24 Ways to Increase Your Sales
By Peter Jason Riley
Just when we think we've grasped what's happening in business, something changes to disrupt the precarious balance. It may occur in the economy, an industry, and a region, a particular market or technology that alters even the most flexible business plan.
Establishing a strategy, then staying with it, was possible for most businesses until the last decade. Planning a year or more in advance was relatively easy. Ups and downs would occur but with a high degree of predictability. Hitting sales and revenue targets was almost taken for granted.
Now, dramatic changes in technology, international conditions and distribution channels are constantly upsetting the balance. Banks are looking more like insurance agencies and insurance agencies are quickly taking on the characteristics of banks. Wal-Mart had long avoided selling name-brand fashions--until the nation's department store companies were reconfigured and downsized. Suddenly, Wal-Mart saw an opportunity to move brand-name clothing lines.
How can a business cope with a marketplace where erratic conditions are--and will be--the norm? What is required is a strategy that takes constant change into account. Even with notable disruption, it is possible to attract new customers, keep present ones and increase sales.
Here are 24 practical, useful, put-them-to-work-now ideas for building business in unpredictable business conditions.
- Surprise the prospects. Run-of-the-mill is out; getting attention is in. But it isn't easy, particularly amid all the clutter and competition for attention. It's time to be innovative and dramatic. One insurance agency, for example, offered to buy small contractors "the biggest steak dinner in town" if it couldn't save them money on their business insurance. This challenge was enough to make the telephone ring.
- Target the right person. The big job in marketing and sales is getting to the right people inside a company. Addressing mail to "Facilities Manager" or printing a "routing slip" on the outside of the envelope is ineffective. Hitting the target is the challenge. Scoring a bull's eye means making contact with the right individuals and is the only way to make the sale. Taking time to be highly targeted in business communication is essential.
- Be more creative. Pushing direct-mail pieces out the door or sending the newsletter to the mailroom isn't doing the job. Ask yourself: "Will anyone be intrigued enough to read the mailer--before tossing it in the wastebasket?" Ask the same question about the company newsletter. A highly creative approach is necessary to be different and distinctive. Creativity costs money. But, if more people read the ad, take time with the newsletter or decide that the offer in a mailer makes sense, you have accomplished the goal.
- Focus on what customers care about. After listening to the admissions director talk about what should be shown in the school's new recruiting video, the marketing consultant asked, "Is this what parents and prospective students are interested in knowing?" Suddenly, everyone became less confident. Someone suggested asking the student tour guides what questions the visiting parents and kids asked? Whether creating an ad, a brochure, or a sales presentation, knowing what the customer wants, needs and expects is what works.
- Tell customers how to think about your company. We come to conclusions by making comparisons. If you don't let customers and prospects know why it is in their best interests to do business with you or buy your product, they won't. The rating of life insurance companies makes an impact on customers. The J.D. Powers' customer- satisfaction survey on cars and personal computer manufacturers influences buying behavior. Wise companies spend time and effort consciously influencing the way they are perceived by customers, prospects, bankers and stockholders.
- Make your offers outstanding. Customers are cautious. They don't like being put on the spot; they don't want to make a mistake. This is why offers are essential. "Try it for 30 days...free." "We won't deposit your credit card slip for a month." "Your satisfaction is guaranteed." "Take the car for the weekend and drive it all you want." The goal is to overcome the customer's reluctance.
- Be in the right place at the right time. "Why didn't I think of you last week when we bought the new..." Some salespeople simply shrug off such comments. "Oh, well. I can't be in the right place every time." Wrong. Being in front of the customer is today's assignment. Developing a consistent program for staying in front of customers regularly is the challenge. A mix of seminars, newsletters, bulletins, fact sheets, special events and informative articles will keep you in the customers' minds.
- Name your product or service. One of the best ways to differentiate your products or services from all the rest is to give them distinctive names. A building contractor with expertise in remodeling during off-hours calls himself the "stealth" remodeler. A fuel oil dealer doesn't talk about service--he emphasizes "ComfortCare Service." The idea is to imbue ordinary ideas with new meaning thereby separating your company from your competitors. Make sure, however, that the name appeals to your customers and not just to you.
- Be relentless. Persistence is power in marketing and sales. Far too many firms fail in their efforts because they don't follow through long enough to produce proper results. Marketing momentum comes from a consistent effort. Once you start a newsletter, issue it on schedule. It takes time for customers to comprehend what you are doing and for prospects to get acquainted--and comfortable--with a business.
- Get rid of the self-serving nonsense. Most company publications, ads, letters, brochures, and other sales materials are filled with words, photographs and information that do nothing more than toot the company's horn. No one cares that the business says it is the "best," "oldest" or the "biggest." Pictures of the staff are only interesting to the staff. A better approach is to ask prospects what they want to know about your company. We doubt anyone will be anxious to see pictures of the CEO, chairman of the board or the executive vice president.
- Tell them everything you know. Spill the beans, so to speak. Since today's customers want information, knowledge and helpful ideas, do everything you can to share everything you know. This is the only way to become a valued resource to your customers. When people use your ideas, they will buy what you sell.
- Be generous. No one wants to do business with firms operating on a one-way street. Buy a new car and the dealer hands you a 20-cent plastic key holder! It sends a message that this dealer doesn't understand his customers. You may forget the car, but you will never forget the lousy key ring! Another auto dealer delivers the new car to your office. What a difference. This dealer sends a powerful message--our customers are important.
- Make prospect identification your mission. The single most important daily activity in any business is prospect identification. By making prospecting a continuing process, companies produce a steady flow of new sales leads. They never stop asking, "Who do we want to do business with if we have the chance?" Then make sure all prospects are entered into a database so they can be cultivated over a period of time.
- Scrutinize your corporate identity. Yes, how a company presents itself makes a difference. Is the logo appropriate? Is it dated? Does it communicate the right message and the correct image? Is the president the only one who understands it? What about the company colors? Are they reminiscent of the late '50s? Do the letterhead, mailing labels and business cards convey a strong, positive message? Or, are they dull and ordinary looking? If you don't think this is important, your competitors will be thrilled. Corporate identity is the face you put on your company.
- Write customer-centered letters. Most business letters have cold, impersonal words. "As per our conversation..." "Pursuant to our agreement..." When was the last time you heard anyone talk this way at lunch (other than perhaps a lawyer)? Yet, give the same executives a pen and they become stilted. There is no reason why business letters should not be warm, friendly, conversational, interesting--and customer-centered. Write as if you were the one reading it. Should a letter end at the bottom of the first page? Yes, if that's what it takes to tell the story? But it may take two, four or six pages. A letter should be as long as necessary and always interesting to the reader.
- Develop the fine art of faceting. It's the facets that give a diamond its sparkle and appeal. It's the same with a business. Find different ways to tell your story and look for new, unique angles or facets of the business, product or service. This takes effort but it's essential to develop and sustain customer interest. Nothing is easier to ignore faster than a boring business.
- Focus on why customers should break down the doors to do business with you. "What makes us different from others in the same business? What sets us apart? Why do we deserve to be in business?" Get beyond the usual, trite responses such as "we give great service" or "we've been in business for 63 years." Dig deeper and get at the valid reasons why you deserve the customers' business.
- Develop a sense of excitement. There is little or no action without a sense of urgency. Certainly sales are few and far between if there is no urgency for the customer to place the order. Dull destroys business because it pushes away customers. The goal is to create what can be called the "I wonder what they are going to do next" attitude. This is the light that draws the customers toward a business.
- Tell the story one piece at a time. There's a tendency to jam everything about a business into one brochure, ad or newsletter. "What have we left out?" is the most common question. The difficult job is to pull it all apart, break ideas into their component parts and then roll out a continuing, intriguing campaign. Communicating a message over a period of time works best because it allows it to sink in slowly.
- Make your marketing match your business. Review your marketing materials carefully. If you want to be know as a first-class organization, do your brochures and sell sheets convey that message? What improvements can be made? How can the company's image be sharpened? The answers to these questions will point you in the right direction.
- Personalize your communications. The day of letters beginning with "Dear Friend," "Dear Customer" or "Dear Valued Customer" is gone. What could be more ridiculous than "An important message to our valued clients"? Yet, this the way the letter began from a company president who takes pride in delivering personal service." Don't bother mailing a letter that isn't personalized with an individual's name. There is tremendous power in personalization. Use it. It makes customers and prospects feel you actually know who they are and that you're talking directly to them.
- Take advantage of testimonials. In today's competitive market place, a company's credibility increases with the use of appropriate testimonials. Let your customers blow your horn for you. Why are some customers reluctant to give a testimonial? They may lack experience in expressing themselves and may feel that you will be disappointed with their customers. A better way is to interview them, then prepare comments for their approval. This assures them and provides testimonials that will work best for you.
- Give your customers the opportunity to respond. Getting your message into the marketplace is important. But getting customers to respond to it is the real test. Always offer opportunities to ask for additional information, to state a question or request a sample. Discovering what's on the customer's mind is all-important.
- Make marketing your business mission. Marketing often becomes a business priority only when sales are down. This shotgun approach simply doesn't work. Communicating the company's message is an ongoing process and the task is to develop new and interesting ways to get the message across. The challenge is to create an atmosphere so that people want to do business with you--instead of someone else.
These 24 methods help a company's sales increase no matter what the state of the economy or the intensity of the competition. Even though quality is important, it isn't good enough today to produce the best product or to offer the most comprehensive service. The primary goal is to create conditions so that the customer will want what you sell. This is where these 24 down-to-earth, practical suggestions can make a major difference.