Last evening my daughter’s softball team unknowingly reinforced a valuable lesson I teach business owners. The Cyclones could have beaten the #1 ranked Blue Raiders were it not for one inning when the Cyclones failed to convert a couple simple plays into easy outs. As a result, the Blue Raiders scored three unearned runs that made the difference in the game. Having watched the Cyclones as often as I have, there’s no question the girls knew what they needed to do defensively, they just failed to execute.
Is your business executing as you desire / expect? Is your team executing flawlessly in helping you build your business? Have you provided them the tools and training necessary for them to conduct errorless performance? In working with small business owners I find that they often haven’t taken the steps necessary to ensure that their team performs as expected. It’s as though they relinquish responsibility for establishing processes to a team that they often haven’t trained. These owners aren’t helping their employees perform errorlessly and their competitors may be the beneficiaries.
Conversion Rate: One area where I find owners poorly equipping their employees is in helping them convert leads, defined as prospective clients who have expressed an interest in your business, into paying clients. What are you doing to help your team increase their conversion rate? Failure to measure their conversion rate is common amongst small business owners and results in a false sense of what is needed to gain more clients – spend more money on advertising.
I want to briefly focus on the importance of measuring your conversion rate and, once known, taking steps to increase that rate and thereby help your employees do their jobs better. Increasing your conversion rate by 50% will have as big an impact on your net profit as will increasing the number of leads throgh advertising by 50%…and it won’t cost you any money. For example:
Strategy 1 Strategy 2
Lead Gen. Conversion Rate
Current (expensive) (little expense)
Number of Leads 200 400 200
Conversion Rate 15% 15% 30%
New Clients 30 60 60
Strategies to increase your conversion rate: In working with business owners I have found that just measuring the percent of leads into paying clients increases their conversion rate. Often the actual rate surprises owners who have an inflated idea of their rate. So, begin measuring immediately.
Unique Selling Proposition (USP): A second strategy that I teach clients is the importance of clearly differentiating their business from competitors. To be effective these differentiators must be valued by buyers and ideally must help them overcome a frustration they have with your industry. Failure to clearly differentiate your business results in competing on price, where there aren’t winners except those who have built their business to be the low cost provider.
Scripts: Rehearsing and documenting responses to inquiries from prospective clients is another essential strategy to develop for your employees. Why leave how your business responds to questions from leads to the momentary whims of your staff? Ideally every interaction with prospective clients should be thought out and scripted, not memorized but as guidelines for your staff. Staff must personalize and rehearse the script so that it comes across as being natural.
Conclusion: Preparing, practicing, and executing are just as important in growing your business as they are to the Cyclones in winning their softball games. Failure to equip your “team” with needed strategies, material and training will without doubt lead to your competition recording lots of unearned runs at your expense.
I have provided a brief glimpse into the importance of your sales conversion rate. I encourage you to spend much time thinking through how you can equip your staff to increase the effectiveness of your business’ conversion rate. Don’t spend money advertising until you have attained a desirable conversion rate…you’ll be wasting your advertising dollars
If you, or someone you know, is looking to become a more effective networker, then Focused Attention is a great listening technique to help you achieve that goal.
Fact: The human brain, on average, can think at a rate of 400 to 450 words per minute; the average person, however, can only talk at a rate of 100 to 150 words per minute.
Let’s say you’re at a networking event, and you’re listening to a really fast talker, maybe somewhere in the neighborhood of 150 words per minute. And while that person is talking, let’s say your brain is thinking at a rate of 400 words per minute. So if you’re thinking at a rate of 400 words per minute, and the person you’re talking to is speaking at a rate of 150 words per minute, then what you do with that “extra” capacity (400 minus 150 words per minute) is going to determine how good a listener you are.
Focused attention says to concentrate 100% of your attention on the message the other person is communicating. Where is Your Attention Focused? Are you planning your response while the other person is talking, or are you understanding their point and making a few mental notes to help you in that process? Are you scanning the room trying to find the next person you want to meet, or when someone walks over, do you stop what you’re doing, and devote your full attention to this person?
The reason most people aren’t very good listeners, is because during most discussions, they’re spending their “extra” intellectual capacity (those extra 250 words we were just talking about) on everything other than the conversation at hand. And in today’s email typing, pager answering, voicemail checking world where “multi-tasking” is very much en vogue, everyone seems to be doing two or three things at once.
Recommendation: At your next networking event, make it a point to “block out” everyone else in the room and focus your mental attention on what this person is saying.
A friend of mine once told me that he met somebody who went a step further than that: Whenever someone walked into his office, he physically removed whatever documents he was working on off of his desk, and then redirected his attention to that person. Wow! Now that sends a powerful message. Imagine if you could send that exact same message to someone else in your life. It could be your spouse talking about their day at the dinner table, or a prospect at work.
Concentrating 100% of your attention on that person is a surefire way to make them feel that their message is being valued. And at the end of the day, isn’t that what being a good listener is all about?
Do you remember the scene in Alice in Wonderland where Alice comes upon a fork in the road and seeking advice from the Cheshire cat asks:
Alice: “Which road do I take?”
Cat: “Where do you want to go?”
Alice: “I don’t know.”
Cat: “Then, it doesn’t matter.”
The cat makes Alice seem silly for asking when she didn’t have an idea as to her destination. Yet, when I speak to many business owners and leaders they also don’t have a clearly defined destination of where they want their business to go…a vision. Running a business without knowing where you want it to go is like going on vacation without any thought as to where to go. Name me one Olympic athlete who didn’t have a dream of competing for a gold medal. You can’t. Their dream of reaching the Olympics (their destination) is what gets them through their rigorous training.
It is common for business owners to get into business without establishing a vision for the business 10 – 15 years hence. Without a clearly articulated destination they default control of the company’s future to external forces. Perhaps this is why I hear so many business owners complain about the adverse effects the economic downturn has had on their business. If you know where you want to go, you’ll navigate your way through any rough waters you may encounter. They don’t rest attainment of their destination on excuses and blame.
Successful owners and leaders have a future – orientation; they know what they want and are constantly focused on what is necessary to achieve what they want. They are clear on:
Employees are very interested in the ultimate destination of the business. Simon Sinek in his book “Start with Why” states “average companies give their people something to work on…the most innovative organizations give their people something to work towards.” To truly inspire your employees and to achieve the growth you want from your business, you must articulate your vision for the business.
Begin by closing your eyes and thinking about your personal life that your business must support. Reflect on your community and what size business would most benefit your neighbors. Then, look to your potential customers and design a business that maximizes value to them. I’ll be glad to speak with you if you would like help establishing your vision for your business and your personal life.
Ever heard of the Cricket Theory? I hadn’t until a couple years ago when I had lunch with Pam Nolen President of Nolen & Associates. Pam and her team were at a weekend retreat outside Atlanta during a hot sultry Georgia weekend. In the darkest moments of the evening the crickets were so loud they kept a member of her team awake. All he could talk about the following morning was how loud the crickets were. The theory says, “the more noise you make when times are dark, the better remembered you will be when it is light again.”
The racket made by the crickets was all the more noticeable because there were no competing noises. The lesson here is that when your competitors cut-back on their marketing investment due to a slowing economy, that’s a great opportunity for you to increase your chirping (advertising). The economic darkness will give way to light, and you’ll be the company remembered, not those whose marketing was absent.
I have spoken with many business owners who cut their marketing budget when the economy began slowing down. People were still buying, though spending less, but not from those companies who cut back on their marketing. Jeremy Gutsche in his book “Exploiting Chaos” provides a wonderful example of the power of the Cricket Theory. Prior to the Great Depression Post Cereal’s Grape-Nuts was the dominate cereal in the United States. As the Depression deepened, Post began cutting back on its marketing budget just at the time that Kellogg Company began doubling their budget. Kellogg successfully introduced the slogan “Snap Crackle and Pop” and “you’ll feel better” and sales began to grow, at the expense of Grape-Nuts. Gutsche concludes that “the upbeat impact of crisis is that competitors become mediocre and the ambitious find ways to grow.”
If you have curtailed your marketing waiting for the economy to return to strong growth, you risk becoming insignificant to your competitors, who like crickets, have been making noise even during the toughest of times. You don’t need to become overly aggressive in promoting your products/services, but you do need to begin opening up the budget and spending dollars in well-thought out marketing campaigns. It’s essential that you have absolute clarity around your target markets, their frustrations with problems that you help them overcome, what your competitors are doing, and a compelling message that causes your prospective customer to take action.
Don’t wait. Be proactive and get noticed like those chirping crickets.
Ever thought of classifying customers according to their value to your business? If you are like most business owners the answer to this question is “No”.
Yesterday I co-facilitated our all-day planning workshop for business owners. The purpose of this workshop is to help owners plan what they want to accomplish during the second quarter of 2014. We had a lively discussion around this concept of tiering customers by their value to your business. The Pareto Principle applies to most businesses, meaning 20% of customers provide 80% of profits. Think of “A” customers as being Awesome; “B” as Basic, “C’” as those you Can do with or without, and “D” customers are those that Drag down your profits. Take the time to tier your customers…you will be surprised at what you find.
I highly recommend that you establish criteria and evaluate your customers against that criteria. Possible evaluate criteria include:
Think of your “D” customers as those who demand lots of your time, nick and dime you over price, and are difficult to satisfy. These customers are costing you more than they are providing so either fire them or significantly raise the fees they pay you. The lure of their revenue usually keeps owners from firing these customers until the owner is reminded that D customers:
Your team is your most important asset, and you must do everything you can to protect them. If it means firing a customer, two or more, then it’s worth it for the well-being of your team.
Should all “difficult” customers be fired or asked to leave?
There is a distinction between a challenging (demands much) customer and those who suck your time and energy and argue over price and pay late. Though challenging, the former types of customers can actually help the business grow by pushing comfort zones and expanding product offering. Think twice before firing these challenging customers, but don’t hesitate to fire your “D” customers.
So how do you fire your “D” customers?
In all instances and as difficult as it may be, you need to be professional, calm, and emotionless. The conversation will most like be difficult as customers in these situations often get defensive and make accusations. You must remain firm and calm. You need to be tactfully firm and avoid doing anything that will cause your customer to tell others, some of whom could be current or potential customers.
If you want to discuss your “D” customers and how to either fire them, suggest they move to a competitor or raise your fee to them, I’ll be happy to speak with you.
If you want to discuss your “D” customers and how to either fire them, suggest they move to a competitor or raise your fee to them, I’ll be happy to speak with you.
In May of 1863 a nimble, creative, risk-taker with his back to the wall defied all logic by soundly beating a much larger and better supplied competitor. The setting was Chancellorsville, Virginia where the Union Army with 133,000 men under the leadership of Joseph Hooker faced the much smaller Confederate Army of 61,000 men, under the leadership of Robert E. Lee. Despite facing overwhelming odds and against all military rules of engagement Robert E. Lee sent Stonewall Jackson with 50,000 men around to the right flank of the Union Army. Hidden from view, the Union Army learned of this risky move as Jackson’s force attacked and completely annihilated the right half of the Union Army.
So, why is this important to business owners and leaders? Well, the lessons learned from this dramatic moment in history are several fold:
Understand the weakness of your competitors: Business owners are typically found working IN their business instead of ON it. This more tactical focus results in their losing sight of their competitor’s weaknesses. If Robert E. Lee had focused his attention on tactical matters, such as the number of shoes his army needed, or the condition of their tents, he never would have recognized the strategic opportunity in front of him. The result would have been a victory by the overwhelmingly larger competitor. Spend time focused on your competitors, find their weaknesses, and exploit those weaknesses.
Leaders must be willing to take risks: Easily said, but harder to successfully execute. People often don’t make decisions that involve risk for at least two reasons; 1) risk means reaching outside their comfort zone and that’s not something most people like to do , and 2) in the absence of metrics, their decisions are made on subjective feelings. To grow your business you must continually make decisions that stretch your comfort zone (get a coach to help stretch your comfort zone). Secondly, begin tracking key metrics. Numbers simplify decision making.
Owners of larger companies must be forever vigilant: The success a larger company has enjoyed can be reversed by competitors who recognize opportunities to take market share. As businesses become successful and achieve significant growth they often lose sight of their customers’ experience with the company. As the leader of a rapidly growing and/or large company never lose sight of your customers’ experience with your business.
As the owner of a smaller business, don’t limit your growth by thinking of your business as a powerless underdog. You have tremendous power to impact markets and to take market share, but your focus must be ON the business. You cannot afford to be doing the work of the business.
In today’s wired, interconnected world where communicating with friends is just a matter of keystrokes, it’s easy to see why having an effective referral program is key to growing your business. People are sharing ideas and experiences more frequently and to far wider audiences than ever before. Prospective customers not only hear about your business by searching online, but also from comments shared by people they trust.
Leads that arise from referrals are six times less expensive to acquire, are more likely to buy from you, and typically are less sensitive to price. These characteristics exist, because trust in you and your service/product is passed to the prospective customer when their acquaintance recommends your services.
For these reasons you would think that most business owners have developed clearly articulated policies to generate referrals. Logical yes, but accurately no. Most business owners I meet recognize the value of referrals, but haven’t formalized their referral program…apparently preferring instead to leave this important lead generation source up to chance.
In his book, “Get More Referrals Now”, Bill Cates identifies four primary reasons owners and their sales teams aren’t more active in soliciting referrals. Beneath each reason I list a couple strategies from Bill’s book and my experience to overcome the obstacle.
Reason #1: The owner and members of his sales team forget to ask. Has this happened to you?
Solutions: 1) formalize your referral program – write it down and communicate the details of the program to your team, and 2) build soliciting referrals into your formal sales process
Reason #2: The owner and members of his sales team lack the confidence to ask
Solution: provide exceptional service that creates Raving Fans and solicit feedback from customers on their experience
Reason #3: The owner and members of his sales team think asking for referrals is pushy
Solutions: 1) recognize that people make referrals to feel good by helping their friends, 2) from the beginning of the sales process foreshadow that you will be asking for referrals, and 3) target markets where your ideal clients are found
Reason #4: The owner and members of his sales team don’t know how to ask
Solution: use scripts and practice, practice, and practice again asking for referrals
If you and your team are not receiving enough referrals take the time to investigate the reasons. Your time will be well spent if it results in opening the referral faucet.
Reach out to me if you would like additional information on strategies to gain referrals.
Ever wonder which marketing strategy you should undertake to supercharge your lead generation efforts? Imagine how much easier that decision would be if you had tracked the results from prior efforts. If you know your average cost to acquire a new client, would that make your decision easier? You bet it would. So let’s spend a few minutes highlighting a couple key metrics you need to know about your marketing.
When developing marketing campaigns, it’s important to recognize the difference between Customer Acquisition Costs and Lifetime Value. The former is simply your cost to acquire a new customer. For example, if you spend $1,000 on a direct mail campaign that results in 10 new customers, then your Acquisition Cost for that campaign is $100.
The tendency is to decide whether to embark on a campaign based on the amount of the marketing campaign rather than looking at the outcome of that investment, based on past experience. Most business owners don’t measure the results of specific marketing campaigns so they are not able to identify their Acquisition Cost across all of their marketing efforts. If they did, deciding which campaign to use becomes easier…which has the lowest Acquisition Cost.
There are two kinds of acquisition costs.
Either strategy can be effective depending, on the financial condition of the business. For a business with a tight cashflow, investment acquisition cost strategies can wreck financial havoc on the business.
Regardless of which acquisition cost strategy you use, it’s important to know your Lifetime Value – the value of your average customer over the average tenure. When calculating Lifetime Value consider:
Knowing your average Lifetime Value of a customer allows you to make more informed marketing decisions. Would you spend money on a marketing campaign that has a $350 Acquisition Cost knowing that on average your clients generate profits of $5,250 from using your services or buying your products?
If you haven’t been tracking the results from your marketing campaigns, begin immediately asking new customers how they heard about your business. If you need help developing the other key metrics we have discussed, reach out to me.
I could not believe it. The other day I had lunch with a sales person who wanted me to buy her local internet advertising service. For the majority of the time all she talked about was how her customers benefited from increased exposure via the internet. Blah, blah, blah was all I heard.
If you and your sales people believe, like this woman, that selling is about sales pitches and fancy closing scripts, then I suggest you and they need to get sales training immediately. Those techniques were integral to the old school of selling, but selling today is more about building rapport with the potential buyer…asking the right questions, letting the buyer talk while you listen, and uncovering their emotions / frustrations. The buyer’s coffee cup should be full when your’s is finished because they have been too busy answering your questions.
I define selling as “professionally helping people buy”. It’s not cajoling or pushing product but rather helping the buyer find a solution to their problem. You must understand their problem first before you can find a solution. That’s what bothered me most about the sales woman’s approach with me. She didn’t take the time to understand my issues and problems; she either assumed she knew or she didn’t care.
The distinction between old and new selling styles can be summarized as:
Old Style New Style
* Presence of a strong sales pitch * Focus on understanding the buyer’s needs
* Often involves inserting pressure * Relies on rapport being built not pressure
* Counter objections * Validate objection and reopen conversation
(taken from table prepared by Ari Galper)
Today people are turned off by the Old Sales Style. They want to know that you care. Recall the saying “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”. Old style is much more about selling while the new style is about building rapport first and understanding the issues. When you understand my issues and the emotions behind those issues, I am much more willing to purchase – no fancy closing techniques needed.
Are you and your sales team generating the results you expect? If not, perhaps it’s because you’re using the old style selling. We would be happy to discuss training your sales team on techniques that will increase their effectiveness as a sales team.
What period in our history do you suppose accounted for the greatest accumulation of wealth? The answer is the Great Depression. How is that possible you say? It’s during periods of economic downturns, such as we’re in now, when investors and business owners see long-term opportunities at greatly discounted prices. You’ve heard the saying buy [build] when the economy is down and sell when it’s high. Well, now is a great time to begin looking past the current malaise to recognize opportunities to grow.
When your competition is retreating into a blame game (“the economy is killing my business”) isn’t now a great time to “steal a march” on them so then when the economy does turn you’ll be that much further ahead of them. So, ACT NOW! Don’t participate in the blame game.
One idea, instead of looking to increase your leads, why not focus on strategies to increase your conversion rate (the percent of leads that become clients)? These strategies are totally under your control, can be implemented easily and are low cost vs. spending advertising dollars.
Recognize the opportunity you have been given and take the initiative to leave your competition behind. ACT NOW. Don’t find yourself one year from now saying “if only I had done that one year ago”. It will be too late by then because your competition will most likely have adopted that idea and you’ll be left to catch up. Good hunting.
Do you know what percent of people or businesses express interest in a product or service you sell but eventually walk away without buying? I’ll bet you aren’t tracking your conversion rate, i.e. the percent of inquiring prospects who become customers. Begin immediately tracking the source of your leads and whether they end up buying from you. Track these statistics for one month. I’ll bet that you’ll be surprised with the results. Lower than you thought? The mere act of tracking will cause your conversion rate to increase, but there are many strategies we teach our clients to achieve dramatic increases in this rate.