Editor’s Note: This is the second part of a two-part column by Robert Levin, Publisher of The New York Enterprise Report, on trends affecting small businesses in 2007. In this second part, Rob examines three more trends: the increasing focus on strategy and planning, development of sales best practices, and improved Web presences.
By Robert Levin
Trend #3: More recognition of the need for owners to work on their business rather than in their business
Situation: The need to allocate time and develop procedures that allow you to work on your business is nothing new thanks to Michael Gerber. But the awareness level among small businesses has never been higher. Entrepreneurs now understand that success is not a matter of working harder, but rather working smarter by developing a plan and execution strategy. Businesses which fail to plan will lag behind their more strategic competitors.
Opportunity: Spend at least 5 to 10 hours per month outside of your office without interruptions on developing strategies and action plans to take your business to the next level.
Pick a number that is a material number with respect to the value of your business. For example, if your business is worth about $2 million, you might consider $200,000 to be material. Then come up with 5 ideas or so that would lead to an increase in your company’s value by that material number. (Again this idea comes courtesy of Larry King.) To give you an example using my business, I am developing an idea of an annual project that I believe will increase the value of my business by about $1 million.
Trend #4: Recognition of the need to develop best practices in sales and marketing
Situation: With the increase in competition, comes the need to get better at the sales process. Most small businesses are still “throwing crap to the wall and waiting to see what sticks.” That just won’t fly anymore.
Opportunity: It costs next to nothing to reach out and contact a prospect. Whether it is email or phone, the barriers for your competition to reach their sales and prospects are quite low.
- Among other things, your prospects and getting tired of getting solicited. How are you going to get their attention? John Jantsch suggests lumpy mail.
- When it comes to calls, you probably have 20 seconds to get someone’s attention. Telling them about your product will not do it. Saying something about their problem might (e.g., “Hi. This is Rob Levin from The Report. We recently developed a program that helped one of your competitors increase their market share by 20%. Does it make sense for us to set up some time to speak to see if we could help your company.”)
- Another tactic I like is to provide your prospects with useful content to help them that has nothing to do with sales. You can do this via an email newsletter (that does not focus on selling anything) or send them tearsheets of articles that they might find useful.
- The majority of salespeople are simply not that good. At best, these sales people represent a huge opportunity cost to your company. At worst, they are creating badwill for your company in the marketplace. Many salespeople, full of energy and optimism, think that hustle and guts are what it takes to be successful in sales. But in reality they are “spraying and praying” by throwing enough gunk to the wall to see what sticks. Sales are about going past the surface problems that your prospects are facing and asking enough questions to get to personal pain. After all, people buy on emotion. The Sandler Sales Institute is a great source of sales training that goes against conventional wisdom. They construct framework that takes away the buyer and seller mystification of the sales process.
- BONUS TIP – Many people like to hire experienced sales people because 1) they may come with a book of business and 2) they don’t require a learning curve. The problem is they come with years of bad habits. Make sure that your next salesperson has the right attitude and can sell in a manner consistent with how you sell. So if you take a consultative selling approach and you are interviewing someone who has been successful in sales but they have sold in a “boiler-room,” you may want to keep looking. When I interview a prospective sales person the first thing I notice is whether or not they talk their head off or they ask me questions.
Trend #5: Your Website: The Validator
Situation: Several years ago, many businesses built lavish websites thinking that if they built it, people will come. Now some businesses are much more savvy and are investing in things like search engine optimization and pay-per-click ads to generate traffic to their sites.
But there are other people coming to visit your site: the people you meet and give business cards to. Within a few days after you meet them, they stare at your business card and think about the conversation that you had. In many cases they look at the URL listed on your card and check you out. The problem, in some cases, is that you may not have tried to build traffic to your site so you didn’t invest much into your site. So when your next prospect checks out your site, they get disappointed.
Opportunity: Here are some simple things you can do put your best foot forward.
- Testimonials – We post most compelling testimonials on our website. In fact, when I meet people who tell me how much they like The Report, I tell them that if they email me a testimonial, I just might put it on our website along with their name and company.
- Explain what you do – whether it is on your home page or on an “about us” page (which should be a link from your home page), succinctly state what you do and who you do it for. Try to put your services in terms of the problems you solve (you can list your products and services separately).
- Contact information – Too many companies don’t give enough options for viewers to get in touch with you including email (and if you use an “info@” email, make sure someone is checking throughout the day), phone and your address. No, you probably are not going to get much snail mail these days, but remember, your website is being used to validate you. That means that viewers want to know where your company is located.
- Make sure the design of your site reflects your brand – website need to look professional. This includes the design, navigation and copy. Here is a test: do you wince when you visit your website? At the same time, don’t overdo it. Just a few years ago, a lot of companies were using flash graphics on their websites. Unless you are in the fashion business, you should not being using flash because viewers don’t want to sit through the animation. For more tips on upgrading your website, visit: Is It Time for a Website Upgrade?
(Go here to read part one of this article.)
Thanks for the information. There are too many options trading strategies available. We need to test out all strategies and evaluate the techniques and measure them on the long term.
Here’s another tip for best sales practices:
How Will This Buying Decision Be Made?
Three-quarters of the secret to professional, strategic selling boils down to asking the Best Questions and listening carefully to the answers. Most of the Best Questions have to do with uncovering the crucial, underlying needs your products or services might serve. But you also must know how to sell to a particular account. Using the same strategy for all customers is a big mistake. The issue is: how do you compete for this customer’s business?
How do you know the right way to sell a customer? You ask.
For instance, you need to know when to time your sales calls, who to call on, what to present to each individual or group who will influence the buying decision, and how the decision ultimately will be made. How do you learn all of this? You learn these answers by asking questions early in the game.
Competition: Whom are you competing against for this sale? Once you know, you can ask targeted questions to draw out specific needs that you can resolve but your competitors can’t. And when presenting features and benefits of your products, you can lead with your specific competitive strengths.
Time Frame: When does the customer expect to make a buying decision? More importantly, when does the customer want to begin to reap the benefits expected from the purchase?
Buying Influences: Who controls the budget? Who analyzes the technical aspects of your product? Who will be responsible for making your product work correctly in the organization? This information tells you which features and benefits to stress to which audience.
Buying Process: How will the buying decision actually be made? Who must be “sold” before the transaction can be completed? Which criteria will be most important in the decision?
By getting clear answers to these questions early in the process, you can develop a strategy that will shorten your sell cycle, allow you to anticipate and defuse objections that otherwise would arise later, and make a lot more sales.
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To Your Success.
The tips about the website is also great. Many companies use their websites just like a business card. They let customers visit it and that is it, no contact information, no call to action, etc… We should use our websites to get new customers. Let them prove what they can get from you, make it live, and invite them to make contact with your company.