This article was written by Ed Hatton for Entrepreneur Magazine (South African edition), as the My Mentor column published in November 2016 and is posted here by their kind permission
Where should business owners fit in to the sale process?
Buyers like dealing directly with the boss, and some large organisations insist on the business owner as their primary contact. When your business was a start-up you may have done all or most of the selling, and still have the sales relationship with customers. The problem is that the owner’s involvement in sales is seldom a defined role and this can create uncertainties and inefficiencies, so it is worthwhile examining just what your role should be.
If you have a very small business or if you have a single large customer you will probably have to be the account manager or salesperson. You may find it difficult to delegate sales responsibilities involving customers you have personally dealt with for years. Then there is the awkward transition period between the owners doing all the selling and having a fully-fledged sales force. The usual first step is to hire one or two salespeople and expecting them to generate new business with as much drive and knowledge as you apply. That is unlikely to happen. Rather approach delegation of sales responsibility and development of a sales force as projects, with appropriate funding, training, systems, measurements and processes in place.
If you must continue in sales attend a course or otherwise educate yourself about sales skills and tactics. That might seem strange when you have been selling successfully for years, but unless you understand solution based selling you will not know what additional business you could be getting. Then get an understudy to shadow you and take over at least the routine work. Free up time to manage the business otherwise you will not grow. Continue reading
This article was written by Ed Hatton for Entrepreneur Magazine (South African edition), as the My Mentor column published in August 2016 and is posted here by their kind permission
Buyers are scarce and highly selective. How do you get a share of their business?
The business climate has been bad for several years. The mining sector is in decline, manufacturing has been shrinking and consumer spending has reduced. In tight economic times buying patterns change; projects are postponed, companies are reluctant to replace machinery, individuals stop buying nice-to-have things and financial managers slash budgets. Cutbacks like these can affect suppliers seriously, even fatally. Buyers become much more selective when they do buy. They negotiate harder and look for better deals, so competition increases for the little business remaining.
While this is going on you need to keep your sales at a profitable level. It is too risky to plan to break even; the tough times are likely to continue and your costs will increase so you risk making losses. Loss making companies do not survive bad times very well.
How do you maintain or even increase sales? A good starting point is your attitude. In my experience entrepreneurs who focus on how bad things are will often see their fears come true. Those who ignore doom-and-gloom conversations and show determination often succeed in making sales despite the economy. It is also crucial to put the downturn into perspective. The majority of buying continues. All of the savings and deferred expenditure makes up a small portion of all purchases. Even depressed economic sectors, like mining, spend billions of Rand on goods and services. Your challenge is to be a supplier who gets a slice of the buying that still takes place. Continue reading
This article was written by Ed Hatton for Entrepreneur Magazine (South African edition), as the My Mentor column published in June 2016 and is posted here by their kind permission
Which channel will achieve the best returns for your business?
You face many choices of how best to get your products and services sold. The most common channels include a field or counter direct sales force, various models of reseller from freelance agents to sub distributors with their own resellers. E-Commerce is becoming a significant channel and self-service in stores has been around for years. Inbound and outbound telesales offers very wide reach; exhibition and catalogue sales work in many sectors like spare parts and curios. Then there are many mixed models; telemarketing followed up by salespeople is one example. For some the best or only channel may be defined by the product. High end cars need a network of showrooms and salespeople so branches or resellers are required, but music is distributed primarily over the internet. For most entrepreneurs making the right choice is difficult and may come with some risk; many companies stay with traditional methods even if that is not the best model for them.
Generally there is a trade-off between cost and control so if you want tight control be prepared to pay for it. Continue reading
This article was written by Ed Hatton for Entrepreneur Magazine (South African edition), as the My Mentor column published in November 2015 and is posted here by their kind permission
How should you deploy limited resources for best returns?
Entrepreneurs know that they do not have unlimited sales and marketing resources. You face the question of how to get the maximum output from what you have. Should your energies be directed at more sales to customers, or more customers? Is it wise to split your resources between these?
A partial answer can be found in the nature of the business. If you sell things that customers buy very seldom like flooring or wedding facilities, your effort should go towards positioning your brand as one to consider and delivering beyond expectations to grow word-of-mouth and referral business. Similarly if your product set is applicable only to a small total market and you are the major supplier you want to ensure that all customers use as much as possible of your product range.
In cases where you offer highly differentiated products or have a unique market focus your priority should be new business before imitators become a problem. Where you have a ‘me too’ product set, very similar to that of your competitors your first priority should be to ensure loyalty of your customers and differentiate by excellent service.
Some new business is essential. Customer attrition will come through closures, relocation and competitive attack. Costs will increase and without new business you will have to cover this increase with price hikes, which make you less competitive. Continue reading
This article was written by Ed Hatton for Entrepreneur Magazine (South African edition), as the My Mentor column published in August 2015 and is posted here by their kind permission
Turn your whole company into an enthusiastic unit that aids and promotes your sales
It is in the interests of any employee to do anything they can to ensure the business makes sales, or at least not put sales at risk. Aside from loyalty to their employer, a healthy and growing business means everyone is better off and has improved prospects for promotion. Strangely there are employees, and some managers too, who damage the company through carelessness, incompetence or deliberate obstruction. They are hurting themselves as much as their employer.
Contrast that situation with companies where everyone is customer centric, and frequently attract praise from customers they have been in contact with. There are typically no unresolved complaints on consumer forums, and every employee seems to know why customers should buy.
To build a company like them, some introspection may be a good idea. Do you really deliver goods and services that meet customer expectations, or have customers had to lower their expectations to your standards? Think of the grudge purchases you make, or the times you have been distressed but did not change supplier after a bad experience. You cannot expect your employees to be champions if your company supplies shoddy products, uses untrained technicians and seldom delivers on its promises. Fix the real problems and you will be pleasantly surprised by the change in your staff. Continue reading
This article was written by Ed Hatton for Entrepreneur Magazine (South African edition), as the My Mentor column published in July 2015 and is posted here by their kind permission
Sensible outcomes from disputes
“The customer is always right” was originally coined in 1909 as a way of differentiating Selfridges Department Store from competitors. It was revolutionary at the time, when misrepresentation by retailers was common and “caveat emptor’ (let the buyer beware) was the usual response to customer complaints.
Customer disputes happen in any business. Unresolved disputes may result in loss of customers or groups of customers, refusal to pay, widespread and often biased bad publicity, loss of repute, legal action, and even damage to property and public protest. Minor disputes can quickly escalate into anger, recriminations, threats and violence. Staff complaints about abusive and unreasonable customers is another source of dispute.
Where does it start?
Customer perceptions of broken promises or products not living up to expectations are at the heart of many disputes. Rude, uncaring or incompetent service from employees is another frequent cause. You may initiate a dispute relating to slow or non-payment, unreasonable or bullying customers or continual changes to requirements but unwillingness to pay for changes.
Arguments will escalate quickly if either party feels they are not being listened to by the other. A simple request can grow to a blazing row when either party ignores the other or scorns their view. Many serious disputes could have been resolved easily if they were attended to sensibly, courteously and early. Continue reading
This article was written by Ed Hatton for Entrepreneur Magazine (South African edition), as the My Mentor column published in June 2015 and is posted here by their kind permission
Does unique mean it will make millions for you?
You have created an innovation; congratulations. It may be a unique product, a brand new service, a new way of distributing things, a unique business model or a combination of these – but will it fly? Hopefully it will be a success and reward you, but just because it is unique is no guarantee of commercial success. The great innovations are generally those where potential customers immediately see the value, and perceive the value to be higher than the cost. Think of prepaid airtime which opened cell phone use to those who could not afford a contract.
Innovations which struggle to get off the ground are often those where the entrepreneur is passionate about it and believes potential customers should share his or her passion. This is a good way to learn that even great and creative products must be sold. Many wonderful innovations have never been launched or failed when they were introduced.
Preparing to launch
Ask yourself: Is this innovation is in response to a real market need, does the market recognise this need or are they not aware of it yet. If you are in the second category be prepared to spend a lot of time and money convincing people they really have this need.
There are two key requirements for a successful launch of a unique product; reasonable certainty that customers will buy at the proposed price and sufficient money to develop and market the innovation. Please do not ignore the marketing costs. Commercial failure of many innovations stemmed from entrepreneurs who spent all their money on perfecting the product and had nothing left to tell the market about it. Marketing innovations is expensive; the market must be convinced that the innovation works, is cost effective and gives advantages over old ways of doing things. Do not underestimate marketing costs. Continue reading
This article was written by Ed Hatton for Entrepreneur Magazine (South African edition), as the My Mentor column published in April 2015 and is posted here by their kind permission
Opportunities and risks of getting the biggest deal ever
What do you do if you get the opportunity of a huge sale, one bigger than anything you have done so far, maybe bigger than your entire business? This is a potential game changer, the opportunity to grow spectacularly. At the same time it is scary. Will you be able to continue to supply regular customers? How will you finance this deal, what will happen if you do not get paid? Can you deliver? The opportunity opens up dreams; all the wished for things you will be able to afford for the business and your family, security for you and your workers…
Best and worst
The best things that can happen are really good. If you make reasonable margins on the huge turnover increase the extra cash can be used to increase competitiveness with additional resources, creative marketing, better buying terms and the best information systems. Once you have executed a large deal successfully, you attract other large deals. Big organisations like to deal with suppliers who other big organisations use, so your business may be at the start of an incredible growth curve.
The worst things that could happen are very bad indeed. Many suppliers have gone insolvent because large customers persisted with unreasonable demands or did not pay. You may not be able to deliver to specification or on time and have penalty or cancellation clauses invoked. If you have personal guarantees to any supplier your lifestyle can be at risk too. Continue reading
This was the topic of Ed’s address to the recent series of Sales Summits around the country.
Most companies says they sell solutions to their customers, but they find it surprisingly difficult to explain the solution provided in recent sales; they often describe products sold instead. It is still harder to get answers about the value of the solution provided – what return in money or some other measureable did the customer enjoy as an outcome of the sale? And yet this is the very definition of a solution “A mutually agreed answer to a recognised problem, which provides a measurable improvement”. You might want to reflect on this and ask yourself – do we really sell solutions?
The formal methodology of Solution Selling goes way back to the 1980’s when a visionary ex Xerox sales training director Mike Bosworth launched a company to train salespeople in his methodology. He published a book in 1993 outlining his ideas, which revolutionised the basis of selling, converting technique and technology based feature / benefit selling to and more consultative customer and solution orientated approach. Arguably this was the foundation of all modern customer centric selling. Continue reading
This article was written by Ed Hatton, the Start Up Coach for Entrepreneur Magazine (South African edition), as the My Mentor column published in November 2014 and is posted here by their kind permission
November and December offer many opportunities for alert entrepreneurs
You will all have experienced it – the dreaded November slowdown, with many anticipating the year-end holidays before South Africa shuts down sometime in December. Entrepreneurs complain that it is impossible to sell at this time of the year. Many can’t wait for the start of the holidays.
How much are you contributing to this business slowdown? Are you demotivated by decisions being deferred to next year? Have you gone into pre-holiday slowdown mode, and repeated that this is an impossible time of year for marketing or sales? If you have then you are part of the problem, and this is a self-inflicted limitation on doing business.
Can you really afford to have one quarter of the year, from the beginning on November to the end of January as a time of minimal sales? Is it really true that nobody buys at this time of the year? The truth is there is an enormous volume of business available at this time, but it will not come to you if you ignore the opportunity.
There is an old saying that “everything comes to him (or her) who hustles while they wait”. Many successful entrepreneurs have had great successes during the slowdown by catching competitors napping in preparation for the holiday, or being the only bidder for profitable business. Tenders are published now to limit the number of bidders – really awake entrepreneurs take advantage. To get a slice of the millions spent in the next couple of months you must be alert, work hard and look for opportunities. You should also plan and execute an assertive sales campaign. Continue reading
This article was written by Ed Hatton, the Start Up Coach for Entrepreneur Magazine (South African edition), as the My Mentor column published in October 2014 and is posted here by their kind permission
Sales to huge organisations can be wonderful, but there are risks
Making a breakthrough into a giant corporate or a part of government is like finding the pot of gold for many entrepreneurs. If you have secured a contract rather than a single sale the excitement is even greater; the long-term profit generated allows the business to fund growth and regulates the cash flow. Beware though, this kind of business comes with some risks, and entrepreneurs should be aware that such contracts have destroyed businesses, and cost entrepreneurs everything they owned.
Making the sale
Large organisations, from government departments to mines are required to buy from small businesses, especially black empowered ones. We expect them to seek out entrepreneurial companies as suppliers, but it does not work that way. Little businesses have to fight hard to become suppliers. Large organisations are driven by budgets and the key performance objectives (KPIs) of the business unit which needs the product or service, so they will buy the products that fit the specification they prepared to suit those needs. This may not be the best product offered to them. Giants are risk averse and bureaucratic.
To win their trust you need to be aware of their style and needs and prepare your company and products to meet those. Pitch your sale in a way that will help the end users to do their job better. If there is ever a case of selling to the customer needs then this is it – you want to stand out from competitors and show why your company should become the supplier. Once you make the sale you must execute flawlessly all the time, and be instantly available to them at all hours. Continue reading
This article was written by Ed Hatton, the Start Up Coach for Entrepreneur Magazine (South African edition), as the My Mentor column published in September 2014 and is posted here by their kind permission
Should you tender or stay away? Some basic rules
Tenders are used by all levels of government and many companies to buy goods and services and issue contracts. The total value of tender business is enormous, so an immediate reaction is to get involved. There is a downside as many small businesses and start-ups have experienced. It is entirely possible to submit many, many tenders without success. The direct cost of preparing a tender is high, but the opportunity cost of conventional sales you could have made instead is higher.
I call these ‘me too’ tender submissions, where you have nothing special to offer, and the company never heard of you. Among the bidders will be existing suppliers, those having specialist skills in the area and those bidding the lowest price because they can. Your chances of success are almost zero. Instead of wasting your time, develop a specific niche expertise or technology then tell potential buyers about it. Your chances of winning subsequent tenders increases dramatically.
Before you even get to tender stage you may have to register as a potential supplier. Government departments, municipalities and corporates frequently publish invitations for suppliers to list their companies in particular categories. If you have a highly competitive attribute or niche and are listed you may become one of a handful, or the only company invited to bid when the company needs your speciality. Continue reading
This article was written by Ed Hatton, the Start Up Coach for Entrepreneur Magazine (South African edition), as the My Mentor column published in June 2014 and is posted here by their kind permission
Managing a small sales force is challenging
In start-up small businesses the entrepreneur will usually make all the sales. As the business grows a sales team is often recruited. The entrepreneur may retain important customers and may keep responsibility for some product lines.
Some arrangements like this work very well, but if your sales force is underperforming and you still have to bring in the bulk of the income you need to take action. A typical result of this situation is a deteriorating relationship between demotivated salespeople and the frustrated entrepreneur. Do not automatically blame the toxic situation exclusively on the salespeople – your own actions and omissions may be causing the problem.
The right people
Finding the right salespeople is a challenge; you need strong enthusiastic people who see sales as a desirable career, not just a place to earn some money until they get a ‘real job’. Your company probably does not yet have well-known brands or comprehensive sales support, so recruit those who can work in this environment. Ask the right questions. They must enjoy learning on their own, be self-reliant and work hard with little supervision. They must also fit the culture of your company.
You may unconsciously assume that new salespeople share your product knowledge, work ethic, and feelings of being responsible for the business succeeding. You will need to build these characteristics with training, motivation, communication, mentoring and rewards. The investment of even large amounts of money and time in these aspects pays dividends. Continue reading
This article was written by Ed Hatton, the Start Up Coach for Entrepreneur Magazine (South African edition), as the My Mentor column published in April 2014 and is posted here by their kind permission
A seriously valuable marketing tool – and it is free
Good customer information held in a structured system will tell you whether customers are growing with you or reducing purchases. It will have a record of every meeting, sales order, complaint, compliment, reference given, products purchased, payment history, budget cycle, nature of their business, basic credit information and key contacts. All of these are stored somewhere in your company records anyway, but are they accessible in an effective customer information system?
If you have a good system you can research target markets, make individualised tempting offers to customers, cross sell products and plan campaigns in target market niches with a high likelihood of success. What a great marketing tool, and its free.
Using the information
One way of using this information would be to list of all customers in a particular line of business, and list which products all or most of them are buying. Now you could do a survey among them to find out how they are using the products, their degree of satisfaction with those products, and any needs which are not being fully satisfied by the products. With this information you can: Continue reading
This article was written by Ed Hatton, the Start Up Coach for Entrepreneur Magazine (South African edition), as the My Mentor column published in September 2013 and is posted here by their kind permission
Early sales are vital for start-ups, early bad sales are dangerous
When you open the doors of a new business your immediate thoughts are likely to be about income producing sales. If it is a retail business you will be watching anxiously for the first people to enter the store, restaurant, hairdresser or filling station. If you sell business to business (B2B) you must build new prospects to develop early sales. Expenses mount up, and insufficient sales income means your business could run out of cash and be forced to close before it really got started. Making early sales is that important.
Low hanging fruit
Everyone has heard about ‘low hanging fruit’ and you, the new entrepreneur, should look for those sales which you can most readily close. ‘Low hanging fruit’ is usually understood to mean potential customers which are easy to start selling to, but there is a problem in trying to sell to anybody who will listen. If the prospect is obvious to you it is also obvious to competitors, and they are more established, have customer references and will be more assured than you. They will also be eager to shut out a new competitor.
To really be ‘low hanging fruit’ the prospects should be those which your new business can easily close. This means retail customers who buy rather than browse, and a high ‘strike rate’ – the ratio between sales cycles begun and closed – in B2B organisations. Continue reading