business_linkYou have worked hard and spent a lot of money developing your marketing, so can you now sit back and wait for customers to come to you?

Probably not.

If you are a purely an internet retailer your website is your shop window and trading vehicle, so you will put most of your marketing effort into website development and maintenance i.e. optimising the site, merchandising, and keeping your image, product content and the messages fresh. You will no doubt have a digital marketing strategy including blogs, newsletters etc.


For the rest of us life is less straightforward.

Most businesses also need to get out into the world and sell. That is the hard part for a lot of people, but if you don't do it you can be sure that your competitors are doing it. We will look at when and how to be proactive at selling in a future newsletter, but before you get out there let's think for a moment about the potential customer's experience and perceptions of your sales technique, your marketing and your service delivery.

An integrated sales and marketing strategy.
Sounds a bit nerdy, I know.

What it means is that your marketing tools, both digital and hardcopy, should be aimed at grabbing the customers' attention (i.e. help your business to stand out from the crowd) and provide information aimed at increasing potential customers' interest in your product or service so that they are prompted to do something such as:
 

  • Call you;
  • Visit you if you have a shop;
  • Click on a link on your site for more information;
  • Log the information for future reference;

At some point you will need to interact with the prospective customer in order to ultimately close the sale.

Therefore your sales technique and marketing / promotional material and tools all need to be synchronised i.e. they need to send a consistent message about your business and its products and services.

For instance I may read in your leaflet / brochure that you are totally focussed on delighting your customers, and see customer testimonials saying how great your service is. But, if on the strength of that I speak to you or one of your team, and after which I feel disappointed because the reality of the first contact has not met the expectation you built up I will assume that the rest of the service will not be up to scratch either - I won't trust your messages, so I won't buy from you.

Similarly if someone who could potentially be a customer meets you at an event, is impressed by the marketing material but not by you for some reason, again the reality will have failed to live up to the promise.

But it is wider than the initial contact; it covers all of the customer experience from end-to-end from initial enquiry to after-sales.

In previous newsletters we have written much on developing the best marketing tools for your business, but they can't and don't exist in isolation. You have raised an expectation; all of your interactions with customers from sales through service and beyond need to live up to that expectation.

Some questions to consider:

  • Does your all of marketing material / promotional tools reflect the brand image and story that you want the world to see and hear?
  • Does it hold out a promise of a fantastic customer experience, whether you sell to businesses or to consumers?
  • How professional is your process for handling enquiries or following up on sales leads?
  • Do you set time deadlines for following up customer enquiries and sales leads, and do you stick to them?
  • Does your approach to the sales process and the eventual service delivery match the expectations you have raised in your marketing.
  • When you meet prospective customers at say networking events, exhibitions at their premises etc are you confident that your sales technique suits the customer and lives up to the positive message in your marketing?
  • What is your sales strategy; do you set targets for the number of sales calls and sales meetings per week / month?

We can provide you with free, impartial, skilled advice, just call us.

That's all for this month.

 Peter Mulhall

Business Adviser

Business Link - the place to go for business support

Online: www.businesslink.gov.uk

BUSINESS LINK ANSWERS YOUR QUESTIONS

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

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Business Link - the place to go for business support

Online: www.businesslink.gov.uk/east

 

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