The recession has thrown the sales and marketing strategies of entrepreneurs into disarray. Customers have become more hesitant to buy, sales teams are struggling to get deals over the line, and the marketing budget isn’t looking as healthy as it used to.
But don’t despair – we have asked a range of sales and marketing experts and entrepreneurs to help solve 20 major problems that are confronting business owners.
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Most of the advice won’t cost you a cent to implement, and you will also be able to create more robust sales systems and processes that will last you long into the recovery.
Problem: Customers are crying out for discounts.
Solution: Don’t drop your prices – find another way to get them over the line.
Marketing guru and SmartCompany blogger Colin Benjamin says there is a big problem with discounting – once your drop your prices, it is nearly impossible to raise them again.
Luke Bayliss, co-founder of Sumo Salad, agrees. “We are preferably not discounting because that has a negative impact on the business as a whole. Particularly during the global financial crisis, people may respond well to those in the short term, but they cause long-term damage.”
Benjamin says companies must find other ways to persuade customers to buy, mainly through offering improved service. Offer customers better terms of trade (by giving them longer to pay), offer priority delivery or think about giving them a little gift with every purchase.
“The key is to try and get more revenue out of each customer,” Benjamin says.
Problem: Two our sales people are doing well, but the other eight are struggling.
Solution: Get the stars to teach the laggards.
Trent Leyshan, managing director of sales consultancy Boom Sales, admits the sales environment can be cut-throat and sales people can be very protective of their intellectual property – that is, their sales methods. But he says that good companies need to break down these barriers and forces top sales people to share ideas.
“A lot of sales models can be very competitive, and sales people can operate in their own silos. To me that’s counter-intuitive to a business that is genuine about doing the best by its customers.”
He suggests getting all sales people together for a brainstorming session to create a sales process that everyone can do. Naturally, this should be led by your sales stars, who will hopefully pass on tips and advice to help other members of their group start climbing towards their level.
Problem: I don’t know what my sales process should look like.
Solution: Develop strategies to win, keep and grow accounts.
Rob Hartnett, sales coach and founder of consultancy Selling Strategies, says that the sales cycle (from lead generation through to client management) generally stretches out when the economy slows as customers guard their cash, and it is during these times that a robust sales process becomes crucial.
He says a sales process really needs to have three phases – a sales process for creating an opportunity; a sales process for managing opportunities; and a sales process for retaining and growing accounts won.
“A down economy is a good time to review your sales process to improve its effectiveness,” Hartnett says.
Problem. We haven’t really had to sell for five years.
Solution. Make every employee part of the selling process.
Trent Leyshan was recently approached by an engineering firm that had a big problem – no-one in the organisation actually knew how to sell. They could work on tenders, they could manage projects, but the business just hadn’t needed to be sales focused in the past. Now they needed help.
Leyshan concentrated on getting the firm’s top management to understand the importance of putting sales at the centre of the firm’s strategy and to demonstrate that everyone in the firm had a role in selling, from the admin staff to the accountants to the project managers. “It’s about getting everybody and the same page and getting everyone to understand how they engage customers.”
Problem: Customers don’t seem to “get” what we do.
Solution: Develop a clear sales message.
Sue Barrett, head of sales consulting group Barrett, says that businesses must give a clear, concise message of what exactly their business does before they can even think of making a sale.
“My basic solution is that you need to have a clear marketing message of intent. What do you do? How do people understand what you do? You need to sell the right way and to do that you need to ask what it is exactly that you do for people.”
“Being pro-active and talking to people is great, but if you’re not clear about what you do then they’re not going to understand.”
Problem: Where do I start with sales and marketing planning?
Solution: Get your sales targets clear.
Barrett says that companies cannot afford to be complacent in a downturn and must figure out a plan to survive, and part of that strategy involves setting clear sales targets.
“Look at the numbers to decide what you have to do. If you need X amount of revenue, then look at what your average sale is, and out of that ask how many sales you need to make each year, how many prospects do you need to talk to for sales and ask how many people you need to contact,” she says.
“A lot of people rely on websites and such, which is nice but they in themselves do not make you a sale. They keep your brand out there, but you have to pro-actively put yourself out in the market.
“You need to look at details. Know what markets you need to be targeting. Who do you need to be in front of, and how often do you need to do that?”