product range or catalogue, to price-points and approach to customer service. Write down all key information and take photographs if you can.
Benchmarking for success
Benchmarking is the process of comparing your company and your processes/performance to the best in the trade. Aspects typically measured are the quality of goods and services, time to manufacture product and or delivery schedules and costs. The process of benchmarking involves identifying the best companies in your sector, or in another sector where similar processes exist, and comparing them with your own.
In this way you learn how well you are performing and, more importantly, the reasons certain companies are successful or not. Benchmarking is especially effective when used to measure performance against a specific indicator (cost of a product, productivity improvements, cycle time or defects per product) resulting in a measure that is comparable with your own performance. Benchmarking then allows you to develop new objectives to improve or adapt specific processes with the aim of increasing your performance. Benchmarking may be a once-off event, but is usually an ongoing, continuous improvement process.
There is no single benchmarking process, but you should first understand your own processes in detail and then identify potential benchmark companies. Having completed the benchmarking exercise one can then determine the gap and / or process differences. Finally you should set targets for future performance and communicate to everyone involved. Having implemented the changes you should review improvements on an ongoing basis.
To understand your own business strengths and weaknesses you will need to start with a simple analysis. Ensure you have the right people in the room in the first place. Quality input ensures quality output. Then be brutally honest about your company and its potential. Jim Collins in his best-selling book ‘Good to Great: Why some companies make the leap…and others don’t’ calls this confronting the “brutal facts”. Follow this up with a simple SWOT Analysis. Ask your team what your company’s strengths are i.e. what you are particularly good at? Conversely. What are you weak at i.e. what does your company struggle with? What opportunities exist for you to take advantage of (given your unique strengths) and what are the threats from competition i.e. how can they beat you at what you do? Once you’ve established your strengths and weaknesses you’ll be able to identify your unique offering (see last month’s article).
Defining your market
Another trick is to define your market in really simple dimensions. Let’s illustrate with an example. Take a cosmetic product i.e. body cream or lotion. Does the product fall into the category ‘therapeutic’ or ‘beauty’, high or low price? Vaseline Intensive Care Lotion for example would be a therapeutic product (with variants including Aloe & Cucumber for skin repair etc.) and also low to medium-priced. Your task is to plot all your competitors on a scale with just two axes.
Now answer this question for yourself. Where does Ingram’s Camphor Cream fit into the picture versus say a Coty or Lancôme product? Having identified your customers (we also completed this exercise last time) you can now begin to plan your marketing or promotional effort.
This is a subject on its own, but it starts with identifying an annual calendar of events. Start with the bigger ones e.g. seasonal changes & weather patterns (rain or shine), then public holidays & major sporting and / or special events in your geographical location. Finally record competitor activities (the more history you have the easier it will be to predict their behaviour). Now plan your promotions. If you’re a small food retailer do you want to expose an existing product or launch a new one?
When is the ideal time to do this – at the beginning of a week, on a Monday say, or a Friday in the case of boerewors – when it sells well as most customers braai on weekends? When would you advertise croissants? On a Monday – right? Because that’s when most customers buy them. Plan special events to coincide with the reduction activities of competition, your own reductions and clearances on weekends when most customers shop you – and so on.
The 5 Best Actions You Can Take To Improve Sales Calls
Ditch your script. Record your calls. Analyse your patterns. There are new, non-conventional ways to approach calls. Have you tried them?
We’ve all got a ton of digital tools to help us boost brand awareness, attract subscribers and followers and ultimately convince people that our brands have something to address their needs. However, closing the deal still usually depends on a one-on-one conversational interaction – or series of interactions – the traditional sales call.
Your top salespeople work tirelessly to track down leads generated by your marketing team. They reach out to previous customers to renew interest. And they work to convince interested buyers to finally take the plunge.
You can improve those close rates by: 1) asking your top performers to train your newcomers; or 2) sweetening the pot by offering more to your prospects in the first place.
But if you want to get even more out of your sales strategy, you’ll need to optimise your and your salespeople’s calls themselves. So, how, exactly, do you improve those calls?
Here are five ways:
1Ditch the script
First, let’s be clear: Sales scripts can be helpful. They’re a useful rubric for guiding the conversation in the direction you want to go, they’re a useful resource for training new candidates; and they’re a nice crutch for anyone who is shy or anxious about talking on the phone.
But there are two big problems with sales scripts on calls: First, they have a tendency to sound fake (especially if you’re using a template). Most customers can tell the difference between a sincere conversation and one that’s been over-rehearsed or pre-planned, and you’ll lose sales if you always sound insincere.
Second, scripts lock you into a single routine. It may be a decently effective routine, but you’ll never know if there’s something better out there.
2Record your calls
Have you ever experienced that phenomenon where the sound of your recorded voice is alien compared to what you’re used to hearing? This happens because of the vibrations we pick up in our own head, but it represents a bigger idea; we don’t know what we sound like until we listen.
Accordingly, your underperforming salespeople may be making critical mistakes they could pick out in an instant – if only they realised they existed. Start recording your sales calls, and make your sales staff listen both to their own calls and those of others. You’ll become collectively more acquainted with proper sales techniques, and be able to isolate some of the most egregious mistakes your people are making.
3Analyse your patterns
Unfortunately, there’s only so much the human mind can pick out in a single episode of listening of a sales call. That’s why artificial intelligence (AI)-powered speech recognition and analytics tools are starting to grow more popular. These tools automatically transcribe your sales calls, then analyse the text, looking for specific keywords that can tell you how the conversation is progressing, and where (for better or worse) the turning points are.
It’s an automated way to dissect how your sales calls develop, and a perfect tool for brainstorming new angles and tactics.
4Control your progress with goals
You should also make sure your progress remains steady and measurable by setting goals for your salespeople. These need to be both short-term and long-term, so your salespeople can see steady progress and feel motivated by their own efforts. Your goals also need to be both individual- and group-focused, so you can keep your team working together while still inspiring a bit of competition and individual improvement.
5Experiment and observe
Finally, don’t let yourself get too comfortable with any one set of tactics – even if your phone-call recordings guide you in that direction. Just because a strategy is good doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the best, so if you want to keep improving, you’ll want to experiment, sometimes with drastically different approaches.
Related: 8 Tips for Dominating Online Sales
Observe how these experiments develop, and scrap whatever doesn’t work. Inevitably, you’ll find something worth exploring.
A note on conventional tips
You’ll notice that I haven’t included any conventional tips to directly make your calls better, although there are plenty out there that seem to work. For example, there are no recommendations to start the call with a positive anecdote, or to make calls while standing and walking around to bring more energy to the meeting.
These can be helpful, but they’re short-term fixes, and they aren’t going to fix any glaring problems with your strategy. They’re also limited in how much value they can deliver.
Instead, the strategies listed, in contrast, are methodologies that can be applied indefinitely. They’re tools to help your team members learn and improve on their own. Accordingly, they won’t give you an instant boost in productivity or effectiveness, but they will yield the most powerful results – especially when applied over the course of months or even years.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
Have We Lost Our Face-To-Face Sales Ability?
Do we actually know enough about selling online to the point of being able to forego the traditional face-to-face selling?
When it comes to selling there are ample strategies around to help you become a confident closer. There is a lot of content on the topic of face-to-face selling as well as cold calling and closing on the phone.
A quick Google search will list copious amounts of books that will help you close deals, make money and smash your sales goals. And this is because a business can’t really be considered functional unless it’s selling. But in the current market much of the selling that happens, is via digital platforms. And yet, do we actually know enough about selling online to the point of being able to forego the traditional face-to-face selling?
We’re still in the learning phase of online selling
And we don’t know enough yet, we don’t have all tools to understand how to successfully close deals and so we’re not ready to rely on our digital sales alone. However, many companies do heavily rely on their online and social media presence alone to garner their profits. Are they wrong? Well, for the most part, yes. Because solely relying on online marketing efforts to increase sales and profit margins is not wise.
By relying on digital sales alone things become less personable. Yet all online strategies encourage companies to create as personable an interaction with each client, as possible. So in reality, face-to-face selling goes hand-in-hand with the online game.
The thing with online strategies is that they’re not actually sales orientated but rather, marketing campaigns and plans. As you develop online strategies, you’re working towards as many lead conversions as you can garner, but you can’t rely on those leads alone.
Those leads are the by-product of a robust online marketing campaign that has created brand awareness, promoted products and made it possible for the business to offer advice and guidance.
Digital marketing is not selling; digital marketing has a variety of different elements that lead towards a sale. Human interaction is always needed for you to enjoy many sales and fat profit margins. But in this digital age, it would appear that we’ve begun eliminating the personal interactions of traditional sales.
In fact, the invaluable networking and selling opportunities found at large conferences are slowly disappearing too. Webinars have become the new go-to in place of conferences or large meetings.
What do we lose when all of our interactions with a client are online?
Well, the answer to this is arguable. So, it’s best to look at only the facts. Historically, salespeople spent a good portion of their time knocking on the doors of bosses’ offices trying to secure an appointment. Or they could be found driving from place to place to see client after client to introduce their new product. And so because they quickly became a regular face, they were a part of the company in a way.
These relationships that were built over time became enduring and when products or services needed to be procured the client pledged loyalty to the salesperson.
Why? Because the relationship had become interpersonal and could be considered a work friendship. That type of bond is broken when things are purely digitised. And so it’s no wonder clients switch between service providers quickly and easily.
There’s no face to put to the name, there’s no relationship built and there’s no additional personal value offered. No one’s feelings are hurt and no excuses are necessary.
Human connection is often the value-add that a client enjoys and requires. And if you read up about excellent social media strategies they will all tell you to respond to clients online as quickly as you can.
You should call your client by their name when chatting or emailing and ultimately, make them feel like you really care. But do you know what’s better than that? Having a salesperson prepare a solution and present it to client.
How do you tick all the boxes?
Your fierce digital strategy will keep you competitive and ensure you remain relevant online. Your social media style will see you winning followers and your content offering will help you rank as an authoritative voice in the industry. But your sales team must work constantly on touching base with your current clients and potential new accounts.
Scheduling a round trip to see all your clients is an excellent idea. Getting creative about how you connect with them will be exciting for everyone involved. And arriving armed with data showcasing how you’re assisting your customers will likely win you more business.
If you’re a new business or you have a brand new sales department then make every effort to have your sales people attend sales and marketing courses. Coach them in relationship building and create networking opportunities for them.
A good place to start would be to attend conferences in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban – the biggest cities – especially those with exhibition areas and high foot traffic. This is the perfect place to fine tune your pitch and create connections.
You see, digitalising your company and creating an online offering was never meant to take the place of your sales team. It was meant to assist them with doing better and smashing those goals you set out.
How To Drive Customer Referrals (When You Aren’t Airbnb, Dropbox or Uber)
Build your business through customer referrals by leveraging these five tactics.
By now, you’ve probably realised that your customers trust their peers more than they trust your brand. And those peers are constantly sharing what they like and don’t like with their networks.
Just look at social media. Your friends are constantly talking about businesses just like yours. They may even be offering glowing recommendations – recommendations that you and other friends of theirs will pay attention to. According to Mark Zuckerberg, “Nothing influences people more than a recommendation from a friend.”
Word-of-mouth marketing is a powerful form of marketing, but extremely difficult to control. We can’t all be like Uber, Dropbox or Airbnb, businesses that were built on word of mouth. But it is possible to grow your business through customer referrals.
Here are five steps you can take to create a referral programme that works for your business.
1Offer an incentive
You can’t expect referrals to just happen. And asking isn’t always enough to get customers to recommend you. They need to know what’s in it for them.
That’s where an incentive comes in. In exchange for recommending your business and referring a friend, offer a discount, upgrade, free item or other gift. Whatever you decide to give, make sure it makes sense for your business.
It doesn’t need to be a huge cost, either. Dropbox gives its customers an extra 500 megabytes of space in return for inviting a friend. That way, Dropbox gets the referral, and no reduction to its bottom line.
2Get the right information
Referred customers are more valuable than leads since they are already invested in your business. These kinds of customers help you build the right audience. But, how you get the referral matters just as much as getting it.
Acquiring a name and email address isn’t enough. You must go beyond just gathering leads and actually get them to convert.
“The best referrals are where a customer actually facilitates a meeting, visit or purchase by the referred person, in person, by email or otherwise,” says Daniel Kehrer, editor and director of content development for Business.com.
3Time it right
Timing is key for any form of marketing, but especially in regard to referrals. Ask for a referral at the wrong time, and you risk being ignored and even losing business.
The best time to ask for a referral is when your customer is engaged and highly satisfied with your business. Then, you can take that person’s positivity and channel it into the action you want him or her to take.
The perfect time could be right after the customer has made a purchase or had a positive customer service experience.
There may be several moments when it makes sense to ask for a referral. Just be attuned to your customers and how they will respond.
4Make it easy
Giving a referral shouldn’t be a difficult or confusing process. So, you want to make sure your referral programme is set up in the easiest way possible. Your customers shouldn’t have to work hard or put in a lot of effort to refer someone. Don’t assume that customers already know about your referral programme, either. If that’s the case, you won’t get many takers.
The idea is to create a seamless brand experience that encourages your customers to participate. By making your referral programme a prominent part of your website, and promoting it through multiple channels, you’ll make your customers’ journey easier.
Related: Tips For Redesigning Your Website
5Get the word out
As mentioned, getting people to participate in your referral programme means you have to make sure they know how to do it. That’s why you need to make it visible.
Start by dedicating a page on your website to referrals. Include the details of your programme, and a clear and simple call to action. Consider adding a form to the page to capture your customer’s referral information.
Having a dedicated page also makes it easy to share the link through email, social media and other channels.
If you want to get even more visibility, make your referral programme visible on your home page. For example, Prize Candle placed a call to action for its referral programme in the upper left of its home page. This makes it easy for customers to see it, and ensures that everyone who visits the website will know about the programme.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
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