Category Archives: Customer Service

Market Wisely

strategic marketingMarket Wisely, and Sales Will Follow

By Ray Silverstein

What kind of marketing activities do you do for your business? Do you have a marketing plan? How about a marketing budget?

Do you use marketing strategies to focus and support your sales efforts, or do you engage in spontaneous, one-time marketing activities when an idea appeals to you?

For many entrepreneurs, it’s the latter. Unfortunately, isolated, spur-of-the-moment activities aren’t likely to move you toward your sales goals.

It takes thoughtful, strategic marketing—not haphazard bursts of activity—to set the stage for increased sales. How do you sharpen your marketing focus?

Use a Comprehensive “STP” Marketing Approach

According to STP theory, strategic marketing is a three-step process:

S – Segmenting
T – Targeting
P – Positioning

Segmenting – You can’t sell to everyone. When you segment your market, you divide it into groups of prospects based on criteria significant to your business: demographics, geographics, psychographics, economics, distribution, industries, wants, needs, buying habits, etc.

For example, one of my peer group members in Phoenix owns a swimming pool maintenance service. There are many, many pools in Phoenix. So he segmented his market, broadly dividing it in to family-owned backyard pools and larger, community-based swimming pools.

Targeting – After you segment, target: determine which segment is most worth pursuing, and go. My peer group member concluded that community-based swimming pools make the best customers. He then targeted further, focusing in on YMCA pools and country club pools, because in his experience, their operational standards supported the most intensive maintenance programs.

Positioning – While segmenting and targeting define who you’re going to sell to, positioning focuses on how you’re going to sell them. My peer group member, for example, positioned himself up as the local YMCA pool/country club pool ‘specialist,’ developing proposals and packages just for them.

Positioning includes identifying products, pricing, place, promotions…marketing activities entrepreneurs know well. However, you can’t position your company effectively when you’re trying to reach everyone. By minding your “Ss” and “Ts” as well as your “Ps,” your sales efforts will be more focused and successful.

As I’ve said before: fail to plan, and you plan to fail. Segmenting and targeting are the basic building blocks for well-planned marketing and ultimately sales.

Balance Macro and Micro Marketing

Employing both macro and micro marketing strategies is another way to sharpen your marketing approach.

Macro marketing means working from the market on down. So, once you determine you’re pursuing country club pools, you take steps to—no pun intended!—immerse yourself in this market. Is there an association you can join? A publication to subscribe to? Can you create some marketing materials or a blog just for this audience?

Micro marketing, on the other hand, means working from the bottom on up. Once your macro work is done, you should still pitch each prospect individually for best results. Your targets have things in common, but they’re different, too.

So gather intelligence about each target. Who makes the buying decisions? What are their hot buttons? Who’d they use before, and what were the sticking points? By performing web research and networking, then slowly penetrating an organization, you can better tune your sales pitch to resonate with your prospect.

In summary, it’s a common misconception that ‘marketing’ equals spending money and time on things that don’t generate real results. A smart, strategic marketing plan is your sales department’s best friend. Used together, marketing and sales make a great one-two punch.
Biography: Ray Silverstein is president of PRO, President’s Resource Organization, a network of entrepreneurial peer advisory groups in Phoenix and Chicago. His latest venture is Propelus, a specialized peer group for business advisors and achievers who want to achieve more. He is author of “The Best Secrets of Great Small Businesses,” and “The Small Business Survival Guide.” You can reach Ray at 1-800-818-0150 or ray@propres.com.

Sell Smarter – Ditch the Pitch

Ditch the PitchHow to Sell Smarter: ‘Ditch the Pitch’

Review by Ray Silverstein

There’s one subject entrepreneurs can’t get enough of: how to increase sales.

Well, here’s a thought. If your current sales pitch isn’t delivering the results you want, it’s time to switch things up. Better yet, why not do something radical, and ditch the sales pitch entirely?

My friend Steve Yastrow, a shrewd business advisor and wonderful author, recently introduced this fascinating “Ditch the Pitch” approach to selling, which you’ll find in his new book of the same name. It’s so packed with worthwhile ideas, I asked Steve for permission to share my top takeaways with you.

Fact: Nobody Likes a Sales Pitch

You don’t enjoy being on the receiving end of a canned sales pitch, do you? I know I don’t. And, let’s face it, our prospects don’t either.

So, when you do get valuable face time with a prospect, don’t waste the opportunity by launching into a flat, unwelcome sales pitch. Shake things up: try using these three strategies instead.

Engage in Persuasive Conversations

People want to talk about the things they care about, not listen to monologues. You’ll get much further by drawing prospects into meaningful conversations about subjects that matter to them.

Yes, your sales pitch is a comfortable crutch. Engaging in real conversations will require you to improvise. But this is something you already know how to do. After all, we are all improvising our way through life. Assuming you know your stuff, businesswise (of course you do), you’ll do fine. And you’ll actually enjoy your sales interactions more.

Say Less to Notice More

Most people are better talkers than listeners. So let your prospects do most of the talking. Your first job is to listen, observe, and process what they’re saying. By doing so, you can identify their hot buttons and pain points, and then figure out how your products or services fit in.

That way, when you do open your mouth, what comes out will be interesting and relevant to them, which will get you closer to your goal.

Create a Shared Story

Here’s a great rule of thumb: make 95% of the conversation about your prospects. They don’t need to know everything about you and your business, only the parts that matter to them. Be very selective in what you share.

And another great sales tip: only speak about a paragraph’s worth of words before tossing the conversational ball back to your prospect. That way, you weave your story in with theirs.

In addition, your story is more likely to have a happy ending, in the form of a successful sale.

If you keep doing the same thing over and over again, you can’t expect different results. Now is a great time to try a new sales approach. You can learn about Steve’s book, Ditch the Pitch, at www.yastrow.com. And you can get my complimentary Weekly Sales Worksheet—a real-world sales activity tracker—by emailing me at Ray@propres.com

Biography: Ray Silverstein is president of PRO, President’s Resource Organization, a network of entrepreneurial peer advisory groups in Phoenix and Chicago. His latest venture is Propelus, a specialized peer group for business advisors and achievers who want to achieve more. He is author of “The Best Secrets of Great Small Businesses,” and “The Small Business Survival Guide.” You can reach Ray at 1-800-818-0150 or ray@propres.com.

Are Your Habits Helping or Hurting Your Business?

a3feAre Your Habits Helping or Hurting Your Business?

By Ray Silverstein

Right now, many of us are wrestling with the personal habits we resolved to break or build back on January 1, like losing weight and giving up smoking. But what about your business habits? Have you given them any thought?

Like it or not, we are slave to our habits. According to research, a whopping 40% of our daily activities are habitual, not things we consciously choose to do. So chances are, if you put in an eight-hour workday, you’re spending three hours and twelve minutes of it on auto-pilot.

That’s 16 hours—two who eight-hour days—every single work week!

That can be good or bad, depending on your habits. If you have built good, productive habits (following up with prospects, monitoring sales activity), they’ll serve you well.

But if you’ve developed unproductive habits (checking emails continuously, tending to mundane tasks), your habits may be wasting prime work time.

Habits are extremely…well, habit-forming. Our brains are hardwired to create habits, according to Charles Duhigg, author of the fascinating book, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business.

If you’re trying to grow your business, it’s important to understand what habits drive you, so you can either put them to work for you or change them. The first step? Identify them. Learn what they are.

According to Duhigg, a habit consists of a three-step loop:

  • The cue – the trigger that prompts your brain to begin a specific routine.
  • The routine – the activity itself, which may be physical, mental, or emotional.
  • The reward – the payoff for performing the routine, which gives your brain a reason to remember the habit.

Habits are powered by cravings. For example, I’ve developed a habit of craving a chocolate chip cookie at 2 a.m. My habit breaks down like this:

  • The cue – I wake up at 2 a.m.
  • The routine – I eat a chocolate chip cookie.
  • The reward – It tastes good. I feel good.

Most habits don’t go away by themselves. If I want to break my cookie habit, I can start by recognizing the cue for what it is when I wake up. I can change my routine, switching out a cookie for a piece of fruit. It still tastes good, though not as good, but now part of my reward is knowing that I’m eating something healthy instead of something less healthy.

It’s the same thing in business. For example, when we discussed habits in one of my PRO peer groups, one business owner—who had previously expressed concern that his close rates were dropping—had a moment of enlightenment.

He realized that he had fallen into a bad habit at sales presentations. Instead of engaging prospects in conversation, he would immediately launch into a features-and-benefits recitation.

It was driving people away.

His cue was getting in front of a prospect; his reward was sailing through the presentation. But a better reward would be closing more deals. Now, he is consciously changing his routine, engaging prospects in real conversation and making his presentations more organic.

So here’s my challenge to you: identify your good and bad business habits. Figure out what triggers them and how you can modify them to better serve your business.

In other words, make it a habit to pay attention to your habits.

 

Biography: Ray Silverstein is president of PRO, President’s Resource Organization, a network of entrepreneurial peer advisory groups in Phoenix and Chicago. His latest venture is PRO-preneur, a peer group with unique features for emerging businesses, solopreneurs and those who want to achieve more. He is author of “The Best Secrets of Great Small Businesses,” and “The Small Business Survival Guide.” You can reach Ray at 1-800-818-0150 or ray@propres.com.

10 Tips to Get Referrals

referral10 Ways to Get Great Referrals

(Even if You Stink at Asking for Them) 

by Ray Silverstein

When it comes to sales tools, few things are more powerful than customer referrals. They’re simple, effective, and absolutely free. We love when referrals come our way. Yet many entrepreneurs are reluctant to actively request them. If you’re one of them, consider this.

Every business relationship can lead to additional relationships. When customers are happy with the products or services you’re providing, that’s a golden referral opportunity. Chances are, those customers would be delighted to refer you, but won’t think of it on their own. They need to be prompted. That’s up to you.

Buyers prefer to deal with companies they know. When that’s not possible, a personal referral increases a buyer’s comfort level with a new vendor. It’s the next best thing.

And it’s not really difficult to request a referral. Often, it’s a matter of seizing an opportunity, or getting into the habit of asking. Here’s 10 ways my PRO peer group members do it.

1. Whenever a customer says something positive about your company, respond with a thank you, followed by a prompt referral request. (One of my PRO members trains all her employees to follow this simple rule.)

2. The quickest way to get referrals is to do a great job. Ask your customers what “great service” means to them. Ask for feedback on your performance. Some PRO members ask informally (say, during a phone call) and some have a formal process in place (like satisfaction surveys). Either way, when they get positive feedback, they use it as a springboard for referrals.

3. It sounds counter-intuitive, but many of my PRO members actively encourage their customers to complain. Complaints give you an opportunity to solve a problem, and picky customers often give the most compelling referrals.

4. Some entrepreneurs make referrals part of their front-end agreement with new customers. As in, “We’re going to work hard to prove ourselves. Once we do, will you give us three referrals in return?” People like go-getters. Be one.

5. Build relationships with people who can provide you with referrals, and return the favor whenever possible. Thanks to social media like LinkedIn and Facebook, it’s easier than ever to build a network of mutually-supportive contacts.

6. Once you’ve got a network, work it. Beyond referrals, offer your contacts support. Share resources and solutions to common business problems. The more you nurture these relationships, the more people will think of you when it’s time to give a referral.

7. Don’t assume your contacts know what you’re looking for in a prospect. Describe your target customer as specifically as possible, and encourage them to do the same.

8. Always carry a few business cards. You never know who you may run into, who they’ll be with, or where conversations may lead. When you meet someone you’d like to connect with, ask if you may call them to set up an appointment.

9. The most effective networkers I know make a point of planning for events. They know they’ll be asked “what’s new?” and “how’s business?” They always have an interesting, upbeat answer ready.

10. What if you’re not comfortable at networking events? One of my PRO members solved this problem by setting specific goals for himself before every event: introducing himself to the speaker…talking to three new people…introducing two contacts to each other.

The bottom line is, you only get referrals when people are happy with the quality of your products or services. All referrals are earned.

But sometimes you do need to ask for them.

Biography: Ray Silverstein is president of PRO, President’s Resource Organization, a network of entrepreneurial peer advisory groups in Phoenix and Chicago. His latest venture is Propelus University of Practical Business, a specialized resource for emerging businesses, solopreneurs and those who want to achieve more. He is author of “The Best Secrets of Great Small Businesses,” and “The Small Business Survival Guide.” You can reach Ray at 1-800-818-0150 or ray@propres.com.

 

How’s Your Crystal Ball?

How’s Your Crystal Ball

by Ray Silverstein

When you own a business, you need to be able to tell the future. To know where revenues are headed and what resources you’ll need. The good news is, you don’t need to be clairvoyant to see what lies ahead. 

Because you have something better than a crystal ball: your business indicators. Some indicators are nearly universal (i.e., the economy), and some are unique to every business. Either way, when you track your indicators, including those listed below, you can get a handle on the future.

Indicator #1: Present and Future Sales 

Reviewing current orders is the first step to projecting revenues. But you can estimate even more accurately if you factor in outstanding bids/proposals.

For example, review past proposals for the last 12 months. What percentage did you close?  

Apply that percentage to today’s proposals, and you’ll get a sense of where you’ll be in X number of days, depending on the length of your sales cycle. In essence, you’re diagramming your sales funnel. (Then you can also work backwards to determine how many proposals you must generate to hit your sales goals.)

Indicator #2: Service/Maintenance

If your sales have a ‘tail’—i.e., the initial sale will result in service activity down the road—that’s another indicator.

Say you sell and service equipment. By analyzing past maintenance activity, you can predict what service/parts will be needed when. Apply that information to your equipment in the field, and you cannot only proactively line up parts and staff, but anticipate maintenance-related revenues.

Indicator #3: The Domino Effect 

Certain activities in one industry  impact related industries. If you can pinpoint those relationships, you can use them to make projections.

For example, one of my PRO peer group members is in the furniture business. By talking to her customers, she found they shared one common denominator: many had purchased homes within the prior 6-12 months. By tracking the local housing market, she can project which way sales are trending.

Indicator #4: Fill-in-the-Blank!

There may also be some indicators unique to your business. Keep a look out for them.

For example, years ago when I owned a manufacturing company, I used to sell to a well-known mail order house. This was before the Internet. Every day when the mail arrived, the mail order staff would immediately weigh it. Yes, weigh it. The company’s savvy owner knew the value of his average order and had calculated the number of orders that made up a lb. of mail. So hours before the orders were processed, he knew what the day’s sales would be.

Indicator #5: The Local Landscape

Your business is part of a local community. Depending on what you sell or do, all kinds of local activity may affect you: big construction projects, hiring moves by major employers, even the school calendar. By staying abreast of your community and keeping tabs on local business news, you can get a sense of what will impact your business.

So, put away your tea leaves and cancel your appointment with Madame Marie. Learn to track and read your key business indicators, and you’ll be able to predict what the future holds.


Ray Silverstein is president of PRO, President’s Resource Organization, a network of entrepreneurial peer advisory groups in Phoenix and Chicago. He is author of “The Best Secrets of Great Small Businesses,” and “The Small Business Survival Guide.” He has partnered with the Phoenix Business Journal to bring you access to the Journal’s Digital Portal, a goldmine of potential business indicators. For more information, contact Ray at 1-800-818-0150 or ray@propres.com.

Upcoming Events:

Devon Bank sponsored Keyword Workshop in Chicago – Wednesday, October 8, 2014 

Books of Interest:

                    


Turn Problems into Opportunities

PRO-Success-225x220“Don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions.”

This is one of those standby expressions that small business owners frequently say to their employees. It recently came up in one of my PRO peer groups. The question was: is it a smart thing, or is it a dumb thing?

At first glance, the phrase implies that the employer has mastered the art of delegation and empowered his or her employees to take independent action. So, it’s a smart thing, right?

Actually, the conclusion we came to is: no, not when you really think about it.

  • Do you really not want to know what’s going on in your business, especially problems?
  • Do you really want to encourage your employees not to communicate with you? To not use you as a resource?

The Art of Delegation

Delegating to employees is a healthy strategy, yes. But completely removing yourself from your business and your staff is not going to help either one grow.

But delegating to the correct degree is a tricky skill for many small business owners to develop, because it goes against their entrepreneurial roots.

Many young entrepreneurs are control freaks in the early days of their business, and it serves them well.  They want to manage every aspect of their operation and jump on every little problem. It’s a good thing when you’re getting started.

But then, as the business grows beyond their capabilities, they recognize the need to hire a staff and delegate. But some can’t let anything go and become overbearing workaholics; while others let everything go and get out of touch with their own business.

The trick is to find the right balance. The right approach is to encourage employees to bring you their problems, whether they have solutions or not. Problem solving should be encouraged, but good communication should be encouraged more. That’s how you create a foundation of trust.

Seizing Teachable Moments

Every time an employee brings a problem to your attention, it’s an opportunity for a mini training session.

No, you don’t want your staff bringing you every trivial little issue. But it’s up to you to define what’s important and communicate those limits to your employee.

For example, one of my peer group members had a new service rep. The rep was having trouble resolving customer complaints, and ended up bringing everything to the boss. It was time-consuming.

His solution was to define the limits of her decision-making authority. If it was less than a $100 problem, she could make the call. If it was more than a $100 problem, they’d resolve it together.

At the end of every week, he had her provide a spreadsheet of the problems and her resolutions, so he could confirm she was on the right track. As she grew more knowledgeable and confident, he increased her decision-making dollar max.

In other words, the problems became a springboard for employee training and development. For more ways to turn business “lemons” into lemonade, check out my website, www.bestsmallbizsecrets.com.

Ray Silverstein is president of PRO, President’s Resource Organization, a network of entrepreneurial peer advisory groups in Phoenix and Chicago. His latest venture is Propelus University of Practical Business, a specialized resource for emerging businesses, solopreneurs and those who want to achieve more. He is author of “The Best Secrets of Great Small Businesses,” and “The Small Business Survival Guide.” You can reach Ray at 1-800-818-0150 or ray@propres.com.

A Business Perspective

A Business Perspective

We’re all committed to working smarter these days. We’re busy cutting expenses, trimming the fat and streamlining processes whenever possible. But there’s one wasteful habit we’re loathe to give up. Many of us still want to sell to “everyone.”

These days, most entrepreneurs are thrilled to sell their wares to anyone who wants to buy them, and that’s fine. However, when you try to include “everyone” in your marketing message, you may actually end up reaching no one.

When you broaden your message too much, you risk watering it down to the point where it no longer resonates with your best prospects. That’s symptomatic of a lack of focus—a dangerous flaw to have, especially now.

Furthermore, small businesses simply don’t have the time, resources or staff to chase every demographic. The reality is you can’t sell to everyone. Nor should you want to.

Yet many companies continue to take a scattershot approach to marketing and sales, thinking they’re more likely to score a hit. The truth is, if you want to hit the bull’s-eye, aim with a rifle, never a shotgun.

How do you do this? Start by determining who your best customer is by reviewing your current customer base. Identify your “A” list customers, along with what makes them valuable. Describe them in as much detail as possible. What common attributes do they share? Is it age, gender or annual income?

If you are a B-to-B operation, you can use the same kind of process. Do you value large firms or small ones? Or companies in certain industries or areas? Keep thinking until you arrive with a detailed description of your target B-to-B prospect.

Next question: What draws them to your products or services? What needs do you fill? How do you fill them better than your competition and how can you improve?

By the time you complete this exercise, you should not only know what your target market is, but what message you should be marketing to that market.

The same philosophy applies to customer service. Are you exhausting your staff in an effort to provide exceptional service to all customers? That may be admirable, but it’s not very wise. Resources are limited, especially these days, and frankly, not all customers deserve it.

So figure out who is worthy of your best service. Start by classifying your customers in groups from “A” to “F” based on criteria that matters most to you. Is it a customer’s sales potential, profitability or payment history? Is it the ease of doing business with them?

Once you’ve classified your customers, analyze what level of service you’re providing to each of them. Logically, you should be reserving your very best service to your “A” list customers, but don’t be surprised to find you’re providing best service to your worst customers. Often, the demanding, difficult accounts are the ones you spend the most energy trying to please.

There is both a direct and indirect cost to servicing a customer. Delinquent accounts, demanding accounts and unprofitable accounts all represent lost opportunity. And while no one wants to lose a customer right now, can you really afford to let an “F” list customer put a drain on your organization?

And if you recognize that you’ve been taking some quiet “A” list customers for granted, maybe it’s time to shower them with more attention.

Targeting customers is yet one more way you can cut, trim and streamline your business. It will save you money, time and aggravation, but best of all, it will also position you for future growth.