Displaying articles for: 04-22-2012 - 04-28-2012
Cold calling may still have its place, but it is often the least-loved sales approach whichever end of the phone you’re on. A ‘warm’ lead is far easier to convert to a sale – particularly for non-sales people. People buy from other people – which is why referrals make so much sense. Plus, some testimonials can be pretty persuasive: boby gift business My1styears managed to secure Sir Elton John’s endorsement with a bit of persuasion.
According to author Joanne Black, research shows that over half of referrals end in a sale. But how comfortable are people asking for them? Here are 9 ideas for making referral requests into a habit:
- Ask when it’s natural, advises Geoffrey James in this post. It should feel unforced, not awkward. Someone will only recommend someone they know and trust, so it’s most likely your initial referrals will come from friends and business partners with whom you’ve built a rapport.
- You don’t ask -- you earn. If you want to get a referral, do something unexpected – offer them a lead. “The best way to get is to give,” says Jeffrey Gitomer.
- Create your own virtuous circle by exchanging referrals within a trusted network and ensuring you have a means of thanking others for recommending you – by email, phone, note. (If client businesses don’t do referrals, ask if they’ll allow a case study or testimonial instead.)
- Be worthy – and distinctive. Seth Godin isn’t alone when he says “I’m far more likely to refer someone with a back story, someone who’s an underdog or relatively unknown.”
- Follow up on referrals immediately and build referral requests into your sales cycle, setting a weekly target. Window-replacement company Ventrolla includes a standard referral request form for happy customer, but also checks in each time it wants to call on them as a referee.
- Create a system or metrics to measure how referrals improve your profitability or cut costs. This will galvanise you to get more.
- Make it easy for customers to refer others. Referral tools such as Curebit automate and reward referrals for retailers. It’s less straightforward if you’re in B2B services, but still possible. Johann Taft created this form for recommendations (found thanks to this post, which has loads of tips on referrals).
- Plenty of advisors will suggest different stages in the sales cycle at which you can ask for a referral. But the only time it truly makes sense is surely after you’ve delivered stellar service or won the trust of the person you want to ask.
- Or follow this piece of advice: don’t ask for referrals at all. Instead, ask for an introduction to someone who’s been mentioned during the course of a conversation.
If you are a human being who uses computers, you’ve probably used Google as a web search engine, probably even given into the temptation to Google yourself. It’s less likely that you have used the power of Google to its full benefit if you have a business. Let the beauty of automation do the work for you by using Google Alerts.
Google Alerts is a free service, providing regular updates of Google search results that are delivered to your inbox or a feed like Google Reader or an RSS reader. You set up alerts by inputting specific words or phrases as your search terms, just as you would for a regular web search. For example, you can set alerts for your name, your business’s name, your website, or any products.
Google Alerts are your eyes and ears on the internet street, collecting and reporting back information without your having to lift a finger. Your work begins in deciding how to use the information received.
Find out what people are saying about you, your business, and your products. Alerts can pick up relevant information from blog posts, internet forums, queries on sites such as Yahoo! Answers, and reviews. This is an opportunity to respond to customers and clients who have complaints and questions, or thank them for positive feedback.
Media and Marketing
Keep track of what’s being said about your business in the media. Track marketing by setting an alert using key phrases from press releases or promotional material.
Keep Your Competition Close
Find out what people are saying about your competitors or simply find out what your competitors are up to. Use that to develop and tweak your own business.
Be the Expert
Stay at the head of your pack by keeping abreast of industry news and trends. Not only will you receive relevant news, you’ll also keep current with who’s who in the business. This is also a great way to develop new ideas for your business or content for your blog.
Strengthen your client relationships by getting in touch when you find out news about them, good or bad. Share information you’ve found through news alerts.
Google Alerts can provide a great “in” for contacting prospective clients. You may hear about a business opportunity through your alerts and be first to get in touch with them. You could also reach out and introduce yourself by sharing relevant news or commenting on their publicity. Use keyword phrases with “new” in them, such as “new business” or “product launch” to keep an eye out for new businesses.
It takes a bit of time to figure out which search terms work best and don’t result in overloading your inbox. Limit your terms by including a geographical area. Learn how to use search operators effectively. Take time to tweak your searches, keeping in mind that that in the long run, you’re saving time and money to get better results for your business!
Offering the right services or high quality merchandise isn't always enough to guarantee high sales. How you conduct yourself with potential clients has a huge impact and developing good habits can boost sales straightaway.
- Contact ex-customers. If you need a quick sales boost, contacting former customers and offering them a special deal can be a winner. They already know you and they might be thinking of placing an order anyway.
- Run an email campaign. Using mail merge in Microsoft Word or a dedicated online tool like Mailchimp, you can create an email campaign to launch a special offer or promote an event.
- Plan an event. Free seminars, workshops and training events can be powerful ways to build a relationship, especially in the services sector. Pick a problem that is important to your customers and run an event that helps them solve it.
- Ask for referrals. Ask your existing customers if they know anyone who might want to do business with you. It doesn’t cost anything and it’ll give you a good reason to call them up.
- Get prepared. You should know your product line backwards and forwards. Being able to answer all of your client's questions clearly and authoritatively will give them the confidence to buy from you.
- Be professional. Dress professionally, maintain friendly eye contact and use a firm handshake. Your behavior affects how people view your product, so be sure to put it in the best possible light. Spend some time reviewing your sales technique – see if you can learn some new skills.
- Develop a rapport. Clients are more likely to make a purchase from someone they like. Be ready with a joke or anecdote that can cut through those awkward first moments when you are meeting a new client.
- Ask questions. You need to discover a potential client's problems before you can show them the solution. While it may seem like you are taking focus away from the product, this will enable you to help the customer make an informed choice later.
- Learn to listen. Remember that this isn't about you, it's about meeting the client's needs. Take the time to understand what a client is telling you so that you know what to sell and how to pitch it.
- Don't be too pushy. If a customer asks for time to look around, give it to him. You can always make a second approach, as long as you didn't drive him away at the beginning.
- Change your attitude. Approach a customer with the attitude that he is going to buy something and your job is to help him find the right item.
- Keep it simple. You know every detail of the product you are selling, but unloading all of that during a pitch will simply overload a customer. Keep to the highlights, explaining how your product sets itself apart from the competition.
The Target: Microsoft Outlook with Business Contact Manager
Whereabouts: Included with Office 2007 Professional, Small Business and Ultimate suites; also included in Office 2010 Standard and Professional Plus suites (available through Volume Licensing only).
Modus Operandi: Integrating sales and marketing activities to for lead management, creating happy customers and more sales.
The sales process is a struggle for many small businesses. How often have you spent a fortune on advertising in the hunt for new custom, only to find that when it does come in, you lose track of phone numbers, callbacks and the promises you’ve made? It’s that sinking feeling of good new business slipping through your fingers.
Business Contact Manager (BCM for short) is the antidote to juggling sales leads.
- Log them. BCM integrates neatly into the Outlook email interface you’re already probably familiar with. Not surprisingly, it’s therefore great at recording contacts. When you take a new client call, enter the usual information like names and email addresses, and they’ll never get lost again. With BCM, however, you can also add custom fields of information, for example the services in which they were interested, or special delivery requirements. All this information can be searched and displayed in whatever form makes life easy for you.
- Call them. If you’re not too comfortable on the phone (or your staff aren’t natural salespeople), BCM makes making and taking calls easy. Call up a client’s details, and you can even include pre-defined scripts to make the next call in the sales process a little easier. Connect BCM with Windows Live Contacts, Lync or other unified messaging or VoIP (internet phone) contacts, and you can even have a client’s record pop up as soon as the phone starts to ring. No more scrabbling for paper; and no more wishing that Bob in the warehouse would stop picking up the phone...
- Track them. If you currently keep your sales leads in Outlook alone, that’s fine – but pretty passive. BCM is rather like having a sales assistant: tell BCM how your sales process works (e.g. call back, quote, proposal, confirmation, delivery) and BCM will pop reminders directly into your Outlook Calendar, so you’ll never forget to make a customer call again. There’s no longer any excuse for clients to drop off your radar.
- Analyse them. Ideally, you’re now overrun with leads! No problem: BCM includes powerful analytics, which will help you to prioritise the work you do – perhaps by deal value, the long term importance of a client, or maybe (as so often happens) whoever’s shouting loudest because they’re not being looked after properly. These analyses can be presented in any one of over 70 glamorous pre-defined reports, and it can all be exported into Excel for proper financial forecasting - or invoicing when the deal’s done.
- Target them. What if you’re not overrun with leads? It’s time for a promotional push. Marketing experts agree that it is six times easier to get business from existing customers than to find new ones. To that end, BCM analytics are also powerful enough to uncover opportunities in your existing client base. If you run a print shop, how about finding “all clients who haven’t ordered new stationery in 6 months”. As a garage, what about all those customers whose service or MOT must be due? With BCM these questions can be answered with just a few clicks. You can then send them a personalised and targeted newsletter directly via Word and Outlook.
Under the magnifying glass...
With BCM, you can also:
- Employ a full project management function to apply rigorous processes to your activities and keep an eye on delivery schedules
- Group emails from clients with one click in Outlook, so you can see conversation threads and sales-flow at a glance
- Share customer information with salespeople or fulfilment staff
- Access customer information offline on the road (ideal for on-site visits!) and then sync up automatically when you’re back at your desk
- Define relationships, so you always know who on your team is on call for each client
- And finally, keep personal contacts in Outlook separate from your business
The target exposed
You’ll find lots of information and ‘how-to’ guides on the Office Online site. We’ve listed a few here, for both Office 2007 and Office 2010.
- Outlook 2007 with Business Contact Manager: help and how-to
- Getting started with Business Contact Manager for Outlook 2007
- Office 2010 with Business Contact Manager: features and benefits
- Managing your Business Contact Manager database
- For IT Pros: Download a free trial of Microsoft Office Professional Plus 2010
This is a guest post from our friends at Microsoft's Small Business Centre.
It’s easy to focus on the sales process – converting potential customers into paying customers – but too much focus on pricing, salesmanship and negotiation can be distracting. Don’t neglect marketing – turning strangers into potential customers. If you get your marketing right, you’ll find it easier to grow your business, convert sales and protect your margins.
- Reinvent yourself. Rebrand ‘You Inc’. Get a new image.
- Change your customer. Analyse which customers are the most profitable and loyal; concentrate on selling to them and other clients like them. Apply the 80:20 rule to the rest. Four out of five customers are good but there are always a few customers that take a lot of work, demand low prices and then complain. Ditch them.
- Reinvent the relationship. Could you be a trusted advisor? Can you join the experience economy?
- Get inspired. Check out Oblique Marketing Strategies, the MarketingProfs website and Seth Godin’s blog for new marketing ideas.
- Marketing every day. Carve out dedicated time for marketing.
- Tell a story. Humans are story-telling creatures. If you can express your product or service’s benefits as a story, you can communicate it more clearly.
- Customer evidence. Potential customers are far more likely to believe people like themselves than someone (like you) who has something to sell so use case studies, customer references, reviews and endorsements.
- Use a picture. Good photography makes the difference between ‘me-too’ and ‘look at me’. Consider public domain images and low-cost online photo libraries such as iStockPhoto.
- Write clearly. If you want to be understood, avoid using hype, clichés, passive sentences, jargon, acronyms, long words, long sentences and long paragraphs. Especially on the web.
- Improve your presentations. Whether you run them in a shop window or use them to close multi-million pound deals, presentations are an important way to communicate. Check out 10 simple rules for awesome PowerPoint presentations.
- Keep marketing when business is good. Fix the roof when the sun shines, not when it’s raining. Success breeds confidence, which makes it easier to sell yourself.
- Manage customer relationships. It is much more expensive to win a new customer than it is to keep an existing one happy. Find ways to build stronger relationships with customers using customer relationship management (CRM) software, such as Microsoft Outlook with Business Contact Manager or Microsoft Dynamics CRM (for larger companies).
- Try online advertising. Microsoft adCenter lets you put adverts in front of millions of UK customers right at the point when they are searching for products and services like yours. Check out our tips for advertising online with adCenter.
- Ask for referrals. One of the best ways to get new customers is when an existing customer recommends you. Sometimes, you just have to ask but also consider ‘customer get customer’ incentives and other ways to get more referrals.
- Manage customer relationships. Use customer relationship management software, such as Microsoft Outlook with Business Contact Manager, to keep track of all your leads, customers and opportunities. This kind of software can coordinate your whole team’s sales activities.
- React fast. Get back to customers quickly with proposals or prices. Use your laptop and 3G Mobile Broadband to stay on top of your email.
- Automate processes. Wherever possible, use checklists, templates and automated processes to speed up customer responses and reduce your workload. For example, you can use a proposal template in Microsoft Word and a checklist to make sure you have filled in all the relevant details.
- Try social media. Explore social media marketing. Check out Twitter, LinkedIn and blogging with free HP guides on this site.
- Contact former customers. Go through your list of former customers and make contact with them all. If they left because they were unhappy, you get a chance to put things right and win them back or learn how to improve your business. If they haven’t ordered anything for a while, you can prompt them.
- Do some PR. You don’t need an expensive PR agency to call up newspapers and magazines who might be interested in your story; especially if you have something new or interesting to say.Raise your profile online, learn how to give a good press interview and improve your press releases.
- Upsell. Would you like to supersize that? Look for ways to increase the size of each customer’s purchase; perhaps by offering a discount on additional products.
- Attach. Would you like fries with that? Can you sell additional services or products alongside the customer’s basic order?