We recently undertook a market research survey to find out what business people’s most pressing concerns are going in to 2017. It was no surprise to discover that the majority of respondents (76%) said they were most concerned about sales and generating new business.
Being the director of a public relations, marketing and digital agency which this year celebrated its 10th anniversary, I have had a fair amount of experience in business development. Furthermore, one of the key benefits of PR and marketing is that it can increase sales by building trust and confidence in your business. After all, if people read good things about you or your company they are more likely to buy from you.
However, business development is about much more than marketing, sales, networking, pitching, e-shots, branding, social media, brochures, websites and special offers (to name a few!). Every single thing a business does can have an impact – you’re doing it all the time whether you realise it or not! It’s all part of the same process with the shared objectives of growing your business and achieving your goals. Although one person can take a lead, all of your staff have a role to play and can make a significant contribution to your overall success.
When creating your strategy a good place to start is setting out your objectives and SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound) targets. For example, you may want to establish yourself as THE authority on landscape gardening or position your company as the go-to business for low-energy lightbulbs. In terms of targets, by the end of 2017 you may want to increase your turnover to £1m or grow your client base by 25% for example.
Secondly you need to decide on your priorities, and although it may be tempting to focus on finding new customers your first priority should be to retain the ones you’ve already got. If you’re losing clients, then there’s no point bringing in new ones who are also likely to drop off. Studies across a number of industries have revealed that the cost of keeping an existing customer is around 10% of the cost of acquiring a new one. So, economically it makes good sense. It can be difficult to pinpoint where you’re going wrong but a good place to start is by looking at the relationships you have with clients. Ask yourself how you can exceed client expectations without making promises you can’t keep. Think of three occasions when an organisation you have dealt with has really blown your mind and what made the experience stick out in your mind. Inviting your customers to complete a satisfaction survey is a great way of getting honest feedback and identifying areas for improvement.
Similarly, converting existing leads and enquiries into profitable business should come before generating new leads on your list of priorities. Potentially you could be losing thousands of pounds’ worth of business every year because of conversion rates. Try to identify where you might be going wrong by mapping the step-by-step processes required to convert your enquiries into sales: the actions you take to prepare for each meeting / pitch; how you overcome concerns and build trust; understand their goals, needs and wants; create certainty that your product or service meets their needs; overcome their fear of making the wrong decision and officially confirm the sale.
By tracking your conversion rate you’ll be able to measure your performance, focus on improving it and identify what techniques are most effective.
Be wary of spending too much time talking to unsuitable businesses who cannot afford or are not in a position to buy your services and be selective about events you attend. Find out where your customers hang out – what events they attend, what they read and even what social media channels they use and make sure you’re also present.
Track all leads and enquiries regardless of where they come from (phone, email, website enquiry form, social media, walk-ins etc) and how you follow them up. According to one article I read recently, 80% of all significant sales occur only after a minimum of five continuous follow ups.
Think of obstacles that prevent people from doing business with you and how you can overcome them. If it’s a price issue for example, offer them an introductory discount or wow them with the results you’ve achieved for other clients in the same sector. The idea is to make it impossible for them not to want to buy from you, and case studies and testimonials can be a really powerful incentive.
Thirdly, you need to develop more business from existing clients. Don’t pigeonhole them based on the products and services they bought from you in the past and make sure they are aware of the full range of services you provide. Amazon is great at this – by tracking your buying habits they can not only offer you similar products ‘that you might like’ but also tell you what ‘customers who bought this item also bought’. Keeping in touch is also key. Many people start from scratch each time when choosing their suppliers simply because they can’t remember who they used last time. By maintaining regular contact you’ll be the first company that spring to mind when they need a product or service you provide.
Last but not least, priority number four is generating new opportunities, leads and enquiries.
This should not be down to just one person in your organisation; everyone has a role to play in finding new clients. Monitor the local, regional and national news or specialist trade media for businesses which might be in need of the products and services you provide.
When attending events it’s worth looking at the delegate list and making a list of people you want to speak to. After events follow up warm leads with an email or phone call within 48 hours and add their names to your database so you can keep in touch with them and start to build a relationship.
Make sure your website is search engine optimised so it can be easily found and track visitors to your site and where they are coming from to help you identify what PR and marketing activities are proving most effective.
You can also use the internet and social networking sites to build up credibility, demonstrate the depth of your knowledge and build relationships with prospects, stakeholders, partners and suppliers relatively cheaply.
Even if you’re a technophobe and have little knowledge of digital marketing or how to develop your business online there’s always somebody out there to do it for you or teach you how to do it yourself. You can also find lots of free advice and guidance online but regardless of the investment in terms of money, time and effort the benefits will far outweigh these costs.
Once you have got your plan in place the next step is to put it into action. We are all guilty of coming up with great ideas but then failing to follow them through. This is why having SMART targets and tracking your progress is crucial. Personally speaking there’s nothing that motivates me more than having to report back to my peers – no one wants to be the person that lets down the rest of the team! So stop putting it off and take action – there’s never been a better time than now!
This article was originally published on Lincolnshire Business on 23rd December 2016.