Business consultant Tony Harding provides his four business pillars to help boost your business in 2021...
Covid-19 2021 - time to boost your business momentum and increase your sales and income
It’s not been an easy year at all for most businesses and taking a quick check of the basics is something we should all be doing in 2021, from the top to the bottom of our operations. Covid has forced many companies to innovate and pivot their business more online, but without doubt those who can drive these changes into more profitable areas will be those who understand the importance of sales and marketing.
Let’s start by looking at four key business pillars:
- What are you selling?
- Who are you selling to?
- How are you going to sell the product?
- How do you create Fame for you, your business or your product?
Pillar 1 - What are you selling?
It might sound blindingly obvious that you know what you are selling, but the reality is that most businesses actually have no idea what it should be. They have a general idea, but they often struggle to describe their sales offer quickly to a potential customer. The good old elevator pitch is something that should underpin your marketing, but frequently is never really thought through by most businesses.
Starting with that premise, it really should be easy to start thinking about the product or service you sell and how the features and benefits will work for anyone interested. I always ask the same questions: can you describe what you do on one sticky note? Could you tell a stranger what you do in 30 seconds? Have you an easy-to-buy-from box that your pals could tell their networks what you do?
We are all guilty of thinking that others must know what we do – how could they not? But do we take the time to actually think about the whole sell - the ‘what are you selling’ part? I’d guess that in most cases, and especially with the distractions of Covid, the answer is no. Working on that principle, you need to bring out the simple things; the best bits of your business and, without being (too) clichéd, finding the sizzle that fires your customers’ imaginations and whets their interest.
Sit down and write out what you actually do. Ask yourself, where can you make a good living? Where and what are the hooks - simple features and benefits that offer an easy start to a strategy that you can implement? Consider, how Covid has affected the internal intricacies of your business and the external markets to which you sell.
Start off with Features. What is great about your product or service? These can be simple transactions you carry out, fabulous thinking or the features your fantastic bit of tech kit delivers – these should be easy to find and think about. Then, you need to think about the Benefits from these features: what helps me as a buyer/client if I use or have your service/product? It is really easy to forget the benefit. Sometimes you just need to blow your own trumpet. By understanding the features/benefits you will make the How you sell and the Fame growth far easier. Think about how you are happy to spread good news by word of mouth about things you like or have enjoyed.
Pillar 2: Getting to know your target market – Who are you selling to?
Many companies with which I have worked over the last 25 years have gained most of their business from their reputation. In one sense they are the lucky ones, but luck is usually made and earned rather than just arriving serendipitously. A firm’s reputation usually comes from great performance, service and a strong word of mouth.
Understanding who you are selling to is key to any sales performance or growth; you have to have targets as well as word-of-mouth brilliance.
Start off with your network. This is where you’ll find the low-hanging fruit. Do they really know what you do? Do they have a need for your service? They should include ex-colleagues, old clients, current clients, your social networks, friends and people who will become Brand fans for you (remember being able to tell them what you do in 30 seconds). It’s all about creating word of mouth, noise and, ultimately, fame. And it shouldn’t be a one-way street: you’re not just broadcasting information at them, but interacting and engaging with them. So always find out what they really want and offer to help them in any way you can.
Then you need to think with whom you would like to work. Make a list of potential clients that you think might be winnable. Note, they have to be genuinely winnable; you’re not going to win RBS straight away. Bearing in mind the difficult year we’ve all been through, think whether these potential clients are still the firms they were this time last year. In each case you need to seek out the best contact – the decision maker(s). Is there a connection of a connection – someone you know who might know them? Can you find an email address? Are they on LinkedIn? – and if so, link in with them!
Once you’ve established a connection, don’t try to close the sale straight away. You need to build up your knowledge and standing with any new potential contacts. Are they prolific on social media? Are they speaking at an event? Have they written any opinion pieces or blogs? In other words, find out what makes them tick. Most business wins come from your closest network, so the more engaged people you have in that network the better.
A good starting point for this is to look up your LinkedIn connections, go into your privacy settings and download your contacts – LinkedIn will give you them on Excel. Then analyse them and, if you have time, label them -Contact, Bespoke, Industry, General message (whatever suits you)- and then re-engage with your network . This may be something as simple as saying hello!
By increasing your word of mouth potential and giving a clear message and description of what you do, you will start to see growth of your fame and start to generate some momentum into your sales process.
Pillar 3: The anatomy of a sale – who, how, where
I’ve talked about what you’re selling and who you’re selling to. The hardest part is often who ‘does the doing’ and how do they do it!
People are the most important part of any sales process. Devising clear action plans with realistic expectations and then giving them (and the associated targets) to the right people in your company is a must. If you don’t, everyone expects someone else to do the work. What I call the Mystery Department is suddenly expected to pick up all the work.
Calling on the Mystery Department
What is this, I hear you cry? Well every business has one. It’s the department that does all the work and actions from the strategy meeting. It exists behind an invisible door, down some forgotten corridor – perhaps it’s next to the cleaners’ cupboard. Here is where you’ll find all the doers with the initiative to handle those actions you’ve agreed to, without having them assigned to them. When everyone in the meeting nods along, it’s the Mystery Dept. that will be in charge of the new business work. Of course.
Naturally, when the next new business meeting comes along and you discuss how the strategy is working, you’ll find that the mystery department isn’t actually pulling their imaginary weight. Nothing has been done. Because (and this may surprise you) it turns out the Mystery Dept. is actually you. With all the uncertainty caused by the pandemic, it’s vital that our communication lines are clearly defined and that the actual communications are clear and unambiguous, especially if your workforce is mainly working from home. For an achievable plan, you need actionable steps – and that means names against tasks: only then will you have a plan that will work.
Pillar 4: Getting famous for what you do – Start marketing to become “better connected”
As you start to build your external profile, go through your actions and begin your storytelling. From there, your fame will start to grow. Your social channels are made for increasing your fame, as is your current client base. Ask yourself again, do they really know what you do? Marketing collateral is important, as is a good website. The latter is central to your business, acting as the fulcrum where your one and offline channels engage with clients and prospects alike: where you post and share a range of content that raises your head above the parapet and generates word of mouth and favourable opinion about you and your business. The key here is regular and consistent networking and storytelling. This is something you should always be doing in your business, not just when it is quiet. There are lots of techniques and tricks of the trade and fame is only useful if you follow it up and set yourself objectives and measure them.
As your reputation grows, you will start to notice that random people in your network begin to tell you “I see you’re on LinkedIn a lot.’ People you have forgotten about will start asking “ to grab a virtual coffee” with you and your website will start to get more traffic…
You now have your actionable plan; you know what you are selling and to whom and this is the time you need to become famous and get out there sharing your story and encouraging others to do likewise.
Helpful check points
- Goal setting: What are you trying to achieve from your sales strategy?
- Measurement: Put some form of measurement into your strategy.
- Process and preparation: There has to be some plan that allows you to measure success and allocate roles. It also allows you to climb the wall when things get tough, as often they do!
- Storytelling: You need to share with people the adventures on your island! Only you can do that.
- Lead generation: Understand where leads come from, what you do when you get them and how you maximise the leads you already have.
- Testimonials: People buy from people they trust. You must get testimonials that allow you to get your brilliance out to the marketplace – then share what the benefits and results were for those clients.
- Responsibility: Management teams need to take responsibility as leaders of the business, sales are the energy of all business – without them you will lose power!
Tony Harding is a business consultant who works with many well know companies and agencies.