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Posts Tagged ‘sales’

Don’t Be Snobbish About Network Marketing

Network marketing companies are strong, profitable and growing

Network marketing companies are strong, profitable and growing

If you run your own business, I expect there have been times when you wondered why on earth you started it. You might even be in a business where you are responsible for bringing in new customers and sales. The pressure is on to perform and you have moments of self doubt. “Can I do this?” “Am I good enough?”

The times that make you wonder why you are putting yourself through this pain often come down to one of two things. Money and people.

With the money, you are worrying about getting sales, whether they are profitable sales, whether you have enough money in the bank to to pay your current bills while you wait for the money to come in from the sales, chasing debtors and then working out whether you have made any money at all at the end of each month.

With people, it can be that you have tough customers who do things like ask you to show them exactly how you do what you do so that they don’t have to use you anymore. Or you have some tricky relationships at work where you feel as though you are not entirely on safe ground because your boss is being particularly distant from you.

The hardest thing that people have to deal when they are running their own business and selling for the first time is the fear of rejection. Getting turned down by the customer who you thought would buy your product or service without doubt is a hard thing to deal with in business when you are not used to it. That’s why cold calling is loathed by most sales people. Rejection after rejection, day in, day out is not only demoralising, it’s boring.

But dealing with rejection from prospective customers is one thing. Dealing with rejection from friends or family is another. When you start your own business, you start it with optimism, enthusiasm and fear. You are giving up that regular salary  and the certainty which that brings. The support that your friends and family give you is vital to making you feel as though you are not entirely on your own.

But when you don’t get that support, it can be very difficult to deal with. Belief in your products or service is what holds you together and the determination to win against all odds is one of the characteristics of an entrepreneur.

Someone I know well has started their own business and that person is one of the most determined people that I know. In five years, they have taken their business from zero to £500,000 in turnover having started it part time. That person is now being joined by their spouse in the business who has given up their highly pressurised but well paid nine to five job.

But their family does not see their business with the same enthusiasm as they do. In fact, they don’t see it as a proper business because it is a network marketing business. And that’s not really a ‘proper business’. Network marketing is regarded with quite a bit of snobbery in this country. People think you are selling them some sort of ‘pyramid-ponzi’ scheme where they will have to buy a load of ridiculous water filters or similar which you can’t sell.

But this is old thinking. For sure, some network marketing schemes in the past have given the model a bad name. But this is not the same. Network marketing is becoming a phenomenally successful and influential route to market for many companies who do it well. If network marketing is bad, why do you see so many brands using social networking to get their name out there to help them sell products?

The plain fact is that the world has become wise to the effectiveness of networking, network marketing and social networking. The days of brands marketing at you are declining rapidly. We no longer accept what marketers tell us about their products. We tell them what we think about their products and not just by refusing to buy them.

Networking is a people-centred activity. People buy from people they trust. People buy from people who sell good products. Network marketing is built upon that principle but people seem to think that just because the product was purchased in this way that it is less than legitimate.

You know what? If that’s the way you think then all I can say is “Get over it”. The best network marketing companies are strong, profitable, growing and they are quietly making the people who work in the businesses a lot of money. In fact, I might just join them.

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Selling to your Boss

Show your boss the evidence and make it real

Show your boss the evidence and make it real

I realised that I first learned how to sell a few years after I first did it. I was a young British Army Officer and one of my jobs in the Mess was to have all of our dining room chairs restored. The chairs were getting battered by many functions and daily use by thirty blokes and their occasional guests. I took one chair as a sample to a local furniture restorer to be restored and took it back into the Mess to gain the approval of the senior officers before having all of them restored.

But I didn’t just show them the restored chair. Firstly, I showed them a chair which had not been restored and which was probably the worst one of our set. The unrestored chair was rickety and had had much of the varnish chipped off. I showed the group of senior officers how bad things were but how good that they could be by investing in having the chairs restored. Having the chairs restored was a whole lot cheaper than buying a complete new set. Approval was gained.

One of the biggest challenges that some employees or even business directors face is having to convince their boss or fellow directors that they need to invest money into their project. Most people fear the rejection or fail to persuade their boss or bosses on why the investment is an investment and not a gamble.

I met someone recently who is facing this challenge. Their business is a web based news site which focuses on a science and technology. It has grown its unique visitors to the site from 6,500 per month to nearly 15,000 in the last year. It has benefited in the economic downturn, it would seem, as people seek more knowledge and information.

On the outside, it appears that this is a good news story. But, the underlying trends on the site show that people are spending less time on the site. The site is very much a ‘broadcast’ site meaning that it does not have capabilities for viewers to interact with the site by way of leaving comments, sharing articles with friends or colleagues, or even posting other content onto the site such as photographs.

Its competitors are large. One of their competitors has fifty times the number of unique visitors per month to their site. The competitors’ site is more advanced by way of tools which allow visitors to subscribe to the web site through RSS feeds, to read blogs, or to download and listen to podcasts, for example. Not only are their competitors larger, they are competing more effectively for the visitors by providing reasons for them to keep them coming back.

Herein lies the problem with the smaller news site. They have an infrastructure to their site which is bespoke and they are finding it nearly impossible to change. Furthermore, the owners of the web site do not see the problem. They see rising visitor numbers and they have achieved their original aim of setting up a successful web site providing the specialist news. “Why should we change the infrastructure?”

The infrastructure they have is bespoke and there very few people who can develop their system to customise it and add new features. They are stuck with a single supplier who charges them a lot of money to maintain but not develop and expand the capabilities of the site.

The owners are not seeing that their web site will become soon see the number of visitors declining because they receive better services and news elsewhere. The people in charge of marketing and running the site don’t have the support of the owners to make changes because the owners don’t think there is a problem. So, the status quo prevails and when the number of visitors and subscribers decline, they won’t be able to react. This is a classic case of people not worrying about what a rising tide covers up until the tide turns.

How do you deal with this inertia? How do you show that something is wrong when all seems to be rosy when your boss doesn’t believe it? Think back to the chairs earlier. Everyone in the mess was uses to the chairs being a bit battered or wobbly. Nobody was really complaining about them. But, by showing them how good they could be and how much more presentable and professional our Mess would appear, the senior officers approved the investment. They did not care how the chairs were restored as long as they were done professionally.

This is similar to the situation with the contact I met who was struggling with their bosses to see that their web site was not competitive. You have to show them evidence and keep showing them and not just accept the status quo and the inevitable pain they would go through again if they did not change their infrastructure. You need to show them what their competitors are doing. You need to show them what real people want and then how that will help their business survive. It’s tough but evidence and outcomes are very persuasive. You need to be bold, strong and persistent.

Getting Big Leads for Little Money

Getting leads does not have to be costly

Getting leads does not have to be costly

All businesses need sales. It’s probably the most important activity to keep a business alive. With profitable sales, cash flow is the next most important aspect to get right. Most large businesses (e.g. Microsoft and HP) I have worked in have the luxury of being able to test marketing initiatives and they have vast armies of sales and marketing people to develop, test and refine them, along with the budget to do it.

In a small business, you don’t have such luxuries unless you happen to be swimming in cash. Most people start their own business with plenty of determination, some cash to keep themselves afloat, a great idea and the experience to be able to help other people with it, and, perhaps, a list of contacts who they can approach who might want to buy their product or service. Resources for sales and marketing are limited so every penny has to count towards getting sales.

Learning how to sell can often be the hardest part of starting your own business. The fear of rejection. The fear of failure. These are all common anxieties that occur when you are about to either pick up the phone to speak to a prospect, run your first show stand or talk to people at an event who you don’t already know. But you can break these fears and anxieties down by following simple steps in your business planning and not be tempted into sales and marketing activities that don’t fit into your plans.

When it comes to marketing, I hear plenty of worrying stories about business owners who have been recommended to get a web site for their business to bring in sales which, in the end, brings in no leads and, of course, no sales but takes vital cash out of their business. Also, people are often tempted to buy lists of names who are supposed to be qualified prospects in their target market at great expense but which can often be found for free on the internet using business networking sites like LinkedIn.

Often this comes down to a lack of experience in sales and marketing, which is understandable when these are not your main skills. But, when you start your business, you have to become good at sales and marketing to survive and get yourself into a position to grow your business and make profits.

When you have limited or near-zero marketing funds, then you need to be laser targeted in how you use them to bring you fruitful leads which convert into sales. You need to be clear about the objectives for your marketing. You need to be clear about your sales objectives too. Once you have determined your sales and marketing objectives, then you can begin to work on your sales and marketing strategies.

Sales objectives might sound like this: To cover my costs each month and to pay myself a living wage, I need to bring in £5,000 of sales per month”. And it might follow on like this: “In order to bring in £5,000 of sales per month, I need to sell two of my widgets per month”.

Sales strategies might sound like this: To sell two widgets per month, I need to send ten quotes out per month”. Sales tactics might sound like this: To send out ten quotes per month, I need to make fifty contacts with new prospects or customers per month.

Marketing objectives might sound like this: “I want to become the first choice when clients need an HR consultant in my local town within two years”.

Marketing strategies might sound like this: “I want to meet one new prospect a week who is in my target market”. A marketing tactic for this strategy might be “To meet one new prospect per week I am going to join my local business networking group”.

Only when you have planned your sales & marketing objectives and strategies, can you start to decide on the right tactics to achieve them. This is where many people starting up their own business start. They start with sales tactics and marketing tactics without fully understanding how they support their strategies and objectives.

For instance, you might say I want to build a web site to sell to new customers. But do your customers buy your type of product or service through the web? This is where your precious resources can be wasted in an instant.

So, before you spend anything, ask yourself how sure am I that I will get any business from this? If, for instance, you are buying a list, check on the web to see if your potential clients can be found for free. Before you build your web site, make sure it supports your strategies.

In my experience in owning and running small businesses, you should keep everything simple, focus on what you do best and learn how to sell. You need two types of lead generating tactics to get you sales. Tactics which can offer you quick access to prospects (e.g. your existing contact list or contact details from tools like LinkedIn), and tactics which can offer you an opportunity to build long term networks of leads (e.g. networking at events or business clubs).

These two are the cheapest and most secure ways to get leads and sales into your business and they are based upon relationships. You need to convince people that you are trustworthy. With short term tactics, it is good to have a nice logo and a well designed web site. They instill confidence in prospects that you are serious.

But, you should not spend more than you can afford until you have enough money to develop them into more sophisticated tools. Keep it simple. Use the great tools which are out there on the web to help you connect to customers which are free and adapt them cheaply. Keep the cash in your business for as long as you can.

You don’t need to spend lots of money on marketing at first. You need to spend lots of time finding prospects and working with existing clients. Always ask yourself how sure you about the return you will get from your sales and marketing investment and whether it supports your plans. Trust your instincts and be firm about how you invest your resources.

If you keep these principles in mind, you can generate good business without spending lots of money.

If you would like to contact me for further consultancy on how you can get leads to your business at low cost, then please email me: will@digitalbusinessblog.co.uk

Warming Up Cold Calling

08/06/2009 1 comment
Cold calling can be surprisingly productive

Cold calling can be surprisingly productive

People hate cold calling for good reason. It’s hard work and does not make you feel good about yourself. The cliché used by sales managers is that every cold call which fails gets you closer to a sale. It is true but it’s an agonising process to go through. Common scenarios are that you have to make 60 to 100 calls per day and you could get through to between 10 and 20 prospects of which one or two of them might end up buying your product or service. There are hundreds of ‘business opportunities’ which promise that you never have to do any selling and no cold calling which play on people’s fear of doing it.

Generally, people don’t like receiving cold calls either, particularly in the UK. The receiver picks up the phone, is met with a small barrage of information, gets asked a couple of ‘qualifying questions and then gets interrogated by the salesperson. The salesperson might then expect to close on something, whether that’s a meeting, a sale or sending further information. All in all, cold calling is an experience which leaves both sides feeling distinctly frosty after the moment has passed.

For both parties, it’s a strain. The salesperson is nervous about getting through to help them meet their call quota for the day, and they are often so surprised that the prospect does actually sound interested in what they are selling that they gush out a whole load of verbal nonsense that the prospect can be quite easily put off. The prospect is likely to have received several cold calls that day or that week already and may sound fed up with yet another intrusion into their working life, unless they have, of course, put in a blocker to having direct access in the form of an assistant or another gatekeeper.

But, the stark reality is that cold calling is still an effective way to find new customers if it is carried out with intelligence. Every other form of marketing to attract a prospect’s attention can be ignored, switched off, thrown in the bin, unsubscribed from, sent to the spam or junk mail folder and added to the ‘Telephone Preference Service’ list.

Cold calling is painful when carried out blindly. You can make it much more productive by applying some simple principles.

Firstly, remember that you are trying to build a relationship. If you went up to a stranger in a street and asked them out for a date without any preamble, the likelihood is that they would either laugh at you, walk away in a hurry, seeing you coming and try to avoid you, call the police or, perhaps, assault you! People who accept your offer are running the risk of going out with this stranger who could be a nut case.

Our natural instinct is to be suspicious of strangers which is why cold calling is thought of as being hard work. You have to ask a lot of people on a date in the scenario above before you meet someone that you genuinely like and who genuinely likes you.

To make your time productive, you need to have carried out basic marketing principles to make good matches. You need to assess the type of person who will buy your product or service. You need to work out what type of job they have and their responsibilities. You need to understand what type of difficulties or challenges they are likely to have in their working lives, which could be any number of things but could be something to do with finding efficencies, selling more or reaching more people. You need to understand the environment they are in and the forces which they have control and which they don’t have any control over.

How do you find out this type of information? You need to read their trade publications, you need to look at their ‘LinkedIn’ profiles on the web and see which ‘Groups’ they belong to. You need to look at their employment history and their achievements, find common ground amongst what you read, look at their Twitter feed to see what they are chatting about and who they chat with.

Once you have carried this background research, you are in a much better position to be able to talk with them in such a way that they feel as though you have bothered to find out about them. People like that. They feel respected when you have taken some time to get to know about them.

You also have to remember that the prospect that you are cold calling has all the information and the answers. You should not expect them to listen to something which you have or do without taking the time to understand their circumstances in detail.

Despite all of the background work that you do, you still might get rejected. But, in my experience, if you treat prospects well at this stage, it is far more likely that they will be happy to speak to you at another time when their circumstances have changed and you might be in a position to help them.

The main point to remember is that cold calling is effective as long as you improve our chances by ‘doing your homework’ and making the time you spend contacting them as productive for your prospects as it is for you. Don’t kid yourself that cold calling is a thing of the past. If you don’t do it, your competitors will.