Category Archives: Strategy

Why you should re-invent yourself this winter and other thoughts about common sense

This week I was reminded of a great quote from Voltaire: ‘Common sense is not so common’. I like this quote because you can read it in two different ways,

  1. Most people lack common sense
  2. Finding agreement on the right sense is not common

I choose to read it as the latter and I feel that Brexit is a very good example of it. Talking to people about current events, as I do, I came to realise that there are many ways in which we read the situation. Whilst some believe the economic market will suffer a decline in the short-medium term, others think it will only affect companies trading with Europe. I even heard that some people feel that if we stay positive there is no reason why there will be a recession at all.  Go figure, as no one really knows any of these views could be right, so it becomes a matter of the not so common sense.

So, why do I think you should consider re-inventing yourself this winter?

Here are two good reasons:

  1. According to Harvard Business Review jumping from the maturity stage of one business to the growth stage of the next—is what separates high performers from those whose time at the top is all too brief.
  2. As Matthew S. Olson and Derek van Bever demonstrate in their book Stall Points, ,once a company runs up against a major stall in its growth, it has less than a 10% chance of ever fully recovering.

Both are good reasons because whether you would like to be a high performer business or ensure that your business does recover from an economic downturn in the New Year, you should consider re-inventing yourself this winter.

How do you go about re-inventing your business model?

There are numerous books and articles out there for you to explore but essentially you need to consider two things first:

  • Are you going to come up with a completely new product?
  • Are you going to consider taking your exiting products to new markets?

The answer is very much down to your current business model, your market and the make-up of your company. Whichever way you choose to go, you need to consider two important factors:

  1. Developing new business can take time to mature, anything between 6-12 months.
  2. The longer you leave it the more competition you will have

This is why I recommend that you look into this urgently to make sure that you can start widening your options and developing your sales pipeline. We have recently developed a new lead generation system which we believe can support this process well. In September we run a workshop to share our new system and got some great feedback. Click here to find out more.

 

 

Why you should consider new markets now

You might think that this is a fairly obvious thing to do if you are in business but market research I carried out last year proved that most established companies get most of their business from existing business and referrals; in fact the average was 70% of new sales.

There are many reasons why you should not consider new markets, here are just a few:

  1. Referrals and repeat business work are much more profitable
  2. The conversion rate is much higher
  3. New markets can be risky and expensive to explore

I agree with all of the above and would go as far as saying that if your business does not get at least 50% of its new sales from referrals and repeat business, something must be wrong. There is no denying that when you call a prospect who was referred to you, it’s a much nicer conversation which does not require you to get out of your comfort zone.

So why should you explore new markets this autumn?

I believe that generally, your business always needs to be moving forward because standing still is not an option. But at the moment there is a very pressing reason to consider exploring new markets because whatever you think of Brexit, it will affect the UK market greatly. This may well mean that many companies will have less money to spend and will therefore cut back on purchasing, affecting the rate of your repeat business. This might also mean that by default, you will therefore need to work with more companies in order to preserve your sales revenue.

You might still wonder why this means that you need to explore new markets and you will be right because new business can come from two main sources:

  • Working with more companies in your existing market
  • Working with more companies in new markets

Both will work and both will require you to go out looking for new business you don’t already deal with. Whichever way you choose to go, you need to consider two important factors:

  1. Developing new business can take time to mature, anything between 6-12 months.
  2. The longer you leave it the more competition you will have

This is why I recommend that you look into this urgently to make sure that you can start widening your options and developing your sales pipeline. We have recently developed a new lead generation system which we believe can support this process well. Click here to find out more.

Becoming a clairvoyant, or how to grow your pipeline in a predictable way?

You may have heard of the Maslow Hierarchy which shows how our needs as humans develop as we become more established and comfortable.  In the middle of the said hierarchy, just above food and shelter, sits security which most of us see as key to our lives. We can spend some time arguing about whether we can ever truly be secure, but I wanted to discuss one of the key elements of your business security: your pipeline.

Regardless as to whether you run your own business or the sales team within a bigger company, developing your pipeline is key to both your security and growth:

  • Without a pipeline, you will struggle to forecast the future of your sales which affects all major business decisions
  • Pipeline development helps you tackle your growth strategy, from immediate to further opportunities, existing and new markets

Despite its importance, many of us treat our pipeline development rather carelessly, leaving most of it to faith. Typical approaches include:

  • Relying solely on repeat business and referrals
  • Frantically looking for leads only when levels of sales have reduced dramatically
  • Running a variety of lead generation tactics without focus or strategy
  • Trying to convert any business that comes your way

This approach will either leave you with a small pipeline covering only immediate opportunities or a very large one full of long-term possibilities and pies in the sky. If you wanted to truly use your pipeline as a tool for growth and development, you need to have one which includes long term suspects which are being nurtured and developed into mature prospects, which will turn into customers. To achieve this, you will need to establish three things:

  1. Have a good understanding of your target markets
  2. Create continuous, relevant communications to create interest
  3. Follow up with your suspects and prospects continuously

Follow this, and you will end up with a funnel shaped pipeline like this one which is aimed at creating new opportunities in your desired markets and developing them into sales. You may already be doing this or a part of this but now is a good time to review your process and ask yourself if you and your team are getting it right. Economic uncertainty, like that which we are currently facing, can change market conditions, meaning you end up with less repeat business and referrals so make sure you are developing a strong pipeline to tackle it.

As always, we are happy to help and discuss your individual circumstances so get in touch.

Have you got a plan B?

I have recently found myself in need of plan B since the last quarter has not gone as well as expected. Whilst the first two quarters of 2018 were very successful for us, we found quarter three to be slow. There are many factors that may have affected this but identifying these did not change the fact that I needed an alternative plan and I did not have one.

To aid my thinking, I put plan B into Google in the hope that some helpful plans might come up, only to discover that Plan B is actually an English hip hop recording artist from the 80’s. I looked further and found lots of advice on how to construct your business plan including doing your market research, checking out your competition, getting your financial information right etc. But nothing about constructing a plan B; I guess it might not be such a priority in business planning.

You’ll be happy to know that after some careful research, I did find interesting advice. Here are a few examples:

  • The hip voice:

Don’t expect things to go to plan and you will always be ready to shift your plan is the main advice from David Kadavy of the Mission Podcast. According to David, ‘Things almost never go according to plan—and that’s okay.’ The solution, according to David, is to ‘remember things won’t go as planned. You can make it part of the plan to not have a plan.’

Whilst I agree that not sticking to your plan at any cost is a good idea, I found this approach a little too relaxed and acknowledging my anxious composition I looked for alternative, more ‘old school’ types of advice:

  • The sensible voice:

The Dummies Blog seems to deliver on this front and suggests considering three areas of change in your business focus:

  1. Redefine your product by re-assessing your product concept and the benefit it brings to your target market. This process could mean that you bring out a new product to attract a new market or make some shifts which will help you target your current market better.
  2. Move your business to another dimension or location. This could mean that you move your showroom to another area or make it easier for people to approach your business on-line depending on your specific circumstances.
  3. Revamp your operation and processes through considering whether you need new equipment, skills or staff. To me this area of focus must first and foremost include an assessment of your sales process, lead generation and conversion rate. This is because without new sales, your business growth will be threatened.

Whether like me, you found your business has slowed down recently or you were getting nervous reading that 77% of SME’s are not ready for Brexit, I think we all agree there is a change afoot early next year. If there was ever a good time to construct a plan B, it’s now.  Check out how we might be able to help your lead generation and sales strategy refocus here or get in touch to discuss further.

 

 

Quality over quantity, top tips to building your new business database

Good old Emil Zola must have seen a glimpse of the future when he said, ’If I cannot overwhelm you with my quality, I will overwhelm you with my quantity.’  I am not entirely sure what he meant by it but these days we see plenty of examples of people trying to impress us with their quantity, rather than quality.

2018 has seen the data debate take to centre stage through the introduction of GDPR, which was introduced to stop the unauthorised use of personal data. There was much talk about the change it would bring beforehand, but we hear very little of it now. Dare I say that not much has changed in terms of B2B e-mail in my in-box. Even so, assuming that, like me, you think that communicating to a smaller but engaged audience is better, you might want to consider how you build this database in the first place.

Let’s consider some different methods to building your database:

Method Advantages Disadvantages
Buying a data list -Providing a solid start

-Allowing you to communicate with the right industries and decision makers

– The data is very cold which affects the speed of conversion

-Very niche markets can be hard to identify

Using your own client and contact list -Building on your existing industry knowledge

-Communications will be better received as it’s a familiar audience

– Much of the data might be out of date

-The list may not be very strategic in terms of new and target markets

-GDPR compliance is questionable

Using Social Media platforms to build your following -This is potentially a very engaged audience as they have connected with you

 

-Using this data outside of the specific platform can be difficult

-Many contacts will not appreciate a direct approach

Using digital funnels or landing pages to attract interested parties -As this method is based on targeting people who searched for your product or service it has the potential to provide you with highly qualified leads -Because this method is so specific it can be very slow in terms of building a database

 

Once more we have concluded that there is no one winner and no silver bullet. My advice would be to use a variety, if not all, of the above methods to communicate with your target audiences. The important thing is to create an overarching strategy which governs your marketing and lead generation system thus making it focused and tailored to your business.

This means that you have a specific process in which your funnel works, which involves several activities happening at the same time. Such a system will ensure that you are seen in front of the right audience at a volume and frequency that allows you to develop a substantial pipeline based on your new business conversion rate.

If it sounds interesting, check out  our system here or give me a call to discuss your requirements.

 

 

The truth about making a choice and why would you want to skin a cat anyway?

Many animal lovers hate the saying ‘there are many ways to skin a cat’ but if you actually check its origin you might be even more disturbed. According to Edward Brumley, Buddhist, Vegan and Atheist, ‘The phrase is just a more recent rendition of an older proverb that was expressed in many different ways, in which various animals were killed in diverse and sundry creative fashions. The earliest known version was recorded in 1678 in the second edition of John Ray’s collection of English proverbs, in which he gives it as “There are more ways to kill a dog than hanging… ‘

Let’s move on swiftly but stick with the idea that there is more than one way to achieve your goal. This notion is worth keeping in mind when it comes to your marketing even if it often looks like you have to choose. Well, let me break it to you gently, you don’t have to. To make things clearer, here are the main two choices you have when you consider your marketing strategy:

  • Outbound marketing: This term is used to describe pre-meditated activities you undertake to approach your target markets directly. These activities include tactics such as e-mail marketing, advertising and telemarketing.
  • Inbound Marketing: This term is used to describe the tools you create to help people approach your business when they are interested in your product and service. These tools include your website, referral marketing, content marketing and so on.

In addition, most marketing methods could be divided into the following categories:

  • Offline marketing which can be seen as old school by some, includes methods such as direct mail, leafleting, telemarketing and telesales
  • Online marketing which some will describe as all the rage, includes methods such as e-mail marketing, SEO, Social Media and ad words

Many companies feel they have to choose between the different options. This is sometimes the case due to budget limitations or the marketing company they work with. In my opinion, the choice needs to be down to the various target markets you are after. Here are a few examples to clarify what I mean:

  1. If your target market is stay at home mums who like to shop locally, you may choose to place targeted adverts in Facebook and use local groups. In this case, you will be utilising an inbound digital marketing campaign
  2. If you are targeting Estate Agents in Cardiff, you may choose a direct mail campaign which is followed up by telemarketing. In which case, you will be utilising outbound offline marketing campaign

Now, I am always for being as specific as you can when it comes to your target market. If you can narrow it down to people who only come out when it rains on a Sunday, that is great. However, our reality is made up of a very wide choice in nearly every walk of life, which means that even if you are specific, you still need to consider more than one approach to reach more people. By this, I mean that you need to adopt marketing campaigns that reach out to your contacts using a number of platforms. If you can e-mail, connect on LinkedIn and telephone them all in one campaign, you increase your chances of getting through to more people. Of course, you can choose to place some strategic Blogs alongside Ad Words and landing pages instead.  The point is that the choice is yours and should be based solely on your growth targets and marketing strategy.

As always, I am happy to discuss your specific questions further. In the meantime, you might find it useful to check out how our lead generation system works.

Selling in other countries: something to try on your next holiday

At the age of 47 I have finally made it to the USA and it was nothing like I expected it to be. I normally try not to form any specific expectations before I visit a new country, but America is so central to our world it is hard not to. What was the biggest broken myth for me? From a business perspective, I found their selling culture very different to what I had expected. As a country which believes in self-reliance and making money, I expected everyone to be very pushy. Whilst there are a lot more adverts everywhere, I found face to face selling was done in a very friendly and low-key manner. Yet it was at the heart of every operation we came across, from camp sites to service stations and restaurants, everyone had special offers and extra choices designed to get you to spend more money. To my mind, this combination made the sales process very effective, resulting in a much higher conversion rate.

Did I learn anything from this? Yes and no.  Of course, providing superb customer experience is key and certainly something we can always do better. However, the way you approach your customers is very much based on their culture and therefore the American approach may not work so well out side of the USA. In fact, if you have ever been on sales training or read sales materials from the US you may well have found them a little cringe worthy. Yet over there it works perfectly well which proves that if you wish to engage with a customer you need to understand their culture as well as their needs and requirements. Here are a few examples of how a sales process is affected by culture:

  • According to the Freshtrax Blog, in Japan, sales are rarely closed in sales meetings. Corporate buying decisions are made behind the scenes in a series of meetings to which you will never be invited.  This is why Japanese sales staff carry a lot of documentation and prefer information-dense presentations which will later be used to discuss their product. Complicating matters further, even simple needs discovery can cause offence, since asking about your prospect’s problems, particularly in front of superiors and subordinates, implies that he does, in fact, have problems. This environment makes trying to sell directly challenging, so your best strategy is to identify your advocate within the organisation and teach them to sell your product.
  • According to Janis Chan, Cross Culture Trainer, group affiliation is the focus in China. It is a highly collectivist culture where people act in the interests of the group. There are small groups in a Chinese corporation where the opinions and votes are pre-determined by the strong and cohesive in-groups. This is the norm of corporate decisions, directions, and culture. Hence, in order to improve your chances of success you must talk with insiders to get a clear map of the organization chart with the direct lines and underlying dotted lines before you approach them.
  • When selling in Dubai, according to the Entrepreneur Blog, you need to think before you speak. Emiratis and other Middle Eastern business people working in Dubai love a good joke as much as anyone and can be uproariously funny. But profanity is a total no-no in the Muslim professional world, so avoid R-rated language and making disparaging comments on Islamic culture – a person could be fined, jailed or deported.

This is all very interesting but it’s important to remember that in many ways the world has become a smaller place these days and we therefore deal with diverse cultures and origins even when operating within the UK. The better you understand your client the closer you can get to them and increase your chances of success. This is true in general but understanding your prospect’s culture is a big part of it.  If you are unsure where to start, click here for more information or get in touch to discuss further.

How to make friends on your next flight- why do asking questions work?

If you were sad enough to type: ‘how to impress strangers?’ on Google, you will come up with a wealth of information. Read through it and almost all pieces agree that to get on with strangers you must:

  1. Smile
  2. Make it about them
  3. Ask open-ended questions

Carry on reading about open-ended questions and you might come across this interesting story; according to a study by psychologist Arthur Aron called ‘The Experimental Generation of Interpersonal Closeness you can make someone fall in love with you by asking them 36 open-ended questions designed to foster the atmosphere of mutual vulnerability and intimacy that a romantic relationship thrives on…

You might not be looking to meet strangers or make them fall in love with you at all. However, if like many of us you are going on holiday this summer, you might end up sitting next to a stranger for some time. This time, rather than putting your headphones on and watching Netflix throughout, try and ask your fellow passenger some open-ended questions and see what happens. If nothing else, you will be practising the most important sales skills: asking questions and listening to the answers.

There are many books about questions for selling from How to Persuade and Influence People by Phillip Hesketh through The Psychology of Selling by Brian Tracy to How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. They all provide good advice on asking questions when selling. So why is everyone so fixated on asking questions, you might ask?

Brad Sugars at ActionCoach explains it well through his formula for change, stating that in order to bring about change (in other words close the deal) pain has got to be greater than the resistance to change. I agree, though to understand their pain and ascertain how great it is, you need to ask a lot of questions and do plenty of listening. Yet, so many of us run to offer a solution as soon as we hear half a hint for a need. It is in our nature to want to help out and be able to offer advice, but the answer to increasing conversion, or falling in love if you like, is listening and asking more questions.

How about this quote as an ending: ‘What people think of as the moment of discovery is really the discovery of the question…’ Jonas Salk, American medical researcher and virologist

If you find that your sales team needs some help with asking better questions, get in touch.

 

 

Sales skills: How to create a winning sales team

A few weeks ago, I read about the old American TV show, The A Team, and how, whilst it was a great success with the viewers, the actual team of actors got on very badly behind the scenes bringing the show to an end. It made me consider team work and how important it is for long term success.

In my previous Blog this month, I wrote about sales profiles and how having the right profile for the right job is key to sales success. The Blog was useful in terms of outlining the differences between sales profiles and the consideration of each skill alongside your sales strategy.

But what about the sales team? Surely, to achieve success you must consider not only the sales profiles, styles and skills of each member but also how they will all work together in one team. Like any other recruitment process this can prove difficult, so I thought it might be helpful to put together some key considerations when putting together your sales team:

  1. Consider your sales strategy and key goals: Is your company planning to achieve growth through growing your clients’ spend or are you focusing in developing new markets? Most growing companies have a requirement for both and their sales targets will be a mix of new and existing business. This means you will need the right mix of sales profiles in your team to make this happen.
  2. Consider your sales process: So many Sales Managers miss the fact that in order to increase conversion and productivity, the team must adhere to a clear sales process. This is not just about how you many times you follow up and what agenda you follow in your meeting. An important part of this process is considering who in the team does what, based on their profiles and skill, to ensure maximum conversion is achieved.
  3. Consider what roles are required within the team: once you are clear on your strategy, goals and process, you can draw up the ideal sales roles you require to fulfil this most productively. Ideally, you would want to have the right number of Account Managers, New Business Development Managers, Telemarketing Consultants and Sales Support Managers.

I hope you think the above considerations make sense, but you may well have a few further considerations:

  • What if you already have a team, perhaps even some decent sales people within it but it does not meet the profile you require?

I would imagine that this may well be the case with many companies and there are four key things to do in this situation:

  • Analise the current skills and profiles you have and identify the gaps
  • Train and skill your existing team where possible
  • Provide focus through plans and goals
  • Hold on to those who embrace the change and replace the ones who don’t

A full sales team require a myriad of roles and skills, should they all be provided in-house?

I think that the answer to this is absolutely not. Take follow up and telephone work for example; I have written before about the behaviour profile best suited for telemarketing and it is not a sales profile. It can also be hard to keep and motivate a Telemarketing Consultant in house.  My advice would be as follows:

  • Consider the roles in your team again and decide which would require specialist knowledge of your company’s products.
  • Consider which of the roles might not be specialist but would benefit from being managed in-house.
  • Outsource all other roles to a specialist company

If you view this page on our website, you may find that we are able to support your sales team with both of the scenarios above. Get in touch if we can be of further help.

 

Sales skills – typical sales profiles and why they matter

I have attended countless training sessions and read many self-help books and all of them agree on one thing: knowing your strengths and weaknesses is key to making a success of whatever it is you choose to do. Over the years I have found this to be very true yet so many people I meet could not actually tell me what their strengths and weaknesses were.

This is particularly apparent when it comes to ensuring you have the right sales person for the job you need them to do. Hiring, managing and motivating your sales staff is always a challenge, but it is even more so if you have the wrong person in the job. Many managers and business owners, who are not sales people themselves, might be confused by this idea of sales styles, just like so many tend to bundle all promotional activity under the banner of marketing.

Another challenge I come across, is in well established companies who may have long established sales people who have been in the role more than anyone can remember. The company may have acquired other companies which landed them with additional sales people. It might be a combination of all of the above, but the result is the same in many cases: you end up with the wrong sales profiles and that can have a devastating effect on your growth.

So, what are the different sales profiles you might ask. There are a few ways to look at it but put simply there are two main profiles to consider:

  1. Farmers: Just like real farmers, these sales people are skilful at looking after their land. In other words, they are good at looking after existing clients, ensuring they are satisfied and therefore continue to place business with the company.
  • Strength: nurturing relationships through loyalty and care
  • Weakness: Responding to rapid change, approaching unknown entities, working fast, thinking on their feet, spotting new opportunities
  1. Hunters: These sales people are skilful at identifying targets and approaching them. There is nothing that pleases them more than closing a new deal. They are very often demanding and controlling, sometimes fly by the seat of their pants and not known by their attention to detail.
  • Strength: Identifying strong opportunities and developing them into a sale
  • Weakness: Working to a plan, adhering to rules, compiling paperwork, listening

Of course, this is very black and white and there are many sales people, me included, who are a hybrid of the two. However, painting the two profiles in this way allows you to immediately see what I mean: if you require new business development and you have a team of farmers, they will struggle to deliver and vice versa, which is why considering this is so key to your teams’ success.

But what if you have inherited the team and they are what you have? I think that you can develop and hone different skills within your team. People are creatures of habit and often choose the path of least resistance. With the right training, some KPIs and support, you can deliver different results. With some rapid change affecting the UK market next March, it might be something to consider sooner rather than later.

Check this page on our website to see how we can help or get in touch to discuss in more detail.