The Trouble with Sales

Occasionally, when you are putting yourself ‘out there’ as someone that can help small businesses with their marketing, we come across the great Sales v Marketing quandary. The client is in a state of perplexity or uncertainty over what to do to generate more business.

The relationship between sales and marketing is easier than the chicken and the egg. We know that sales came first. When the caveman had food he couldn’t eat before it went bad he traded the surplus. The customer knew the food would perish and he could drive a hard bargain but he risked others out-bidding him.  Thus a market developed – but sales – the process of moving goods or a service from seller to buyer – started it off.

Some clients call us in to discuss marketing but it rapidly becomes clear that they want sales. They don’t want a strategy; research, branding, positioning, product development etc. Some see this as marketing nonsense designed by marketing firms to make a living by dressing up common sense as science (this is written regarding business to business sales and sales of services rather than retail sales of products to the general public where marketing plays a bigger part). While we naturally disagree with this notion – the subject of another blog – we have sympathy with it. If a client has a good product or service but wants to get it to market then we should be able to help with that. The trouble with sales is that it is very hard for a lot of people. The idea of identifying and meeting prospective clients is time consuming and awkward. Easy to identify – harder to do.

Finding prospective clients

You know your market. One of the best ways of finding out where your customers are is to examine your existing clients. A quick analysis, maybe even a poll, will give you an insight into your sources of business and, by extrapolation, your future target markets. If your existing customers are willing then you may even ask them for referrals as they will all know other likely purchasers. If you don’t have any existing clients you will have designed your product/service with a target market in mind. Online research still remains the easiest option albeit very time-consuming. The resulting lists of prospects provide you with your target list (subject to the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) – yet another blog topic).

There are alternatives to this repetitive and lengthy research task. You can buy lists or pay someone to research for you. There are many that advertise this service on People per hour for example. Neither of these is as good as doing it yourself because of the natural triage your experience will bring to it. You will probably have a feel for who would be a good prospective customer.

Networking

A word about networking. Networking is better that not networking but it isn’t as good as sales – finding and contacting prospects. Networking has become a proxy for sales, where people who don’t want to sell can pretend they are making an effort by networking. Why is this? First because most people are there to sell not buy and second you can’t control the audience. Sure, the mere act of telling a room full of business people what you do is building awareness and will generate some sales but so will an advert. Both are wasteful, neither lets you target a specific prospect. So carry on networking but don’t confuse it with a sales effort.

Making that call

The job of trawling the web, local and business press is straightforward enough but the trouble with sales is that for most of us, the next stage; picking up the phone and cold calling the client to get an appointment is unpleasant. Checking the right person, getting past secretaries, making the pitch in a succinct and attractive package these are hurdles. There are natural sales people who embrace this challenge but in our experience these people are rare. We have all met them – people who are confident, who have a way with words that instantly puts the other person at ease and fosters a budding relationship right from the start. People that remember names and bits of information about the prospect that make them think that the relationship is friendly. That makes them like the person selling to them and people do business with people they like.

Most of us are not natural salesmen, so in this situation would immediately think of using a call centre or other cold calling agency. Just remember, however tight the brief, call centre agents don’t know your business as well as you do.

No, unless you have the budget to recruit a salesperson, the answer is to bite the bullet and make those calls yourself. Very often the best person to sell your product/service is you. We have met many business owners whose knowledge and enthusiasm (I’m trying to avoid the word passion here, oops failed) convinces customers. In this situation it doesn’t matter that the sales pitch is raw and possibly even amateur, the prospect is likely to be impressed by its honesty. This is quite aside from the fact that the pitch is coming from someone who knows their stuff and represents the very core of the proposition, someone who is good to do business with.

So, business owners. Don’t be afraid. Schedule to make sales calls every week or month. Break the task down to manageable chunks and develop a patter. You won’t always succeed but if you convert 1 out of ten calls then make 100 calls and you’ll have ten new customers and you’ll feel great!