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 April 2016 and is posted here by their kind permission
Attack, defend, innovate or do nothing
We know that 2016 will continue to be a difficult year. Entrepreneurs I speak to believe competitive pressures are increasing as businesses chase shrinking markets. Price cutting is common as competitors do anything they can to get a slice of the limited business available. Some entrepreneurs may respond to this situation by assuming there will be less income and cutting costs to remain at least marginally profitable. Others will look for new markets or slash prices, and some will simply hope things do not become catastrophic. The problem with all these plans is that almost all competitors will to do similar things, so competitive pressures will be unchanged.
This is a good time to think strategically about positioning your business to get through bad times while increasing your competitive advantage. I suggest you take a deliberate competitive position and I have listed three possible strategies for your consideration, and a fourth which you could fall into if you do nothing. 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 October 2015 and is posted here by their kind permission
Concentrate your resources on the target to improve performance
It seems logical to spread your net as wide as possible, to develop all available sales opportunities and markets if you want to grow. This makes sense if you are the dominant player in the market with an abundance of resources, one who can afford to waste resources on loss making sales simply to deny them to competitors. For everyone else it is a bad idea. Military strategist von Clausewitz wrote “Where absolute superiority is not obtainable, you must produce a relative one at the decisive point by making skilful use of what you have”, echoing the much earlier Sun Tzu maxim of concentrating your forces where the enemy is weak.
This military strategy applies equally to business. If you concentrate your resources and focus on a particular target, you gain many advantages: Sales costs reduce, sales become easier through customer referrals. Salespeople become expert in the area and competitors recognise your expertise and go elsewhere, so your strike rate increases. Customer support and administration costs fall and service levels increase. Your company becomes the go to company in that market.
By contrast trying to hit everything that moves is costly; implementation and procurement complexity increases, as does the risk of cancelled sales. Your people become frustrated because they continually need to learn new industries and seldom re-use their expertise. Poor customer service is frequently an outcome and you lose the power of relevant reference customers. 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. 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 the South African edition of Entrepreneur magazine, as the My Mentor column published in July 2013 and is posted here by their kind permission
What makes your business the supplier of choice for your customers?
I occasionally ask groups of entrepreneurs why they think their customers buy from them. After an awkward silence some in the group will give answers about product uniqueness, price advantage or better location, or easily copied ones like good quality and better service. At least some entrepreneurs in the group will really not know.
Entrepreneurs who do not know why customers buy take a huge risk of customers drifting away for unknown reasons. The question is even more important for start ups. Anyone who plans to open a business and does not identify clear reasons why customers would buy risks opening a business which will make no sales.
Why customers buy
There is a huge body of research about buyer motivations which is good to study. In my view the most important business differentiators are uniqueness or competitiveness
Uniqueness may mean innovative products or services, but can also be the uniqueness of the business principal. Products like trousers, perfumes, sporting equipment and coffee bars have thrived from being driven by a famous sports or entertainment star. For the average entrepreneur who is not famous or an inventor there are still options to be unique. Businesses which use a unique pricing model will rent when others sell, offer last minute sales at incredible discounts, or develop other pricing innovations. They will not simply sell at lower prices. Continue reading
This article was written by Ed Hatton, the Start Up Coach for the South African edition of Entrepreneur magazine, as the My Mentor column published in June 2013 and is posted here by their kind permission
Entrepreneur optimism in sales forecasting
Entrepreneurs are natural optimists; they have great belief in themselves and their products, they see even ordinary products as being irresistible to potential customers. There is nothing wrong with self-belief; without that we would see few new businesses being launched.
Optimism in sales forecasting is much more serious. There could be disastrous consequences if the venture fails to make unreasonable sales targets.
Before the entrepreneur even thinks about forecasting the sales volume he or she must define the target markets; groups of people or businesses most likely to become customers. These groups must see a good reason to buy from the new venture rather than their existing suppliers, and be able to learn about the goods and be motivated to buy. The entrepreneur must identify the processes to achieve these requirements. Please do not skip these steps. The belief that ‘everyone will want this product and my website will bring enquiries’ has produced many poorer and embittered ex-entrepreneurs. Continue reading
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 2013 and is posted here by their kind permission.
The subject must be important to potential buyers
This entrepreneur was the victim of a horrific motor vehicle accident that left him brain damaged. He has beaten the odds and gained several tertiary qualifications. He asks how he can turn his inspiring story, as well as information about brain injuries into a career as a speaker.
This entrepreneur is very passionate and knowledgeable about his subject and has researched the high prevalence and management of brain injuries. He believes everyone should be aware of this information. He also has an inspiring story to tell, of overcoming huge obstacles on his way to his qualifications. His problem is getting paid speaking assignments.
Many entrepreneurs have products and services in which they believe passionately, and think potential customers should share their enthusiasm, but consumers at every level have the choice of more products and services than they could ever buy. They select those which are important, which may not be the services the entrepreneur believes in so passionately. So they do not come asking for the entrepreneur’s services and that can leave the him bewildered and frustrated. Continue reading
You have the idea, but what are the steps needed to turn the idea into a business
I meet and communicate with many people who have an idea that they think can be turned into a payable business but do not know where to start, and many such ideas never become enterprises, which means no new economic boost or jobs, and we need both to take the focus from large organisations and ever increasing government bureaucracies.
So here are a few steps to convert ideas to enterprises.
Who will buy it?
Without sales there is no business and yet too many start ups have only an optimistic guess at sales income. To reduce the risk of early failure the target market has to be clearly identified, it has to have the disposable income to buy the product or service and it has to be one that the new business can communicate with and sell to.
Break that sentence down into its components and you will see the need for a whole lot of research, thinking and planning. The advantage of doing this is it is easier and less expensive to communicate the values of a product to a tightly defined market and much easier to attract them to the ‘storefront’ – whether that is an actual store, an internet site or a salesperson. Continue reading
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 2012 and is posted here by their kind permission.
Getting a response from initial e-mails is a challenge
This entrepreneur started a company to market advertising for digital publications and mobiles. Like most start-ups he has a challenge in making initial sales, and he has identified a weakness in his initial e-mails to generate interest. For instance his e-mails promoting a new product for organisations sending electronic statements has produced no response. He asks what he should include in the e-mail.
This entrepreneur actually faces two challenges: He needs to attract attention from potential customers who do not know his business or his products. To do this he has tried using e-mail as an inexpensive way to communicate his offer, but has been unsuccessful. His second challenge is that he is promoting advertising in the digital world, so his digital communications have to be arresting and effective, he cannot use traditional media to market his products.
E-mail is incredibly efficient at sending messages but this has brought about the major problems of e-mail overload and spam. As a result defences against unwanted mail have been built. Many of this entrepreneur’s e-mails will never be read, victims of spam filters or the delete button. If they are read, it will be a quick scan, so messages which don’t immediately attract attention will be ignored. Continue reading
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 April 2012 and is posted here by their kind permission.
Start ups in small towns need excellent marketing strategies
This entrepreneur plans to start an event business that will offer wedding and party planning and a catering service offering African gourmet meals with a twist. He requests advice on marketing and penetrating the limited market in his small town. As an unknown young black entrepreneur he has concerns about succeeding in marketing to a predominantly white and older community.
The first step is market and competition evaluation, to determine if there is enough market, and whether his business could win against established competitors. If either of these are negative then the entrepreneur needs to answer totally different questions.
Assuming this has been done and the market is available, then there is a mix of good and scary news. The good is that he is thinking of how to be different. The idea of gourmet African meals is exactly the sort of unique selling proposition that great businesses are made of. The scary part is that any market is really hard to penetrate. What is usually in the target’s mind on first approach is something like:
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 October 2011 and is posted here by their kind permission.
The answer to insufficient sales may be more money invested, but there are other opportunities
By Ed Hatton
I have just started a college with a unique range of course offerings. Enrolment numbers are poor due to a low advertising budget. How do we get investors involved without having surety?
Existing entrepreneurs reading this will probably be smiling wryly. Cynics say the first two laws of start-ups are:
In this case the entrepreneur has assumed that the only way to increase enrolment is to put a lot of somebody else’s money into advertising. There are a couple of issues with this proposed solution.
Firstly investors put funds into businesses because they believe they will make a good return. So this entrepreneur will have to demonstrate that the project will make money, despite the fact that early enrolments are poor. Facts, figures and hard information are needed, not just self belief and enthusiasm. Continue reading
Humble shopkeepers can give lessons in marketing strategy
I recently read an article about the lives of Somali shop owners operating in a Cape Town township. They lived a very stressful life, with the continual fear of xenophobic attacks from community members, and the criminals who used the simmering xenophobia to provoke attacks and loot their stores. Insurance is not an option for them.
They described how they chose their location in the poorest sections of the communities. Residents have almost no income, and so travelling to a distant shop consumed too much of their discretionary spend, and they wanted the lowest prices for staples. Unit sales were small values, and at times a shopper would appear with a single coin. All he could buy with that would be one cigarette or a sweet. And he made the most of his purchase – choosing a sweet then changing his mind for a cigarette then rejecting the cigarette and choosing some gum.
The Somali shopkeepers treated him with dignity and patience, knowing that shopping was a rare treat for him. Many local shopowners would have chased him away. Going to a supermarket was simply not possible for this customer.
They chose their target market location carefully, selecting areas which put them in considerable danger and not very pleasant circumstances, but free of competition, and better able to service their customers. And then they gave wonderful customer service to even the least significant customer, treating him like a millionaire. How many entrepreneurs have been as visionary, and how many can say hand on heart that they treat all customers with equal respect and service? Continue reading