Archive | July, 2013

Your Ultimate Competitive Advantage

31 Jul

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What’s the ultimate competitive advantage in business and in life? It’s your ability to learn and (just as importantly) to quickly put what you have learned into action.

“Formal education will make you a living; self-education will make you a fortune.” -Jim Rohn

The first key is to understand that education is a lifelong process. Formal education may be finite and time-based, but self-education is ongoing and perpetual.

“Hard work spotlights the character of people; some turn up their sleeves, some turn up their noses, and some don’t turn up at all.” -Sam Ewing

The second key is to become a voracious student in your field. Mastering your field requires an investment of time in study and continual practice toward perfection. All the masters and top earners in any field have this attitude toward learning. Having this attitude allows you to thrive in situations where your knowledge gives you the competitive advantage over your competitors. You must be passionate enough about your profession that committing to mastery is a natural step.

“Upon the subject of education, not presuming to dictate any plan or system respecting it, I can only say that I view it as the most important subject which we as a people may be engaged in.” -Abraham Lincoln

Mastery can come from attending conferences, reading books, or working with advisers, coaches, and mentors. There is no shortage of knowledge sources. Training, development, and continuous education are the highest return investments you and your business can make. Top businesses and top industry professionals make learning a priority. No matter how busy they are, they make time for it.

Brian Tracy, noted author and speaker, stated that the highest paid people in America read an average of 2-3 hours per day. Developing a habit of learning and an appetite for information, both within your field and also outside your area of expertise, are the keys to a life of passion, purpose, and profits.

Citing a recent study of successful companies, syndicated columnist Verne Harnish wrote that training and development “out-return[ed] any other investment a business could make — more than R&D, hard, or capital investment.” According to Harnish, such investments resulted in:

  • 24% higher profit margins
  • 218% higher income per employee
  • 86% higher company value
  • 21% increase in productivity
  • 300% reduction in employee turnover
  • A return per dollar invested of $6.72

(Source: The Growth Guy)

“Don’t be afraid to give up the good to go for the great.” -John D. Rockefeller

Seek out the knowledge you need to be worthy of being a “trust agent” — someone who is viewed as a trusted adviser, rather than simply a supplier of services and goods. Make the investment and commit to continuous learning. You can’t win if you rely solely on keeping up with the status quo. Being a leader in your field means staying ahead by learning and becoming the known expert.

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Are You a High-Margin Business?

28 Jul

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Achieving profit is the real goal of being in business. Profits are what allows a business to invest and grow. Some businesses have higher profit margins than others. That can be due to the type of industry, the competitive landscape, and economic conditions.

There’s often a direct correlation between the margins a business can charge and the amount of pain their products and services help to ease in the minds of the customers who buy them. Increasing this real and perceived value will directly impact profit margins.

Most businesses have a mixture of customers. To become a high-margin business, your goal must be to move the needle from lower-value customers to higher-value ones. The first step is to identify the types of customers your business attracts and pursues. Here are a few general characteristics to consider.

Low-Value Clients:

  • A large number are required in order to sustain profitability

 

  • Typically cause the most headaches

 

  • Want you to lower your prices

 

  • Make you feel like a commodity

 

  • Position you as the lower-value provider

 

  • Can and will leave you for a lower price at any time

High-Value Clients:

  • Provide greater profitability, so fewer are needed to help you reach your financial goals

 

  • Generate higher value with fewer headache

 

  • Help position you as an authority and valuable partner vendor

 

  • Give you higher credibility in the eyes of your other prospects

So how can you increase your perceived value?

  • Educate – Sell by teaching and sharing your expertise. Nothing is more powerful in positioning you as a business that is worthy of higher fees than actually showing how your products and services solve problems for your customers.

 

  • Show Results – Include testimonials and success stories from your past customers to help prospects understand what kind of real-world value you provide. Third-party validation works much better and is more believable than the same information stated as your own.

 

  • Offer a Powerful Guarantee – Guarantees not only help remove some of the doubts your prospects may have but also show that you believe in your products and services enough to stand behind them. Strong guarantees and warranties allow you to justify charging higher margins.

 

  • Get Endorsed – When possible, get an endorsement from a well-respected and known personality who can verify the quality and value you bring to the table. Your prospects will know that such a person would not vouch for a shoddy business or service. This increases the perceived value of your business in their eyes.

 

  • Promote – Promote your awards, achievements, membership associations, charitable contributions, and any other resources that will speak to your involvement in the community and the values you bring. Each of these builds further trust in the eyes of your audience. Each bit of added trust allows you to charge higher fees and margins in your business.

By increasing both the real value for your customers and the perceived value seen by your prospects, you will be able to increase your profit margins. Lots of companies can solve problems for their customers. Those that are able to tell the story of what, how, and why they solved those problems — and to do so in a way that resonates with prospects — are the ones that achieve higher margins.

What is Your Sales Process?

27 Jul

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You may have the greatest service or product in the world, but if you can’t sell it, how much good will that do?

The good news is that small improvements in your selling can have exponential effects on your bottom line. Focusing on the factors that can increase your selling efficiency or selling effectiveness will have a far greater impact than changing prices or reducing overhead.

The path to selling efficiency and effectiveness starts with proper planning. Begin by focusing on the factors you have the most control over:

  • The quality of your prospects
  • The quality of your sales pitc
  • The cost of the sales process itself
  • How you use your time
  • Your sales process

The quality of your prospects depends on how well you qualify them. This is one of the most important factors in improving your selling effectiveness. You have complete control over this part of your process. Begin by asking if the prospect truly is a good fit for what you sell.

When determining the quality of your sales pitch, remember that your prospects are too busy to pay attention to generic sales speak. Find a way to quickly show them how your product or service has delivered measurable results for people just like them. You need to prove that you know your stuff and that you can help them solve their problems.

The cost of the sales process is another area where you have control. Tracking expenses in both hard costs and time spent provides benchmarks that will help you determine just how much it costs to acquire a customer. You can’t improve what you don’t measure.

Effective time management skills separate the top sales superstars from everyone else. Finding the right customer acquisition techniques and tools is essential… and well within your control. Nothing is more valuable than your time. Learn to use it wisely.

Do you have a sales process in place, or do you handle sales in a piecemeal and patchwork manner? A strong, systematic sales process can take much of the mystery, magic, and waste out of selling. Track it, measure it, and tweak it until you have a dynamic process that can be replicated by every new salesperson.

There is one last item that binds all of these together, without which none of them will work. That is productive activity. Nothing can replace the actual work it takes to generate a sale. Phone calls, direct mail, networking events, emails, and in-person sales calls are all productive sales activities. They all work when they’re part of an overall strategy and plan that leads a prospect to a sale.

Sometimes it only takes small improvements to get big results. Take a closer look at how you’re currently selling. Shorten your sales cycle by improving your process, and watch your sales grow.

5 Keys to Getting Past the Gatekeeper

27 Jul

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In business, the term “gatekeeper” refers to the person who has the authority to control access to the decision maker in the company. The gatekeeper guards and monitors traffic to the person in charge. In most companies, getting an appointment with the decision maker requires getting past the gatekeeper.

Selling to the decision maker requires learning the art and skill of gracefully getting past the gatekeeper. Here are five keys to help you get started:

Key #1: Speak with authority.
Whether you’re the CEO of your company or not, you need to speak with confidence. You want to be perceived as a person of authority making the call. Speak with authority, assurance, and self-confidence. Gatekeepers are trained to keep salespeople out but are much more likely to let an authority figure through.

Key #2: The gatekeeper is your friend.
The gatekeeper can be your ally if you treat them with the utmost respect and courtesy. Remember that they have a job to do and that they may even have the power to make decisions on whether or not to buy. It’s vital to recognize from your first contact that dealing with a gatekeeper can be a make or break proposition.

Key #3: Ask for help.
Everyone likes to feel useful and helpful. People like to help others, but few like to help a salesman. Put yourself in the position of a person needing help instead of a pushy salesperson. You can quickly disarm a gatekeeper by asking questions to help both of you. You want to speak with the correct person, and they don’t want anyone wasting the time of the person they are protecting.

You can accomplish this by asking a simple question right at the beginning. For example, “I provide (your services) and believe that (decision maker’s name) is the person that I should be speaking with. Is that correct?”

By asking for help in this way, you have gotten to the point quickly and have empowered the gatekeeper to either begin the conversation by asking you to set an appointment or by directing you to the right person.

Key #4: Referrals are a big help.
Obviously, having a name to use as a referral to the decision maker can help pave the way in getting past the gatekeeper. Another, less used referral method occurs when you make an initial call to a company and someone informs you that you should be speaking with someone else (and gives you that person’s name). Using the name of the person you spoke with as a point of reference when calling the person they referred you to can help to break the ice and move you past the gatekeeper.

Key #5: Make it fun.
Very few people will admit that they actually enjoy making a cold call. You can help take the drudgery out of it by setting goals for yourself and building momentum from there. Begin by setting up a variety success metrics, such as finding the right decision maker’s name, determining the best times to call, leaving your name and number for a call back, and making a small connection or bonding with the gatekeeper. Success can mean more than getting through to the decision maker and setting up an appointment. Celebrate the smaller victories along the way.

There’s truth in the adage that cold calling is a numbers game. The more calls you can make, the more chances you’ll have of getting appointments and closing sales. Likewise, the more positive contacts you can make with a gatekeeper, the better your odds of turning that person into an ally who will let you through to the decision maker you’re hoping to reach.

Are You Strategic or Are You Tactical?

13 Jul

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Strategic planning and thinking are critical to success in business — and in sales. Strategic thought focuses on the big picture. It looks at building sustainable, long-term relationships with clients who can benefit from what you have to provide. Tactical thinking, however, focuses on the here and now. It cares only for making the quick sale and staying afloat. Without a strategy behind it, tactical thinking can often lead to reactionary planning that provides little or no long-term viability.

If you find yourself in any of these positions, you may be too tactical:

  • Prospects are taking too long to make a decision and stringing you along to get lower pricing.

 

  • You’re unclear on exactly who you are selling to.

 

  • Your sales efforts are not focused on a specific product or service you should be selling.

 

  • You’re selling almost exclusively to the type of customers who buy one-time projects.

 

  • You’re selling to the type of customers who will switch to lower-priced competitors at the drop of a hat (or price).

Being overly tactical can force you to become desperate for work. That desperation shows through to prospects, who are either scared off by it or use it to force a much lower-price sale.

Being overly tactical forces you to be reactive to the marketplace around you, rather than proactive in growing sales. This can also lead to taking on clients at unsustainable prices — often clients you really should have declined in the first place.

Most owners and executives who find themselves in this position will try:

  • Hiring a new salesperson who knows what they are doing

 

  • Creating an incredible new offer or service package

 

  • Offering a brand new capability

 

  • Lowering prices to increase volume

While these tactics can work, they often won’t unless you first learn to start selling strategically in your business.

Strategic selling means creating a sales process that is based on:

  • Positioning your company as the expert for what you sell

 

  • Creating real relationships with prospects who truly value what you offer

 

  • Attracting prospects who can afford to pay for what you sell

 

  • Working with prospects and customers on their business goals and challenges, so you’re not seen as a commodity vendor

This is what it means to change from a tactical business to a strategic business.

Broke companies look for the cheapest, while successful companies are looking for value and strategic partners. Being tactical means having commodity conversations about commodity services and products. This leads to attracting customers who view you as a commodity and end up paying you commodity prices. On the other hand, having strategic conversations with strategically minded businesses means that you attract higher-quality clients who value and pay for the services they seek.

As a strategic business, you’ll begin to have conversations with prospects who truly value what you bring to the table. You’ll talk about not just the tactical things but also how your services can help them grow. This type of client doesn’t leave quickly and will gladly pay you for the work you do. This in turn will lead to a much higher client value and will allow you to provide better service to attract more clients just like them.

So how do you move to having strategic conversations? Start by asking the type of questions that generate the answers you’re looking for.

  • What are your biggest challenges?

 

  • Is your business growing as fast as you’d like?

 

  • What’s working for you?

 

  • What’s not working for you?

 

  • What are your biggest challenges?

 

  • What are you currently doing to market and grow your business?

The beauty is in the simplicity. No magic needed. Ask questions that are designed to let your prospects open up and share their challenges.

Moving from a tactical business to a strategic one starts with a mindset shift. It takes time and effort to change the culture of a tactical business. It starts with being clear that you need to seek clients who value and can pay for what you sell. Then you must have strategic conversations to prove the worth of what you bring to the table. Having strategic conversations separates you from your competition. Being strategic is one way to command and get higher prices.

 

 

How Far Would You Go For a Customer?

13 Jul

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There’s a story told of a middle-aged man and a teenage boy who checked into a hotel together while traveling. The staff noticed that both seemed quiet and somber and that the boy appeared pale. That evening, the two had dinner at the hotel restaurant. Again, they seemed unusually quiet, and the boy barely touched his food, before excusing himself and returning to his room.

After finishing his meal, the man asked to see the hotel manager in private. Concerned that he was dissatisfied with the service he had received, the manager obliged his request.

Once alone, the man explained that he was spending the night with his son, who was set to begin chemotherapy treatments at a nearby hospital the next day. Instead of waiting for his hair to fall out on its own, the son planned to shave his head that night, and the father was doing the same. He wanted the staff to be aware of their situation, so they wouldn’t be alarmed when the two showed up for breakfast with clean-shaven heads. The manager said he would let the staff know and that the man need not worry.

The next morning, the man and his son (now with shaved heads) came down for breakfast. As they walked into the restaurant, they looked around and saw the staff busy at work taking orders, clearing tables, and seating guests. But something was different than the night before. You see, while each staff member was going about their business just as they would on any day, several had taken it upon themselves to shave their own heads that morning, too.

This story (whether true or not) provides a good reminder for how each of us should treat the people we encounter throughout our day. Whether customers, coworkers, or strangers on the street, it’s easy sometimes to forget that the people we meet are just that — people — with individual challenges and struggles we may never know or understand. How we choose to interact with them can go a long way in determining how they will interact with us (and our companies) in the future.

So, while you may never shave your head for a customer like the staff members in our story did, going out of your way to treat the people around you with kindness, dignity, and respect is more than just good manners. It’s good business.

Beware the Cycle of Doom

6 Jul

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The cycle of doom is the nightmare of every business owner and salesperson who works to attract prospects and customers. It occurs when you find yourself without a steady, predictable stream of high-quality prospects that turn into customers. As the cycle progresses, every day can feel like a challenge. Where are the next leads coming from? Where are the customers you’re looking to gain?

“Your present circumstances don’t determine where you can go; they merely determine where you start.” – Nido Qubein

If you’re stuck in a cycle of doom, you need to establish a system for attracting your ideal leads — the people in your market who are looking for what you sell. Rest assured, such people do exist. The problem is that not enough of them know about your services and products.

That’s where your lead-generation system will come into play.

“The fact is, everyone is in sales. Whatever area you work in, you do have clients, and you do need to sell.” – Jay Abraham

Thousands of books and articles are written each year about the marketing and selling process. There are many variations and specific nuisances, but most of these resources can be distilled down to three relatively simple, uncomplicated steps.

The first is to determine exactly who your ideal customer is. The next is to make them aware of the solutions your products and services provide to solve their pain. The final step is to engage and answer any questions and objections before closing the sale.

Any lead-generation system you create needs to employ these strategies in order to make it a predictable source of continuous, high-quality prospects. Testing and measuring for what works best for your business is a never-ending and continual process. The important thing is to have an actual framework and base system in place to build upon.

Outbound marketing (direct mail, telemarketing, and traditional media) still works today, but you need to have a strategy in place first to attract and convert the type of audience you are hoping to reach. Blasting out unwanted information to the wrong audience didn’t work well in the past, and it doesn’t work today either.

Many businesses have learned that non-strategic social media posts and email blasts have the same characteristics as any other marketing fail. Offering low-value content leads to non-engagement, which ends up producing low-quality leads and zero customers.

The scariest feeling in business is not knowing where your next sale and customer are coming from. Everything is unsettled. You don’t have the necessary confidence, and you don’t control the conversation. As a result, you end up bending and twisting on price just to get a sale.

“Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishments.” – Jim Rohn

Getting out of the cycle of doom requires strategic thinking. Who do you want as a customer? What does this customer need in order to make decisions before they purchase what you sell? Where are the places you can communicate these messages with this customer?

Creating a system sets the groundwork for a predictable pipeline — one that allows for a reserve of prospects and suspects you can rely on and pull from as needed. It also has the added benefit of giving you the luxury of turning down prospects who are not a good fit for your business.

When you have a systematic approach and tweak it until it works predictably, you control the process. Your business is in demand, and your services are valuable and scarce.

Become a valuable resource for the prospects you seek. Let them know on a consistent basis about the value you provide. Make it easy for them to find your valuable information. Systematize your process, and the cycle of doom will be an old nightmare that gets buried for good.