A client called me to discuss a dilemma she was facing which, I find, often befalls small service businesses and freelancers. Should I compromise on price/day rate to win a potentially prestigious piece of work? Before launching into my usual tirade of – no, never compromise your rate, there’s no going back, anyone can give it away – routine, I stepped back for a moment to give it some serious thought.
Although fundamentally I firmly believe that if you have the right business model with accompanying pricing structure in place you should stick with it, there is still sometimes room to structure a deal differently. And, the advantage of being a small business, is that often you probably have the power to make that decision without the need to get through layers of ‘sign off’.
So, when should you consider making a ‘deal’ and what questions do you need to ask yourself before committing to it?
- Does the client meet your ‘ideal customer’ criteria? That is, are they in your target audience, perhaps someone you have been trying to work with for a while or are they a really influential player in your sector? If they don’t meet your criteria then they will probably get more from you than you will from them. If they do, then why not start a dialogue?
- What will the deal offer you over and above hard cash? This clearly is the most important question to answer so that you can actually evaluate and put a value on some of the less tangible benefits you may receive. You may be promised exposure on the clients website or newsletter, a great PR opportunity, social media coverage or a prominent position in their store; all of which needs to be backed with hard facts. Ask about hits on their website, footfall through their store and engagement with their social media to make sure you are getting some real value. Also be clear about timescales – how long will your information be visible?
- How will you make the most of any intangible benefits you earn? This is fundamental and can turn a good deal sour. You need to be in a position to take advantage of any promotion and exposure offered, and have a plan to activate it. Do you have sample product, blog posts, press releases and images to really make the most of the opportunity? If you don’t, then it has little value to you.
- Who does your client know? Can your client provide any genuine referrals that could lead to future business for you? Do they have contacts with potential clients that you are looking to meet and can they make an introduction?
- What is the motive behind the deal and does it seem genuine? If you sense that your client simply wants the job for less, then beware. If there is a genuine reciprocal benefit for structuring the deal in a certain way then talk it through openly.
- What will the long-term impact be? Again, if you have an open dialogue with your client you are more likely to understand where the relationship could lead in the future. Short term gains are usually one-sided whilst a genuine desire to think differently about how you work together could be the start of a great long-term partnership.
And finally, make sure you have everything clear and in writing before you agree. There are no cast iron guarantees, but you can at least feel confident that you have done all you can to make the best decision for you and your business.
My nine-year old came home from gymnastics the other day complaining bitterly that her coach had made her practice ‘millions’ of cartwheels when she is perfectly capable of doing a round off flick tuck back (or some such complicated gymnastic tumble!) I tried to explain that even the best gymnasts have to practice the basic skills to improve on the more complex ones, just like great musicians still practice their scales.
Coincidentally I came across the same message related to the business world, and sales techniques in particular. This short video from Cranfield University explains how important it is to get your core skills to the highest possible level and to keep on practicing the fundamentals if you are to become a better sales person.
It’s well worth the 4 minutes it will take you to watch.
I heard on the news this week that a staggering amount of gas, equivalent to one-third of the consumption of the EU each year, is simply being burnt off as a waste product of oil drilling. Clearly there isn’t a straight forward solution to this monumental waste or someone would have thought of it already, but it did make me think about the marketing resources that are potentially being squandered by businesses.
In an age where we are all looking to generate free and low-cost marketing, how many of us have looked to the underutilised marketing assets we already own?
Here are just a few examples of marketing assets that may exist in your business and that you could be using more effectively:
- Awards and memberships – if you have won an award or are a member of a professional body are you telling your customer and potential customers about it? By simply placing an award logo on your email sign off, website, LinkedIn profile, letterhead, business cards, online brochures etc you are demonstrating your credibility
- Client testimonials – if, like me, you have a collection of testimonials and case studies gathering dust, you should be using them wherever possible to woo potential clients
- Blog posts, white papers and top tips – you will be surprised what content most companies have that can be re-purposed. You will have to do a little work here as it’s important that you don’t simply regurgitate the same content across different platforms. Can you turn a blog post into several Facebook posts or enhanced it to form a white paper, an e-book or an infographic?
- Your existing clients and employees – these guys should be your biggest advocates so how can you encourage them to recommend you? Again, this won’t happen on its own, a little effort is needed; but happy customers can be a huge untapped asset
- Your marketing strategy – are you spending your marketing budget on the right activities? No amount of tweaking around the edges is substitute for thorough research, rigorous planning, measurement and evaluation.
What marketing assets do you have lying around that you could use?
I had yet another telesales call this week that reminded me why some of the basic sales training I undertook in my early days is still valid today. It went something like this…
- Telesales guy : Can I speak to the business owner?
- Me: Yes, that’s me.
- Telesales guy: Oh good. Do you have an epos machine?
- Me: No
- Telesales guy: Would you like to have an epos machine if the monthly charges were lower?
- Me: No
- Telesales guy: Oh. Wouldn’t it help your business to have an epos machine?
- Me: No
- Telesales guy: Oh. OK. Bye then.
It doesn’t take a genius to work out that you won’t get very far by asking a series of closed questions, yet we all fall into the trap from time to time. I watched an experienced newsreader just last night trying to interview an eight year old boy using closed questions. It was painful. The boy, who was clearly dying to tell his story, was prevented from doing so by the interviewers ineptitude.
Closed questions do have their place of course, and they are great for:
- Gaining factual information, as in: Am I speaking to the business owner?
- Clarifying that you have understood a situation, as in: So am I right in thinking that you don’t currently have a marketing plan?
- Getting a desired positive answer, as in: Would you like to generate more business?
- Seeking to close a deal or teasing out an objection, as in: Would you sign today if I were able to deliver next Tuesday?
If ultimately you are trying to sell something, you will need to use a mix of open and closed questions to really develop the conversation. The good news is that most of us do this naturally in a social situation, which is perhaps why people who are genuinely interested in others often make good sales people. With a little self awareness and preparation you can hone the questioning techniques that you are probably already using and start to turn your conversations into natural sales opportunities.
I had a call from a bank last week and, since I was considering changing my business account, allowed the caller to launch headlong into his well prepared sales pitch. After a good three minutes of my time he had managed to miss all the buying signals and went away empty-handed. Why?
It often happens. I’ve done it myself. You have done your preparation, thought about the questions you are going to ask and outlined how you will answer any objections. You are finally in front of a great prospect…it’s all going to plan…and then they say something you weren’t expecting. Instead of listening, taking stock and changing tack, you blindly battle on with your prepared ‘script’ because you don’t want to waste all the time you spent preparing!
All too often your prospect is actually interested in what you have to say and simply wants to get to the information that they want.
Quite how my caller missed: ‘ I might be looking to change my business bank account’, as a buying signal I’m not sure, often they are more subtle. If your prospect asks specific questions about price, delivery, specifications or who else you work for, take it as a sign of interest. If they actively agree with you and are talking positively about how your product or service could help them, take note.
It’s hard enough to get in front of a real prospect; make the most of the opportunity by listening and responding to the buying signals that are probably staring you in the face.
Networking is often quoted as the number one lead generation mechanism for small businesses and frequently appears in lists of, so-called, free marketing activity. So, should you be doing more of it?
I went to a very well attended event a couple of weeks ago and, as I walked into the room of some 200 people, I soon realised I had very little chance of tracking down those people I had hoped to meet. I was approached by someone wielding an A3 presenter who, without asking me a single question, tried to sell me something I had no need of. I squeezed round the exhibition space apologising for bumping over-sized handbags with similarly stressed looking individuals; to be greeted by stall holders intent on making snap decision about whether I would be of any use to them!
Hadn’t they read the books? Networking is about building relationships, it involves asking questions and finding mutual ground; it’s not about selling. It’s not free either, it takes time and effort before, during and after the actual event and we all know that time is money.
Networking is like any other marketing activity; it has its own protocol, a set of rules by which a good networker operates. It is undoubtedly a brilliant tool for business generation when used properly and with the planning and discipline you would afford any other marketing activity.
There are lots of books, articles and blogs about networking. Do yourself a favour and try reading one like FT Guide to Business Networking before embarking on your next campaign.