No matter how good your start-up idea is, if you can’t sell the product or service that it provides you won’t be troubling the Forbes Rich List.
Selling is often considered to be an art but, in fact, good common sense planning, research and careful hiring decisions will deliver far more value than flashy but empty sales talk.
Last week, business lecturer and author Dr Greg Chapman advised small businesses to concentrate on raising prices and projecting a higher-value image of themselves, rather than self-destructive price-cutting.
A StartupSmart.com.au and Churchill Club event in Melbourne on Thursday will also address this issue, as well as the other sales challenges faced by start-ups. We spoke to several of the event’s speakers to help compile five handy tips to help boost sales.
1. Be informed of your client’s business
Understanding your client’s business, if you’re seeling business-to-business, or customer’s needs, if you’re consumer-facing, is an essential first step for higher sales figures. Everything else hinges on this.
“Before you hire any sales person, you need to step back and look at things from your customer’s perspective, as well as their customer’s perspective” says David Arkles, CEO of Nexsell. “Once you do that, you need to work it back from there.”
“When you’re selling, you need to understand not only the initial transaction, but also the overall costs. In the old days, sales people could go out and rely on their ability to ad lib it. In the post-GFC world that’s based on ROI, you can’t do that anymore.”
“People don’t care about what’s smart and cool. Times have changed. They’re looking for ROI. You need to research and plan before you make that call.”
Sue Barrett, CEO of Barrett Consulting adds: “You need a clear purpose. You need a clear story as to why you exist and why you offer something different, because everyone out there has got a product.”
2. Avoid discounting
Barrett is quite clear on her views on the GFC rush by many small firms to discount in order to protect market share.
“You should never discount,” she says. “People discount unnecessarily all the time. The sad thing in Australia is that for every $1 spent in retail, 21 cents goes to independent stores. In Europe, it’s 43 cents. You can’t get into a price war with the big gorillas in the market without being smart and clever about it.”
“As Warren Buffett says, price is what you pay, value is what you get. A lot of start-ups under-price their products and it’s hard to get it up from there. If you are an ideas-based business, you need to think about the value you have, not just your price.”
3. Offer different incentives
Consider different pricing plans for customers and alternative incentives for sales staff. For example, some businesses have benefitted from offering a price that is linked to performance. If a seller’s product increases the value of the buyer’s supply chain, they get a slice of the enlarged cake.
With sales people, start incentivising them on revenue or profit, rather than volume.
“If you can do this, you can encourage a better profit result,” says Jon Manning, principal of Sans Prix. “There is definitely room for improvement in sales training in this area.”
4. Don’t be passive
If your sales are sagging, sitting there wondering when the next call will come from someone bowled over by your wonderful business isn’t the best remedy.
“A lot of start-ups are hesitant about calling people they don’t know,” says Barrett. “You can’t sit there with a nice website waiting for the phone to call. Prospecting is the oxygen of your sales. Sales is a doing job.”
5. Analyse everything if you’re not selling
If your sales aren’t where you want them to be, you need to analyse your entire selling strategy, rather than just the price point. Look at the competitiveness of your product, the needs of your customers and the skill level of your sales people. A failure in any link of the chain can hurt you.
“A lot of people we work with think they have the best mousetrap and that selling is just a by-product of having the product,” says Arkles. “In my mind, the product is the least important, which sounds silly, I know. Anyone who leads with the product becomes commoditised very quickly. It all goes back to your understanding of the market and what your customer needs.”
Manning, Barrett and Andrew Ridley, Arkles’ colleague at Nexsell, will be joining Amanda Gome, founder of StartupSmart.com.au and SmartCompany.com.au, at the Kick Butt Sales seminar in Melbourne on Thursday, 28 October. There are still places available – click here for more details.