I spent the last week at a conference and had the opportunity to speak to lots of small business owners about what was working, and what wasn’t working in their business. A lot of entrepreneurs were saying that even though the overall trend was an increase over last year, they are still looking to increase their revenues even more.
I found it interesting to listen to what they thought was preventing them from achieving those goals. The two topics that come up most often in these discussions are marketing and sales. The thing is that I think there are a lot of entrepreneurs who don’t understand the difference between marketing and sales, and how one impacts the other.
Here is a simplistic way of explaining it. Marketing is what happens before a client contacts you. It’s what you do to increase awareness so that people know who you are and what you do. Sales starts once the client contacts you asking for information about working with you. It continues from the initial contact until you have their credit card number and their signature on the dotted line.
Once you have the sale closed, I would say marketing kicks back in again (though I know many people feel that the service you do after the sale is a continuation of the sales process – and I can see their point on that!). The reason I feel like it is marketing is that you are now setting the stage for repeat and referral business. In my opinion, that’s marketing.
So basically MARKETING is the process of getting your name out in front of more potential clients, of letting them know you exist and how you can help them. SALES is the process of closing those potential clients who raise their hand and say “hey, that sounds good! I’m interested in that!” You could certainly break things down even further, but for now let’s go with that idea, OK?
So what’s your problem?
When you look at your business, ask yourself a couple of questions:
- How often are you getting new inquiries or quote requests?
- Does your phone ring fairly often?
- When you do get an inquiry, is that person the “right fit” for your business?
- Once you reply to the inquiry, how often are you closing the sale?
- How hard do you have to work to close the sale with that prospective client?
It’s your marketing…
If you aren’t getting many inquiries, it’s fairly easy to see that you have a marketing problem. You aren’t doing enough to let people know you, and your business, exist and that you can be of service to them. In this case, your marketing problem is generally pretty simple – it probably means you just aren’t doing enough marketing! No one tells you that when you open your business, you aren’t just becoming a business owner, you are also becoming a marketer… but it’s true!
Not getting enough inquiries is not the only sign that you have a marketing problem. If those leads aren’t coming in the way you want them to, if the people contacting you aren’t your ideal clients or if you are just flat out having to work really hard to close the sale, then your marketing just isn’t getting the job done the way it should.
Really great marketing will filter your clients for you. It attracts your ideal clients and draws them in. They see it and they think, “YES! I want that!” or “I need her!” It gets you half the way down the sales path because they have already “self selected” and decided that they want to work with you. It’s almost as if your marketing handles a good bit of the client qualification process for you.
At the same time that your marketing is attracting your ideal clients, it should also be repelling those clients who you just don’t want to work with anyway. They should see that same message that makes your ideal client anxious to talk to you and think, “why on earth would anyone want THAT” and toss your ad in the trash.
Far too many entrepreneurs get worried about appealing to everyone or saying something that is off putting to some people. My answer to that is that this is actually a GOOD thing. Those aren’t the clients you are meant to work with anyway!
How do you fix it?
If you are experiencing these marketing problems, you need to sit down and take a good hard look at your marketing message.
- Do you know exactly who your ideal client really is? (hint: if your answer is a vague as “moms of preschoolers” or “baby boomers” then the answer is no, you don’t know exactly who your ideal client is!)
- Are you able to clearly articulate what it is that you do for them, why they should work with you? (Another hint: if the answer is “I give great customer service,” or “I have 25 years of experience in the industry,” that’s not thought out enough).
- Are you making sure you don’t put all of your eggs in one basket? You should aim to hit them with your marketing message in at least 3 different places at the same time whenever possible.
- Are you marketing consistently and regularly or only here and there?
It’s your sales process…
Now if you are getting a lot of inquiries from all of the right people but they just aren’t converting into sales, then you have a sales problem! At that point, it’s time to sit down and evaluate your sales process.
For the next month, keep track of the number of inquiries you get and the number that you actually close and book. Keep a spreadsheet or a chart that tracks your leads and sales. Once you have that information, you can figure out what percentage of sales you are closing. No one is going to have a 100% close ratio, but if you are closing less than 50% of the prospects you work with, there is definitely significantly room for improvement in your process!
How do you fix it?
- Review the “script” you use as the basis for your conversations. Don’t have one? Well, that might just be your problem!
- Take a good look at your qualifying questions. Are you getting the info you need?
- Review the emails you’ve sent during the sales process, do they have a really clear call to action on what the client needs to do next to start working with you?
- A BIG but really basic thing that I see happening a lot… are you actually asking for the sale? I’m always amazed at the number of people who present the perfect plan but then close the conversation with “so take a look at this and let me know if you have any questions. OK?” and never actually ask for the sale!
- Review your follow up procedures. Chances are you aren’t following up enough!
So here’s your homework…
Set aside some time to look at your business this week and see where you can find room for improvement. No matter how successful you are, we can ALL find somewhere we can be doing better! Pull out your marketing plan for the last year, review your materials and your message. Look at your sales process. Review those scripts and templates and see if you can adjust the language a bit to appeal more to your ideal clients. Practice a “closing the sale” conversation with a friend or colleague and ask for feedback. You’ll be glad you took the time to do this when you see your revenues increase as a result!