6 Tips for Increasing B2B Sales

consultative selling, b2b, sales, communication, prospects

Hollywood studios have script readers to sift through the hundreds of stories they receive every year. The typical script has 120 pages, but usually only the first 10 get read. If the script doesn't grab the reader's attention in the first 10 pages, it's tossed aside and the reader is on to the next one. It may be the next great film, but it's those first few minutes that count. In the B2B world, it's the same scenario. Those first few minutes of a sales call either grabs the buyer, or they'll hang up right away. Improving the beginning of your call can help close at the end of it. These 6 tips can reduce the time spent hearing "no" (if you can even get to that point at all), and increase your sales effectively.

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Do I Need That App? Upgrading Technology

apps, upgrading technology, small business, budget, tech

The fast-paced world of business apps seems to always be evolving. For those businesses that aren't in the technology sphere, it can be daunting to sift through all the apps available for your business. While a lot of technology is designed to save you time, there are a lot of considerations before you take the leap to  upgrade your technology. The first step is to ask some key questions to make sure buying that app or equipment is the best route for your company.  

The first question you should ask is, "What's the budget for upgrades?" In 2016, small businesses spent an average of 7% of their revenue on IT and technology upgrades. A major consideration for your budget is whether to lease or own your new hardware or software. You may pay more over time for leasing, but you can free up cash flow and won't have to dispose of old technology in a couple years. What else affects your budget? Compatibility with your current system. If the upgrade or new purchase you're considering isn't currently a part of what you already have in place, you will need to budget for any software or hardware purchase that is required for integration.  

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More Work is Coming in – Can you Handle it?

company growth, hiring, independent contractor vs employee, outsourcing, small business

Congratulations! Your company is growing. With that growth comes higher revenue, more clients, and more work. How should you handle the work that comes in? Obviously you can assign the work to your current employees if their plates are not already full. However, in a growing company this is often not the case. If your current staff is already operating at full capacity, you have to look for options for increasing that capacity within your business to handle more work such as:

* You can hire more employees to take on new or additional tasks

* You can subcontract all or some of the new work to another company to complete

* You can hire a professional independent contractor or company to handle administrative or other operational tasks within your company to free up your employees to the work under your company’s direct supervision

* Increase efficiency in the staff you have through better systems/technology

Which option is best for you? There are some pros and cons with each approach:

Hiring a new employee is usually the first thought when your company needs to allocate the work that comes from company growth. With an employee, you have total control of schedule and work product. However, the primary incentive for hiring employees is to invest in the future of your company. Employees contribute to growth and culture and can rise to leadership in the future. However, the process of finding and training new employees can be time consuming and expensive. Employees come with overhead expenses such as payroll taxes and benefits that you don't have to pay for with independent contractors and outsourced companies.Taking into account all of these factors, hiring makes the most sense when the new business is part of a sustained growth curve that will require a long-term solution. The expense of hiring and maintaining the new employees can then be recovered over time.

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Bringing out Leadership Skills In Your Employees

Growing Leaders, Cultivating, Rising, Management, Internal Hiring

When you hire an employee you train that person to perform the job for which they were hiredIf you made a good choice and you train the person well you’ll have a good, happy employee

However, if you want to raise above just having “good” employees doing good work, just training them to do their job may not be enoughFor the employee and the company to receive the most benefit from the  relationship a great employer will teach and guide employees to rise above their current position.

Cultivating leadership skills in employees grows your company from within and helps with employee retention, especially with younger employeesAccording to a Deloitte Consulting survey "more than 67% of Millennials believe it is management's job to provide accelerated development opportunities to encourage them to stay." The development opportunities will help your employees feel invested in both their jobs as well as your company.

There are several ways to develop a leadership track to bring your employees to build these skills. The first and most natural method is to give your employees the opportunity to learn on the job. That may seem a no-brainer – doesn’t everyone learn on the job? Yes, but many companies do not take the time to plan training programs with measurable goals and accountability not only for the  new employee but for the employee(s) responsible for conducting training. The most successful, consistent training programs are planned out in advance of hiring, rather than taking a “ride along” or “figure it out yourself” approach. Formal training programs also give veteran employees the opportunity to train incoming workers, and build their own leadership skills.

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Client Conflict? Solve with the Three R's

Client Conflict Resolution Tips, Steps, Techniques

It's great when you love every one of your clients. Chances are, though, there's one (and sometimes more than one) client that gives you headaches. That client who makes extra demands, is unreasonably dissatisfied with your work or, worse, doesn't pay as promised. You may even have a regular client who suddenly changes the rules on you. When you have a problem with a client (which happens to us all), you need to be prepared with effective conflict resolution techniques. The techniques will help you save the client relationship if it can be saved, or end it while minimizing bad feelings and the harm to your business and the client.

The three important steps to deal with problem situations are Review, Respond, and Resolve.

Review - When a client first contacts you with an issue or problem with which you are not personally familiar, your initial response should be something along the lines of “I’m sorry you are not 100% satisfied with our services, I’ll look into this immediately”. Your first instinctive response may be emotional but it’s important to have a clear head, keeping in mind it's only a business transaction and not personal. Before you commit to take any particular action, stop and review the situation.

Carefully gather and review the facts and opinions of your own employees. It’s important to understand where your company may have gone wrong, what you likely did right and determine what the parties’ reasonable expectations were going into the situation. Most customer service issues are caused by a disconnect between expectations and reality. Therefore, the biggest question to ask is “Did we deliver what we promised to deliver?” Whether the answer is “yes”, “no” or somewhere in between you must then ask the follow-up question of yourself and your business - “Why?”.

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Why You Need Feedback from Employees (and How to Get It)

welcome, feedback, small business, managers, management, conversation

A Google search for "My boss doesn't listen" yields twice as many hits as "My boss listens". Yikes! There's even more for "My boss doesn't like me". Is it just skewed perception? Perhaps. But an HR Solutions study cites that among the top 10 complaints employees have is a lack of communication with management. Employees want to have face-to-face time with you. Having meaningful conversations with employees seem easier for small businesses, since managers actually know all the names of their employees. But truthfully, within a small business, time is often in short supply, and stopping to have a conversation doesn't always feel the best use of it. However, if you can set aside time to listen to your employees, that time can help them solve the problem.

Most companies include an "Open Door Policy" chapter in their employee handbook. Some even go as far as including openness and transparency in their company culture. Make sure this attitude is actually implemented amongst you and your management team. Encourage employees to seek out supervisors to discuss problems or ideas. Do more than a suggestion box. Anonymous notes don't allow you to address issues with that employee unless you address them with the entire staff, and even then, problems may still go unresolved. You want a dialogue, a conversation where you can ask questions for deeper understanding and where they can provide further feedback.

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The Good, The Okay, and The Ugly of Increasing Your Prices

raising price, clients, without losing clients, increase, money, prices

A common fear among business owners is raising rates for their services. Whether you're below market price for your industry, need cash flow to increase your offerings, or have encountered increased costs of your own, raising prices is something you are going to have to do at some point. But you don’t want to lose clients. How can you make sure that raising rates won't damage your business? When you decide to make the leap, there's a wrong way to do it and a right way. Let's look at Netflix as an example:

In 2011, Netflix was still mailing DVDs in addition to their streaming service. That year they made a sudden announcement that they were going to raise rates for streaming, as well as charge a separate fee for the DVD service. It was a public relations nightmare resulting in millions of lost subscribers in only a few months. The price hike was rolled back.

Fast forward to 2014. Netflix rolled out a $1 price increase to $8.99 per month. Current subscribers were grandfathered into the old rate of $7.99 for two years. By the end of 2015, Netflix had tripled their 2012 subscriber list to 57 million.

In 2016, Netflix announced another change in subscriber rates, including for those long-time subscribers still paying $7.99 per month. The rate increase was phased in slowly and offered new plans including a low-priced Basic Plan and an $11.99 Premium Plan. They also added about 600 hours of new and original content. There's now over 90 million Netflix subscribers.

Netflix learned from their mistakes and we can too. The three ways Netflix raised their prices can be best described as The Good, The Okay, and The Ugly.

The Ugly - In 2011 Netflix made a couple huge mistakes. The first is that they didn't honor their contracts which had no expiration or renewal term, so their customers could reasonably expect that their pricing would stay the same. The best time to raise the price is when it is time for a renewal or have a contract clause warning of periodic “cost of living” price increases. The other mistake Netflix made was failing to warn their customers about the price hike or offer an explanation leaving customers to come up with their own rationale like Netflix was just trying to pad their bottom line. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said, "We compounded the problem with our lack of explanation about the rising cost of the expansion of streaming content ... [so] many perceived us as greedy." While you don't have to go into specifics about your costs and profit margin ratio, it is a good idea to give some explanation. The explanation can be as simple as keeping up with the market.

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Increasing Productivity through Brian Tracy's "Eat That Frog"

time management, eat that frog, productivity, small business,

"There just isn't enough time!" In today's fast-paced world, employees and bosses alike often feel the crunch. The imbalance between hours in the day and the workload seems especially prevalent in small businesses where every person wears more than one hat. At the end of the week, employees still have a full "to-do" list. But by developing some good habits and practicing some time management techniques, the list becomes more manageable. There are several well-known time management systems to explore, some with common elements, but ultimately each with its own focus. There isn't one system that is right for everyone. One of my favorite time management systems to share with clients is laid out in Brian Tracy's "Eat That Frog". The book starts with the concept based on a Mark Twain suggestion, that if you have to eat a live frog first thing in the morning, that that will be the worst thing that happens to you all day. So, Brian Tracy suggests you make the biggest or hardest task on your list the first one you tackle each day. In other words - eat your frog.

There are many time management strategies covered in "Eat That Frog". The time management techniques included are applicable to both business and personal success. The recurring theme of the "frog" - or biggest task – runs throughout and ties together the ideas. While all of the ideas in the book work in conjunction with each other, small businesses can really benefit from the chapters on setting goals, methods for making lists, and finding the tasks to concentrate on.

As a business, you need to set goals and create an action plan to make sure your company is on the right track for growth and success. Tracy includes a checklist in his book for setting and achieving goals. You may have a goal to grow your client base, or cross train your employees. Find the biggest goal you want to reach, write it down, then set a deadline.

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Taking the Pitch Out of Sales

selling, consultative sales, retail, small business, customer retention, CRM, client, sales

Retail sales grew about 3% in 2016 and Kiplinger predicts an even stronger growth in 2017. Small businesses account for just over 50% of retail sales per the Small Business Administration. To get a piece of that pie and improve sales, you need a consistent process that involves more than just telling the customer about your product or service. The practice of consultative selling will engage your customer and show them that you are committed to solving their problem with your product or service. The basics of consultative selling will help bring in more revenue, and if you document your activity and results, you will see positive growth in your company's sales performance.

I visited a local used car dealership recently to sell my daughter’s car (or what was left of it – she’s had a few accidents). The salesman, who I’ll call “Dave“, had a great consultative approach. It had been a long time since I sold a car without it being part of a trade-in (no way my daughter’s getting another car until she can pay for her own insurance). I had done some research on the valuation but was still worried I might get taken advantage of. Dave didn’t just spit out a sales pitch. He asked a lot of questions about why we were selling the car and what was proactive in addressing my concerns which are common in his industry. He presented a solution that directly addressed my concern that I was not getting a good deal. I could take their offer for the car and it was good for two weeks. I was free to take the car anywhere else to see if I could do better. This gave me the confidence I needed to make the sale immediately. At no point did he waste his or my time addressing concerns I did not have, nor did he oversell. But he did close the deal and I’ll go back when my daughter is ready to buy a new car.

It's been said that only 2% of sales are from the first meeting, from proactive customers who have already researched the product or service and know that they are purchasing. The rest need convincing that they need what you're selling. Consultative selling focuses on helping your customer solve their problem. While you do want to teach the customer about your product or service, you aren’t just educating the client on your technical features and benefits. Learning what the customer needs and wants is key to starting the process. When the customer relates their problem, listen to and engage them. With this interaction, it's not just a one-way pitch with a yes-or-no outcome, but a conversation that creates value for your product or service by showing the client how what you sell addresses their needs. When you continue the conversation, you build a relationship that you can't obtain when you just use a sales pitch.

Once you begin a plan to practice consultative selling, document your activity and track your results. Keep a log of when you contact your customers with dates, what was discussed, and if any needs or wants were conveyed by them. Remember, your main goal is to solve their problem with your products or services.

When you follow up, make sure to continue any conversations you've already had to show your commitment to solving that problem. And when you are able to acquire a new customer, notate what created the value of your product or service for them. Every client will be different, but when you track your results, you'll find a common pattern that will highlight what to focus on.

Using a consistent sales process, especially when supported by good systems like customer relationship management (CRM) software will always yield the best results, especially when you have employees that will be carrying out the sales process as well. This will empower your employees to satisfy your customers. Keep a conversation going between you and potential customers, and show them the value that your product or service provides them. When your customers feel that what you offer is beneficial, the mutual benefit is immeasurable.

Creating a Game Plan for Your Employees

game plan, small business, hiring, managing, DiSC, personality, employees, coach, coaching

Did you know the first Super Bowl was played 50 years ago? The game was 1967, the Kansas City Chiefs against the Green Bay Packers. Green Bay was only up 14-10 at halftime, but Green Bay scored 3 more touchdowns in the second half to win the game 35-10 (as well as win $15,000 per player.) Vince Lombardi, considered by many as the greatest coach ever (at least until Bill Belichick came along), was the coach of the Packers for the very first Super Bowl win. Lombardi won every single season when he was the head coach in the NFL.

Wouldn't it be great if we all had a streak like Vince Lombardi? As a business owner, football provides a lot of parallels. Just like a successful general manager of a pro football team you need a sound strategy for building your team of employees. Clearly defining an employee's role and providing the proper amount of training for them to execute those roles are critical to the success of both your business and your employees. Setting up a detailed job description should be done even before the employee is hired, and continually evaluated and tweaked throughout their career. Concentrate on the framework of an employee's day-to-day activities and set up personal goals for them to reach. When their personal goals line up with the company's goals, employees feel that their work matters. And don't hesitate to switch up your team and try them in different roles to utilize to their strengths and make the business run more cohesively.

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