In today’s confusing economy many business owners are in need of a jolt – something that will help their company grow. But what are the ways to find an edge in a crowded market, to find new ways to sell your product or services?
This was the question posed to members of the Business Exposure Group at a recent meeting and they came up with the following points.
- Is the business truly scaleable? Is the demand for your products enough to sustain growth by focusing on either one product at a time, one new customer at a time, one new sector at a time? But often the key to scaling up is scaling down and become more efficient.
- Make sure you do your market research before scaling your business.
- Re-organise your company to serve customers better. Look at your inefficiencies and review where improvements can be made.
- Operate with integrity; don’t let money or greed get in the way. Strive for excellence and be different. The owner is the main sales ambassador, so get out and visit your customers. Focus on good customer service. Stay up to date with technology and up your marketing activities.
- Many small businesses run too lean for too long, putting all their investment into selling, but certain inefficiencies maybe things you can get away with in the early stages, but if you are serious about growing these ‘holding you back’ issues need ironing out.
- Don’t think just about tomorrow, at the expense of the long term.
- For some it is easier to carry on as you are, rather than developing skills to manage and grow your business. A leader’s job is to set the vision and a manager’s job is to set tasks and look after the operation. It is vital to position yourself correctly in the business.
Your business can either grow or stagnate, it’s your decision, but let me leave you with three interesting thoughts –
- Don’t become obsessed over ‘cool features’ as this will drain resources and will not increase your bottom line.
- Don’t over innovate because this will drive your customers away because your products and services become too complicated.
- Don’t wait until a product is perfect before you launch because you will have launched too late.
Remember growth is about having processes, being organised and delegating trust to others working in your business.
How do you provide your buyers with a complete understanding of what you do, what you sell and why your products or services are better than the competition?
This question was posed to members at a Business Exposure Group meeting and a lively discussion ensued.
Too many businesses are already generating all the leads and prospects they need but are unwittingly losing up to 90% of opportunities to convert them into sales.
It is important to consider the following:-
- The buyer is more interested in themselves than you, so, how do you remove the perceived risk of buying from you?
- Map your sales process. A step by step process to convert enquiries and leads into sales – the actions taken to prepare for each sale. How you overcome concerns. Build trust/understand the buyers goals/create certainty that your product meets their needs/ overcome fear of making the wrong decision/officially confirm the sale. Develop a process.
- There is value in trying to convert old and cold prospects. It may be time to approach another prospect in the target company.
- Qualify leads so you don’t waste time. If a prospect isn’t ready to buy don’t give them to the sales team. Provide useful mailshots and wait your time.
- Spend enough time researching the buyer’s needs, then offer the solution to win the sale. It is important to listen and find the solution for the prospect.
- Measure your conversion rate and always have a planned agenda for the sales meetings to keep you in control and set the appropriate expectations.
The Business Exposure Group members came up with the following points.
Offer content and information that educates, regular newsletters are the beginning of the process.
- Fish where the big fish are, don’t waste time trying to convince people to buy when they are clearly not interested or ready to commit.
- Establish a no communication deadline to remove redundant prospects from your pipeline.
- Follow up your initial call a few days later asking questions, eg, have you had a chance to go over the information and make a decision? 80% of all significant sales occur only after a minimum of 5 follow ups. Following up will apply pressure and open up dialogue to discover questions and concerns that the prospect may have.
- Have a list of scripted answers readily available for every possible objection/query
- Remind them that you have a solution that is going to make them more money
- Don’t adopt a one size fits all approach, target and segment, focus on the best prospects first
- Increase the skills of your sales force, make them appear helpful not pushy, and the overall product knowledge of your team will reduce the risk factor facing the prospect.
The future for any business is to develop a well thought out process to maximise the conversion of prospects.
Strategic business reviews are useful if you are
- uncertain about how well your business is performing
- if you want to know how to get the most out of your business or marketing opportunities
- if your business is moving in a different direction to the one you planned
- if the business is becoming difficult or unresponsive to market demands
But what are the questions we should be asking ourselves?
Members of the Business Exposure Group discussed these questions and came up with the following.
- If things are running well should you let it run or is it actually time now to plan again? Most thought that it should be a constant agenda item.
- A simple planning cycle can greatly enhance your ability to make changes in your business routine.
- It is vital to review the progress of your business, but how are you measuring success and is your annual business strategy fit for purpose? Most thought that a review should take place every time a game changing event happens.
- What are your markets now and in the future and how do you gain market advantage? There is no point in going head to head with the competition, try to find a niche.
- Which of your products/services are succeeding and which are not performing as planned? Spend more time on the latter.
- How effectively are you marketing your goods/services to your customer’s needs? Have you reduced the risk of them placing an order with you?
- Conduct competitor analysis. Find out what they offer. How they price their products/services. What is their competitive advantage. What was their reaction to your entry into the market. Who are their biggest customers. With this information your business can be more robust and targeted.
- How often do you review your financial position? Have your requirements changed recently? How frequently do you review costs and new ways of doing things? These questions are crucial.
- How often do you review and update your website? Don’t let it sit there reflecting the old times.
There is a benefit to have an outsider question your thought processes periodically. They will ask questions that you never even thought of. There will be many external factors which may affect your business’s ability to compete and it was generally felt amongst our members that is was vital to review your business periodically, especially if legislation changes, new technology is introduced, a significant customer is lost or a new competitor enters the market. It has to be a disciplined ongoing process.
Most business owners dream of growing their company. Greater revenues are a measure of accomplishment. Larger companies are trusted more and getting bigger makes it easier to get even bigger!
But, being big creates problems – the business becomes less flexible, less customer centric and all the aspects of being small are jettisoned: agile, frugal and responsive. So, can you stay small but continue to grow? This was a question posed at a recent Business Exposure Group meeting. It’s important as the business grows to keep thinking like a small company. So, consider:-
- Does adopting the formal trappings of a large company in order to appear more credible actually reduce performance?
- Employees function better when the rules and procedures are short and simple.
- Adding more staff often creates more problems, and it increases staff turnover.
- Working with fewer people creates conscientiousness and keeps everyone more involved.
- Employees wherever possible should be rotated between tasks, so everyone can multi-task.
- Decisions take longer to make in a large company. There are too many managers who create bottlenecks.
- Do we need constant regular meetings? There is often a mis-alignment between when meetings are scheduled and when a conversation is needed. So, be more flexible. Big businesses have too much reporting, too many meetings, too much training. Create a culture of action and hire people who get things done!
- Customers are happier when there are fewer layers of management and procedures. Several layers of management depersonalises the customer experience.
- Eliminate useless work practices, don’t issue a companywide rule that only applies to a few – eg everyone must write a report, but it’s only relevant to one employee who doesn’t communicate well.
- As the business grows the agenda will change, make sure everyone is working to the same project. Don’t let people continue on old projects when the needs of the business have changed. There is nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency something that should not be done at all
These points were raised at the Business Exposure Group meeting. It was felt that keeping teams small and agile with little bureaucracy, a flat organisation and smart employees was the appropriate model for a contemporary business.
E-Commerce is the name for any kind of commercial transaction that takes place through the internet. It gives customers the ability to buy from you without having any limitations imposed by time or distance. Its not restricted to a B2C business using a “shopping cart” and credit card.
The question is – are B2B customers ready for this?
This was the topic discussed by members of the Business Exposure Group at a recent meeting and some interesting observations were put forward by members, many of whom had implemented E-Commerce functionality into their businesses.
B2B suppliers know far more about their customers than B2C, so there is no excuse not to deliver relevant experiences to your customer.- a website should no longer be general but nowadays it needs to be specific to the customer browsing your site.
41% of manufacturers are now selling directly to your business customers, so your business needs to be prepared to sell against the same companies you consider as valuable supply chain partners.
Entering into the world of E-Commerce is a major decision and setting up your website is challenging. Consider the following points raised by our members during the meeting:
- Website needs to be user friendly with as few clicks as necessary to enable your customer to order as easily as possible. It should load within 5 seconds.
- Do you require multiple “shop fronts”, different languages, to only provide relevant products and services to the specific visitor?
- Does your website need a reminder email facility to remind your customer to re-order?
- Does your website need an email facility to notify your customer about new products or when products are back in stock?
- When logged into the website, does it recognise your customer and automatically bring up their previous order history? – It is important to segment customers and give them a different experience based on their industry requirements.
- If you have a complex catalogue, direct customers to the relevant products in as few clicks as possible?
- Should you put all your goods or services for sale on the website or leave the high end items for your sales team to sell?
- FAQ’s section is extremely important as it reduces the need to have an extensive customer relations team.
- With one click specific industry users can fill their ‘carts’ with everything they need for their particular requirements.
- It engenders customer loyalties. An order can be authenticated with a click of a button, instead of the process taking several days to be confirmed.
- It streamlines your ordering system. It reduces the bottle necks of tedious work.
Consider who is your real competition, your competitors or your customer expectations?
The buying experience is now more important than ever.
It was felt by the Group that B2B E-Commerce was certainly another route forward for most businesses and a great way to find a new customer base.
New developments have made the creation of complex applications and online tools easy to purchase. But what is included in the software? Does it really work as advertised, will the provider still be around in 12 months and if not what happens to our data?
A worrying scenario for businesses.
There is a lot at stake when deciding whether or not to invest in the latest technology. Research shows that a business should spend 6% of revenue on IT every year. So how do you decide? A technology partner can make or break your business. Does your company have a lack of IT skills, are you over dependent on outsourcing?
Choosing the right IT support company is vital. Are they enthusiastic about what they can do/do they understand your problems and needs/how flexible is their support/what services will the support contract include/are they local?
Integrating applications is another challenge. You may have all the features you like in one application, but how does it talk to another application? There is a rapid rate of change, so how can you vet appropriate systems? Has software and the Cloud made things more dangerous for small businesses? Do your providers have a data-destruction policy?
At a recent meeting, members of The Business Exposure Group discussed some of the challenges they faced on a day-to-day basis and came up with the following points
- Don’t scrimp on technology but shop around for the most appropriate system for your business
- How much do you lose in downtime from your old system, make sure your IT support is available 24/7
- Make sure your back up system saves all documents including drafts. How often do you test your back up to see what you retrieve?
- Know what your website is for and make sure it engages your customers
- Use analytics to harness on-line traffic
- Make sure you are mobile, customers won’t wait until you are back in the office
- Have a strong password policy to protect your system
- Take advantage of teleconferencing
- Choose a UK company for hosting, it will help with your SEO
- Have reliable equipment to help stay ahead and innovative. 40% of PC’s in small businesses are more than 3 years old and operating on old windows systems with a whole host of problems
- Accounting software – ask yourself, does it free up a lot of time?
Technology is constantly improving and it is vital that businesses keep up to date, to stay ahead of their competitors.
Successful outsourcing means more than just picking the right supplier. It’s now a mainstream strategy, it’s an indispensable part of small business operations.
But, what do you outsource? – IT, Human Resources, Wages, Training?
Should you avoid outsourcing areas of your business that directly impact your customers?
For example, is it better to outsource IT to one supplier or to contract with a few suppliers and choose the best one for each type of work? Failing to outsource effectively can cause damage to your business.
Outsourcing was the subject discussed at the Business Exposure Group meetings recently and members engaged in a lively discussion as to the benefits and pitfalls of outsourcing.
Successful outsourcing achieves:- cost reduction / achieving KPI’s / reduced time to market / process improvements / business agility / increased innovation / commitment to change with enthusiasm.
However, research shows that 15% of business owners think that outsourcing delivers reduced services, poor quality, and costs more when management and overseeing are factored in, and there is evidence of a high failure rate in outsourcing. The biggest hurdle to overcome is that the contract or piece of work must be commercially significant to the supplier, if the buyer is to receive an appropriate level of service.
Businesses can’t be as efficient in this day and age if we handle all tasks internally. But what is crucial to overcome the high failure rate is to have some sound service level agreements detailing: the minimum service offering / dealing with on time delivery / the volume of work / and the suppliers availability if your business needs a quick fix.
Time invested in managing outsourced relationships is time well spent but when choosing suppliers for outsourcing consider the following points:
-How do you get suppliers to collaborate with your established functions?
-How difficult will it be to swap outsourced suppliers?
-How often should you meet with suppliers?
-Lay down your terms of business clearly and set clear goals with service level agreements.
-What attitude should you expect from your supplier? They must show
a passion for excellence, rather than just satisfaction
commitment to success
take ownership of the work
bring brainstorming to the table
go above and beyond the contractual expectations
-Can you invoke penalties for failures in service / delivery
If you choose suppliers well then you will have a great resource, which is about much more than just saving costs. It’s about skill, innovation and giving your business a competitive edge.