How can you make more sales?

Image showing customer at the centre with marketing tactics around them
Fashions change. People don’t

Which one of these is going to work best?

  1. Make a website and wait for people to call?
  2. Go to lots of networking meetings and hope someone you meet will lead you to some business?
  3. Make lots of cold calls, suffer rejection and make some sales if you go long enough?Peter Drucker says that the purpose of business is to create a customer. This means that a business has only two functions – marketing and innovation. Everything else is a cost.Brian Tracy says that sales come from people. Only a person has the ability to give you money. If you can get to the right person and turn that person into a customer then you are doing something right.Here is the problem. The inbound marketing people tell you that it is all about content. Create content and stick it in a platform and you will be flooded with more customers than you can manage.

    No, say the networking guys. Business is all about relationships. Get out there and meet people. That is the best way to build your network, and your network is your net worth.

    Rubbish say the sales guys. Sales is a numbers game. The more you hear no, the closer you are to a yes. So pound the phones. Call everyone and someone will buy from you.

    So what should you do? Here are a few tips.

    1. Fashions change. People don’t.

    If you have something that will save people time, money or effort then they will listen to you – as long as they aren’t tired, busy, hungry or ill.

    If you invent a good way to get to them, like cold calling, in a few years everyone will do it and it will be less effective.

    No method will work forever, so just accept that and work with the ones that suit you best.

    2. Try and talk to better prospects, not just more prospects

    Focus is everything in business. If you can get in front of someone who needs what you do right now, then they won’t wait for you to finish talking before placing an order. Get better at identifying and talking to the right prospect.

    3. Build a moat around your business

    According to Bruce Greenwald, you can radically simplify your strategy by focusing on areas where there are barriers to entry for new competitors.

    If it’s easy to do what you do, then you have an unlimited number of competitors and your profits will drop quickly. Drop everything where that can happen and focus all your efforts on products and services where you have a natural advantage over others.

    Ask the question, what do you do better than anyone else?

    4. Listen to your customer

    If you are too caught up in your business, then all you want to do in front of a prospect is talk about your product. But that means you may miss important insights you can get from the conversation.

    One rule is to never ask an ice cream question. The ice cream question is “Do you want ice cream?”. No one says no to ice cream?

    For example: Do you want to increase sales?. Yes. Do you want to cut costs? Yes. These are ice cream questions. No one will answer in the negative.

    But if you ask, what have you done in the last two years to increase sales? Then you will get an insight into what they have done, what they have tried or not tried, and that will tell you whether they are a fit for your product or service or not.

    5. Test and learn instead of plan and do

    A lot of people believe in the plan and do method of working. Make a sales plan. Decide on an approach (like inbound). Put together a budget. Get it going. Hope it works.

    Test and learn is more fluid and experimental. Do you think having more content will help your sales. Put some content together and try it out. See if  you can create it once and use it a few times.

    Coming back to the three methods of getting in touch with customers – why not try them all out with mini experiments. See what works for you and then double down on that method.

    For example, can you commit to producing content every week for your blog? Or would you rather make 50 calls a day?

    Before you buy a a dialling system or an inbound marketing system decide which method is likely to work best for you and your business and then focus on using that method for at least 3 months.

    We have been experimenting with dialling systems recently – get in touch if you want information on free/very low cost options.

What is a content machine? Your online salesperson.

Managing content is more than just writing. It is about having a system that can help your business grow. A content machine is the human and technical system you put together to create and publish your content.

As a business owner your main concern is how to sell more product and grow your business.

Maybe you started your business and grew it steadily with your own contacts and network. You may have a few salespeople already that have been steadily working with prospects in your market.

But it’s a hard economy out there. Are you still growing at the rate you wanted? Should you hire another salesperson?

There are many reasons why that isn’t the best idea. In most companies, 20% of salespeople generate 80% of the sales. These are the stars.

But if you hire one of the star 20%, there is no guarantee that the success they had in the old company will magic its way over to you.

The problem is that the traditional sales funnel doesn’t work anymore.

Customers are busy, shy and don’t like being put under pressure. Talking to a sales person is increasingly the last thing they do, rather than the first.

Increasingly they find you, rather than you finding them.

But that doesn’t mean that selling doesn’t work. It’s just that it’s really hard work. And it gets harder if all a salesperson has is a list of numbers and a phone.

Salespeople are human. Eventually they get tired of rejection and if they feel like they can’t make their numbers they move on to a different business.

While you’re waiting for that to happen, you have an expensive salesperson on your books who has to start producing. If your sales cycle is 18 – 24 months, that is a long time to wait to see returns.

And, if your salesperson leaves before the sales come in, then you lose your investment and possible the sales opportunity if the salesperson takes that to the company they move to next.

So what is the answer if it’s not hiring more people?

Charles Handy in The Empty Raincoat: Making Sense of the Future tells the story of one approach from a large pharma company.

The chairman’s strategy was to have half as many people working in his business in five years, paid twice as much and producing three times as much.

That was his secret to productivity and profit.

So, instead of adding to your existing pool of salespeople, should you be helping the stars you already have to produce more?

But how can you do that?

Let’s start by asking your best salespeople to tell you why they are valuable. They might say that:

  • They listen to prospects to understand their business
  • They talk with prospects about the problems they face
  • They work with prospects to discover what impact the problems have on the business
  • They show prospects that they can solve their problems and make them money

Unless your product can be sold during the very first meeting, your salespeople know that a pushy, hard-sell approach will not work. You won’t sell another item to the same person. And you probably won’t get invited back.

You may need to convince a lot of people in the prospect company. The person you speak to won’t remember everything you say and will struggle to tell someone else. You might need to go in again to explain it all.

Your salesperson needs to show the value of what you do to enough people in the company so that they agree that working with you is a good idea.

In particular, for expensive items, the prospect more often than not buys from one company rather than another because of the relationship built up with the salesperson.

This takes time. A good salesperson will want to spend as much time as possible with the customer. That investment of time is what gives the customer the confidence that the salesperson cares and genuinely wants to help.

You want your salesperson to be investing that time in prospects where you have a realistic chance of getting new business.

So, the first thing you could do is take the job of prospecting away from them. Get someone cheaper to hammer the phones and set up appointments.

That might help. Although your salesperson is now going into a meeting where the prospect has been qualified by someone else. They know they have an appointment, but they don’t know much else.

In an ideal world, your salesperson will go into a meeting where the prospect already has an idea of who you are, what you do, why you are different, where you are and how you work. Their job is to talk to the prospect, discover what you can do for them, and negotiate a deal.

If you boil down all the words used by professionals – marketing, advertising, integrated marketing communications – they all come down to one thing.

You want to have a conversation with people.

But it takes far too long to have an individual conversation with everyone.

One strategy is to create and share information that your prospective customers will find useful, interesting and informative.

Today, this is called content marketing. In 1895 when John Deere used it, it was probably just seen as a form of advertising.

What it’s called doesn’t matter. The important thing is that by using content effectively in your sales process you can help your salespeople sell more.

You can do this because you can filter prospects by looking at how they engage with your content and direct the ones that are more likely to be interested in working with you to your salespeople.

The content you use is simply another salesperson with a very definite job. This salesperson’s job is to answer the questions the prospect has until the prospect has either had enough or wants to talk to a real person.

Your content can be your hardest working salesperson. Available day and night all through the year and taking no holidays or sick day. Your content is a machine; it doesn’t get tired or hungry. It’s simply there, waiting to help a prospect whenever needed.

If you have a content machine supporting your sales team, you have a force multiplier. You can take your team of stars and give them the support they need to go out and grow your business.

But you have to remember that a machine is simply a collection of parts that work together to do something.

A lever might be the simplest machine there is. Archimedes said that if he had a place to stand on, he could move the earth with a lever.

He could, but only with the right kind of lever. Why do you use a lever made of metal rather than one made of cardboard? Because the metal lever is the right machine for the job.

A machine that has parts that don’t work together may be less use than not having one at all. The wrong kind of machine might lose you business, rather than helping you grow.

Efficiency tells you how much useful work the machine does. What you really want is have an efficient content machine. One that works for you and helps your business to grow.

How can we engineer an efficient content machine?

Most people think that content means sitting down and writing a lot.

That is a big part of it, but an even bigger part for you as a business owner is thinking like a publisher

The difference between a writer and a publisher is like the difference between a cook and a chef. A cook is someone who can make food. A chef is someone who can manage a kitchen.

A writer can write an article or blog post that is riveting and keeps you hooked till the end. A publisher needs to plan and serve up content regularly to readers that they find useful, interesting and informative.

As a business owner, you need a machine that will create, edit and publish content on a schedule over time. You need the tools to manage it over time, and the processes to allow you to add content from different people as you scale up.

You will need to create publishing processes for different types of content, from written material to images and video.

Your content can be on a simple blog, where you publish one article a week all the way to a media hub, where your team pushes multi-media content daily.

Your content machine, on the other hand, is all the moving parts that are needed to create and publish your content. This includes how you come up with ideas, how you work with writers and editors, the publishing platform you use and the publishing schedule you follow.

Three quarters of companies plan to produce more content in 2016. Is it time for you to get your content machine checked so it’s ready to start working for you?

How to use content to market to businesses

Business markets are different to consumer markets in a number of ways.

  • There are far fewer business customers than individual customers as each business usually has been created to serve a purpose.
  • A business is a collection of individuals, and they often make collective decisions.
  • They have developed processes to manage the way in which they operate, and their buying processes will support their operations.
  • It takes longer for them to make a decision, as they are usually dealing with complex and inter-related issues.
  • Finally, the one question businesses always ask is what is the payback from this purchase?

Each purchase must serve a purpose

Most businesses do not buy on a whim. Purchases made by businesses usually need to be justified – and this is done by making sure there is a need for the product.

How will this help my business is the question we need to answer.

This means that you need to show how your product fits into your prospect’s business. Unlike an iPhone, which talks about how good it is and makes you want it, your content must focus on your prospect’s specific needs.

There are several people involved in the buying decision process

Any purchase that is over a minimum threshold will usually involve other people in the business in addition to your main contact.

Not all of these individuals are on your side. They could respond to your approaches with a number of emotions:

  • Some may not know about you
  • Some may not like the idea
  • Some may have had bad experiences with companies like yours
  • Some may be fearful of the change this means for them

Describing your product in just one way will not address all these needs and fears. You need to rework, reuse and reposition your content so that it can be used to make it easier for all these individuals to buy into the product you are putting in front of them.

You may go through a number of processes during the sale

It would be nice if you spoke to one person and that person made the decision and you could get the sale away.

But that’s unlikely.

Instead, you probably need to go through a number of processes – let’s call them obstacles or hurdles if you prefer. From companies that have an email only contact policy to a strict tender procurement schedule, there are a variety of things that can trip you up.

If you have the right content in place, you can approach these hurdles with less effort. Email only policy? No problem, here are a set of emails to five senior managers asking for a referral to the person who manages this process. Tender to complete? Use a combination of existing content with personalised additions to show you have read the brief and understand the requirement to stay in the process.

Use your content efficiently. A good content library can be your hardest working salesperson.

Sales cycles are getting increasingly longer

You have to be prepared for a long sales cycle. In high value sales, it can take 18 – 24 months to go from initial contact to first contract. Quite often, you can start a contact with a salesperson and find that that person has moved on and you have someone else following up and trying to close the business.

With good content, the relationship is stronger between your company and the prospect. The salesperson uses the content to educate the prospect about your company, and if you have to change the point of contact, the prospect is still familiar with your material and the transition is easier.

Sales increasingly fall into simple and transactional or complex and consultative

The middle ground is vanishing in sales.

Simple products are sold on Ebay and Amazon and the quality of your ads will determine sales.

Complex products require explanation and education, and the quality of your sales material will determine your success.

Either way content is crucial, from tightly worded letter perfect ads to detailed use cases of a product, the way in which you use content to define your product help you sell more.

Payback

In business sales, payback is everything.

You might use more complex words like return on investment or internal rate of return, but you still need to show when the prospect will get their money back and start making money.

Content can help you make the calculation clear.

From a clear financial model to a more refined explanation of tangible and intangible benefits, well-structured content can make the case for you day after day, explaining to your prospects why they should do business with you.

Your content needs to answer your prospect’s questions

Did you ever really make a sale by avoiding a prospect’s questions?

Perhaps you did. Perhaps the biggest sale you made was when you evaded every question, dodged objections and danced around the prospect, deftly avoiding any commitment.

Maybe in the days when the prospect knew nothing about you and decided to trust you anyway, going ahead with the sales process.

What happened when eventually, they had to make a decision?

I bet that it all fell apart. If the prospect was not satisfied that they understood what you were selling, I bet they decided not to go ahead.

Today, your prospect can find out everything about you pretty quickly. The chances are they don’t need to though, because your competitors are already in front of them, telling them what is considered best in class in your industry. By the time they meet you, they are expecting to get some answers and, if you don’t, they’ll go with the other company.

Knowledge is no longer power in the information age. Sharing knowledge is in – sharing your knowledge to help a prospect understand their options, evaluate your offering, compare it to others and make a decision.

Trying to keep things secret is a good way to lose business. No one has the time to humour you.

And, you definitely can’t shout at your prospect and tell them to stop asking you questions.