Saturday, September 21, 2013

What It Takes to Be the Customer's First Choice

To get exceptional results in sales, you must gain an understanding of people, what they want and not only build trust, but also certainty with them. Old school selling was simply based on understanding the customer's needs and building trust to close the deal. Today with information available everywhere, your buyer seeks third party sources to give them the certainty of what to purchase and how much to pay.

Once a buyer has done their research, they still always buy products and services for one reason: to solve a problem. They need to be certain. No one makes a buying decision when they are uncertain. When a buyer is uncertain they stall the process.

A salesperson's goal then is to determine that you have the right product or service to actually solve the buyer's biggest problem. To do this, you have to get the buyer to trust you enough to talk to you about what they want to accomplish. You must show genuine interest with intention to serve the buyer and not just sell them. Salespeople often get lost in "selling" their product or service. This is a mistake and a waste of everyone's time.

Building trust is key to discovering and understanding your buyers’ motives. It requires knowing every step of your sales process and sharing it with the buyer. Start by introducing yourself with confidence, then explain your exact intentions, process and amount of time it will take. Lay out your plan clearly so buyers see your priority is to take care of them. Here's an example:

Thanks for coming to see me today. My intention is to help you by:

    1. Figuring out the problem you are trying to solve.
    2. Suggesting the best solution for you.
    3. Providing you with pricing alternatives.
    4. Making you confident about that solution.

Richard Branson on Managing Change

Restructuring can be a difficult process. Even if you've done everything right, sometimes the company needs a new direction because circumstances and opportunities have changed. It is well known that over the years we have closed down or sold a number of the 400 or so Virgin companies we have created. Companies are tools designed to fulfill a particular purpose. If they are superseded or no longer needed, our group will sell or shut them down. We try our best not to lose people or know-how, but we do not allow ourselves to get nostalgic about the concepts of the companies. When Virgin renews itself, the critics who tut-tut about all the leaves falling to the ground have failed to spot the tree.

To lead your company through a restructuring, you need to take a cold, hard look at the business. Will you be able to empower your staff to do what needs to be done? It can be superhumanly difficult to change a company's existing culture. This is also something you should consider if you're leading a team that's contemplating a business acquisition -- so many of which end up being disasters because the executives fail to understand the real challenges of getting different types of employees to work together and share the same goals.

We found ourselves grappling with a challenging situation in February 2007, when we relaunched the combined company of NTL, Telewest and Virgin Mobile as Virgin Media, creating the largest Virgin company in the world, with 10 million customers and 13,000 employees across the U.K. Until then I'd always followed a "small is beautiful" business plan. In Virgin's early days, whenever one of our companies topped 100 employees, I would ask to see the deputy managing director, the deputy sales manager and the deputy marketing director.

Saving a Money-Losing Business With a Business Survival Plan

Here are some business survival tips for businesses going through tough times.

Small businesses are incredibly sensitive to both good and bad fortune. Catching an important entrepreneurial trend can result in quick growth and outsized profits. Unfortunately, the opposite is also true. When the economy sours, or for some reason your business niche falls out of favor, profits can turn into losses fast.

It's exciting and fun to expand a successful business by hiring additional employees, buying more equipment, renting new space, and doing all the other things necessary to grow. But there is precious little joy in quickly downsizing a business that has become overextended, especially one that has borrowed heavily to fund expansion, only to find that a declining market won't sustain it. Unfortunately, entrepreneurs whose businesses are suddenly operating in the red typically start by either denying they are in trouble or underestimating the severity. The result is that many businesses that could have been saved by rigorous early action quickly become so debt-burdened that they die unnecessary deaths.

When your business is suffering financial troubles, we recommend a three-step approach to making sure your business survives.

Step 1. Create a business survival plan. For example, if in the past six months, sales have been down 30%, your plan should convincingly explain how your business will be able to cut expenses, increase sales, maintain or reestablish an adequate profit margin, and manage (or attract more) cash so that in X months you'll be both profitable and have enough money in the kitty to bring past-due bills current.

Step 2. Prepare a current profit-and-loss statement and cash flow analysis. You can't do the planning or take the action that will be needed to turn around a recession-battered business unless you fully understand your business's key numbers.

6 Ways to Lead Your Sales Team Through Tough Times

The recession is technically over, however, sales teams are still facing more competitors going after the same projects, price pressures or the new competitor, prospects doing nothing. There is an old saying, "character not tested is no character at all." Well, character and resiliency are certainly being tested in this post-recession economy. Even good salespeople are being tested on their persistence and ability to sell.

The recession is also testing sales managers to see if they can provide sales environments that keep their sales team's head up and hearts engaged. Leadership has never been more important. How are you, Mr. or Ms. Sales Leader, showing up in your role as head coach, trainer and leader? Here are six tips for leading your sales team in this post recession economy.

1. Seek out good news. Bad news sells and unfortunately the media seems to be having a fire sale! There are companies that are doing well, spending money and investing in products and services. A colleague of mine recently connected with her first boss. His sales team has opened over 100 new accounts, in a very competitive industry, since January. This good news is often not printed in the newspaper so it's up to you and your sales team to seek out the positive. At your next sales meeting, assign each salesperson with finding good news and sharing it with the rest of the team. It's time to start publishing your own newspaper!

2. Step up your coaching efforts. Have you conducted role plays with your sales team to see if they know how to quantify the cost of the problem or the gain of an opportunity? This selling skill is KEY in a buying environment where cost justification is king. If your sales team can't establish the short term and long term ROI, there is a good chance your team will lose to the new competitor doing nothing or staying with an existing vendor.

When--and How--to Hire Additional Employees

As a business owner, one of your most important tasks is workforce management. It's your job to make sure you have the right people--and the right number of people--to keep your company running smoothly. Now let's say your business is growing and you're sensing you need to hire new employees. How can you really be sure the time is right to bring in additional staff? There are at least seven common clues:

    1.Your employees are working very hard--perhaps too hard--and    they're letting you know--or complaining--that they have too much to do. Complaints of this nature aren't uncommon, but your task is to determine if they're legitimate. How can you do that? Try talking to your employees and asking them to validate their concerns of being "overworked." Then look at attendance and productivity indicators to substantiate their claims. If what you find confirms their feedback, then you might decide to reorganize and restructure roles and responsibilities to better deal with the workflow. Or you could use your new knowledge as a guide to hiring additional employees.

    2.Employees claim they want to take on more tasks or spend additional time on current ones--if only they had the time.

    3.The growth curve for your products or services is increasing, and you identify that as a positive trend, not just a blip on the consumer radar.

    4.You see an opportunity for growth and expansion in your industry or related industries, and decide that now's the time to take a calculated risk to expand. But current employees aren't available to assume additional responsibilities.

    5.You determine that your employee's existing job skills and knowledge are fine for your company's current level of productivity, but to expand, you'll need either increased skills and knowledge or a new and different set of skills and knowledge.