5 BUSINESS KILLERS

To doDo you keep looking at your To-Do-List and items just never seem to get done? It’s easy to fall behind if you are short-handed because of recent cutbacks. My solution: Just stop all those activities that drain energy out of your company, and focus on the work that will actually produce profitable growth. That’s what Jana Eggers did. The chief of Spreadshirt, a 250-employee company that helps customers design and sell their own apparel, stopped deploying full sales teams in Scandinavia and focused instead on core markets in Britain and France. The result? Sales in those countries rose. Here are five ways you can cut that endless to-do list.

1. Stop paying attention to the bad news

At Austin-based Falcon Containers, CEO Stephen Shang suggested in 2009 that his sales team quit watching economic news for two weeks and spend more time connecting with customers. Result: The company, which leases repurposed shipping containers as storage units, made a deal to create an Iraqi “village” out of the containers for an anti-IED effort by the U.S. Air Force. That led to more military business — fostering a 20% sales increase.

2. End a contentious relationship

Tired of worrying that his creative talent would quit because the main contact for a huge client was abusive, Kim McConnell, founder of agricultural marketing communications firm AdFarm, pulled the plug on the relationship. Morale improved immediately. “Very quickly the revenue from this very sizable account was made up,” he says. “I guess it put pressure on our people to go and find the revenue we lost from this client.”

3. Quit selling some of your products or services

Niraj Balasaria, CEO of Petron Pacific, a 14-employee steel-and-wire-products importer that brings in more than $15 million annually, says he saved his company from disaster by pulling back from three new product lines earlier this year. His team was pulled in too many directions, leading to mistakes. “I lost tons of money simply because I went outside of my core competency,” he says. He’s now refocusing on the company’s three most successful lines.

4. Don’t answer your own e-mail

Finding himself spending far too much time tackling his in-box, Brian Scudamore, CEO of 1-800-GOT-JUNK, the $100 million clutter-removal service, asked his assistant to take over and handle his e-mails two years ago. He says getting rid of this “business killer” improved his productivity and has made him a better manager, freeing him to encourage and inspire his team. “It’s given me time to walk around and talk to people,” he says. Imagine that!

5. Stop eating alone

Scrimp on business lunches — as so many companies are doing — and you’ll lose vital business leads. Ask McConnell, who has broken bread with professional contacts and employees every workday since 1984. He’s won several huge clients for his company, which has sales in the $15 million range, as a result. “It didn’t occur over lunch, where two minutes later I walked out with a multimillion-dollar client, but it was definitely the catalyst that allowed it to occur,” he says.

TRAITS OF SUCCESSFUL SALES PEOPLE . . .

working hard reallyWhen you’re hiring salespeople, you’re hiring the future of your company. Here are qualities young start-up founders say they look for in new sales hires.

We asked 13 founders from the Young Entrepreneur Council to identify which single quality they feel guarantees a potential sales hire’s success–tenacity? Likability? …Laziness? Some of their answers, below, might surprise you.

1. A Hunter’s Mentality

We want someone who is going to get excited about “the big fish”–someone who will prepare endlessly and wade through a lot of information, contacts and leads in order to put themselves in a position to land as many big accounts as possible. That kind of drive pushes them to never rest on their laurels and always look for the next big thing. —

2. Laziness!

I look for the laziest people I can find that have a history of great sales. Amazing salespeople are lazy, and seem to be predisposed to ADD. You basically just have to let them do their own thing and hope for the best in combination with their ability to never take take no as an answer. Best quick test: Tell them they didn’t make the cut and if they argue with you, you’ve got a winner.

3. The Discipline to Follow Up

I’ve found consistent follow-ups to be one of the most valuable acts a salesperson can do. My team has gained many sales by having a strategic follow-up strategy for our salespeople to follow. When they don’t follow it, I can usually tell about two months later. Other skills can be learned through training, but follow-up is mostly about discipline.

4. Charisma

Any salesperson I’m considering hiring needs to have me–and anyone else she meets while with me–eating out of the palm of her hand very quickly. A salesperson can always learn about a new product, but it’s much harder to teach a person to get other people to like them. And if a salesperson isn’t likable, well, it’s hard to make any sales.

5. Is He/ She an Intelligent Fighter?

No matter what type of sales role you hire for, the one common trait every salesperson needs is pure motivation. I look for an intelligent fighter–someone who doesn’t take no for an answer, who knows how to be politely persistent, and who is quick on his or her feet. Without motivation and a strong work ethic, no amount or training or high compensation will make a person successful at selling.

6. The Trifecta: Intelligence, Personality and Drive

Unlike other roles within an organization where a single specialized skill is good enough, great salespeople need to be intelligent, personable and driven. This mix of personalities will ensure that they can not only get themselves in front of buyers but also close the deal–and ultimately create relationships that pay dividends over time.

7. Resilience

Rejection is a very real part of selling a product, especially when focusing on cold leads. A great salesperson isn’t easily discouraged, and doesn’t take the rejection on a personal level.

8. Empathy

Salespeople have to relate to the customer and support them in choosing the right solutions, so personal empathy is an essential quality. It shows up as listening more than talking, relating to the other people in conversation and genuine care for others. The lifetime value of an ideal client is much more important to us than the quick sale, so empathy from the sales team is crucial.

9. I Don’t Look for a Salesperson–I Look for a Consultant

I look for someone who sees his role not as a “salesperson” who can sell ice to an Eskimo, but someone who understands his role is more like a consultant’s. He seeks to understand prospects’ unique problems to determine the best fit for their needs

10. Existing Relationships and Product Knowledge

Relationship selling starts with ability to build and manage relationships. For a technology startup to sell software to an enterprise that to some degree changes how people within a company collaborate requires relationship selling at its best. I look for salespeople who can show an existing portfolio of relationships, understand our product, and are able to articulate its value.

11. People Skills

A salesperson needs to have what my dad always called “people skills.” In short, that means he or she must be easy to converse with, respectful, patient, and pick up on social hints. It sounds simple, but I don’t want a salesperson that can’t listen. A typical salesman will be a talker. I want a listener. I want someone who can connect the real needs of a client to the solutions of our offers.

12. Tenacity

I test a salesperson in every way possible before I hire them: I miss our scheduled phone call to see what he does; I ask him to give a presentation and sell our product during our interview; I email him and use an incorrect name to see how he responds; I reject him to see how he responds to rejection. My goal is to find out if the salesperson is truly tenacious and willing to close the deal.

13. Confidence with a Touch of Arrogance

Confidence with a touch of arrogance! The best salespeople I have met are the ones who have great personality, are confident in what they do and never let go of opportunities. They grab the leg and don’t let go.

5 GREAT WAYS TO LOSE CUSTOMERS . . .

Customer Service.2This statement may be quite true at the most basic level, it also serves to underscore the reality that one of the on-going purposes of a business should be to keep a customer. No business owner would argue this point, but creating and maintaining quality customer relationships is often one of the biggest challenges facing all businesses.

Please Come Back Again

One of the dangers that befall many businesses is the tendency to become accustomed to having customers, to slip into a default mode of expectations: that the customers are happy, that they’ll keep coming back, that they’ll tell others about you. The problem is that customers are people—and people thrive on relationships. And if we are not careful our customer relationships can become superficial and even counter-productive.

A survey concluded that 68% of all customers do not return, due to Perceived Indifference.  No one wants to feel that they are being taken for granted and customers are no different. Again, customers are people and people must be related to, not processed! Simply “going through the motions” for your customers with the mindless expectation that they will always be there is a sure path to customer attrition. And an increasing factor in customer fickleness is the sheer volume of choices that available in almost every industry and every product or service. In many ways the business owner is not simply working to gain a customer’s patronage, but is actually engaged in a contest to win the hearts of those individuals!

Guaranteed Ways to Drive Business Away

There are certain clichés in business that are dubious in their truth, such as “the customer is always right.” But one that is undoubtedly true is that it is cheaper to keep an old customer than to find a new one. With this in mind let’s look at some of the most detrimental errors small businesses make in this arena:

1- Ignore Your Customers.

This cardinal sin can be achieved in person, on the phone, and even over the Internet. Many retail companies adopt a “10 Foot Rule” that requires customers to be acknowledged if the employee is within ten feet of them. Greeters at the door are not only good for Wal-Mart, and acknowledging customers by answering phones quickly and with a smile is just good business. At a minimum you should stay in touch with your clients once per month- personal visit, phone call, or email.

2- Make it Difficult to do Business With You.

Have you ever heard an employee say, “I just don’t like that Customer”?  Customers shouldn’t have to work at giving you their money. And they shouldn’t have a fight on their hands if they need to return your product or are unhappy with your service. If you make it hard on your customers someone else is always willing to go the extra mile for them.

3- Display a Lack of Integrity.

Whether this is simply staff making excuses for poor service or products, or engaging in sales or marketing practices that can be perceived as deceptive, being a trusted and reliable business is an absolute essential. No one likes to feel lied to or treated in a way that is less than honest.

4- Become Dull and Predictable.

This doesn’t mean sacrificing reliability and standards of quality and excellence, but customers expect innovation. And people being people, they are stirred by positive surprise and delight – just because your business has been around for fifty years doesn’t mean it has to look and act like it.

5- Don’t Listen to Your Customers.

We live in an age where product and company reviews are being posted for posterity across the Internet, and perhaps on your company’s own website. Therefore, it is critical for you to hear what your customers are saying and respond. This can also mean reviewing relevant blogs, performing regular market research and simply talking to your customers.

One of my Coaching Clients began conducting educational seminars for her clients with the stated goal of providing valuable information as a “bonus” to her normal services. However, in the Q&A portion of the presentation she turns the tables on her audience by asking them key questions with intent of ferreting out the issues and concerns of her clients that she might not ever hear otherwise.

As part of our Coaching/Mentoring Process, we require that our Clients regularly met with their entire staff to discuss customer questions, tips and best practices, and to elicit ideas for innovations and improvements to their services and products. The synergy of bringing together the “frontline” employees with the management team with a focus on their customers works to create an atmosphere and company culture that is customer-centric and service oriented.

What a Customer Really Wants

While the customer may not always be right, there is one cliché that cannot be discounted or ignored: The customer rules. And this means that the needs, wants and desires of your customers must come first in developing the processes and procedures of your client fulfillment realm. This means that for many businesses changes will need to occur as they can no longer afford to have “business as usual.”

For some this means making regular and ongoing efforts to “listen” to their customers: What do they like about your business? What do they like about your products? What do they like about your service? And, perhaps more importantly, what is that they don’t particularly like? Communication is vital and this implies intentionality and strategy on the part of the business owner. For others it will mean taking pains to create a customer-centric business model: one that takes into account the primacy of the customer and recognizes that the product or the brand is not the focus.

The good news is that today’s business world is awash with technology and new forums for conversation that allow you to not only engage your customers and prospects, but to keep your finger on the “pulse” of your customer base. And despite the vast number of choices and competition facing not only you, but your customers, the opportunities are equally vast to win the hearts—and loyalty—of your customers.

LOW-COST WAYS TO MARKET

dollarSmall changes to your marketing mix can have a big impact – especially if you tap the wealth of low-cost tools available to you online. Here are seven small marketing changes that you can make now to boost your sales in 2013:

1- Social Media links in your e-mail signature.

By including a link to your Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn and Twitter sites at the bottom of the signature file in your e-mail messages, you can spread the word about your business every time you hit the Send button.  We suggest to our clients to use Social Media religiously to promote their company and get more clients.  The cost is nothing but a little thought power.

2- Use the back of your business card.

If you don’t have a huge marketing budget to advertise in print, radio or television please read on. The back of your business card is most under-utilized marketing piece that you own, and it’s almost free. By featuring a photo of yourself, a picture of your product, a ‘give a way’, or a list of services or products, you turn your business card into a powerful marketing tool. At networking events it is a great conversation starter, and it also allows you to convey important facts about your business during those precious seconds when you have someone’s attention.

3- Revamp your website.

OK, you probably spent a fortune building a website, and let’s not forget about those monthly maintenance fees.  There is no need to re-build your website, but it is time for your website to have a low cost facelift. Rather than spending more money (again) to redesign your home page, try creating a series of low-cost “landing pages” to test different ads and offers for your products and services. Remember, your website is not a brochure.  In fact, most of your traffic today comes in through the back door and through blog postings. Be sure that your site is easy to read for people browsing the web through their computers, and more importantly, through their iPhones and BlackBerrys.

4- Position yourself as an expert.

Nothing builds your brand faster than free advice. Whether you’re a landscaper, a handbag designer or a dog walker, your expertise will have customers knocking at your door offering to pay you to help solve their problems. The key is to give away ‘something’ of value to build an audience. Once you find out what works, go out there and replicate it. One client, a restaurant, regularly tweets about: new menu specials, special events, and limo services.  They continue growing their clientele on an on-going basis.

5- Swap lists with Strategic Partners that have similar demographics.

There’s no reason to pay big money to buy a mailing list when you can get sites that attract a similar audience.  For example, a site that publishes a newsletter about women in finance used this technique to build a list of 50,000 subscribers. They did lots of ‘trades’ with Strategic Partners that cost them nothing out of pocket.  The key is to create great content and give it away for free on the web. However, be careful to respect the privacy of the subscribers whose email addresses are on the lists you swap, or you may get stuck in a spam filter. To avoid trouble, ask the Strategic Partner to start by doing co-marketing, simply saying that you have joined forces and “since you are a preferred customer of XYZ, be expecting some valuable information from [your business]” Make certain to include a link to your site that their subscribers can sign up for your newsletter, and of course make certain you comply with opt-out regulations.

6- Get a vanity phone number.

Just because the phone company stuck you with a random number when you signed up for their service doesn’t mean that you’re saddled with it for life.  The owner of Good Girls Go To Paris Crepes LLC, was looking for ways to bring customers in the door when she found Ring Ring LLC, a company that provides small businesses with vanity phone numbers. She picked 1-877-PARISCREPES, and her phone has been ringing off the hook ever since.  Due to the huge amount of telephone traffic she said that she will never give up that number– in fact, that’s how people know us. The cost: approximately $25 a month.

7– Test, measure and test again.

Just because you’ve found a single marketing strategy that seems to be working doesn’t mean that you should blow your entire budget this concept.  First, diversify your dollars and efforts by trying several marketing strategies, than test, measure and test again before trying your next campaign. Google Analytics will measure your traffic for free and tell you where your site visitors are coming from and which search terms they’re using to find you.  Test every piece of your marketing campaign, once you’ve found the right formula, follow it.

The bottom line.

You don’t need to have a big marketing budget to make a big splash. A tweak (or Tweet) here, a tweak (or Tweet) there, and soon your phone and email will be buzzing with new business.