There is an old adage that nothing happens in business until a sale is made and all businesses - whatever their size, shape product or function - need customers to prosper. While it is possible to acquire customers and grow without ever having a formal sales strategy, like most things in life having a plan will greatly improve your chances of success.
A sales strategy is basically a formal plan; it will clarify how you will identify your future customers and how you will make them your customers. The process doesn’t need to be longwinded and doesn’t require onerous documentation but you can be assured the time you spend doing it up front of any sales activity will be repaid many times over through saved time and increased sales.
To create a sales strategy you will need to do some basic research to understand information about your business. The chances are you will have considered most of these areas when deciding to set up your business. Key elements to consider are:
Who is your target market? There are very few products that have universal appeal, generally you will be selling to some kind of niche, be it large or small, and understanding who you do not want to sell to is as important as knowing who you do want to sell to. In assessing your target market you need to take into account geography. Is your business local, regional, national or international?
Who are your competitors? How does your product or service compare to theirs? How do they reach their customers? What are their strengths and weaknesses?
What is your unique selling point in the market? Why should someone choose to do business with you over your competitors? What are your strengths and weaknesses?
Where will your product or service be positioned in terms of price? Do you require a large number of sales with a low profit margin per sale, or a small number of sales with high profit margins? Understand your margins and know when you are prepared to walk away from a sale.
Once you have made the sale how is it fulfilled to the customer?
Once you have gathered this information and have a clear picture of what you are selling, and to whom, the next step is to consider how you will sell to your customers. The advent of the internet has changed business forever, making it easier for motivated customers to find what they are looking for. However, the web is not a magic wand that will automatically attract custom and most businesses will still have to go out and actively seek customers.
Once you have identified your target market the next step is to identify how you will make contact with them. The choices are:
- Direct contact: (Face to face selling, networking, trade shows etc). Face to face contact can be very powerful and effective but comes with the limitation of the number of calls you can make and the associated high cost per sale.
- Telesales: A lower cost option than face to face sales that still creates customer contact. In its favour a large number of cost effective calls can be made but it is limited by an inability to demonstrate a product and the quality of leads available (this is becoming an increasing problem as potential consumers opt out of canvassing calls through the Telephone Preference Service).
- Promotion/advertising: The options available to reach consumers are endless, ranging from the traditional routes such as print, radio, television, PR and direct mail to the latest methods including Facebook ads, Google ad words and social marketing. The method that you choose will ultimately depend upon your market, your product and your budget - however, when planning for customer acquisition it is likely that you will need to factor in costs for at least one of these methods. Even if your business is purely web-based, customers will need to be able to find you and this will generally require some form of marketing.
The final part of a sales strategy is the part that is often sadly neglected - customer retention. Although the figures will vary depending on which source you turn to, all commentators agree on one thing. It is far more profitable to retain and develop an existing customer than to attract a new one. Having gone through the hard work of winning a customer, it is just as important to have a plan of how you will look after them, resolve any problems that may arise, and understand them as a customer and bring value to the relationship, generally known as Customer Relationship Management.
Sales are an essential part of any business but are especially important for entrepreneurs and start-ups. Practicing and honing your craft is essential if you want to sell strongly in the long-term, but reading up on the most common sales mistakes can help reduce the learning curve.