A business is nothing without its customers – so it’s no surprise that technology has plenty to offer in bringing you closer to your clients. But the world of sales has changed – there are more ways to reach your audience than ever, and that audience is becoming more and more demanding. What strategies can small businesses use to stand out from the crowd without breaking the bank?
When did you last gladly receive a cold call? The days of the pushy salesperson with a fat tie and cheap suit are long gone. But you still need to find – and keep – customers. So what has replaced bashing those phone buttons until your fingers hurt?
Among the key secrets to effective sales today are two related concepts:
- Engaging with customers means building a meaningful and long-term relationship with them. This is particularly important for service businesses, where clients might not have enough knowledge to solve a problem by themselves, and will respond to being looked after. Think of the times you have used a professional or trade service: solicitors, plumbers, financial advisers, even (dare we say it…), a bank! You would decide who to use based on reputation and word of mouth, and how well you were treated from start to finish.
- Relevance, meanwhile, means giving customers exactly what they want, just when they want it. This is particularly important for product businesses, where clients are most swayed by a keen price and efficiency. Think of the times you have ordered something online and made your decision by finding exactly what you want, comparing prices and looking at the speed, simplicity and quality of delivery.
I don’t want to be acquired!
It’s worth emphasising: every business can succeed by employing some degree of both engagement and relevance; and neither of these is well served by the phone-burning salesperson. Bernie J Mitchell is an avid blogger and director of social marketing consultancy, Engaging People Ltd. He says, “It’s not about the number of calls you make. It’s about how deep and rich a relationship you can build with your leads. Plenty of big companies work on the basis that if you make 100 calls, one will become a client. These are the people who talk about customer acquisition… well, I don’t want to be ‘acquired’!”
Both, however, are well driven by technology. With the right tools, even if you don’t have a dedicated horde of customer service agents at your beck and call, you can discover, then serve and finally delight new prospects until they become true evangelists for your business. “It’s far better to put effort into encouraging your potential clients by helping them”, says Mitchell. “Hang out where they hang out. Run webinars, write blogs, offer them help in forums. It’s a long-term investment; but when the time comes that people do need your service, it’s you they’ll come to first. And better still, when they do, they’ll be primed for your products, talking your language, and thinking your way – because you’ve given them the mindset to do so before they even became a proper sales lead.”
Be my number one…
When those leads do come through the door, the rules of engagement and relevance also demand exceptionally personalised and individual service. Again, the customer does not want to feel like the unlucky one of 100 calls; but rather as the person you think of morning, noon and night.
Says Mitchell, “If you use search engine marketing, for example, make sure there’s a relevant website to click through to. If you send out an email newsletter, make it personal for each recipient. I don’t advocate buying contact lists, but if you must buy a list, it’s even more important to make each email personal and human in some way. Help each user solve a problem which is relevant to their business, and don’t forget a clear Call To Action so they know what to do next.”
And when the hard work of persuading people to visit your website, pick up the phone or come to your premises is done; the engagement process is really only just getting started. These days, customers will write reviews, tell their friends and post their experiences on Facebook. To make sure nobody is ever forgotten or made to feel unloved, check out CRM technology – that’s Customer Relationship Management.
CRM is a system for keeping a record of every customer’s experience with you; for example:
- where they are in your sales process
- where they came from and how they found you
- each customer interaction: phone conversations, emails etc. Mitchell adds, “If you can connect it to your social media activity, you can manage your contacts on many social platforms which your customers use, too.”
- what they have purchased before
- how happy they are and what you might have to do if something has gone wrong
Most small businesses spend at least something on marketing. And yet, they invariably don’t achieve enough. Note that spend and achievement are not joined at the hip: you don’t have to spend more to achieve more. Mitchell says, “If you’re not going to do it properly, don’t do it at all!” It’s better to spend a little on managing a small number of clients from start to finish, than spending the same on getting a lot of clients in – and then failing to give them cradle-to-grave service. Repeat business is relationship business, and even the smallest company can put effort into building relationships with its customers.