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The New Entrepreneur: Selling

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The one thing any business needs to do to turn a profit, regardless of its industry sector, is to make sales. Whether business to business or retail, no sales means no money. In this post, I’ll run through the main factors that may affect your sales strategy.

If you’ve ever worked in call centre, you’ll know that most of the calls you make will end up with a “no” response when trying to make a sale. You need to prepare yourself for this with your business. Whatever your marketing strategy, expect to be rejected more often than not. This isn’t to say your product or service is rubbish (after all, you’ve thought everything through while writing your business plan, right?), merely that those particular customers at that particular time don’t want to buy. This can actually be a useful exercise, as if the same issues keep arising when you fail to make a sale, you have the opportunity to tweak your sales pitch to make it more appealing. Don’t give up just because you are not an instant success.

Coming Up with a Strategy
Your sales strategy is like the evil twin to your marketing strategy. Where your marketing strategy is about getting people interested in your product, your sales strategy is about getting them to to buy it. Once you have identified your target market, you need to prepare to be very persistent with both your marketing efforts and your attempts to convert your leads into sales.

Essentially, the KISS principle applies: keep it simple, stupid. You don’t need a complicated sales process. At its most basic, your sales strategy will be lead, contact, conversion, sale. Regardless of whether you are running a lemonade stand or a huge multinational business consultancy, the principles remain the same. Whether you are going to be employing sales staff or following up leads yourself, don’t lose focus on those four basic factors.

Your marketing efforts should have resulted in a number of strong leads that offer the prospect of making a sale, in addition to weaker leads where there might be some interest, but nothing concrete has been proposed. You need to figure out whether these leads are driven more on a cost or function basis. That is, are they interested because you are cheaper than your competitors, or because you offer something that nobody else can? Raw data is not going to tell your this, so it is now time to start talking to your potential customers. You can start this via a quick phone conversation, or for those leads that seem solid, you can actually arrange a meeting. Think of this as softening them up before going in for the kill.

This first contact is basically an opportunity to conduct a little bit more marketing and also to guage customer reaction. Some will reject you at this point, but don’t lose heart. Not having to deal with them frees up your time to follow up other prospects. For those customers who don’t reject you, now is the time to highlight the benefits of your product or service, in addition to any cost benefits to them. You could choose to highlight features they can take advantage of, or emphasise the high level of customer service you can provide despite the relative affordability of your offering. Bear in mind however, as with your marketing, that you will need to be able to back up your claims.

Sealing the Deal
One of the strategies that a number of salespeople employ is to try to scare customers into missing the boat. “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity! You’re never going to get a deal this good again!” This is a very silly way to try and close a deal. While it may work on some, a greater number of consumers will reject it, as it not only puts them under pressure, but also makes the salesperson using this patter seem rather desperate. My advice: avoid using this technique.

Instead, you ought to be aiming to make the customer feel as though you are acting in their interest. Tell them how your product or service will make their life easier, or save them money. If they are still uncertain, back off, but offer to contact them again in the future, once they have had a chance to think. I once spent three months phone-stalking an executive who I wanted to recruit to a series of seminars. I spoke to her PA nearly every working day, always backing off when told that she was too busy to take my call, out of the office, in a meeting. But talking to her PA also gave me insight into the benefits that might induce her to attend. In the end, she did go to the seminars. And I had a couple of dates with the hot Swiss guy I’d been chatting up as part of my sales effort.

A sales strategy is in essence very simple. You have targets that you need to reach within a certain time period, and prospects that can help you achieve that. Anything else is incidental. Nevertheless, you would do well to consider your sales strategy as a continuum of your marketing efforts. The best customers are repeat customers, and unless you are selling a truly unique product, this means that you need to take steps to retain the customers your have got. This is where sales bleeds through into after-sales care and customer service, which I shall be covering in the next post in this series.

[Image by KM & G-Morris]


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