A Study on Sales Success Secrets

This month I read a book on most business owner’s favorite topics: sales. Sales may not be our favorite topic, but it’s an absolutely essential one if we want to stay in business. The book I read was Exactly How To Sell by Phil M. Jones. It was a short and easy to read book, so if you’re looking for a quick burst of insight on sales, this could be the book for you.

The book did a decent job of covering many aspects of sales including marketing and dealing with objectives, one of the earliest insights I took from the book was the importance of remembering that sales is a process, it’s not something that has one step, there are many steps from hearing about the product/service being sold, to learning about it, to the actual delivery of what was purchased through use of it.

One of the biggest keys this book shared about getting successfully through the sales process was about who the salesperson was and how they acted. Sales people in this day and age are more successful if they’re good listeners, problem solvers, empathetic, knowledgeable, helpful and responsible. Those are important characteristics for any business owner, but especially for sales people to not only make more sales, but also show they’re human to their potential customers so they feel more comfortable with them.

So how do you get more successful sales? There were 3 big reminders for me in the book, that of confidence, clarification and questions. The book made a really great statement that the role of a sales person (and the overall sales process) is to provide the potential customer or client with all the information necessary to make a decision and not feel any confusion over what’s being offered. It’s one of the reasons I encourage lots of information on sales pages, including some indication of price. Asking questions of the potential customer enables you to make sure you’re all on the same page, confirms the needs they have, and helps you make the best recommendations for their specific needs. Questions also help you and them avoid a bad pairing before things get too far and there’s a lot of wasted time and resources. Finally, confidence is important because it shows your potential customers that not only do you have the knowledge of what you’re selling, you believe in it and it’s ability to solve the needs of your customers.

Sales can be challenging, but with careful thought, planning and practice soon you’ll be seeing success! What are your challenges with sales?

Doing Discounts Right

Last week I talked about the topic of discounts, about how we approach it as business owners and reasons for and against offering them. One of the places you frequently think about discounts is the grocery store. Grocery stores are well known for putting out circulars each week letting people know what items are going to be on sale and also what new items they may be carrying now. They’re not only an educational tool, they’re also a great marketing tool. Stores gain and lose customers based on many factors including overall prices, types items for sale, quality of products and physical proximity to someone’s location. The ads are a great way of letting people know many of those factors and even just reminding them that they exist.

However, if you’ve ever “shopped the circular” before you know that it’s not guaranteed that the products in the circular will be available when you get to the store, or that the specific store will have that product at all (even if they’re supposed to). Most people will say that of the circular items they were interested in buying, at least a handful weren’t available (out of stock or not available period) and another few didn’t look as promising in the store as they did in the circular. From the business side of things this is understandable because most sales/discounts are limited in stock. You’ve got x number in stock and that’s what’s available and all you’re going to offer, and when they sell out you’re done with that item/discount. However, this can be very frustrating for customers, even if it’s understandable from a practical and business perspective.

This past week however I had the exact opposite experience. A store was having a big 30 year anniversary sale, and when I pulled into the parking lot it looked like the week of Thanksgiving (I parked further that day then I did for Thanksgiving time shopping in 2017). So imagine my surprise when they had all the items I wanted from not only the special anniversary sale, but also the rest of the circular! And even though it was the evening and late in the circular week, they were more fully stocked than I sometimes see them, and everything was fresh. It’s a great opportunity for businesses who want to do discounts or do them to learn from.

The first lesson is that a happy customer is a good customer. Good customers buy more, buy multiple times and refer you to others. Second, fresh food is always good food. It’s not easy to have the quantities necessary for large sales, but if you can impress someone with the freshness of an item during a sale there’s a good chance they’ll buy that item again when it’s not on sale. Third, stock your products wisely. A physical store has limitations that an online store doesn’t, so there has to be a balance kept between variety of products and amount of stock. Finding that balance and keeping it keeps your customers happy and coming back.  Finally, sales and discounts can be a great way to bring in new customers, but if they don’t have a good experience with you (the products you say are on sale aren’t available etc.), they won’t shop with you in the future.

What lessons have you learned lately from your shopping experiences that could apply to your business?

Just Another Sale?

If you’re really in business it’s important to make sales. There’s no two ways to put that. If you’re not making sales you’re either doing some kind of renovation, closed for some temporary reason or going out of business. If you’re offering a product or service and not selling it or making a profit from it, what you’ve got is considered a hobby, not a business. So without a doubt you need to have sales to be in business. However, what I want to talk about today is the idea that not everything needs to be a sales pitch.

If you’re like me you get a dozen or two emails every day from various retail companies who are letting you know about sales they’re doing, reminding you to repurchase products you may be running out of, trying to up-sell you based on previous purchases or letting you know about the latest and greatest products they’re now offering. There’s nothing wrong with that, in fact sometimes it can be very helpful and even exciting to get those emails and see what’s new or at a great price you’ll want to take advantage of. Sometimes it’s good to send an email that lets your subscribers know that everything in a category is on sale and not really include specifics, but more often than not people want to be inspired and see some of the specifics that they could get as part of this sale.

But if you take the time to think about it, in most cases the sale or purchase is a very small portion of the customer experience with that product or service. For example, let’s say I spend 20 minutes researching movies that are out and texting with friends to decide what to see and another 5 buying my ticket. So the purchase portion of my experience with the movie is a total of 25 minutes. But then I go see the 2+ hour movie, I talk about it with my friends for an hour after, I go home and think about it throughout the next few days, and because I enjoyed it so much I’ll watch it whenever it’s on TV and maybe even invest another 5 minutes to buy it when it comes out on DVD. The point here is that I’ve spent a total of 30 minutes in the sales/purchase aspect of this movie, and invested well over 60 hours on my experience with this one movie, which means there’s so much more to your business than just getting the sale.

You want to create products that your customers will use, remember, enjoy, talk about and share for years to come. You want them to be open to products in the same line and even the next generations of the specific product they bought initially. You want your customers to feel comfortable with your brand, with your employees, and with your products/services. All of this means that you have to remember that there’s so much more to what you’re selling than just the sale. In many ways the sale should be just the beginning.

Which is why it’s important to take time to celebrate your customer’s birthdays, to share tips for using your products, to raise awareness for needs in the world like Hurricane Harvey/Irma, to celebrate the fact that spring is here and winter is over, and ultimately to remember that your customers are so much more than a cash machine. They have lives, families, dreams, interests, passions, purpose and even fears and issues that all can play into the purchases they make and don’t make. Don’t be so focused on the sales pitch that you forget that your customers are so much more than another sale.

The Business of Options

When it comes to business you’re probably considering tons of options on a regular basis.  Today I want to talk about the options of what you offer for sale.  What do I mean by options?  Some businesses like Amazon and Walmart offer tons and tons of options of lots of different things.  Some businesses like diners offer a variety of one type of thing, in this case food.  Other businesses like coaches and consultants offer a variety of levels of services that they offer, even if it’s technically the same core service/product.  Each of these businesses offers different things and different options about those services.  Only a small percentage of the businesses that I work or communicate with offer literally only one thing.  Typically because it’s really hard to be successful with only one option.

So what got me thinking about options?  Two different things, one that made me feel relieved and one that has me still considering the options.  Let’s talk about the tough one first.  If you’ve been to the convenience, grocery or big box store (as well as many others) in the past couple of weeks you’ve probably seen aisles with one thing: candy.  I’ve walked quite a few of these aisles just to see what they have since I limit my sugar intake, and of course because it’s Halloween and that’s one of the two things people immediately think of when you talk about Halloween.  I’ve seen so many different bags of candy and mixed bags of candy and candy on top of candy that it’s hard to think about making a decision, especially if you like a bunch of the options.  Sure you could make the choice easier by choosing by health (choosing popcorn or pretzels) or even by the other kind of health and getting something that’s not manufactured with peanuts or other nuts.  But if those aren’t two things you think about or don’t like the price for them, the options feel endless.

The second experience was a better one.  I was in between clients as part of a full day of clients, some distance from my home.  So I decided to grab dinner quick before the next appointment.  First, I thought about treating myself and getting a slice or two of pizza (not the healthiest option).  Second, I thought about going out of my way a little to go to the restaurant because they had a healthier option.  Then I thought about the first restaurant and getting a salad or other healthier option from them even though it would be a little pricier, which is what I decided on while driving.  But as I got into the town I saw a restaurant I had eaten at years ago and forgotten about their healthier and less expensive options.  So restaurant #3 it was. Of course there are dozens of restaurants around the area that I could have chosen from or added to the list of options.   But what makes this experience different from the Halloween candy experience is that any of these 3 restaurants I would have been happy with.  They each offer their own unique options that weren’t too many or too difficult to get to and eat in the short time that I had.

There are lots of lessons that you can take from these two experiences that I had with options for sale.  The first is that although options are important, some companies can’t successfully manage selling tons of options.  Second, too many options of very similar ones can actually decrease sales.  Third, do your best to engage and please your customers with all your options.  Finally, access does play a part, and not having your website or physical store set up or prices being out of reach for many of your possible audience could limit your sales potential.

So the question is: are you set up with the right options in your business?  Take time this week to take a good look at what you offer and if it’s the best for your customers.

Business Classics

As we go through this summer I’ve been enjoying summer classics like ice pops, warm sunny days, late night walks, thunderstorms, fresh fruits and vegetables and less traffic on the roads.  Thinking about summer classics got me thinking about some of the things in business that never get old.  Like the summer classics there are lots of variations on the classics we can try, and the true summer classics don’t get old, so don’t be turned off by thinking these are just the “same old things” or dated and aren’t relevant, they’re as central to business success as sun is to summer.

Good leadership: I start my list with this one because as we see in the news, often it’s the leadership behind the business that makes or breaks it.  If you want to be successful make sure that you’re the person who can truly lead your business or that you hire people who can.

Good products and services: there is nothing that beats a happy customer.  Happy customers usually mean more customers, and that’s always a good thing.   One of the best ways to have happy customers is by providing them with products and/or services that live up to their description and the promises made about them and really help people.  Some products or services are successful because they make people happy even if they don’t technically fill a need or resolve a problem that customers have, but all things that are bought or sold must have a purpose of some kind to sell well.

Good customer service: whether we’re talking about the processes of shopping, buying, using or getting help, customers need help! Your products and services don’t magically transfer from you to them, there are things that happen between first knowing about it and the end result (and sometimes after that too).  How easy is it to work through your process?  Do you make your potential customers jump through unnecessary hurdles?  If so you may be scaring customers away before they have a chance to check out your fabulous products or services.  And don’t forget about the people (employees, bosses etc.) that are part of your business too.  Make sure they’re fully equipped to help with a whole variety of customer service needs and are pleasant too.

Good marketing: there has to be some kind of marketing done for customers to hear about your business and what you offer.  We’ve seen laughable attempts at marketing as well as non-existent ones (both of which can end a business).  Marketing can be as singular as a physical storefront or website, or as involved as a national campaign using all kinds of media.  But all marketing does one thing well: communicate to potential customers who you are and what you offer.  How detailed this communication is depends on many things, but all marketing must answer that essential question.

What are some other aspects of business that are classics in your mind?

Customer Relationship Reality

Lately I’ve been thinking about what it takes to really be successful in business.  Now, there are many ways you could be successful, several of which I strongly advise against.  We all need to find what works for each of us, not everyone can be successful with a blog or selling door-to-door (or the 2016 equivalent).  But one of the biggest divides is between those who have regular interaction with their customers and those who don’t.  For example a personal trainer has lots of interaction with clients, but the company who created the cookies that you bought at the grocery store last weekend isn’t likely to talk with hardly any of their customers.

That said, in 2016 I don’t believe you can really be truly hands-off with customers.  Even taking the simple example of social media shows that there really isn’t distance between a business and their customers any more as the companies interact directly with their customers through social media.  It just reinforces my understanding and belief of business as a relationship between people (even if there are machines and technology between and/or connecting you).

What I’m seeing, what the research is saying, what other businesses are saying, and what the customers are saying is that there needs to be some change made so that people are at the forefront of the discussion.  Do you really think about what’s best for your customer when making decisions or are you just looking at the bottom line?  Do you even know if what you’re considering is needed and/or there’s a market for it (or reasonable proof seems to indicate there is)?

Business no longer means you can have distance from your customers.  The best thing you can do is begin cultivating a relationship with them.  Get to know them, let them get to know you, don’t dread customer service calls, retrain your employees on proper customer communication and relationships if necessary and consider all the benefits of knowing your customers better.

Solutions to Making More Sales

Did you know that it can take 10 or more interactions with you to convince someone to purchase from you? 10 social media posts, 10 blog posts 10 emails, 10 store visits, 10 commercials, you get the idea and it can sound overwhelming, I know. But with as many choices as we have available to us in the world today it’s not surprising that it can take a while to convince someone to trust you and what you offer. Last week I shared about some of the ways you may be blocking the sales in your business and this week I want to share some more thoughts about making smart decisions when it comes to sales.

The first thing to remember is that everyone is looking for a solution to their problems but they may not be interested in pulling out their credit cards yet. Depending on the dollar amount there are varying degrees of research that goes into making a purchase, and most people tuck away notes about different companies to contact if they ever need help with a specific situation, so it may be months from the time that someone makes note of your business or first interacts with you and actually contacts you for the service or purchases your product.

Second know that everyone buys differently. What convinces me to buy may have no affect on you. What I buy the second it comes out may take you several months or even years of ads, news reports and reviews by independent sources to convince you to buy. While I may be swayed by celebrity pitches you may only like the cold hard facts.

Third, don’t anticipate a sale on the first interaction. If you’re not expecting the sale if it happens you can celebrate that special gift. But if you anticipate that there will have to be repeated interactions in the future, it’s a lot easier to do things like retargeting, email newsletters, social marketing campaigns on a regular basis and anticipate sales in the future.

Fourth and finally, do your best to keep the customers you do have and continue to be of service to them. Upselling, email newsletters, coupons and discounts, social media posts and ads, blogs and other types of marketing keep you front of mind to your customers. The challenge is to find a balance between being too in-their-face (like the number of sales emails you get for Black Friday) and hearing from you once every 6 months (at which point they don’t remember who you are).

Each and every person is a potential customer. You have the option to push for the sale or build a relationship that will repay you for years to come. What will you do this holiday season to begin long-lasting relationships with your customers?

The Business of Emotions

As we close out this month’s discussions on lessons, I wanted to share one last lesson we can apply to our businesses, this one on topics related to sales. Why do people choose to work with or buy from you? There are tons of reasons why people choose you including (in no particular order):

-visibility through marketing or product placement
-testimonials on your site or the internet
-convincing sales page or website
-you have what they think they need
-features offered
-referral from a friend

And the list could go on. Businesses work really hard to make their products and services visible, to gather testimonials, to write content that is convincing, to come up with helpful products and services, to come up with new and inventive features and to encourage customers to share with their friends.  We keep tinkering with each of these to try to get it just right  so we can improve our conversion rate and have more satisfied customers.

Businesses spend more money and time than ever perusing metrics to see what’s converting, what isn’t converting, and testing different things, partly because we’re able to track more than ever. If you’re serious about having a successful, growing business metrics and conversions are something you have to consider. If you are doing something that’s not effective you won’t be successful, right? Instead of wondering what’s not working metrics allow us to see what is or isn’t working.

However, there’s one factor that can screw up our nice orderly world of numbers every time: emotions. As much as we can do to direct people’s emotions or encourage them to feel one thing or another there’s a lot we can’t control when it comes to emotions. You may have the most awesome product or service in the world, one that logically should be very successful, but if people aren’t “feeling it” it may be a big flop.

So what’s the answer? Don’t just make decisions on logic and numbers alone, take into account how people may feel about your product or service and make time to talk with your intended audience and get their feedback.  You should take into account numbers and logic but don’t forget that most of the memorable and successful ads, businesses and campaigns had to do with feelings, or an emotional reaction they encouraged.

“Mankind are governed more by their feelings than by reason.” Samuel Adams

Storefront Success

Last week I shared an article with my business newsletter subscribers about the current state of Barnes and Nobles. If you’re not familiar with the company they sell books and related materials. They’ve been in business since the 1960’s but as with other book stores have suffered since the advent of eBooks and online shopping. So as I was reading the article it got me thinking about what the reason for physical stores is anyway. Technically all businesses are physical businesses because there’s a person somewhere behind each of them, but what about businesses with physical stores you can go to to shop at? What’s the benefit and should you have one?  Let’s start off with who should have one:

1-you’re selling a hands-on service. This would be something like a cooking class, yoga class, gym membership or something else that works best if people come to you rather than you going to them or providing the service over the internet. Yes, you can sell them online but traditionally they’re known for being off line.

2-you’re selling services only to a local market.  If your goal is to reach the local community having a physical presence where your potential clients will see you during their day-to-day activities is beneficial and can go a long way to encouraging them to shop with you.

It’s important to note that I don’t recommend just having a physical presence/storefront.  Not taking advantage of the internet, even if it’s just for marketing not selling purposes is a big mistake in this day and age.  Everyone should have a website and do some online marketing whether a blog, social media, a newsletter and/or others.  So if we all have an internet presence, what’s the benefit of having a physical one?

Primarily that you sell something that people would prefer to see/touch/experience before buying.  I can’t say I want to buy fruits, vegetables or fish online, many people like to try on clothes before buying them or experience a technology device when considering different options.  But just about anything and everything can be purchased online, especially products, so if a majority of your products can be and are purchased online, i.e. books, clothing, technology, health items etc. will the physical storefront be going the way of the Dodo soon?

One key to having a successful storefront, and the thing that I think could be the defining factor in whether or not storefronts stay alive, is the experience they provide to a customer.  For the majority of non-fresh food businesses if all you’re doing is selling a product there’s no reason to buy from your physical store vs. your online store.  But if your in-store experience makes buying a product exciting, adds value to the purchasing experience or adds something completely different to the company separate from the products like demonstrations, education, celebrity experiences etc., you’re taking full advantage of all that a physical location can offer.

So if you’ve got a physical location, are you doing all you can to maximize it, or would you be more successful closing the doors and just running your business online?

Capturing Your Customers

Businesses can do many things and have many jobs.  The big aspects of a business usually revolve around a product or service and money.  But the other big aspect that I talk about a lot is the people aspect.  I’m an introvert by nature but know how much value there is in other people.  Which is why that as important as a product, service or money is to a business, the really big and important aspect is the people part.  Because without people you won’t do anything with your product, won’t make a difference with your service, and won’t make any money either.  You’ll also miss out on a chance to give people jobs, support other businesses, and support your community.

One of the biggest challenges for businesses is knowing how to make sales.  The secret lies in knowing your audience.  It starts with figuring out if anyone at all is interested in what you’re buying or selling.  If no one is, either there’s no issue you’re really going to solve, or you’re on the cutting edge of new things and will have to not only do the promotion that all the other companies do, but spend a lot of time educating your audience about what you’re offering and why they would benefit from it.

The second step is identifying your audience.  If you don’t know who they are, what they like, what their other interests and needs are as well as what keeps them up at night, the marketing you do won’t be as effective.  People use the old “spray and pray” method you’ve probably heard about when they don’t take the time to identify their audience.  Once you know your audience you can design your campaigns and present your business in a way that they identify with, not that tries to reach the whole world.

The third step is something I just alluded to, and the one that not everyone remembers: it’s truly identifying with your audience.  This means that not only do you know who they are and what makes them tick, you’re willing and able to show that you totally and personally understand where they’re coming from.  This is more than just saying “I know your problem” it’s about sharing the passion, soul, fire and inspiration that’s gotten you to this place with your business.

Don’t be afraid to let your passion for your business shine through in your marketing and conversations with potential clients.  When they see that not only do understand where they’re coming from but you have been in their shoes or personally understand what they’re facing, it reassures them that in choosing you not only will they be satisfied with the product or service, they’ll have a great experience too.

“I try to bring the audience’s own drama – tears and laughter they know about – to them.” Judy Garland