Last month we touched on the need for many businesses, particularly those of you selling business-to-business, to follow up on promotional / marketing activity by getting out there and selling. This month we will look at the process more closely.

There are a number of things to consider before you put yourself in a situation where you will talk to a prospective customer about buying your products and services. Anyone who has been in sales will give you their top tips on selling, and it is likely that each set of top tips will be different; here are some from me.

1. Know your products:

Sounds a bit of an obvious thing to say, but never underestimate the ability of prospective customers to ask questions that can completely throw you. There will be times when you get questions about specific product uses or performance that will need you either to check with the manufacturer or do some research or testing back at base. But apart from the odd question make sure that you have done your research and attempt to second guess each customer's needs. This will give them confidence that you are an expert in your field and that you understand their business. Also you will be better placed to assist the customer to make a purchase decision because you will meet people who have never considered that your type of product or service to be the solution to their problems.

2. Put yourself in the customer's place:

Building on the last point, be clear in your own mind how your products and services will benefit the customer. Be specific and spell it out for them - don't expect customers to make the connection on their own. In addition to pre-visit research you will need to ask open questions and listen carefully for any clues that help you to identify needs. Be ready to give examples and case studies of how the product has benefitted other customers (from your own experience, or get some information from the manufacturer). Make sure of your facts, though, to avoid the danger of mis-selling.

3. Anticipate objections:

Brainstorm all of the possible reasons why a customer might say no, (or might be sceptical) and have a counter ready for each possible sales barrier. Use the work that you have done on product / service benefits to help you with this. As your experience and confidence grows you will identify the more common barriers and objections and you will build these into your sales presentation. The fewer objections that you have to counter at the end of the presentation the better. Also it will show that you have really thought it through and understand their needs and problems.

4. Don't try the hard sell:

Business buyers are, in many cases, highly trained purchasers, or have a high degree of sophistication regarding buying. Your job is to assist them to make the right buying decisions for their company. There is a subtle difference between selling a product and assisting a customer to buy. Get it wrong and you risk alienating the customer, or you may make a one-off sale, but what you should be trying to create is a loyal customer with a long and profitable lifetime value to your business.

5. Make the buying decision easy for the customer:

Consider adjusting the choices that you offer them. Too wide a range of products, each performing a similar function can make the decision process complex and might result in the customer deferring the decision. However, be careful that you do your research to be reasonably confident that the samples (or information) that you are taking to the meeting are relevant to the customer's potential needs.

6. Give the customer a good reason to switch suppliers:

Even though you may have convinced the customer to buy the product, they may not be convinced that you are the right person to buy it from. Unless you have a monopoly of a totally unique product or service, the customer will either be already buying from someone else or will realise that they can shop around and buy from your competitors instead of you.

So when selling gurus talk about you having a USP (unique selling proposition) this is why.

Often, though, it is difficult to identify something unique about you, your products & services and many people give up and don't take the line of thought any further. But don't give up! Identify things (as many as possible) that are different about your product and service package. I mean different to the competition, i.e. your competitive advantage that will provide a benefits package to the customer that is more appropriate to them than those offered by the competition. So if you are struggling to identify your USP, look for points of difference and build them into your sales presentation.

7. Be always ready to make a sales presentation:

With the growth of networking over the last decade or so, the number of opportunities to explain your product and service benefits outside of the formal sales visit has mushroomed. So the ability to promote your products and services in a subtle and succinct but convincing way is very important.

Marketing specialists talk about having an elevator pitch, which means being able to give a good picture of your business, its products and services in 30 seconds to a minute. But make sure that you do it in a way that excites the listener's interest and makes them want to find out more.

I read a story (probably made up but it makes the point) a few years ago: a woman, Ms A, was at a business event and sat at lunch between a man on her right and woman on her left. Making small-talk she asked the man to her right what business he was in. The man replied that he was a chartered accountant and went on to explain that he did year-end accounts and tax returns for business clients. Eyes glazing over, she turned to the woman on her left and asked the same question. The woman replied that, depending on the size of the tax bill, she saved her clients between £1,000 and £10,000 a year; Ms A was immediately keen to know more. The woman to her left was a chartered accountant also!

Not an exhaustive list, there are more. Take time to learn about the subject, create your own list and develop a sales plan. See our website for more tips on selling.

That's all for this month.

Peter Mulhall

Business Adviser

Business Link - the place to go for business support



business link

I met someone at a networking event recently and we have decided that our companies should work together. Do you think that business co-operation or collaboration is a good idea?

In short: you can't be good at everything, so yes it may well be a good idea.

However, let's look at a few of the things that would be involved.

What opportunities do we want to capitalise on?

You will need to identify an opportunity. This might be submitting a joint bid on a tender, or entering another market sector, or a particularly large customer to target which otherwise you would not have the credibility, skill or the resources to convert into a customer. You may not identify a specific opportunity at the early stage, but all parties should have a purpose for wanting to collaborate.

Choose your partners - but choose wisely!

The choice of collaborative partner is critical. Sometimes the criteria for partner selection are woefully inadequate and more suitable to choosing a golf partner than a business partner. Getting on with business partners is essential, but more is needed.

Taking it on trust

Trust; this is a difficult one as it only truly forms with experience. There will be issues possibly, for some, on intellectual property and the need for confidentiality and confidentiality agreements. But ultimately you will need to trust partners, sometimes with sensitive information about your own business as you proceed to collaborate. Not only that, you will need to trust that the other parties will fulfil their responsibilities on the projects or ventures that you undertake; there will inevitably be division of labour and you are unlikely to be in a position to supervise, hands-on, the things that others are accountable for.

Skills match

One of the big advantages of business collaboration is that you gain access to skills and competencies not available in your own business i.e. the other party excels in areas where you are weak and vice versa. This doesn't happen automatically; drawing up a skills map and skills-auditing each potential partner in order to match skills required with skills available is a crucial part of the preparation stage.

Cultural match

If you, as a sole trader, are wanting to collaborate with other sole traders, understanding the other party's style of doing business, vision, view of the world around them, their values and beliefs and behaviours will be important for effective collaboration.

If you are a larger business with staff and even possibly a management team, how you go about understanding each other's business culture will need a lot of careful thought. Each MD spending time at the other's business getting to know people and processes is a good place to start.

Process matching

This is about how you or your company actually works from end to end. How you sell, market your products & services, communicate internally, & externally, deal with suppliers, customer relationship management; how you actually make the products and provide the service, how you run your admin and finance functions etc. Don't assume that because your own business runs effectively and smoothly that there will be no difficulties when you collaborate with others even if they too have a smooth running business.

Legal & structural aspects

Collaborative agreements or even legal entities may be needed depending on the depth of the relationship and complexity of the work being undertaken. Seek specialist advice.

So yes it is definitely an option to consider...

It is widely accepted that business cooperation / collaboration is a valid strategy for growing a business. There are huge benefits to be had from utilising the synergy of complementary businesses as well as potential economies of scale.

...but don't go into it blindfolded

We have only scratched the surface and looked at a few aspects, but even so it should be clear that some form of due diligence is needed before any decision is made. Good advice is essential for each party separately and, if the idea progresses, possibly a facilitator, either internal, or external to mediate and to project manage the formation and early stages of the partnership or joint-venture.

A sobering thought is that the majority of collaborative business relationships fail. So do your groundwork first, be prepared to put the time and effort into making the partnership work and you stand a chance of being one of those businesses that succeed with collaborative cooperative relationships.

In a nutshell:

  • Identify the business opportunity
  • Choose your partner carefully
  • Spend time getting to know them and their business
  • Take advice
  • Be clear about the risks and benefits

If you think that collaborative co-operative working is a possible strategy for you but you're not sure where to start, talk to one of our business advisers.

That's all for this month.

Peter Mulhall
Business Adviser
tel: 07717 290309

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Business Link - the place to go for business support



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