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Any business needs to be able to sell its products or services to customers, but many struggle to reach their full potential by failing to push this element hard enough. Tim Smedley looks at how any business can focus on boosting the top line
Your small business may have a world-beating product or a service that’s second to none. But without the right strategy, website or marketing, it might never reach the customer base that you need to sell to. With the help of some market experts, we compile a list of 10 steps that any business can take to boost sales.
Research your market
Whether you’re a start-up or an established business, it’s vital to keep on top of movements in your market. Edward Berks, UK Sales Director for online accounting software business Xero, recommends reading competitor cheat sheets, videos, press articles, product reviews and white papers. “Make sure information is well organised and accessible,” he says. If you explore new revenue streams based on your research, keep a close eye on the bottom line and changes in win rates to see how well things are working, he adds.
Pick the right opportunities
With limited time, money and resources, small businesses need to choose what will deliver maximum benefit in exchange for the commitment of time and resources, says Adrian Roach, FSB member and Director of business support company Extended Services & Projects (es-p).
“We’ve seen companies spend thousands on a great product, but not have the marketing channels or lead-generation strategy to get it off the ground,” he says. “We’ve seen others going after new business but not choosing the ones that play to their strengths. Making a considered value judgment means you’re more likely to do the ‘right’ things to help you boost your sales.”
Television’s Dragons’ Den star and multiple SME investor Peter Jones shares his secrets on his website’s business advice section. He recommends building a team, with a focus on clear targets, objectives and rewards. “One of the biggest reasons for the success my own company enjoys is that we deliver more than our competition per capita head,” he says.
“We know at the start of the year exactly what we want to achieve and how we’re going to achieve it. Every month, staff are set clear objectives which they’re rewarded upon delivering. Match that with a portfolio of products and solutions, and a clear understanding of the strategy behind the business, and your sales staff will maximise sales.”
With your research done and your sales team – even if that’s just you – ready to go, a clear business strategy is needed. “The strategy you develop doesn’t need to be all-encompassing,” says Mr Roach. “It can be one page of A4 that says where you are and how you’re going to get there. A basic roadmap can help you remain ‘rigidly flexible’, meaning you don’t veer too far from your plan, but you remain aware and adapt it as your journey changes, so you derive the benefits you’re hoping to achieve to increase your sales.
“Don’t let a lack of confidence or the thought of ‘I’ve not done this before’ impede you from getting started and delivering your plans,” he adds. “You will learn more as you go.”
FSB’s weekly blog can also help you to create a strategy and up your game. Visit fsb.org.uk/resources/blogs
It’s easy to forget existing customers in the pursuit of new clients. But there could be untapped sales potential among your existing customer base. Tapping this could be as simple as offering customers a special deal so they buy more from you, much as with a retailer’s bulk-buy discount.
But the trick, according to the Hiscox business blog, is to ensure customers feel valued. “Take the time to understand your client’s needs. If they’re leaning towards product A, but you realise that product B would be more suitable or do the job better, they will be more likely to follow your recommendation, even if it is more expensive,” it advises.
Whether you’re selling software or soft furnishings, the same 21st-century technology is available to you – and if you don’t make use of it, then your competitors will. “Sales reps need to be able to sell anywhere and everywhere, so smartphones and tablets are the first tools to arm them with to be in constant touch with prospects as well as the business,” says Mr Berks at Xero. These devices can be upgraded with VPN access as well as all the latest sales and competitor data, he adds.
If making a capital investment in such technology, weigh it against projected productivity gains to calculate the return on investment. Free online tools, such as Skype and Google Hangouts, are also a great way to bring teams together without taking them away from their core selling job, adds Mr Berks.
In modern business you have to be easy to find, so your business and website have to be search engine optimised (SEO). Mark Walters, SEO Consultant at SEOmark, says visitors who arrive at sites having searched for specific terms are more likely to buy something. “Aim to be ranking in the top few search results. The difference between ranking 10th and 1st could well be hundreds of extra visitors to your website per month,” he says.
How can you do this? Mr Walters suggests focusing on keyword selection, creating good content, on-site optimisation, and backlinks. “Target only keywords that people are searching for,” he says. “Create content that meets the intent and needs of those people, and use keywords and variations of them in your URLs, page titles and header tags. Then get other websites to link to yours.”
Making sure your website is easy to navigate can help you turn visitors into sales and ensure repeat business. On its own site, Microsoft warns of the importance of making everything work as it should and making purchasing simple.
“Customers won’t wade through faulty, bulky or clunky architecture,” it says. “Streamline site paths and check that every link works. Consider easy ways to get to the shopping cart, and reliable product-search functionality.”
It’s also vital to make sure it’s easy for customers to pay. FSB’s card payment processing and mobile payment terminals benefits offer a cost-effective way to take credit and debit card payments safely and securely through your website. Visit fsb.org.uk/benefits for more information.
Small firms don’t put enough emphasis on revisiting partnerships and networks, which can then be used to stimulate customer demand, says Patrick Gallagher, Chief Executive of same-day distribution company CitySprint.
“Partnering with other small businesses can help generate sales leads, market wares and win new business,” he says. “Sharing leads and best practice are ways to achieve these goals.” This can be done face-to-face, but can also be cultivated online through LinkedIn or Twitter.
You can also link up with fellow FSB members on our new Twitter handle
@FSB_Voice as well as on our official Facebook and LinkedIn pages.
The final step, suggests TV dragon Mr Jones, is to make some noise about whatever it is you’re selling. “The best product in the world won’t sell well if the customer doesn’t hear or understand what’s in it for them,” he warns.
“To have the right words for a sales pitch, marketing messages and literature, the key benefits of the product or service need to be honed in on.”
Before you can do this, you need to reach your target audience. FSB Business Leads is designed to help members find new customers, deliver high-quality marketing campaigns and build their business profile. Find out more at fsb.org.uk/benefits
FSB MCP Terminals offer a quick, affordable and flexible way to take payments at your retail premises, on the road with clients, or even at an event.
National Federation of Self Employed & Small Businesses LimitedSir Frank Whittle Way / Blackpool / FY4 2FE. National Federation of Self Employed & Small Businesses Limited (FSB) is registered in England, number 1263540