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customer service

Starting over

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 May 2011 and is posted here by their kind permission.

 Moving a business to a new location can be like starting all over again. By Ed Hatton

Challenge

An entrepreneur moved his event management and wedding planner business to a new province where no-one knows his business. He needs to attract clients but isn’t sure where to begin. He has been distributing pamphlets, but so far no-one has gotten back to him.

Solution

This entrepreneur had a thriving business doing wedding planning, parties and corporate event management and then he moved to a different province. When he started operations in his new location he realised just how much personal reputation and word of mouth had meant. In the new location he is unknown and potential clients are wary of entrusting important events to him.

The business must be started again in the new location. As before, he has to build a client base and a solid reputation to provide a platform for growth. He has the advantage of being experienced in running events and weddings, so he does not start quite as ‘cold’ as he did originally. Against this are a number of part-time wedding planners and event managers who are established and compete with him for business. Continue reading

Does your advertising generate sales?

 

Image courtesy of imageafter.com

Your sales force has a major impact on the success of your advertising

Every business spends time and money on marketing promotions and advertising, even if it is only signage or business cards. The objective is to make customers and potential customers aware of your company and its products and services. Most advertising also has the objective of inviting prospective buyers to approach
your company and either enquire or buy items.  When the advertising succeeds and a customer engages with one of your salespeople, you should get value for your money spent on advertising by making a sale – but it does not always work out that way.

Prospective customers may not buy if the salespeople ignore them, if the product is not in stock, or not at the price advertised. Sometimes making the sale will depend on the salespersons product knowledge or their ability to really to a customer’s requirements. Are they able to match specific products to address customer needs or are they restricted to reciting (or reading) specifications and prices?

 A lost sale

Some time  ago I looked for a new device to heat a room in my home. There were many types of heaters and airconditioners to choose from.  I had seen an advert for a type of heater that seemed to satisfy my needs and I had been attracted to the special price, so I visited the store. There was a display of the heaters on promotion near the entrance to the appliance store, with several neatly uniformed salespeople poised. Continue reading

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

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

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

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