I’ve had an email from a lovely lady called Christine who offers a very modern service. With more people working remotely and not wanting to get tied up in bricks and mortar offices, her ‘Virtual Assistant‘ services sound like a dream come true for busy executives.
But like any new business Christine needs to attract customers. And not only attract customers, but attract them on a consistent basis. This sort of thing can often be feast or famine…
Its a well trodden road for new businesses. People start up a new business, and full of the first flush of enthusiasm spend money on getting set up and getting ready to go, only to stand back a week or a month later and wonder where their revenue is going to come from. They maybe do a bit of networking, or send out an e.shot, or maybe even use Facebook and Twitter.
A few customers, come along, and often, because they are small businesses, and by definition don’t have much in the way of resource, the attention turns to dealing with the customers they’ve won. Which results in the flow of new business getting choked off. Which means in a few days, weeks or months, they are back at square one.
Winning, and consistently winning new business is the hardest part of the job for even big business – just look at Tesco – so there is no reason why it should be easy for small businesses.
I think ‘in bound sales’ is a very attractive method to try, seemingly easier to do than ‘out bound’, but in my opinion, nothing is more effective than getting out there and talking to your customers, and learning what they really need.
But whichever way you favour, the trick is to think about customer acquisition differently. This is the magic ingredient if you like.
Instead of thinking of yourself as a virtual assistant, as in the case of my friend Christine, or a flower shop, or a drum tutor, or whatever it is your business is, you need to think of yourself as ‘Vice President in Charge of New Business Generation!’
There are two types of business, as my mentor Dave Gifford would say, new business and repeat business – and one doesn’t come without the other. There are many ways to arrange sales for your organisation. You could adopt an approach of being highly differentiated, such as Christine, or maybe an exclusive art dealer. This means you will deal with relatively few, but high value customers.
Or you can take a leaf out of the discount retailers handbook and trade on price. That means being the absolute cheapest you can be, which means you have to be the cost leader to win as well. Often a position open to only the biggest businesses.
But irrespective of which approach, you still need to find new customers.
I’ve often seen new businesses set up and position themselves on the high end / differentiated end of the market, only to panic when the customers don’t start to flow in.
Mistakenly thinking this is because they are too expensive, they often drop their prices in desperation. They may well be too expensive, but this in itself isn’t the reason they aren’t attracting customers. And all they have done is eat into their margins. So as well as struggling to sell anything, they are now finding it increasingly difficult to turn a profit.
The easiest way to position something is through price. People generally think expensive things are good quality and high value, and cheap things are poor quality and low value. So pricing high quality things at a low price often confuses the customer. Worse, people know there is no such thing as a ‘free lunch’. So they simply don’t believe the claims of the business that sells top quality stuff at low low prices. Making it even harder to sell – a vicious circle!
It’s better to stick to your price, one that demonstrates good value, and allows you to turn a profit (which most people don’t object to either strangely enough) and concentrate on bringing in the customers.
Put another way, simply dropping prices is not enough. And sometimes its even counter productive.
Selling is easy.
There, I said it! Selling is easy!
You just need to know what the customer wants, and how much they want to pay for it, and then sell them that.
The trick is talking to enough customers.
Whether that’s ‘Face to Face’ as a good old fashioned sales rep, on the telephone as a sales canvasser, or through a high tech website based content marketing operation, using the latest social media marketing techniques.
Talking to more people = more sales. Period.
Asking more people to buy from you = more sales. Period.
It’s a fact that most sales operations fail, not because they are too expensive, or the product isn’t good enough, or the marketing let them down. It wasn’t because the economy was busted, or that credit was hard to get. It wasn’t because the sales person wasn’t a good enough negotiator.
It was because they didn’t see enough people.
There isn’t a single sales problem that can’t be solved by seeing more people. The very first thing you should do when concerned about the strategies you employ to win business, is try to get a sense of whether you are doing enough. Or doing whatever it is consistently enough?
It’s not your website (unless it physically cant get traffic to it) its not the product, its not the price. Its not the promotional materials. Its not the location. Its not any of those things! Its just that you aren’t talking to enough people.
The point is that most people would rather mess around with their website, or the marketing mix, or tweak the advertising rather than do more canvassing, or make more calls, or see more people, or whatever else it takes to win. The chances are, you know how to win business already.
It takes time, and it’s messy, and that’s why you don’t do more of it.
Clearly you have to have all these other bits right. You have to have a differentiated product, and you have to understand your market. You have to understand how pricing works and how it can reflect on your product or your brand, and you have to know when to discount and when not to etc.
But ultimately, to get more customers, you need to make more calls.
And that’s the bottom line.