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Searching for salespeople

pic courtesy of imageafter.com

A large organisation with a substantial sales force will inevitably
have some stars, some losers and some ordinary middle of the road salespeople
in their sales team. Hopefully the stars make up for the poor performers and the
overall target is achieved. A small or medium business with one, or at best a
few salespeople does not have the same advantage – sales winners are scarce and
frequently poached, sales losers and very ordinary salespeople are much more
common, so the small business are less likely to meet targets.

Finding and keeping the right salespeople has always been a
challenge, and is even more difficult when the economic conditions reduce
business opportunities. In boom times even mediocre salespeople will appear to
be much better, but when business is tight good salespeople are needed – but
where to find such diamonds? And having found them how do you keep them
motivated and loyal?

Most small businesses start with the entrepreneur being the
salesperson – as he or she is also the production chief, financial manager and
everything else. Although they will often say they are useless at selling the
opposite is often the case – business owners are often very good at selling.
They have drive, passion, very deep product knowledge, commitment to delivery,
the ability to address customer needs, good negotiation skills, determination
to make sales and a high work ethic. This is a great list of attributes for an
ideal salesperson. By comparison the qualities of smooth talk, slick closing
techniques, good presentation skills and all the other skills popularly called
‘the gift of the gab’ are insignificant. But at some stage the demands of
running the business prohibit the entrepreneur from getting to see customers as
often as before. The business then decides to find a salesperson or two – and that proves more difficult than expected. Continue reading

Find a gap in the market – and meet it

This article was written by Ed Hatton for the column the Start up Coach and published by the South African edition of Entrepreneur magazine in March 2011 and is posted here by their kind permission.

Responding to a need is a great way to start a business, but it is not as simple as it seems

The Challenge

An entrepreneur has recognised that government departments and some private companies often pay their suppliers very late, or make wrong payments. Together with her spouse who runs a human relations consulting firm which is fully accredited with ETDP-SETA, she has the knowledge and expertise to set up policies and train people to fix this problem and so improve service delivery. However she has not be able to form a strong sales and promotion strategy.

Our response

This woman dreams of becoming an entrepreneur while she runs the department which pays suppliers in a large company. She sees entrepreneurs struggling to get paid on time by government departments, local authorities and some large companies.  She knows she could put the right policies, processes and training in place to turn the situation around. Her spouse could do the training and the combined service would enable departments to make payments on time. President Zuma, in his State of the Nation address suggested that this improvement in service delivery was vital, so the need for the service is there.

Who has the need?

This business opportunity looks like a textbook case of identifying an unmet need and having the capacity to fill that need. But, and this is a lesson for all entrepreneurs, first ask who has the need. For instance consider out of order traffic lights. The motorist desperately needs them fixed, but the duty pointsmen earn their living from them. The roads department is judged on performance but has harsh budget restrictions, so they may have mixed feelings. The point is that answering a need may have to include appropriate strategies if the party with the need is different to the party who will pay. Continue reading

The Insulting Gatekeeper

Why would you try to chase customers away?

Picture a large, rude, aggressive and menacing doorman, who did his best to intimidate customers into turning away from your business and upset those who persevered. Few businesses would want him harassing and insulting their customers and stopping them from buying, and yet so many do put rude, insulting and harassing barriers between themselves and their customers, making it difficult and demeaning for customers to approach them.

Even your business may have allowed some of these horrors to creep in.

The most common insult is the vanishing telephone message. The switchboard operator, if there is still such a person in the business, no longer takes messages nor does she know when people are in, on leave or in meetings. The customer needing information or wanting to complain is put through to an extension that (tick one or more) rings endlessly; goes to voicemail with the message is never returned; tells the customer to call on a cell number which repeats the process; or is diverted to another extension which also repeats the process. All levels of government and many very large businesses are even worse than this. If you haven’t done so recently, listen in as a friend tries to reach your sales or production manager, query a delivery or find someone who can explain a product feature. Then fix the problem. Customers who want to talk to your business are actually good news, not the nuisances some staff members and managers seem to think they are. Continue reading

Advice for the lifestyle entrepreneur

This article was written by Ed Hatton for
the column the Start up Coach and published by the South African edition of
Entrepreneur magazine in February 2011 and is posted here by their kind
permission.

Growing a business in a niche market
needs a strong understanding of your clients.

Challenge

A young entrepreneur has developed a personal PA service. Her company handles the
personal, social and home management aspects of her clients’ lives. She wants
to market her service to entrepreneurs, as she believes this is her ideal
target market: people who do not have time to take care of daily non-business
related chores themselves. However she is not sure how to cost-effectively
market her service to such a niche client base.

Solution

This entrepreneur has devised a service to support busy and successful people who do
not have the time to manage homes, social activities, gifts, pets, bills,
licenses and the many other activities that are a part of modern lifestyles.

She has identified her target market as successful entrepreneurs who do not have
support systems in place. As a typical start-up the company needs steady income
from contracted clients. Like many entrepreneurs she had developed a website,
and placed a couple of adverts in a lifestyle related magazine, but has had no
enquiries.

I wonder how often I have heard the phrase ‘and we didn’t even get ONE lead from that…’ Remember this: A single advert or
sign that describes your business is highly unlikely to bring sales leads.
Advertising is great at generating enquiries from prospective clients, but only
as a part of a campaign. Start-ups with limited marketing budgets usually need
to find alternate ways of finding prospects. Continue reading

Sell more to your customers

image by Ambro

Working smarter to plan increased turnover without needing new business

Most businesses would like to increase their turnover, but often struggle to do so. One reason is businesses simply set a growth target with no focus on where that growth should come from, or why people would buy more from the company. Increasing turnover means more sales to existing customers, more new customers or higher prices, and for now I will focus on growing existing customers.

Selling more by being a great supplier

Before you even start to think about selling more to customers you have to examine if you really understand your customer’s goals, plans, needs and likes, and if the communication channels are open at the right levels. If you are dealing only with a junior buyer who gripes continually about your quality, prices and service don’t expect any of the stuff below to work. Start again and build a relationship of understanding their culture, needs and systems. Then deliver what meets those requirements. Get the communication channels working effectively at the right levels and address their concerns promptly. Then you can think about growing your business with them.

New Year resolutions for your sales force

Image courtesy of shop-sa. Thanks Lorna and especially Theo

 

  This article was written by Ed Hatton and first appeared in January 2011 Shop sa, the official magazine of the Stationery, Home and office products Association. The Association is fortunate to have a journal of this quality serving its members; it is a great and informative read. 

  

 

  Developing the sales team to gain a major competitive advantage

 When you evaluate your business, listing your competitive advantages, or the even more specific Unique Selling Propositions (USPs), are they all price, product or service related? Are they sustainable?

About now some readers of this article may be thinking “Oops, I know I should look at that one day…” or “In my business everyone is the same, price on the day is the only difference…” If either of these thoughts reflects your position I suggest you stop reading and examine why your customers buy from you. If you really are a me-too business with no differentiation in the eyes of your customers, and yet you are still making sales, you are taking huge risks. If you don’t know why customers buy from you, then a change of circumstances outside your control, and perhaps even outside your awareness could have catastrophic consequences for your business.

 Most competitive advantage positions relate to a product or a particular type of service. FedEx’s famous “When it absolutely positively has to be there overnight” or Debonairs “If it’s cold you don’t pay” are examples or service differentiators and Pastel’s “Nine out of ten Accountants recommend Pastel” or Audi’s “Vorsprung durch Tecknik” suggests product excellence. Price is often used – “Lowest price or we will refund the difference” is the essence of many price based differentiators. Commentators have used these slogans to show examples of USPs, and if your company can find a real and sustainable USP or two it will be in an exceptionally powerful position. Many companies have to settle for a more limited competitive advantage – being noticeably better than the competition even if that advantage is not unique.

How about developing the sales force to deliver a competitive advantage?

 A team so professional, so knowledgeable and so able to solve customer needs that customers choose this company primarily to secure the services of the sales team. Services can be copied, product advantage is usually fleeting and the lowest price is the hardest of all to sustain, but the best sales force in a sector is a USP in the true sense of the word. What needs to be done to get to that position? Continue reading

Plans vs. Planning

This article was written by Ed Hatton and first published as a Sanlam Cobalt Business Tips article during December 2010. Sanlam has valuable resources for entrepreneurs and you should consider subscribing to receive the Sanlam Cobalt articles if you have not already done so

….the simple plan

That they should take who have the power

And they should keep who can – Wordsworth

 

Will you be the growing business taking more market share? A defender of your customer base? Or one of those that lose ground to better planned and organised competitors? Do you have a plan to guide your business? Does it work for you?

Eisenhower famously said, “Plans are nothing, planning is everything”. The process of developing a good business plan will force you to think about your customers, competitors and the resources you need, and that thinking should drive your business in the future.

Assume you want to develop a plan for 2011 to defend your market share, or take new business. You may be tempted to download one of the excellent business planning templates and then concentrate on filling in the blocks. Some entrepreneurs, especially those starting out, will engage a cut-and-paste business plan developer. But there is a much better way:  Simply follow Eisenhower’s advice and focus on the process of planning. Continue reading

Questions to ask when planning a start up

Image courtesy of imageafter.com

If you are planning to open a new business you will need to think of many different things. Here are a few really key questions that you may not have thought about. If you cannot answer any one of these satisfactorily you may be taking unnecessary risks. With the horrifying failure rate of new start up businesses you would want to reduce risk as much as possible, so if any of these questions cannot be answered or leave you feeling uneasy, then my advice would be to attend to this urgently, even if it means delaying your launch.

  1. What loyalty from customers can you bring or build? Do you have special relationship with customers who will follow you to your new business?  Do you have special skills or knowledge that will draw customers and make them want to stay?  And by ‘special’ I mean rare, unusual or significantly different to those of competitors. Do you have an engaging manner and a real desire to make customers happy? Someone who is seen as likeable and eager to please? Do you offer a unique service or a level of convenience that will be irresistible to customers? Continue reading

Why don’t we study failure?

pic courtesy of imagafter.com

If you look at the ranks of business books in any bookstore you will see lots of ‘how to’ books, and even more ‘how I did it’ guides. So if you just follow the route taken by Richard Branson or Robert Kiyosaki or Jack Welsh you too can be a success. Web sites (including my own business site) are filled with case studies of business successes. But where could you go if you wanted to study failure, if you wanted to avoid doing what caused the downfall of the failed entrepreneur?

Contrast that with learning to drive a car or fly an aeroplane. You may read stories of famous racing drivers or see films of daring fighter pilots, but that is not how you will train. Instead you will be taught how many ways there are to get it wrong, and what to do about it. Driving a car or flying a plane start with the belief that success is required, that failure is to be avoided. Business training seems to work on the basis that failure is expected, that success is for the few high priests of entrepreneurship, and we may be able to stave off disaster by following their lead. How peculiar. Continue reading

Fighting the lowest price

pic courtesy of imageafter.com

This is the first of a series of sales and marketing tips drawn from my long experience of trying different things. Some could call these street fighting ideas…

Say you operate in a market with many small competitors. Price will become a major decision factor and price competition will be fierce. Some competitors will pitch their prices at levels where they cannot give the service they promise, but they will establish a low price perception in the minds of customers.

People in courier services, stationers, web site development car repairs and a host of other business types will have experienced this problem.

Your company wants to be there for the long haul and give good customer service, but you cannot compete with the prices offered by those who promise the world and don’t deliver, or those new entrants who are still to discover how costly customer service is. How do you compete? Continue reading

Really free marketing ideas

How to improve your brand image and visibility at zero cost, or maybe even less than that

Things to do: (The Good)

In downtown Johannesburg a fast food takeaway used to bake large pizzas, and sell them by the slice.  Each time I bought a slice I noticed that the attendant chose the biggest available slice for me. As you can imagine, that made me feel really good. When a new pie was delivered for the oven the same rule applied – first sell the biggest slice. So the takeaway gained great goodwill and encouraged customers to come back. Maybe they sold 50 or 60 slices of pizza a day, that meant 50 or 60 customers feeling special, feeling valued.  What was the cost of this? Nothing. That’s right, not a cent.

What can you do to make your customer feel special and valued? Continue reading

The Brand New Ending

pic courtesy of freeimages.co.uk

If you, as entrepreneurs often do, are musing about how you can improve your business right now by doing something different and creative you might want to think about an interesting saying that I came across a while ago.

“No one can go back and make a brand new start. Anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending”. I have never managed to find the author (and if you know please tell me) but I salute the thinking.

If you wanted to apply this thought to your business you could imagine you were about to launch your business tomorrow or next week and re-experience the terror and excitement of a new venture.

 If you were truly able to put yourself in this mode you would walk on water to satisfy a potential customer requirement, you would speculate about what they were thinking endlessly and try to anticipate their needs. Continue reading

ABS for business safely

abs3In motoring terms ABS is the technology that stops wheels from locking under hard braking, which means that they do not lose grip and the car will not simply slide into an obstruction. The device has saved many lives and countless costs of repairs. It is a vital safety factor and no modern car should be without ABS.
In entrepreneurial business there is another, equally vital ABS:

Always Be Selling

As businesses develop the entrepreneur can slide into bad habits, where he sees more of his suppliers than his customers, where he spends more time on the accounts and records than on making his products more desirable to his markets. Although it is not as physically dangerous as being in a car sliding helplessly towards a stationary truck, it can be even more expensive in lost business opportunities or customer dissatisfaction. Continue reading

Priceless

image courtesy of imageafter.com

In which of these products and services would you choose the lowest cost option over all other considerations?

  • Legal services
  • Fast food
  • Motor vehicle maintenance
  • Carpeting
  • Wine
  • Computer printers
  • Office furniture

 

I would guess most people will answer ‘none of the above’. We value our safety, working environment and enjoyment to highly to compromise.

A scenario

Now picture this all-too-frequent scenario: you are called out in the early hours of the morning to your business. There has been a break in. With a sinking heart you see the smashed security door, notice that your delivery vehicle is missing (it is subsequently found abandoned and burnt out) and the premises are a shambles. All the computer screens are missing and so are the servers – a terrifying thought strikes; are the backups up to date? Will they work? Continue reading

Competing like a Champion

Image courtesy of Times Live an Avusa Inc. website

Image courtesy of Times Live an Avusa Inc. website

There was an inspiring story in the “It’s My Business” entrepreneurial supplement to the Sunday Times of 2nd May 2010. It described the business journey of Michael Rademeyer an entrepreneur in the clothing industry. The full article can be viewed online at the Times Live website. I have quoted from the article and acknowledge the fine work of It’s My Business and journalist Hendri Pelser on bring this incredible story to the public.
Back in 2006 the company he worked for closed down, as have hundreds in this troubled industry in the last decade. He joined another company who ‘had an unorthodox view on salaries – he didn’t get paid’. So, in an industry which has been battered by imports coming in at prices that local manufacturers can’t match, he did the intelligent thing and opened a clothing manufacturing company making jackets. Continue reading