Archive for September, 2006

Fact-find your way to success

Fact-finding is also known as Intelligence Gathering and Market/Marketing Research.

Some companies regard research as an expense that should only be indulged when times are good or, even worse, use it in a tactical way to prove a point. What a waste! Take a look at the definition of research by the Chartered Institute of Marketing:

“The means used by those who provide goods and services to keep themselves in touch with the needs and wants of those who buy and use those goods and services… It is basically a fact finding activity and services management by decreasing the field of uncertainty within which often vital business decisions are taken.”

Let’s take some fairly obvious examples of when research is invaluable and where you may already be using it without giving it that label.

Launching a new product or service – No company should even consider launching a new product or service without first satisfying itself that it has:

  • Established that there is a need for it
  • Identified a market for it that can be reached cost effectively
  • Confirmed that it can provide it at a price that will make profit for the business and that the market will pay
  • Assessed that there’s room for another player in the market

Testing out a new or previously failed market – Research into the market can quietly test out the potential there before investing money and time in personnel and promotion to attempt to sell into it

Knowing the best source(s) to get customers – You should always establish where your customers come from and how they heard about you otherwise how do you know you’re spending your marketing and advertising budgets in the most cost effective, successful way?

Understanding who makes up the Decision Making Unit – for buying your product, service or solution, and the role of each individual involved. Many companies rely on just one contact at the companies they’re selling to when in fact there may well be an initiator, influencer, financial decision maker, user who each has a say and looks at it from his/her own perspective.

Knowing how to improve your offer – Talking with your existing customers enables you to ascertain the Decision Critical Factors that made them “come on board” with you, why they stay, whether they’d recommend your company and why. You can use positive response as testimonials and nip any potential problems in the bud.

You don’t have to be a big company with huge resources to harness the intelligence that market/marketing research can provide. The best thing about this type of research is that we all have the ability to do it ourselves. You can check What you need to know to help you.

Happy fact-finding!

Who runs your business?

A while ago I spoke to a chap who runs a company that provides accounting solutions. The business has been established ten years and he sees it as a service company. They have about fifty active clients whose value to them is anything from £1,000 to £60,000 a year and once they gain clients they tend to keep them.

The bigger problem is getting new business. He would like to actively target more of the larger potential business. He told me he has spent “loads” of money on sales and marketing and it’s by and large been wasted. The company was up to ten staff at one point but now employs six full-time and two contracted.

He wants to get one new client per quarter rising to one a month. Although he hates telephone prospecting, because he finds it demoralising, he has engaged a lady to do some mail shots for him to follow up.

We went through the gold mine regarding best customer attributes, Decision Critical Factors and how they can both be applied to smarter prospecting and reduce rejection – “fully with you on this” – was one comment during the conversation. And I explained that he could freely access the 4-part “Build Firm Foundations” course from the Selling For Business website as a sanity check on his brand and brand positioning before he got stuck in to any prospecting.

So where is he now, four months on? Actually he’s in round about the same place. First VAT got in the way, then one of his customers was being particularly demanding, then someone was off sick, then people were on holiday! anyone who’s run a small business can probably identify with the scenario, and he’s nowhere near achieving his goal because he hasn’t followed through on any of the things we talked about.

He’s a nice person and nobody’s fool but is he running his business or is his business running him?

Another guy whom I first talked to about his sales and marketing activities about eighteen months ago agreed that a new approach was in order. He’s since worked through the ideas we came up with together, changed his business plan and gained twenty new clients, two of which are really substantial. He doesn’t have a yacht in the Bahamas yet, but he’s well on the way to where he wants his company to be!

The second guy isn’t any cleverer than the first and didn’t work any harder than him but he was prepared to stop bashing his head against a brick wall when he saw it wasn’t getting him anywhere fast and try a different way.

Has anyone received a good telemarketing call recently?

Most people I know get their fair share of bad telemarketing calls, the ones that are made by

  • Some ill-prepared soul who telephones you to sell you a product or service about which they know only the very rudiments and haven’t really a clue as to how it could be of value to you.
  • Someone reading from a script and expecting you to patiently wait until they have delivered their “pitch” before you can get a word in!
  • The pressurised, hard sell individual who implies, and sometimes actually says, that if you don’t take advantage of this offer immediately then you’re an absolute fool and you deserve to fail.
  • Someone who doesn’t realise that the few seconds delay between you answering the call and them speaking to you is a dead give away that it’s a foreign call centre – confirmed fairly swiftly by them (usually) having problems with the pronunciation of your name that has just popped up on a screen in front of them.
  • And what about that little gem in consumer marketing whereby a pre-recorded message is played to you as soon as you answer the incoming call? The purpose of this type of telemarketing appears to be to inform you that you’ve won something and get you to call a premium ‘phone line to find out more…

Having recently slammed a call centre that particularly bugged me, what I’d really like to hear about are good calls that you’ve received and what, in your opinion made it a good call.

Please help me bolster my faith that the good telemarketing call is not an endangered species!

Improving your sales and marketing skills

Is it worth the effort?

We probably all know people who seem to be naturally good at almost anything they turn their hands to and it’s particularly galling if it’s something we struggle to achieve ourselves.

The same applies to sales and marketing: Some people are better and more successful than others, but, while they may have had a natural aptitude to give them a head start, almost all of them have worked hard to become as good as they are.

There’s an ancient, but very true saying:

    More sales are made by perspiration than inspiration

To help you decide whether developing and mastering sales and marketing skills will be worth your effort, a good starting point would be to check out whether your business meets the following criteria:

  • Your products, services or solutions have a perceived initial and ongoing high value and will appeal to an identifiable, clearly defined target audience


  • Your products, services or solutions will definitely generate sufficient repeat, additional or continued business from your customers once they “come on board” to repay your investment in winning them many fold


  • Your business is based on your people’s knowledge, abilities, level of service and professionalism, and is the complete opposite of the mass marketing, “stack ’em high and sell ’em cheap” approach


  • Your existing sales and marketing activities do not generate enough of the type and calibre of customers and profit you seek – you want more and are prepared to invest the time and effort necessary to make it happen

If you agree with three of the four criteria outlined, I’d say it’s definitely in your interests to ensure that your sales and marketing activities aren’t letting you down. There’s a free Self Assessment Questionnaire on the home page of the Selling For Business web site that you can complete to check out the effectiveness of your current sales and marketing communication skills – just click on the link below. That will help you to identify any areas that you need to work on and give you some ideas to start you off.

Your potential gold mine

Are you sitting on a wealth of untapped information?
If your business is already established rather than just starting up, and you have a broad customer base, you could be sitting on a potential gold mine of information that you won’t need to dig too deep to access!

Look to your best customers first
Start profiling your existing customers – If you’ve already done this go through the steps outlined below anyway and just check that you haven’t missed anything important to factor into your equations. You can do this whether your company is in business-to-business or business-to-consumer.

  • List your best customers – typically they will be 20% of your total customer base
  • Write down what it is about them that makes them “best customers”
  • Next you can look for the more obviously identifiable similarities amongst these customers
  • Then look at where they came from

But don’t forget the rest
Now that you’ve analysed your best customers, how are you going to use the information you’ve uncovered?

  • Look at the remaining 80% of your current customers plus your lapsed customers and see whether any of the companies match the identifiable similarities of your best customers. It could be that those with a close match have need of more of your product or service, but either you or they haven’t identified that need yet, or it’s being fulfilled elsewhere – Now is your chance to find out and do something about it!
  • Take the criteria of “identifiable similarities” and see if there is a specialist list available that matches the majority of them and that you could rent/buy for prospecting purposes
  • Finally, if you come across any really awful customers during this whole exercise, you might like to take a view on your future dealings with them!

Remember: It is a fact that pursuing unqualified business is one of the most common reasons companies fail to reach their revenue targets.

Happy hunting!

First impressions count – the incoming call

I seem to have focused in rather earlier than intended on first impressions and the telephone, so I’m going to stay with that theme a little longer, this time looking at how the incoming business call is received.

The “Nobody Home” Syndrome
Depending on the size of your company, the nature of your business, and the time of year, to name but three contributing factors, there are doubtless going to be occasions when telephone callers will hear a recorded message. That’s quite acceptable, whether it is the main business number or voice mail on your own extension, but:
When did you last listen to the message on your business telephone – your switchboard, landline or mobile? What does it sound like? – Is it

  • Professional?
  • Clear?
  • Welcoming?
  • Informative?
  • Helpful?

If you run a small business and have been persuaded to install a telephone answering system, please

  • Get rid of the pre-recorded “Your call is important to us and will be answered shortly” – If there’s someone there to take the call, pick up the ‘phone! Record your own message for when there really is nobody available to take the call
  • Get rid of “Your call may be recorded and monitored for training purposes” – You really have the time to sit around listening to play backs of calls and train your staff on how to do better?
  • Do you really need “Press 1 for sales, 2 for accounts, 3 for customer service, (etc.)”?

You’re sacrificing a warm and human welcome for what you believe to be an impression of size – I know which I’d rather be greeted by! So let’s move on to that human welcome…

… isn’t what anyone would expect to hear when someone answers a business number.

Whoever answers the telephone in your organisation is the company, or at least the voice of the company, to anyone telephoning in. It doesn’t take the brain of Britain to realise that the same rules of professionalism, clarity, etc. apply equally to the ‘live’ response to an incoming call – a call that could be from your biggest customer or your biggest potential customer.

You wouldn’t dream of sending out anyone who wasn’t thoroughly conversant with your company to sell on your behalf. Yet how many times do you allow just anyone to answer an incoming call? The way each and every incoming call is dealt with right from the outset will affect the image of your company – good or bad.

Anyone in your company who uses the telephone to communicate with anyone else, internally or externally, needs good telephone communication skills.

Vive la difference!

Brand matters – to every business

It’s very difficult nowadays to come up with a product, service or solution that is totally new, truly unique and perceived by the prospect or customer to be the only solution to his or her problem. If you do manage to, you can bet your boots it won’t be long before the nub of your idea is copied and the competition is up and running and possibly undercutting your price too.

So how can you protect your business and profitably win, grow and keep your customers? You would have to be living well and truly in the dark ages not to have heard terms such as “mission”, “vision”, “brand value” and the like. Big corporations pay huge amounts of money developing the “brand” and equally vast amounts to lawyers if they think someone is infringing on it. The fact that you are not in the same league as BP, General Electric, IBM, Vodafone, Cisco et al shouldn’t put you off investigating what could be in this for you.

Maybe now would be a good time to do a bit of navel gazing and re-address what your company is all about, where it and you are at, where you want to be and how you intend to get there. None of this is new but it may have been a while since you’ve had the chance or inclination to do any strategic thinking.

How is your company different from your competition? Why should anyone choose to do business with you rather than any of your competitors? The way any company, regardless of size, positions its brand is fundamental to its ultimate success so it’s vital that you get it right.

One of the ways you can build genuine, enduring differentiation of your business brand is by giving it explicit core values, and endowing it with a distinctive and attractive personality that makes your customers think, for example, “I like these people. I know where I stand with them and they deliver their promise. They treat me like an intelligent individual, not some moron. They understand and care about my (business) needs and I can trust them.”

You must know who your main competitors are, so check out how they position themselves and develop a separate and unique position for your company and offering.

That’s logically when you should come up with a mission statement but, if you are going to have one, make sure it’s meaningful and believable. I know that sounds obvious but take a look around and see how many companies’ mission statements you would buy into. So take your time on this. Your vision (and the goals you set to attain it) may evolve but your mission statement is core to your company and remains constant. Test it out on your own people. You needn’t tell them that it’s your proposed mission statement; just ask for their opinion on how it sums up what your company is all about. Provided you’re not an overbearing egotist you’ll get candid feedback.

Once you have it right it is a prime weapon in your differentiation armoury and also doubles very nicely as an elevator pitch (a succinct and descriptive account of what your company does). If you want help with any of this just click on the link below. You’ll find “Build Firm Foundations”, a freely downloadable 4-part course, on the home page of the Selling For Business website.

Use the results of the suggested exercises to underpin all your sales and marketing communications and provide and build brand identity and consistency.

+44 (0)20 7209 1284

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"I was very impressed by Linda's determination to help and the constructive, but persistent, manner in which she identified issues and then tried to resolve them. After recent progress I was again reaching a stage where I seemed to be spinning my wheels, and she has given me fresh impetus to start moving forward again."