Apr 022011
 

Ask yourself are you paddling or floating your canoe down the river of your business life?  If you’re floating then you’re on the defense, if you’re paddling then you’re on the offense – where do you want to be?

In today’s business climate, if you’re not on the offensive then you’re being whipped and buffeted from every side by the obstacles you encounter.  If something isn’t working in your advertising and you’re a floater, then you just wait until next week, or next month and see if it improves.  But if you’re paddling and guiding your business, then you’re busy working out how to fix what’s not working.

Take for instance that big boulder in the river known as “competitive intelligence”, which refers to the knowledge needed to implement successful competitive strategies. If you haven’t got a handle on this it can spell disaster to your business.  Let’s look at an example of what I mean.

Suppose you find out that a competitor has dropped the price on a product competing directly with your business’ highest gross margin item.  Before you drop your price to match, ask yourself whether this could affect your ability to compete.  If the answer is “yes”, you should do a bit of investigating to answer some key questions like:

  • Is the price cut an unequivocal comparison, or have certain features/services been modified?
  • Is the price drop sufficient to overcome customer inertia to change?
  • Does the competitor have the capacity to handle increased demand without damaging customer satisfaction?
  • Is the price change restricted to one territory or account, or is it across-the-board?

Effective strategy covers product design, branding, services, and a host of other variables that, in total, comprise your competitive edge.  Protecting your edge requires a real-time stream of knowledge about the changing competitive landscape.  The most significant fund of ongoing information, on an ongoing basis is your sales force.

Salespeople have the most direct contact with customers, and have customer feedback on the competition which is both real and perceived.  However, their job is to sell, so it’s important that you make them aware of their importance and involvement in gathering competitive intelligence.

For the successful collecting of information from the sales force, you must prove to them and their sales managers that the process is of value to them. This means you have some homework to do which is gathering information that is already available internally.  Look at and analyze call reports, won-lost reports, and sales records for red flags and trends.  A competitive move in one territory may seem insignificant until added to information from other territories, or as part of a global rollout strategy.

Augment these finding with public data from published sources and industry analysts, and you can offer your sales force tips on competing more successfully.  By initiating the information sharing process, you will encourage reciprocity on the part of sales once they see what’s in it for them.

In addition to the sales force, people from other functions in your firm are often repositories of useful competitor information.  Accounting, procurement, HR, and other functions attend professional meetings with competitor counterparts and may have bits and pieces of the competitive landscape puzzle.  Do they know how important this data is, and have you motivated them to share it?

This is but one little corner of your business life, but unless you’re on the offense – paddling instead of floating – you’ll lose your edge and be left in the dust by your competitors.  Personally, I’d rather be paddling my little heart out instead of being tossed by whatever winds blow my way.

Mar 062011
 

Your most important skill as a business owner is your salesmanship.  Having the best product or service means nothing if you can’t get anyone to buy it, so to ensure the success of your business you must develop the ability to generate revenue – “salesman-ship”.  The techniques that follow aren’t difficult to learn, but they require discipline and practice.

Here is a brief outline of 13 techniques for increasing sales:

USE THE PHONE

Absolutely the cheapest, most effective, and efficient way to find customers is by phone. Yes, “cold-calling”!   Write out a script for this before you call, so you don’t sound vague.  Introduce yourself, your company, the purpose of the call, and give a brief “benefit” of your product/service to the client – “What will you do for his/her business?”  Be brief, to the point, and have 10 possible objections you might get, answered in your script. This way you’re prepared for the customary “brush-off.”  Always try to get a firm commitment to a meeting.  This call is not to “sell” the client, it’s to get a face-to-face meeting to establish credibility – and then to sell him/her.  Would you buy from a voice on the phone?  No!   You want to see the vendor and listen to his offer.

SHOUT IT FROM THE MOUNTAIN TOP

You should always be looking for new customer, and giving seminars, teaching, guest speaking at trade shows and organizations, or writing an article for your trade magazine or business journal establishes you as an “expert” in your field.  People like to buy from experts because it reduces their fear of making a bad decision.  Everyone can overcome their fear of public speaking, so find the method that works best for you and do it. As a desperate step, join a Toastmaster’s group near you.

ASK QUESTIONS

Most salespeople think that the first meeting with the prospect is the only chance to make a sale. WRONG! Before you go into your “pitch” ask questions, take notes, what are your prospects goals, challenges, etc.  Helping a prospect solve a business problem creates a “win-win” relationship and closes more sales than you think.

AVOID “PRODUCT DUMPING”

Telling your prospect all about your product/service before you know their needs is a mistake made by 95% of salespeople.  This is an inefficient selling method and upon reflection, your client will lose faith in you.  I’ve met with clients on several occasions and left them with some advice and good feelings, but no sale and that’s alright.  Because in the future I’m likely to get “word of mouth” referrals from them, which will outweigh what I might have made if I had simply “sold” them a service that wasn’t an answer to their problem.  Remember – nothing adds more to your credibility than a referral from a satisfied prospect.

KNOW YOUR NUMBERS

Selling is a numbers game, and you need to learn your “selling ratios.”  How many prospecting calls do you need to get a meeting, and how many meetings to get a sale.  This allows you to manage your cash flow by forecasting your sales. It also tells you how many calls are needed to increase your sales revenue.

 

HAPPY SELLING!