More Sales Channels Means More $ales

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The number one job of a business owner is to sell the company’s products and services (at a profit).  To achieve this goal, numerous activities are undertaken to promote, support and sustain the sales process and its co-dependent twin, the buying process.  The push-me, pull-you of businesses selling and customers buying rests on a vital and complex foundation.

The business model, i.e., the rationale for how a business will generate sales and make a profit, is the starting point.  In the business model, the products and services that will be sold and the target market(s) are identified.  The method(s) and location(s) by which customers will obtain the products and/or services and the payment protocols are also detailed (E.g., do customers pay in full in advance, or do they pay a deposit and then the balance when the product or service is delivered? Is this a bricks & mortar or e-commerce operation?).

The value proposition, perhaps the most important component of the business model, will describe why prospective customers are expected to value and purchase the products and/or services that the company plans to sell.  Estimating business start-up costs and preparing a credible Break-Even Analysis to provide a time line that predicts the expected pace of sales revenue growth that products/ services are expected to achieve, will determine when profits can be expected to accrue and is yet another purpose of the business model.

Business strategy rests on the business model and marketing strategies, campaigns and tactics lend still more support to driving the selling – buying process.  Yet after all is said and done, it’s imperative to get the products in front of potential buyers.

Savvy business owners know that those with motive and money to buy what your company sells need a little help.  Offer your products and services (where applicable) through different sales channels and make your products/ services easy for customers to buy.  Map the selling – buying process at your organization, talk to and survey your customers and then consider which sales channels, direct, indirect and hybrid, will make it more convenient for customers to do business with you.

Direct Channels: The selling – buying is done through channels, or might we say venues, that you control.  Customers may visit your office or store, or they may buy online through your website.  You might also offer certain of your products and services on your Facebook page.

According to 2018 research conducted by Hootsuite, there are 2.32 billion Facebook users globally, 1.1 billion speak English and about 10% live in the U.S., 232 million. 78% of American users have discovered retail products to buy on Facebook.  Customers will click your Facebook Store tab once you build it out and take it live. Payment processing and customer transaction history are handled by Shopify and Facebook does not take a commission on your sale.

Indirect Channels:  Have you ever booked a plane ride or hotel through Expedia, Hotels.com, Orbitz, or Travelocity? If so, you are comfortable buying through an Indirect Sales Channel and you could be ready to sell selected products and services through this method.  I’ve promoted and sold my P.R. and writing services on Upwork and LinkedIn ProFinder.  Self-published authors who produce books through Create Space have Amazon for an Indirect Sales Channel.

Tangible products have a much longer history with Indirect Sales Channels.  A company can investigate the possibility of selling products to a wholesale distributor, who in turn sells to retailers.  Freelance artisans often place their hand-crafted items into (typically locally owned) stores on consignment.  In both scenarios, products gain access to a significantly larger pool of target market customers than would be possible if the business only used Direct Sales Channels.

Hybrid Channels: Describes two or more sales channels utilized to provide a multi-channel product promotion and distribution system that will maximize product sales. Starbucks offers an easily visible example of Hybrid Sales Channel product distribution.

The primary sales channels are the free-standing Starbucks restaurants that are sprinkled throughout commercial and residential neighborhoods in countless cities and towns across the country.  Secondary Starbucks sales channels are found in many Barnes & Noble bookstores, chain grocery stores, hotel and hospital lobbies and airports.  By way of Hybrid Sales Channels, Starbucks successfully carpet bombs key shopping districts coast to coast.

Small and medium business owners cannot compete in this manner, but it may be possible to offer products and services through two or more sales channels to broaden product exposure and drive sales.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Leslie Jones (1886 – 1967) Pushcarts on Blackstone Street, circa 1940   Haymarket in Boston, MA. Courtesy of Boston Public Library.

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Shaping the Customer Experience

For all products and services, from the lunch you buy at a favorite restaurant to the purchase of a luxury automobile, the experience of the buying process matters more than ever, it seems. “Service with a smile” barely scratches the surface today. Buying a product or service has officially become a journey, a series of experiences that Freelancers and business owners must create and perfect. There are three phases:

  • The pre-purchase experience, when prospective customers browse advertisements, search company websites and scrutinize social media feeds and online reviews to obtain information about product/ service choices and prices to confirm or modify their expectations.
  • The purchase itself, when product or service choices are finalized, size and color are selected and payment is made. All aspects of the purchase process must be convenient and seamless.
  • The post-purchase experience, as needed, where typical customer service matters such as the (on-time) delivery date will take place and resolution of questions or problems must be quickly and expertly resolved.

As you and your team take steps to design a website that keeps browsers visiting pages and has a good (sales) conversion rate, present across social media channels a story-telling narrative that engages visitors and builds credibility and has excellent and reliable customer service protocols, below are a few things to keep in mind:

Customers want information  The pre-purchase phase continues to grow in importance.  Prospective customers want to know about you and also your competitors, so that comparisons can be made and the product or service that appears to offer the best value will be purchased.

The buying process may begin with an advertisement that you placed.  If your product or service piques interest, the pre-purchase phase will progress to a visit to your company website.  While on the website, social media icons will be clicked and the story you tell on those platforms will be read with interest.  Pre-purchase research often concludes with a visit to online reviewing sites, such as Trip Advisor and Yelp, to confirm the value of your organization, product, or service.

Customers want convenience.   It is imperative that doing business with your organization will be no-stress and easy.  If you don’t have the best turkey sandwich in the neighborhood, you can make up for it by being very convenient for customers to buy from you, online or in person (even as they complain about your product or prices).

Master logistics.  Especially if yours is an e-commerce business, your website must be fully operational as well as easy to navigate, with an intuitive flow.  Last week while shopping for client holiday gifts, I found a lovely little shop that sells very nice air plants, housed in interesting containers and in the right price range.  But the website was down and I didn’t have time to visit the store.  Sadly, I could not buy from my small business colleague. Why the owner felt it would be a good idea to re-do a website in mid-December is beyond me.

Once an order is placed, there is the (outsourced) delivery system on which you depend. Your delivery service will be compared to Amazon, so it’s advisable to take every step to ensure that merchandise deliveries meet customer expectations. If items are out of stock, make sure that you are able to give a very good approximation of when the item(s) will be available.  Finally, packing must be expert to eliminate the chance of damage during transport.

Technology.  There’s no need to splurge on every technology product that’s available, but do invest in those tools that will make a noticeable difference in the ease of doing business with you, in the pre-purchase, purchase, or post-purchase phases of the buying process.  Make it easy to browse, make it easy to get questions answered, make it easy to buy, make it easy to arrange and receive delivery, make it easy to resolve problems.

Timely communication.  The trick is to communicate with customers only when they will perceive the contact as beneficial. Depending on your business, that could be once a month or once a quarter.  Signing customers up for a monthly or quarterly newsletter is an excellent way to keep customers up-to-date about new products or discounts on your products or services. Remember to give an opt-out choice.

Information that you’ve included in your newsletter can be recycled through your social media platforms and website.  During the December holiday season, send cards to customers, including lapsed customers with whom you’ve not received an order in five years.

If there’s been a problem with your product or service, or if a product is out of stock, quickly contact the customer and if the problem is serious, or the customer is upset, a telephone call is recommended.

Building and sustaining a profitable business takes planning and careful execution.  Providing a superior buying experience that carries through the three buying process phases will bring customers to your organization and promote referrals, which continue to be the most effective form of advertising.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Chefs at Sushi Sho Saito in the Akazaka district of Minato, Tokyo

Contacting the Prospect: Phone or Email?

Email is the preferred business communication format for most of us and the choice usually makes sense.  An email provides a written record of what the parties have discussed and any agreements that have been proposed and accepted (or not).

However, certain nuances of meaning may not be effectively transmitted in an email and for that reason, it is useful to understand when it might be advantageous to discuss certain subjects by telephone.  It is also useful to recognize when a face-to-face meeting will most likely be the ideal communication method.  Much depends upon your purpose, message and relationship with the other party, whether the topic pertains to a business matter or your personal life.

Furthermore, be sensitive to the time you choose to reach out, whether by telephone or email.  Your request for contact may get lost in the shuffle if you email or telephone on Monday morning, late afternoon on Friday, or on the day before a big holiday. 

Telephone when you would like to:

  • Build a relationship
  • Explain a complicated matter
  • Apologize for a product or service failure
  • Close a sale quickly and successfully

On the telephone, you will more easily convey your authenticity, express concerns, telegraph empathy and build trust as compared to what is usually possible through email exchanges, which can sometimes cause the writer to seem cold and can therefore lead to misunderstanding of intent.

For important goals, be advised that it’s sometimes easier for a prospect to say no when communicating by email, so if you’re hoping to get the green-light for a project or sale, pick of the phone and wager that speaking with you personally will persuade your decision-maker prospect to say yes.

When you must contact someone whom you do not know in order to jump-start a sale, picking up the telephone is what you do. A cold-call prospect who receives an email from an unknown party is almost guaranteed to interpret the outreach as spamming and no ethical sales professional wants that ugly slur attached to his/her name and reputation.  Over the telephone, you’ll be positioned to demonstrate that you are both legitimate and trustworthy.

Cold-calling takes considerable resolve and reliable sales data report that it’s effective only about 5% of the time, but you’ll improve your chance of success when you telephone the probable decision-maker.  If you encounter difficulty in reaching the prospect, experiment with the time frame; call at 7:30 – 8:30 AM (except on Mondays) or 4:30 – 6:00 PM (not on Fridays or the eve of a holiday).  When the prospect answers (s/he will!), ask if it’s a good time to speak. 

Choose email when you’d like to:

  • Simultaneously communicate with several people
  • Generate a written record of the discussion and resulting agreements
  • Follow-up
  • Ask a quick question

Should your cold-call prospect agree to evaluate information beyond what you’ve shared in the phone call, follow-up with an email in which you document the highlights of the conversation, especially time-sensitive action items. Remember to thank the prospect for taking time to speak with you and assess the usefulness of your product or service in his/her organization.

When evaluating which communication method might be most effective when planning to approach a sales prospect, consider first his/her rank within the company and probable decision-making authority, along with what you can learn or infer about his/her priorities, concerns, schedule and even age.  Younger and less senior staff members may respond more favorably to email or even SMS (text).

Both the telephone and email have their advantages throughout the sales process.  Know the preferences of whom you are communicating with (ask), remember your objectives and use the communication format that will bring to you the preferred outcome.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Natalie Wood in Sex and the Single Girl  (1964)

Selling to Small Businesses

While billion dollar revenue enterprise companies, along with disruptive technology focused start-ups and their Millennial Generation hoodie-wearing founders receive overwhelming attention in the business press, let’s remember that America is a nation of primarily small and medium-sized business ventures.

As documented in a 2018 report published by the U.S. Small Business Administration, there are 27.9 million privately run businesses in the U.S. and 23 million are owned and operated by Solopreneurs.  SMBs employ 47.9 % of the private workforce (non-governmental, for-profit organizations), 58.9 million people. Twenty million SMBs have fewer than 20 employees; the median income of self-employed owners of incorporated businesses in 2016 was $50,347 and the median income of self-employed owners of sole proprietorships was $23,060.

The majority of SMBs have limited budgets for what some owners perceive as non-essential services—marketing, advertising, or IT, for example. Yet, SMB owners will from time to time of necessity feel the need to purchase such services. Timing most likely plays a big factor in your ability to make a sale but should the opportunity land in your lap, you must handle it skillfully. Selling to the SMB owner is a delicate business.  Here are a few things to keep in mind:

Demonstrate excellent value

Nevertheless, there is money to be made in the SMB market. The social media marketing company HubSpot and Google have made untold millions in profits by targeting SMBs. In your sales pitch, detail the story of a client who shared a similar goal or faced a similar challenge, so that the SMB owner can get a clear picture of how your product or service can help him/her achieve goals.

If you can provide a link to a case study that’s on your website or social media, so much the better. SMB owners are usually worried about how they can cover expenses and simultaneously make their desired profit and they are cautious about spending money.  Show your SMB prospect that your product or service will solve the problem or see to it that the goal is achieved.

Describe how your product or service can help grow the business

Profit, growth and financial stability are the big goals of SMB owners. If you want the sale, identify preferably tangible benefits that will enhance one or more of those metrics. New customer acquisition and customer retention are also important benefits to emphasize.

Deliver results in the near term

Whatever your product or service, the faster that some portion of the ROI can be documented, the better. Too many SMB owners are concerned about cash-flow and they need to see that their investment in your product or service delivers the expected results ASAP.  When considering whether to pursue the SMB market, evaluate whether your product or service can deliver benefits quickly, at least in part.

Follow up and follow through

When selling to the SMB owner, you would be wise to under-promise and over-deliver. Your enthusiastic sales presentation must carry forward into enthusiastic customer service as well. If there is difficulty with the implementation of the product or service you sold them, meaning that the ROI cannot materialize within the expected time frame, your SMB client may very well discontinue the service and cancel future orders if you do not quickly rectify the problem.

But if you are knowledgeable, transparent and dependable, you will be positioned to  receive repeat business from your client and referrals to colleagues in his/her network.  SMB owners are often part of a community of trusted fellow business owners and most will be happy to spread the word about your good work.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

Photograph: The Arthur Anderson Barber Shop in Mattoon, IL circa 1920. Mr. Anderson is standing at right, and employee Sidney Williams stands at left.                                 Courtesy of Eastern Illinois University

What’s Your Problem?

Whether your customers are B2B, B2C, or B2G, no matter if you sell products or services, tangible or intangible, you will, through trial and error, lost sales and big paydays, develop good stories that convince customers and make sales. Over the years you will trot these warhorses out again and again because they take you to the bank.

Your selling stories can take any number of approaches depending on what and to whom you sell, but one tried-and-true selling story category is the Problem Story. In a Problem Story you demonstrate that you can relate to the prospect’s pain points, you understand what is driving the prospect’s situation and you’re prepared to work with him/her to come up with an effective and reasonably priced solution (that just so happens to reside in your product or service line).

The best Problem Stories have a basic format that you can then adapt and apply to any prospect. Learn to personalize your Problem Story with a visit to your prospect’s website, an internet search to read what’s appeared in the press and if you met the prospect at a business association meeting or similar event, a call to the membership chairperson to get additional info about the prospect and his/her business. Get the back story and begin to comprehend the big picture of your prospect’s goals and understand what really matters. Now you can put together and customize a winning Problem Story.

For example, I provide event planning and PR services for a couple of large annual art events that are sponsored by an artist’s organization. The project specs describe the event planning responsibilities and event promotion public relations campaign that I’m hired to manage, but the unspoken purpose of my job is to persuade art lovers, art dealers, museum curators and the curious public to attend the event and buy art. My service enables the meeting of the relevant parties, so that business can be done.

When I write for the women entrepreneurs magazine where I am a staff writer, my unspoken purpose is to provide compelling content that persuades readers to click on my articles. Those clicks are tallied and they measure both my value to the magazine and the magazine’s value to advertisers, whose budgets sustain the publication.

Problem Stories communicate your understanding of what the prospect is facing and why s/he needs your help. Problem Stories communicate your authenticity because they entail sharing and not just telling. You “get it” and you care. A Problem Story is the opposite of a canned, impersonal sales pitch.

BTW, problem Stories can have a life beyond your conversations with prospects. With client permission if you’d like to reveal names, your Problem Stories make excellent case studies that you can upload to your website, Facebook page and LinkedIn profile, or share with the listening audience when you are a pod cast guest. Make use of your Problem Story wherever and whenever you’d like to demonstrate expertise, build trust and grow your customer base.

Thanks for reading,
Kim

Photograph: Academy-Award winning actor (“Network,” Best Actor 1977) Peter Finch (1916 – 1977) as Howard Beale in “Network” (1976). Directed by Sidney Lumet.

Speeding Up Your Sales Pipeline

How wonderful would it be if your prospective clients would just hurry up and make a decision about if and when they’ll give you a sale? Even if 80% decline, as predicted in Pareto’s 80/20 rule, think of the time and aggravation that you’d be spared.  There’d be no more chasing so-called prospects who either can’t or won’t green-light a sale for you.  Your numbers would probably increase, if for no other reason than you’d stop wasting time on lost causes and look for better possibilities.

Getting a commitment to either fish or cut bait in maybe a week or two is a fantasy, but learning how to get better at qualifying prospects is within reach and here are four tips to help you do just that.  Implement these tactics and you’ll move prospects through your sales pipeline faster than ever before.

1. Sell to the decision-maker

Is the person who you think is the prospect really the prospect? Does this person have the authority to make the decision and approve the budget? If not, there will be no sale until and unless you get in front of the real decision-maker.

Especially in B2B sales, a gatekeeper or other lower-level employee could be enlisted to find out the details and then report back to the actual decision-maker.  Alternatively, the decision could be made by a committee of senior staff members, one of whom may be speaking with you, but s/he alone cannot give the green-light without getting agreement from other committee members.

In either case, you’ll need to get around the stand-in, learn the identity of who has the most influence and focus your attention on addressing that person’s hot buttons, so that the sale can move forward at a faster pace.

Step One in ferreting out the identity of the real decision-maker is noticing the job title of the person with whom you’re speaking.  If s/he ranks lower than Director or Vice President, most likely there’s someone in the background pulling the strings.  Unless you’re selling office supplies, ask the stand-in if s/he is able to directly approve the budget and if there are others who might like to directly ask you questions about your product, service, or project.  Be respectful of feelings, but do encourage the participation in the sales process of the one who can sign the check.

2. Discover what worries your prospect

Get a big-picture understanding of your prospect’s most urgent and top-of-mind challenges and near-term objectives, as they apply to what you can bring to the table in terms of a product or service.  What does your prospect think will happen if the product doesn’t get purchased or the project doesn’t get done?  How will company leaders feel when the problem is resolved and objectives are achieved?

Learn as much as possible about what your prospect wants and how committed s/he is to achieving goals and resolving issues.  Ask “what” and “how” questions to discover these key insights.

3. Confirm that your solution is a fit 

Ultimately, all salespeople want to close deals. But ironically, it’s sometimes better to walk away from a potential sale if the product or service isn’t a good fit for either you or the prospect.  Pushing for a sale that won’t bring about the best outcomes never ends well and it should be avoided, even when you’re desperate to do business.

In these situations, your objective is about getting to “no” faster.  Then you can move on and pursue other prospects who may be better positioned to buy from you.  It’s  preferable to speed inappropriate prospects through the pipeline and devote the time saved to identifying and meeting with qualified prospects who might say “yes.”

To ensure that your product or service can solve the problem or help the prospect meet a goal, ask pointed questions and listen well to determine whether your solution will produce the best results and be cost-effective in the long run.

4. Learn the prospect’s timetable

Is there an urgent need or deadline that compels your prospect to take action and implement a solution quickly? If you know that to be true, you can most likely expedite the sale (and get the price you want, as well).  Ask questions to help yourself evaluate whether the prospect could be ready to do the deal in a week or two, or in months.

One important line of questioning should concern available funding for the proposed sale or project.  In some cases, the prospect would sincerely like to move forward, but there is insufficient political support in the organization for his/her agenda.

The information will allow you to adjust your expectations for the sale and decide if you should continue to pursue, pick up the thread in a few months, or close the book on a pipe dream.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: Portrait of Evdokiya Nickolayevna Chesmenskaya (1780) by Jean-Louis Voille (1744 – 1806) courtesy of the State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

The Art of the Sale: How Marketing, Branding and Advertising Help Revenues

Today, I respectfully offer you a tutorial. Our inquiry will focus on the essence of doing business: selling. The purpose of starting a business is to generate sales, produce revenues and earn a profit.  If a business cannot generate a certain threshold of sales, business expenses cannot be paid and the owner’s investment will be negatively impacted. To curtail mounting debts, the business must close.

Over the past 10 years or so I’ve noticed, sometimes with amusement and other times with dismay,  that the word selling seems to make people feel uncomfortable.  I noticed that frequently, aspiring business owners and Freelance solopreneurs, who must find customers and earn money that is derived from the exchange of money for the products or services that their ventures would produce and provide, avoided the word sell. Instead, the word market was substituted.

Many self-employed professionals are uncomfortable with the process of selling, so they’ve decided to banish the very word. It’s as if selling is now perceived as crass or pushy. That is a shame.  The sales profession is one of the oldest on earth and honorable. Selling is one of the foundations of civilization and selling skills are among the most useful anyone can have; it is the ultimate transferable skill.  Selling makes the world go round, because we wouldn’t have much of a world without it. The ability to sell is far more valuable than the ability to code (yes, really!).

So we can agree that the success of a business is dependent upon sales?  Now, let’s go back to the process of marketing.  The American Marketing Association defines marketing as:

The activities and processes for creating, communicating and delivering information about products and services that have value for customers. Marketing is a set of processes that are interconnected and interdependent with other business functions aimed at achieving the interest of (prospective) customers.

Marketing consists of using information, in words or pictures, to promote products and services and persuade potential customers to make purchases.  Customers have an array of motives that drive their purchases.  Marketing campaigns are designed to appeal to the motives of selected customer groups (e.g., parents, young professionals, adolescent males) that research has shown are potential customers for the product or service in question.  The purpose of marketing is to communicate with and appeal to targeted customer groups and persuade them that (your) products and services will satisfy one or more of their needs or desires.

So we can agree that generating sales is dependent upon marketing campaign promotion that is directed at the most promising customers for your products and services? I hope we can also agree that marketing and sales, while on the same continuum, are not one and the same.  Let’s move forward on the path and consider branding.

Branding campaigns are designed to enhance and expand marketing messages by differentiating and distinguishing the reputation of products and services available in the marketplace.  Products, services and individuals can, through an effective branding campaign, acquire a powerful reputation, recognition and loyalty among customers, fans and the general public.  That reputation is known as the brand.

A company logo is usually associated with products that have acquired sufficient popularity and sales to be considered a brand. That logo is instantly recognized and conveys the essence of the brand to its loyal fans, as well as those who may not use the product.  The product name itself will come to symbolize a powerful brand, as does Coca-Cola.

Now let’s take your marketing and branding messages to the public and that brings us to the next stop along the marketing continuum, advertising.  There are more ways to advertise than ever before, thanks to the digital age,  but do not underestimate the value of traditional methods.  The century-old medium that is radio remains a highly effective advertising tool, as do billboards.  Taxi cabs and city buses (and bus stops) announce local events, such as the circus coming to town.  Newspapers and magazines continue to be packed with eye-catching ads.

Content marketing, which many call the new advertising, continues to grow in influence.  It’s approach is indirect and it is presented as relevant information.  Content marketing is stealth advertising that uses primarily written information conveyed in blogs and newsletters to provide information about topics that would be of interest to prospective users of the products or services sold by the company.  The purpose of content marketing is to build an audience of regular readers who trust the source (you) and would feel confident enough to do business with you.

Then there are the social media platforms that are now in the mix. Regardless of the name social media marketing, when used for business purposes it is advertising: the Instagram photos of your wedding venue, the video clip of you accepting an award at the Rotary Club, the webinar posted to your website and LinkedIn profile.

If your marketing strategy and campaigns have been effective and enabled the development of a trustworthy brand and memorable advertising campaigns, your business will attract paying customers. Your business venture will generate sales and you can declare yourself a winner.  Let’s sum up our tutorial:

MARKETING:  How you envision and describe your company. The verbal, voice and visual messages used to promote your products or services. The business owner identifies the market positioning strategy for the company, based on populations predicted to  become customers: mid-market, luxury, or bargain, hipsters, seniors, adventure travelers.  Product positioning impacts all marketing campaigns and messages, the branding strategy and advertising choices.

BRAND:  The company reputation, what it is known for. How others perceive your company.

ADVERTISING:  How and where you portray and describe your company to the public: in print or digital, visual or audio formats placed in Popular Mechanics, Harper’s Bazaar, subway stations, flyers tucked onto car windshields, or Twitter.  Advertising usually costs money.

SALE:  The ultimate goal and final step of the marketing process.  The exchange of money (or another valuable item or service) for the purchase of a product or service.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph of Cher by Richard Avedon (1986)                                                                 Courtesy of the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans, LA

Save the Sale You Might Lose

 

  1. No urgency to get the deal done

SYMPTOM:  The prospect will not engage in a serious discussion about buying your product or moving forward with the alleged project you hope to work on. Probing questions about the product, or about the solutions your service would provide, are deflected.

TACTIC:  Look for a way to take an advisory role.  Surely you’ve been given some information about the client’s reason for speaking with you? Build on it.

If the prospect has no questions, then you propose them.  Start by asking if the project/ need, or something similar, was previously addressed in-house or by another vendor?  Find out what was done in that instance and the outcome—could that solution be implemented in this circumstance ? Are there certain refinements and customization of product specifications or services that the prospect  would find potentially useful this time around? Point out how you can fulfill those expectations.

Your goal is to spark some interest and get the prospect’s wheels turning to envision how you can deliver what is needed and concluding that you should be awarded the sale.

2.   No firm project deadline

Early in conversation with a prospect, it is advisable to inquire about the timeline.  It’s often safe to assume that conversation is taking place because the need is immediately urgent, but that is not always the case.

SYMPTOM: Sometimes, clients will contact a Freelancer merely to learn what types of services are available from an outside expert and how much these services cost.  Next year’s budget may be on the drawing board and the client is in no rush to fund a sale at this time.

TACTIC: Find out as much about the project specs as possible and offer the client a discount that is good for 8 – 12 weeks.  Give a 25% discount (or make it appear that you have done so!) for a project that is started within three months.

But if it becomes obvious that the prospect is not going to kick things off anytime soon, leave your card and walk away.  Stop wasting time.

3.   You’re not speaking with the decision-maker

SYMPTOM: You know or suspect that the person with whom you are speaking may not have the authority to green-light the project or sale.  It’s not uncommon to have an early conversation or two with a lieutenant in the company, but important deals are basically never negotiated by anyone but the C-Suite, Directors or VPs.

TACTIC: Show respect for the person you’re speaking with and ask if s/he is the decision-maker (you may be able to guess by the job title).  If the decision-maker is your contact’s boss, ask when the boss will join your meetings.  Suggest bringing the boss in by Skype or conference call, so s/he can directly ask questions of you and you can sell the person who  needs to be sold.  The boss will also be able to confirm the budget and any deadlines.

4.   Your price is too high

SYMPTOM: The prospect feels that your price is too high.  This complaint is often a smokescreen, or a bullying tactic.  Some clients make a sport of squeezing a small vendor on price because they enjoy exploiting others.  Other times, the client really does have a limited budget and can only afford to pay so much.  If the company is small, you can perhaps assume the latter and if your prospect is with a large organization, it’s probably safe to assume the former.

TACTIC: Ask what the budget is, then ask what the must-haves are re: the product or service that you would provide and then customize according to what you can afford to provide as regards your service or the product features.  Under no circumstances should you lower your price and offer the same level of service or the same product features.  Other options are to throw in value-addeds to sweeten the deal, or to offer an extended payment plan.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Street vendor, courtesy of Sofia Cristina Cordova Valladares (Mexico) on Pixabay

e-Commerce Insights

Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.  Just because everything is different, doesn’t mean that anything has changed.  Way back in the middle of the 20th century, business owners and advertising/marketing specialists learned through experience that the response rate to advertising campaigns, known today in the internet age as the conversion rate, is about 3%.  When you distribute a marketing flier in a chosen geography to announce a new business, for example, either by door to door leafleting or through a mailing, you can expect that 3% or so of the recipients will show up and buy at some point.

In the internet age, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube will announce the grand opening.  The business owner will spend several thousand dollars to launch a website that’s e-commerce ready, with a user-friendly and secure payment system and reliable shipping.  Social media accounts are created, text and photos begin the digital marketing campaign.  According to Statista, U.S. retail B2C e-commerce sales in 2017 were approximately $409,208,000 and 2018 retail B2C e-commerce sales have been projected to reach or exceed $461,582,000.

That’s all to the good, but recent research indicates that the internet age has only barely advanced the original direct marketing response rate.  E-commerce sales conversion rates are about 4%, meaning that 96% of your website visitors do not buy.  Your website may be able to attract customers from all over the world, but no matter.  Whether your customers are down the street or in Amsterdam, aided by technology or looking at a flier that was left in the entrance of their apartment building, only a handful will respond to your advertising outreach.

The offline (i.e., in person) sales conversion rate is much more favorable, estimated at 30%. Why such a big gap between online and offline purchasing? Consumer behavior researchers note that trust is integral to making a purchase online or offline, but I’ve not seen research on why trust develops at a much greater rate in offline shopping. I suppose it can be attributed to seeing is believing?

There is another factor as well, one that seems to be overlooked when the discrepancy between online and offline sales conversion rates are compared and that is, the in-store sales help.  The good ones can lead a customer down the garden path with a nice smile, a warm greeting, knowledge of the merchandise and the ability to answer questions and reassure.  Good sales help are integral to generating revenue for the store.

Derrick Neufeld, Associate Professor of Information Systems at Western University’s Ivey Business School in Ontario, Canada and Mahdi Roghanizad, Assistant Professor at Huron University College also at Western University in Ontario, Canada, designed an experiment to study motivating factors in 245 research subjects and learn what might influence online purchases, from facts about secure online payments to the website’s font sizes and colors.  The research subjects were asked to visit the website of a bookstore in Australia that had been in business for 17 years and with whom none of them had previously known or patronized and to then make some buying decisions.

Neufeld and Roghanizad found, surprisingly, that objective information about privacy and secure payment systems have less influence on purchasing than do subjective factors in website design that signal trust.  Online purchases from an unknown entity, in particular, involve risk and potential customers rely more on subjective clues that communicate trust, such as “professionalism” and aesthetics, to make themselves feel comfortable enough to put their money down.

So how might you use this information to support online purchases from your company website? It sounds as if you’d be advised to work with a very talented web designer who understands both the aesthetic and technical aspects of the craft.  The e-commerce focused website must have attractive page layouts and fonts, expert product photography (and maybe a video, too), colors that psychologists have determined will appeal to customers who are known to buy your B2C product and a good overall flow to the website pages.  I recommend that even if it’s a second-tier priority, include a line that verifies the security and privacy of customer financial information.

Think of your e-commerce store in the way that proprietors of bricks and mortar locations do and create an experience that communicates the best that your brand has to offer.  Make your website an attractive, welcoming environment that offers quality merchandise, intuitive navigation and excellent customer service.  Make shopping a satisfying experience, as it is meant to be.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Custom tailoring at Lagu Hong Kong Tailor in Hong Kong, China (2012)

Client Retention: Surpass the Minimum

In 1990, the consulting group Bain & Company and Earl Sasser of the Harvard Business School analyzed the costs and revenues derived from serving clients over their entire purchasing life cycle and found that regardless of the industry, the high cost of acquiring clients will render many business relationships unprofitable during their early years.

Acquiring a new client can cost up to five times more than it does to retain a current client.  It is only over time, when the cost of serving a long-term client falls as the volume of their purchases rises, that these relationships generate big returns.

The Bain-HBS review found that when the client retention rate increases by 5%, profits increase by 25% – 95%.  Also, long-term clients are more likely to refer new clients to the business and increase sales revenues and profits accordingly.

That said, an ongoing client retention strategy is a must-do for all Freelance consultants and business owners.  Read on and discover how your organization can embed client retention practices in nearly every step of your client interactions.

Context and expectations

When you propose a solution designed to help your client resolve a problem or achieve an objective, include in the conversation your rationale for presenting that particular path rather than another.  Make it possible for the client to better appreciate your decision-making process and divulge how you carefully considered his/her priorities, values, budget, staffing, or other factors that impacted your recommended solution.

We may infrequently discuss the behind-the-scenes thinking that guides the possibilities we envision for a client and his/her organization.  Revealing your big picture thinking demonstrates the depth of the value you attach to the client and his/her unique circumstances and that builds loyalty, trust and a good relationship.

Become an adviser

Don’t shy away from asking questions that will surface your client’s sometimes unexpressed expectations or concerns.  You may discover a solution that is ideally tailored to the clients’ needs when you employ the consultative approach to selling.  You and your client can collaborate on the development of the solution if s/he is comfortable with that process.  Buy-in is a given when the client is a co-author of the process.

Along the way, let your client know what to expect as the solution is implemented; it will also be helpful to review what success looks like.  Communicate often, so that the client understands where you are with the project, especially as regards milestones, Key Performance Indicators, the deadline and other agreed-upon metrics.

Moreover, depending on your product or service line, recommend services to your clients, based on their previous purchases.  According to a 2015 survey of marketers, this personalized touch generates a high ROI.  It shows that you’ve paid attention to client preferences and it is a compliment.

Finally, we are nearing Holiday time.  Make sure that you send cards to clients you’ve interacted with over the past five years.  Who among us does not appreciate a card at this time of year, when we reach out to those who matter?

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Corine Vermuelen (2013)  Alicia and John George, owners of Motor City Java House in Detroit’s Brightmoor neighborhood