Monday, March 7, 2011

Marketing Challenges

Despite the competitors in your market you don‘t lack opportunity to enjoy significant growth. Capitalizing on opportunity is your marketing challenge. That is what I’d like to talk about today.

In B2B selling, there are two general marketing approaches for generating additional business. One is asking for volunteers, the other is interviewing prospects and asking the ones that meet your criteria to do business with you. Here’s what I mean by that.

Advertising, trade shows, email campaigns, bill boards, the yellow pages, etc., all ask businesses to volunteer to become customers. In that sense, it’s passive. Each of these methods requires the prospect to initiate the sales process by contacting you.

What’s wrong with that? I can think of two things: if it really worked you wouldn’t have a marketshare problem, and you have no control over how many ideal customers you end up with.

If you are familiar with the Pareto Principle (the 80/20 Rule) you understand that results are not evenly distributed. Certain customers, about 20% of them, are more valuable than others because they provide 80% of your best business. These are your ideal customers. Think about it, the more ideal customers you have the more you make because you are maximizing revenues and minimizing cost of goods sold at the same time.

Now, consider this. If 20% of your existing customersare ideal, what would be the impact on profits, and the new worth of your business, if over the next few years you could grow your ideal customer base to 25% or 30%? You can do that and we can help.

If what you’re doing is working for you and your content, then stop reading. If you’d like more though, then why not read on.

If the 80/20 rule works for you, I’ll bet it works for you competition too. If you are willing to look at the possibility of modifying your marketing approach you can begin gathering up your competition’s ideal customers. Here’s how.

The process begins with defining exactly who your ideal customers are. That description can then be used to generate an ideal prospect list. Use the list to find, contact and prioritize your ideal customers. If it were me, I wouldn’t leave finding my ideal customers to chance. Sending out emails and elaborate sales advertisements will not motivate change. One and one contact does. Exactly how all of that happens can be flexible, but the next step isn’t. You absolutely must build a relationship with your customers and prospects. Why? Because although they may fit your ideal customer profile most will not be ready to buy from you the first time you talk to them. But,

The more contact they have with you,
The more you know about their buying and service needs,
The more you know about why they are dissatisfied with their current supplier,
The more comfortable they are with you,
The more you are in a position to step in when it is time to make the big sale.

The added effort puts you above most of your competition and makes you ideal to the customers you most want to reach.

Good business is built on good business relationships and those are people fueled not advertising fueled. You don’t need to attract all of the competition’s clientele. You only want to pick out the most ideal for your business and entice them to see you as their ideal as well. Give active marketing a try.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Getting Everyone Involved in Marketing

We’ve talked before about making sure everyone in your company has a clear idea of your mission, purpose and target markets. Why is this so important? Because marketing is a whole company effort. It doesn’t just become the job of your marketing specialist or your sales people. Every employee who has contact with your customers and prospects portrays a marketing image to those they encounter. That includes any contract help you employ, such as a lead generating company.

Everyone who comes in contact with the customer has an influence on whether or not they will buy and what your business relationship with them will be. It doesn’t matter if it’s the guy who waters the plants or the girl who sends out the sales invoices. If your prospect comes in contact with them they are selling some aspect of your company.

Every employee needs to be inspired and motivated to present their best side and help others see what excites them about their company. Who has the greatest of these responsibilities? You as the company owner. You are the foundation on which each of your employees will build. If you want happy employees and customers it has to come first from you.

Remember what we said about brand loyalty: basically, it doesn’t exist. There can be substantial loyalty to a provider or vendor, but there typically isn’t blind loyalty to the brand as a whole. This is what you need to focus on. A customer’s loyalty is generally focused on the company, not the brand of the product. Even if it is there, loyalty to a brand will not stop you from taking business away from the competition.

Go back to those basic definitions of what you want and what your company does. Find the things that excite you most and share them with the employees around you. Once you, and everyone you work with, have a firm understanding of the company goals and mission, as well as the message you want to present to your ideal customers, they can learn to walk the marketing walk and talk the marketing talk. Part of that is definitely presenting a positive face and sincere interest in helping the customer.

So, what are you and the rest of your employees marketing with your first impressions?
It should be:
Honesty, and
An honest desire to provide high quality service.

Though they might seem small, these are crucial aspects of prospecting. When Ekstrom and Associates calls leads on your behalf, we represent your company and your company’s vision. We take your marketing vision and your focus then find the ideal customers who can share that vision with you. Lead Generating is a best-foot-forward effort. What great first impression can we make for you?

Monday, February 21, 2011

Building Customer Fortresses

What types of customers make working with them both profitable and a pleasurable? Those that are easy to work with, pay on time, as well as understand and value your services. This doesn’t describe every customer, but it does describe your ideal customers. These are the customers you want to build secure fortresses around. You want to keep them focused on your relationship, not what your competition is doing.

How can you do that? Well, some of the most basic things are the same traits you value in them. Make yourself easy to work with, deliver what you promise and deliver it on time, understand your customer’s needs and let them know that you value their business. For every step you take to improve your relationship with those valued customers, you are building a protective wall around them that your competition can not permeate.

Though it can be years in the making, your ultimate goal with these prospects is to create a true partnership of trust and shared experiences. It’s a nurturing and security building process that begins in your first contact experiences and expands with each interaction. When you’ve done your job right, it will take a lot for your competition to steal that customer away from you.

Here’s what you’re building at each level of your customer fortress.

Beginning relationships are determined by your customer’s needs and the value you bring to the relationship. You become a legitimate provider of the products or service they need. Initially, you are not normally recognized as having any significant, sustainable, competitive edge over alternative companies.

As you continue working with a customer, learning to more fully understand their needs, customers come to see you as a favored source they can trust their business to. At this point you have successfully progressed from just being an approved vendor. Because you are known and have proven yourself in past business activities they will normally seek you out even in the face of competitor alternatives.

The next level is where your patterns of listening and diligently striving to put your customer’s need above your sales pitch begin to pay off. Based on the combination of the products and services you offer, and the value-added knowledge or services you offer, your customers view you not only as a vendor, but also as a consulting resource on how to best use the products or services you specialize in.

You are beginning the change over from asking, “What can I help you with,” to your customer coming to you and saying, “I have a problem and I want your input.” You have shown you care about meeting their business needs, so they continue coming to you with problems they know you can help solve. Even so, it becomes important to remember that listening always comes before selling. If you become over confident thinking the customer is an “easy sale”, you will diminish their trust in you.

Assuming that you have identified the economic value of your customers and have done all that you can to earn their trust and respect over the years; you still haven’t reached your ultimate goal. You are never done adding value to the relationship but now you and the customer need to look toward the future. Can your customer feel secure enough in your business relationship to begin looking beyond current needs to future business objectives? Above and beyond the products and services you offer, do they see you as a source of strategic planning assistance for dealing with broader-based challenges they face.

The customer’s belief base in the relationship creates ultimate trust. Years down the road you will continue to be seen as a long-term partner whose contributions-- products, insights, process, etc. are critical to the customer’s long-term success. As long as you stay true to the knowledge and service they have come to expect from you, they will turn to you as a source of help in developing and building their own business.

In this type of relationship you have effectively completed a fortress around your customer relationship. They may be aware of the competition, but they hold very little attraction for your customer. It is you, your value, and the trust that has built between you, that keeps them from straying not the product or price you offer.

It all goes back to the two questions. Why are you in sales and why is a prospect/customer buying? The best businesses know the answers to both and they’ve worked to form long-term trusted partnerships with those prospects whose needs and desires best compliment their own.

And the bottom line? As you move up, from step to step, through the customer relationships, building partnership fortresses, those customers will buy more stuff from you. In our experience it’s about a 20% increase. See, I told you money was part of it.

Sales, and generating sales leads, are about building relationships that make you money and keep making you money.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Learning to Listen

If I were to ask you about the basic personality type that makes a good sales person, what would you say? How well does that reflect the type of person you are?

It might be that you thought of a good personality match for sales as being someone who is outgoing, well-spoken and who loves interacting with others.

Think of the most outgoing, well-spoken, people-person you know. Is he in sales? Do you like him or not? Why?

It is important to make a distinction here. There is a difference between being a people-person and a me-person. It seems obvious, doesn’t it? But sometimes people get confused between liking to be around people and liking people. The best “good-with-people” people have very little to say about themselves and often don’t want to be the center of attention. They’d much rather hear about you and support your good efforts than promote their own agendas. Interesting isn’t it?

What does that have to do with prospecting and sales? Well, Hal Becker puts it this way:

Selling is asking, NOT telling.

Selling is listening, NOT talking.

(Hal Becker, Can I Have 5 Minutes of Your Time, Morgan and James Publishing, 2008, pg. 7)

Let’s make that more specific.

Prospecting is asking, NOT telling.

Prospecting is listening, NOT talking.

The same social skills that apply to developing any relationship definitely apply to prospecting and sales. The people you most want to know may not be the most prominent. They’re the people who make you feel like you matter most and they truly care about your happiness and success.

Prospecting is the same thing. You are looking for relationships, problems you can help the prospect with and expressing genuine concern for their needs and interests. Not trying to get them to care about your need to sell a certain quota or how great you think your product is.

When you’re prospecting call is over your goal is to have a new Highly Qualified Prospect. What makes them highly qualified? They are ready to buy and you can help them solve their problems with your product. You are looking for synergistic relationships and good matches not another sales number.

Before you can get them to listen to you, you’d better have done a significant amount of listening to them.

So, let’s go back to communication 101 and learn about listening.

Shut out distractions and give the prospect your full attention. Do your best to keep things quiet on your end of the line so that both of you can focus better.

If a customer is talking, it’s a time to listen, not plan what you will say next. You already have a planned script to help you with your end of the conversation, concentrate on understanding their side. When we talked about scripting, we talked about planning ahead to direct the conversation. Remember that’s not planning ahead to turn the conversation back to you, but to anticipate what you can ask the prospect that will help you both.

Listen, try to anticipate the direction the speaker is going and use your script to help you quietly direct the conversation.

Don’t interrupt. Don’t finish thoughts or ideas for them. You aren’t a mind reader and you’ll annoy them if you try to act that way.

Ask questions that go beyond “yes” or “no” answers. You may not get the full picture that way. But remember to stay focused on information you need to understand and help them.

Encourage the prospect to talk by using verbal interjections that show you are listening “Yes, I see,” and “Please, go on.”

Don’t act like you understand when you don’t. Verify information or points you may have missed.

Remember, an individual fact may not be as important as the overall message. Do you understand why the prospect is saying something, not just what they may be saying?

Validate what the prospect is saying as important.

Sum things up-- for you, and the prospect. Restate what you have concluded are the most valid points, it sticks in your brain better and gives the prospect a chance to confirm you are understanding their needs.

Remember to record pertinent information in your Marketing and Sales Database while you are talking or very soon after. Don’t let the information get jumbled or forgotten.

The next time you think about the personality and character traits it takes to be a good sales person, remember your goal is to be a people-person, not a me-person and listening to others more than you talk is a great way to show that. Besides, good listening is always a good idea. Thankfully, practice makes perfect. Practice listening more and talking less in every encounter: prospects, coworkers, friends and family. Soon it will become second nature and you’ll become one popular guy. Not because you’ve told people how wonderful you and your product are, but because you’ve made people feel wonderful about themselves.