Do you know the biggest threat to your business right now?
Well, if you don’t you should. I speak as someone who has experienced what happens when an 18 year old established business gets wiped out pretty much overnight, due to a change in Government policy. And for anyone in Britain, 3 simple words: “British Home Stores”. Do I have your attention now?
Whilst every business is different, I would urge you to use some simple management tools – a favourite of mine is the good old SWOT Analysis – in order to give yourself an objective overview of what is going on in your business right now. Depending on the size and sophistication of your outfit, you may want to use other management tools or industry experts, but whatever you do, choose something and get yourself prepared.
So here, in no particular order, are some of the biggest threats that could be facing you and your precious business:
Long Term Sickness or Injury – in many small businesses, one person is the key to everything. If this person couldn’t work because they were ill or injured (or even dies), then how would the business replace them – would there be funds available, or would the revenues dry up completely because everything revolves around that person? If you haven’t, then you should consider taking out Key Person Insurance, which will provide you with financial security should the worst happen.
Not managing your Sales Pipeline – many small business owners are not sales experts (they are experts in their core business after all) and once the sales start to come in, it can bring a false sense of security that things will always go on this way. However, it is a fact of life that customers leave (they find someone else, they relocate, they close, they don’t need you any more). So how would you cope if your biggest or most profitable customers suddenly left? You need to have a constant pipeline of potential new customers to replace the inevitable losses that always occur.
Lack of Planning – “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail” goes the saying. But if the last time you had a proper strategic business plan was when you started, then the chances are that your business is just drifting along. So do you regularly schedule time in for planning? Do you have a 6 month, 12 month or 5 year plan? Do you have an exit strategy? When is the last time you did some strategic planning? If you want to know more about how, read about how to do a SWOT Analysis here Without a plan, how can you possibly put in place the steps you need to take to achieve your goals? Too many small business owners get bogged down in the daily detail without taking the time to look at the big picture and then, when something significant happens, they are not prepared.
Not spending enough resource on sales and marketing – by resource I mean both time and money. In today’s world you can’t just stick up a poster advertising your business and watch the money roll in. You need to experiment and work out which types of promotion work for you and which are most cost effective. Many people think marketing is about promoting your business, but that is just part of it – you need to make sure your product and prices are competitive and that you offer something that people actually want. How do you make it and get it to the customer? Do you have testimonials, processes and procedures to make the buying process smooth? And do you have someone with enough sales skills to turn potential customers into actual paying clients? If this all seems too intimidating, then get expert help and hire someone who can do it for you.
Cash flow crisis – bad debts can often become a major issue for small businesses. Lack of capital to reinvest in your business can destroy it over the longer term, but if it has no liquidity at all, your business can be shut down instantly. So do you have terms and conditions that clearly state your payment terms? Are you good at chasing outstanding payments? Do you insist on deposits or payment up front and do you make credit checks on new customers? It might seem like a lot of hassle, but it is nothing like as painful as buying stock up front, fulfilling an order and then never getting the money.
There are, without doubt, many more threats to business than those I have discussed here. I would welcome your thoughts on what you believe are the biggest challenges small businesses face in the UK at the moment.
Janet is based in Enfield, north London and trains small businesses and entrepreneurs how to sell more. She has recently reached the final of the Institute of Sales and Marketing Management’s national awards (BESMA 2016) in the category of Sales Trainer of the Year and, in November 2015 won ‘Start up Business of the Year’ at the Enterprise Enfield Business Awards.
If you enjoyed this article and you would like to receive a free download: Janet’s 8 Proven Sales Tips, please click on this link now.
Positive Language can make a huge difference to your sales conversation, so don’t go using language that makes customers avoid you.
There are certain words and phrases that are considered clichés in the world of selling. If you want to avoid looking like an insincere salesperson, or one who is just following a script. Then it is a good idea not to fall into the trap of using tired, unimaginative words and phrases. That doesn’t mean that you need to have the vocabulary of Shakespeare. But you should at least try to say things in your own way.
One of the key things you can do is ensure you use positive language. Here are some suggestions:
Don’t use clichés – instead, use your own words.
Listen to yourself – if you can, record some of your calls – you will notice all sorts of things that you didn’t realise you were doing and then you can work on eliminating bad habits.
Never start a call with “How are you?” Why? Well it absolutely screams “You’re trying to sell me something” (particularly if you don’t care, because then you seem insincere as well – see 5 below).
Always remember you are talking to a real person – for all you know they could have had 20 other people calling them today. They would be trying to sell to them. Therefore, put yourself in their shoes and imagine how you would feel if someone rang you up and talked to you like you were just a number.
If you sound insincere, then as far as the customer is concerned, you probably are insincere. Work hard to show that you are genuine.
Edwin was new to sales and he was determined to do well. He had been out with his boss during his training and now he was starting to go on visits by himself. Edwin was bursting with enthusiasm, loved the products. Which were advanced water treatment systems – and he really enjoyed going out and meeting new customers.
He started toclose sales but soon realised that selling was not always as easy as his boss had made it look. In particular, he really struggled with some of the seasoned and experienced buyers that he had to approach to stock his product.
One refused to give Edwin an appointment. He tried every week to arrange a visit, but the buyer just wasn’t having any of it. In frustration, Edwin asked his boss if he could listen in to his phone conversation to see if there was something he was missing. In fact, his boss went one step further – he recorded the call. When Edwin asked for feedback, his boss told him to listen to the call and see if he could work it out.
horrified. He heard himself using what seemed like every cliché in the book.
“How are you today”, “To be honest”, “Quite Frankly”. It was as though he had
suddenly lost the power to speak in English!
More about Edwin’s situation.
His boss kindly explained that the buyer didn’t want to talk to an automaton who only spoke in trite sales terms; rather he wanted to talk to a real human being who cared about what was important to him. He also pointed out that by using phrases like “Frankly” and “To be honest”. He was coming across as insincere and was giving the impression that he was either hiding something or worse, lying.
By asking “How are you today?”, Edwin was coming over particularly insincerely – as his boss pointed out, his job was to sell, the buyer knew his job was to sell and, apart from wasting time it was probably actually annoying the buyer and eroding confidence in Edwin’s product. He explained, the moment you hear someone you have never met before say that on the phone, you know they don’t care. That they are trying to appear polite, but actually couldn’t care less how you are – they just want to sell you something.
Edwin’s boss gave him some other pointers too – for example, making sure he was never rude or disrespectful to the competition, never starting a conversation by asking if the buyer wanted to place an order and to just use his own authentic and real words.
With his boss standing by him, Edwin rang his elusive buyer again. When he got through, he apologised for his previous call, saying he wasnew. He used his own language. Explained that he thought he had something the buyer might be interested in seeing and politely asked for an appointment. The buyer said ‘yes’, on the condition that Edwin did not use the word “Honestly”. Edwin unreservedly agreed.
So often, we fail to get the basics right. Sometimes, all we need is a little help from someone to point us in the right direction. To be smart about using positive language appropriately.
This is an adapted excerpt from my book “Small Business Sales Dilemmas – 50 Real Life Case Studies to Help you Sell More.” (Which is available on Amazon.)
If you know they are, then they might need an introduction to selling. Check out our regular course “How to Sell”. Currently run over 6 weeks part-time (normally a 2-day programme, but obviously subject to current restrictions)
This covers all the main issues faced by today’s salesperson: