How to create an ideal customer profile (and stop selling to the wrong customers)

If I were to ask you who your ideal customer is, what would you say?

When I ask most new founders this question, I usually get an answer like, “Any technology company between 2-200 employees.”

I appreciate the optimism, but I have some bad news: When you try and sell to everyone, you end up selling to no one. New businesses especially need a more focused, specific market than “any technology company.” The problem is, they don’t know how to accurately define their ideal customers, so they just guess.

But guessing doesn’t cut it. Selling to the right customers is too important to gamble on. So let’s take some time today to create a realistic ideal customer profile.

If you already have one, read on anyway. Maybe yours could use some improvement.

ideal-customer-profile

What is an ideal customer profile, and what does it do?

An ideal customer profile describes the fictitious individual or organisation that gets the most value out of your product, and provides the most value back to you. We’ll go into what that means shortly.

This profile helps you find qualified prospects and protects you from selling to the wrong customers.

For outbound prospecting, your profile will give you a clear target to aim for, resulting in highly qualified leads. For inbound prospecting, you can compare incoming leads to your profile. If they don’t match the criteria, you’ll know to move on.

Simply put, an ideal customer profile helps you identify and sell to the type of customers that will most benefit your business.

Creating your ideal customer profile in 3 steps

Although ideal customer profiles describe a fictitious organisation, they need to be based in reality. The following steps assume your business has at least 10 customers. Without those customers, you won’t have enough data to create an accurate profile.

If you’re not at that stage yet, check out this guide to getting the first 10 customers for your startup.

1. List your 10 best customers

Your “best” customers are the customers who are the most successful with your product, not necessarily the ones who are the most happy with it.Happy customers like your product. Successful customers receive real, tangible value from your product, and offer that value back to you.

happy-vs-successful-SaaS-customers

Successful customers should be able to easily quantify the value they receive from your product, and it should always be substantially higher than what they pay for it.

Once you have your 10 customers, move on to step two.

2. List their defining attributes

Create a simplified profile for each of these 10 customers that outlines their defining characteristics. For example, how large are they? What industry are they in? Where are they located?

The goal of this step is to create a clear picture of your customer’s business from all angles. It can be as long or short as you’d like, but here are the 10 fields I recommend including in each:

  1. Industry
  2. Location
  3. Annual revenue
  4. Total customers
  5. Total employees
  6. Years in business
  7. Why they need our product
  8. How they use our product
  9. How they found our product
  10. Primary pain points

Add any industry-specific fields you see fit, such as social media presence or brand awareness, then move on to step three.

3. Identify commonalities

Take a look at your 10 customer profiles side-by-side. What traits do they have in common? In almost all cases, there will be a handful of key elements that most (if not all) of your top customers share.

For example, are they all:

  • In the same industry?
  • Generating the same annual revenue?
  • Using your to product solve the same challenge?

If you’re having trouble finding commonalities, it might mean you didn’t create a thorough-enough profile for each of the customers in step two.

Consider going back and taking a closer look. If you dig deep enough, you’ll find a handful of key elements they all share.

Compile all of those commonalities into a single profile, and you’re done! You’ve created your ideal customer profile.

Update your profile often

Your business is going to grow and evolve over time. As it does, make sure to update your ideal customer profile.

At least once a year, run through the three steps above. Update your list of high-value customers, identify their defining characteristics, and create a new profile.

You might be surprised how much your profile changes over the course of a year.

Sample profiles

You can organise your ideal customer profile however you see fit. But if you need some inspiration, here are three examples.

Example one: Short, sweet, and to the point

The shorter your profile, the easier it is for your reps to remember on the fly. By limiting your profile to a handful of information-dense sentences, you make it easy to learn and utilise.

Our ideal customer is a bootstrapped FinTech startup between two and five employees. This startup averages $1M in annual revenue and uses our product to better manage their growing list of prospects and customers.

Example two: The list

The list is an easy-to-read, easy-to-understand approach to the ideal customer profile. This lays out the most pertinent information in a format that is easy to review on an as-needed basis.

Industry: Technology

Department: Sales

Business type: FinTech startup

Funding: Bootstrapped

Annual revenue: ~$500,000

Number of customers: 100-500

Type of customers: VC-funded startups

Number of employees: 2-5

Years in business: 1-3 years

Biggest challenge: Managing a growing list of prospective and current customers

Our solution: Our software compiles their prospects and customers into one easy-to-use interface that allows salespeople to easily track data, follow up on accounts, and close more deals.

Buying cycle length: One month

Competitors used: None

Online presence: Established following on Facebook, weekly blog

Geographical location: Bay area

Product awareness stage: They are aware of our product because of our online presence, but have never been a customer and have not yet signed up for our free trial.

Example three: The novel

Sometimes there just isn’t a substitute for details. When you’re going after a specific niche, you might find it useful to start with a long-form profile like this, and then create a shortened version for reps to memorise.

Our ideal customer is a 1-3-year-old bootstrapped FinTech startup earning about $500,000 in annual revenue. This customer will have completed a startup incubator program within the last year. Although they service a handful of markets, the majority of their most successful customers are VC-funded startups who are struggling to meet projected sales goals

They employ between two and five people full-time, one of whom is a dedicated salesperson. The majority of their leads will be inbound, and need to consider branching out into outbound lead generation to meet sales projections.

Their sales team has been managing their accounts through an Excel spreadsheet and, although it worked for them in the beginning, the system has not been sustainable as they’ve grown. They are beginning to let accounts slip through the cracks and spend more time trying to manage current accounts than on-board new ones.

They need our software because…

You get the idea. This approach outlines every potentially valuable detail about the ideal customer to make it easy to spot them from a mile away.

Limit yourself, grow your business

If you feel like your profile is limiting your leads, that’s not a bad thing.

New businesses especially need a hyper-specific customer profile. If only 15 companies fit the specifications in your ideal customer profile, then go out and close those deals.

But until you’ve locked down your ideal customers, don’t step outside them. 15 high-value customers are worth more to your business than 30 low-value customers (that’ll probably end up churning anyway).

If you’re on the fence, I challenge you to give it a try. Set aside an hour or two this week with your team and create your ideal customer profile. Then use that profile to track down and close deals.

If you don’t notice a difference, forget about it. Shred the profile and keep doing things the way you were.

But when you do notice a difference, I want you to come back to here and share your experience, and your profile, in the comments below.

I can’t wait to hear your success stories. Until then, get back out there and crush it.

About the article

This is a guest post, courtesy of Close.io. The Bitter Business has no business relationship with Close.io other than enjoying the quality of their insights into sales and how to sell better.

About the author

Steli Headshot

Steli Efti is the co-founder & CEO of Close.io, an inside sales CRM that allows users to make & receive calls with one click, automatically tracks all your emails, and minimises manual data-entry.

 

How to Find New Customers on Social Media

Every business needs to find new customers and social media has become the go to channel for reaching new buyers using content as the main hook. Since the arrival of social selling and big data tools, social networks are now the main channels on which to identify and engage with new customers. While social platforms are superb publishing channels they are also great channels in which to promote products or services.

social-media-channels

The foundations to using social media platforms to find new customers are built upon 3 pillars. The first is having all your  social media profiles set up, the second is having your website populated with some customer centric content and the third is you have put in place a lead nurturing process for potential customers engaged with through the social networks.

So assuming all the social profiles are set up and you have the resources to lead nurture, take a look at these simple ways you can use social media to find new customers.

Here are some ways to use social media to find new customers

Getting leads via friend invite

A great way to increase social media exposure is to enable a friend’s invite scheme. Encourage your existing user base to invite their friends to connect with you or the business and maybe reward if they do will allow you to tap into a market segment that is likely to be interested in you. Also as you are using friend invites to increase social media exposure, why not use those friend invites to find new customers. The audience who already purchase your products or engage with your website are more likely to introduce higher quality leads, which allows you to find leads that are more likely to convert into paying customers.

LinkedIn group discussions

LinkedIn has become the main channel for B2B social selling, providing businesses and sales people the opportunity to network and engage with shared interest professionals. Done correctly the LinkedIn groups can provide a gateway to share, listen and engage with potential new customers.

A simple way to start is to do a search for the type of customer you are looking for; this will give you a list of groups to help you identify new customers. Just type in the search bar the profile of person you want to find and then on the left side click on Groups.

LinkedIn-group-discussions

Start viewing the groups that have populated in your search, but before clicking on join, be sure to look through the list of members to make sure that the people in the group are the type of people you want to engage with.

Once you have been approved into the group, plan out how you will go about sharing interesting content (not always your own!), creating discussions and contributing to existing topics around the group topics. Doing this activity in a thoughtful way will build your “social selling index” and add credibility to your brand. Over time this activity will give you insight to what your potential new customer are interested in. This is the preamble before you should reach out to connect with them.

Tap into hashtags on Twitter

Hashtags and social conversations are a superb way to find new customers. Twitter has over 600 million users and the real-time chatter provides any business with ample amounts of data to find customers.

For example, if your company is selling the latest marketing tool and your target audience are marketing professionals, search the hashtags #marketing on Twitter and a list of conversations and profiles with marketing will be accessible. Just like LinkedIn you can then start following and engaging with these professionals so you can start building relationships that can potentially turn into new customers.

Promote your customers on social media

Promoting real and valid customer stories is a great way to find new customers through word of mouth referrals. Select some customers who are benefiting from using your product or better still ones, who engage with your product on the social media platforms, then promote them on your company’s social channels. This type of activity will gain those customers’s loyalty, and the exposure you receive when they also share the “promotional url/article” on their own social profiles; increasing your brand awareness through your brand promoters.

Funnel social media traffic to landing pages

The creation and use of landing pages on inbound marketing and social media campaigns are a great way to find new customers. When running a campaign to promote a product, a white paper or maybe a webinar on social media, funnel your traffic to a landing page that relates back to the tweet or social post. Companies like Hubspot and Marketo are experts at this. It works as follows.

landing-page-example

When someone clicks on the link in the tweet/post it takes them to a dedicated landing page to download the content or information after submitting their name and email address. This kick starts the lead nurturing process for potential new customers that were acquired through social platform traffic.

Use and optimise Social Video

Video channels such as YouTube, Vimeo and Vine are powerful social networks to generate social media traffic for your business. In fact, according to Shareaholic, Google owned YouTube drives the most qualified referrals to websites.

social-video-facts

If not already doing so, consider using video content in your marketing strategy. Ensure to always include a call to action at the end of the video or in the description box. The call to action should funnel people to a landing page (see previous tip).

Target and measure Social Sharing

Social sharing is not only a powerful method to generate online referral traffic but also to boost SEO which in turn drives more traffic. Every day there are over 22 billion social shares on the web. This echo system can provide a large amount of product exposure that requires very little work.

Always include social share buttons on every blog article and make sure they are positioned to make it is easy and encouraging for users to share your content. Depending on the quality of the content will increase traffic to your content or website.

Become active on Google+

Google+ has over 2.5 billion users. (Social Media Facts and Trends) and in the world of social networks, Google+ can be overlooked. However, Google+ has a useful feature in its Google+ Communities. Just like LinkedIn groups, these communities have members which could a source of new customers. Do a search on a topic relevant to your business, and you will see the communities that could be a good channel to engage with potential customers.

Google-Plus-Community

Do a search for “web designers”. The search will pull up the Google+ communities that were made for web designers. Start by joining the communities that have the highest number of members, highest number of posts, and the most relevant profiles. Again the tactic is to engage within the community to build authority, then share relevant content that funnels people towards your website or landing page.

Final Thoughts

All the social media channels provide any business with the opportunity to find new customers and as a customer acquisition channel. The about suggestions are just some of the ways social platforms can be used to find customers. Remember that every tactic must be customised to your types of business and customer, vanilla flavour doesn’t work! So ensure to understand which social networks your target audience are on before committing resources into social media to find new customers. Understanding your ideal “target prospect” and where/what (type of content) this audience engages on the social networks will help you in being efficient in acquiring customers. Do not get caught up in the quantity over quality of leads debate, this is a matter of targets. To be successful in customer acquisition via social media is as simple as ABC, (a) use the right social networks, (b) have great content to share (c) have the right social selling tactics. Follow this mantra and finding new customers on social platforms will become a whole lot easier than you imagined.

Managing a Startup Business

If you can’t find a way, then make a way!

Starting a business, any business is a brave step. But how do you manage a start-up business as well as find customers or put in place a customer acquisition strategy on tight or even zero budgets. Working with early stage and start-up companies I know first-hand how limited resources can be. The tendency for many small businesses is to focus on the product. They add in more and more features or take comfort in a well designed website or just even they talk about strategy rather than putting in place a plan to find and sell to customers so the business can getting on track to achieving  business success AKA revenue generation. The below list is some actionable business tactics to get your small business sales pipeline moving and put you on the track to success.

business-startup

Know your Target market – don’t try to sell to everyone

Product to marketing fit is critical to any business success however a business start-up should never try to be a great product to satisfy all buyers’ needs, this will simply not work as no one product will be for everyone. So step 1 is to try to focus in on one customer target group. It will make the business look more focused, knowledgeable, and professional plus it allows the business to channel its efforts into making one target group happy. The key now is to do a customer targeting exercise (figuring out who your customers are and what they want). I am not saying this is easy, especially if your business is new or you only have 1 or 2 beta customers. Brainstorm on what set of buyers or people who might need your product now by matching it back to what problem your product solves, this is sometimes called your USP- unique selling point or Value Wedge. Also check if it is a fluid market (low hanging fruit to be gathered) by doing some Google searches on related keywords. Balance the fact that you don’t want to define your target market so small or so tightly that it’s something people won’t search for. Think in terms of keywords, search terms or existing topics being discussed on forums or industry buzz.

One Swallow does not make a summer

The lesson here is stay focused on executing the business model and don’t get distracted. A good example of this is a company in the SaaS space I work with, received  a phone call from a big company about doing a demo of their product at their offices which would include a customization element. Even though the meeting went ahead, it came to nothing because my client company was not big enough nor could afford to serve companies in the non-SaaS way. They simply were not big enough to fulfil all the product amendments for this one customer or have a dedicated team to work on the project at the stage where they were trying to find the best product to market fit. This distracted the team for over 6 weeks when they could have been doing more productive lead nurturing work.

business-planning

Make a plan

A business plan will at the very least serve as a guide or a roadmap along the way. Too many small businesses talk about being agile or nimble. That is a process or a culture; it is not a business model. What this can often mean is that their limited resources are waiting to respond to the next challenge thrown before them. I am not suggesting that this is wrong as sometimes it is necessary but not all the time so try to build a business plan. The goal is to develop a sound business strategy that provides a reference framework to keep the business on track to grow by building its awareness, developing brand consideration, attracting new customers and closing sales deals.

Tip: Use this Free Business Tools to focus on your business plan to success, time is precious, do not waste it.

Develop a clear brand for your business

A branding is not just for large corporations; from tiny acorns big trees grow! This does not mean spending vast sums on branding but rather it reflects your mission, values and what your product stands for. The major action here is to determine the core attributes of your brand and promote this .Always strive to present your company in the same way, carve out an awareness level on what your brand represents (product innovation, cost leadership, service leadership ) so that it contributes to the overall business in a cost effective way.

Publish great articles

The old adage about content is king is true. Along with being a product or service company also think of your business as a content publishing house. Articles get search traffic via targeted keywords (SEO) but just as important it positions your brand and business as thought leaders. But you have to stand out from the crowd to get attention. Articles need keyword optimised titles PLUS great content, make them factual or research based to further boost readership. No point in publishing articles as a box ticking exercise, make sure the articles you publish are the best so people want to read or download them or don’t bother. Blunt but true.

A few tips on great content angles:

  • Be highly creative or controversial
  • Be the most knowledgeable
  • Have the most research
  • Write strange articles on your industry

Be Social Media Aware.

As a start-up you probably will read loads on inbound marketing, social media or social selling. Being social media aware is more than a few twitter posts or Facebook likes. Every business needs to have a presence and visibility on a variety of Social Media platforms. Create a social media plan (based on article sharing) and then schedule your social media activities so that you build relationships with social influencers, potential prospects, customers and the public. Learn the art of social selling – share to receive.

Keep it lean and mean – know which plates to spin

Like most start-ups you have a lean team so make sure you know what everyone is doing. Who is driving customer acquisition, marketing and sales? Revert back to your plan and prioritise the key initiatives (revenue and product) including major tasks such as content creation, social media interaction and social selling. Time management and knowing which plates to spin can sometimes be complicated for a small business as they dash around from pillar to post. Find and use the right tools, free business tools like Zoho or Trello should save you time or tears. Finally from me to you, a message of sincere best wishes in your business venture. Happy hunting!

LinkedIn for Lead Generation

LinkedIn can be a powerful sales tool when used as part of lead generation and networking activities. As social selling and reaching social influencers becomes ever more important in raising awareness of a company, brand, product or service it is important to use LinkedIn effectively.

LinkedIn-lead-generation

However, before any lead generation can happen, it is important to build up your network and influence across the social groups on LinkedIn.  Every business, marketing and sales person should focus on 3 key actions.

  1. Give to receive: Share quality, relevant content and news from multiple sources.
  2. Behaviour: Buyers are well informed and knowledgeable so be genuine and insightful.
  3. Connecting: Invest time connecting to people you know plus customers, influencers etc.

Here is some pointers to maximize LinkedIn for lead generation:

Tip 1. Profile: Yes, it seems obvious that you need a profile but the point is you need a full profile (photo, career, articles, social pitch) that will support the lead generation activities, not just any profile mashed together.

Tip 2. Think of your profile as a commercial that clearly spells out “what you do”. So make sure you complete the entire profile (also state that you are open to connecting with people), you could also import your resume or CV.

Tip 3. Make sure maximize the section below your name by using keywords. Select keywords that promote your products or services. If a potential buyer is searching for someone to do “sales and marketing” they are more likely to find you than if you list your company name.

Tip 4. Spend time completing your work history, summary and employment sections (again using active keywords), highlight any accomplishments or achievements. This builds trust within the LinkedIn community.

Tip 5. On-line users can be very visual, so try to include Slideshare content, presentations or videos on your profile and not forgetting any articles you published on LinkedIn pulse. This builds authority.

Tip 6. Unless you are a major social influencer, it is best to keep your LinkedIn profile pretty open as you are using LinkedIn for lead generation, so the easier it is for “social ties” to connect with you, the better. This builds connections to business people and weaker social ties.

Build Relationships Steadily

The whole premises of using LinkedIn is to build  relationships with business colleagues, potential buyers, existing customers, business people you know and to build connections with weak ties via group participation

LinkedIn suggest this 5 step process for building effective relationships based on social media best practices:

  1. Establish presence (Give to receive)
  2. Attract followers (Give to receive)
  3. Engage followers (Behaviour)
  4. Share your message (content, news, articles) through your network (Connecting)
  5. Analyse results and refine your strategy

As I keep stating, you will attract more followers and connections if you post fresh, valuable content on a regular basis.

Use Content Marketing

I have written elsewhere on The Bitter Business site about the power of content marketing. On LinkedIn stories that have a social twist, that educate, that gives insights or have a human element will attract the highest readership.

Posting articles with a variety of content, on a regular basis on LinkedIn or indeed any social network is best practise. The content should consist of sharing blog (links) updates, as well as unique written content for LinkedIn to share with your connections.

Remember content marketing creates awareness of your company and puts you on the road as an authority within a group or subject. Also, as with all content marketing, make sure your content is SEO optimized. Without being overly promotional try to include a subtle call to action (CTA) in your LinkedIn posts. Including a link back to your company website is a great way to increase your lead generation performance.

Content marketing is not just about self-promotion, it also includes content curation and is a good way to encourage connections by sharing updates from social influencers and industry experts in your own updates. It is all about, giving to receive as you cannot expect sharing of your own content unless you are willing to share quality content written by others.

Try to give LinkedIn updates daily, maybe once or twice a day (with no more than a couple per day). Some social media gurus believe sharing posts in the morning works best, my own view is either late afternoon or just after lunch. Experiment to see what times work best for you.

online-lead-generation

Match the Buyers Journey

Content marketing is aimed at matching the needs of potential customers as they travel the buyer’s journey – awareness, consideration and decision. We now know from studies that in today’s on-line world, B2B buyers do most of their information and awareness gathering on-line, not waiting for some salesperson to ring them up. In fact, many B2B customers prefer to purchase on-line — that’s how Dell created a global business selling computers online.

It is critical that you DO NOT view your content shared on LinkedIn as some sort of teaser or preamble in B2B lead generation — it is the main tool in creating buyer awareness!! Always give readers all the information they need to work with you, not just a few selected sound bites or customer success stories. Your tactics is to carry potential customers on the buyer’s journey from awareness to consideration, on to decision and through post-purchase. So the content shared should include information on using the product or service, answers about installation or how to use, any industry recommendations or awards plus encourage feedback on the articles are all important factors in providing for the entire buyers journey.

 Analyse and Tweak

No lead generation or marketing campaign is complete without capturing data to assess performance and provide information to tweak the campaign. LinkedIn provides some good analytic tools to track performance of your LinkedIn company pages including clicks and other interactions. Make the most of these analytic insights by doing conscious testing — article headlines, post types, post times — not just monitoring passively. With patience and work, LinkedIn social selling can not only generate leads but also influence buyers considerations.

Sales Consultant

The bitter business acts as a sales consultant providing sales as a service in the areas of business development, sales strategy; social selling and high level lead generation. Entrepreneurs and early stage companies have no shortage of ideas on products and solutions but may struggle with ramping up sales and customer acquisition. In today’s digital environment — social media, social selling, inbound marketing, lower cost of customer acquisition, driving web traffic —it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly what to do to raise the bar on generating sales revenue.

As a hands on sales consultant with real world experience in growing profitable businesses, The Bitter Business can help you plot and implement the paths that will lead to significant increases in sales revenue.

sales-business-growth

1 Goal – Help You Improve Sales Revenue

The first step is to get to know the ins and outs of your market sector, quickly grasping the dynamics in the market. Next step is to work with you to uncover the changes and actions required to see sales revenue improvement. Then working hands on, moving from recommendations to implementing the actions and activities to move the dial on sales and marketing.

While I may call myself a sales consultant, my work goes way beyond just providing analysis and plans to help a business improve its sales, I get actively involved with the sales and marketing strategy using the Smarketing approach but never forgetting that at heart I am a person who sells things to other people.

Sales Consulting Approach from “The Bitter Business”

Learn the Product or Service

Apart from quickly immersing myself in the product to market fit, I take the time to get to know the company, its vision and what it wants to achieve. Then it is about acquiring expertise in the product or service while becoming familiar with competitors, market approach, the buyers journey and industry dynamics.

Generating Leads

The whole sales process starts with generating sales leads but to generate leads we need to build awareness and increase the consideration levels (sales pipeline, inbound marketing, proactive selling and social selling). The role of any good sales consultant is to start generating qualified leads. This means using a wide list of resources and skills to know who to target and then draw up a target selection profile including creating a database of people or companies that could potentially be interested in your offering. This work involves using a variety of prospecting tools ranging social networks, LinkedIn groups, business forums, content marketing, and business directories research to good old fashioned sales prospecting.

Lead Nurturing and Sales Appointments

Part of the work of a sales consultant is to nurture leads and secure sales appointments with prospective customers. Part of the service is developing a strong sales pipeline, provide sales forecasting and organising sales meetings. Also during a sales appointment, as a sales consultant I can demonstrate the product and provide any information that the customer asks for regarding the product to bring about a successful sale.

Sales Process

As a sales consultant who has worked for Dell, Oracle, Apple, J2 and many other companies I am experienced in looking at a business sales structure, processes and sales cycle. Part of my remit is to analyse the sales process to see how well it works and then recommend business advice on how to improve aspects like lead generation, close rates and shorter sales cycles. Also part of the role can be to go through the different aspects of a business (sales activities, marketing spend, customer acquisition strategies, cost per lead, sales productivity) to determine how to grow sales and then help the business owner to understand how the sales efforts needs to be improved. Providing auxiliary services, like SEO, inbound marketing, market research and competitor analysis or helping a client business implement an on-line strategy is all part of the services on offer

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Management Skill Set

Whether the sales efforts needs to be office-based spending time to observe the sales performance, working with the management team on strategy or working remotely to drive sales growth from scratch, The Bitter Business has the management skill set and over 30 years sales experience to deliver results. Like any business leader, I have strong people skills and comfortable working directly with business owners. Being highly analytical and quick to spot patterns and errors in a sales process has helped many clients in the past. As a sales consultant I enjoy being creative as I work with so many different types of sales processes from on-line to telesales to enterprise selling. Regardless of the challenge I have the skills to come up with cost effective solutions that are specific to each individual business.

Feel free to connect with me for a chat over a coffee as I am always happy to invest time listening to a business opportunity or challenge.

Sales Strategy

To have an effective sales strategy a business needs to consider its products, its market and how the sales effort will be directed to ensure it captures profitable growth selling to customers. Sales strategy is a business decision on (1) who the sales teams are going to sell to (2) what are they going to sell them  and (3) how are they going to sell to them?

business-game

Sales strategies ensures market and customer coverage with plans that give the best possible opportunity to win business. In more detail, a sales strategy defines  the customer segments it wants to target(verticals, industries, geographical), the business value propositions for each segment (product, pricing, distribution), how the sales force will be structured (inbound, field, deal value) and the selling processes.

Today’s business is more about “Smarketing” than sales and marketing. Effective business strategy brings marketing and sales together to drive traffic, generate leads, build awareness and improve consideration levels so more customers buy. In a nutshell a good sales strategy will help a business identify and take advantage of the best opportunities available.

Sales strategy Tips.

Business planning

The sales strategy must be based on the business and marketing plans. Outline in as much detail as possible – how will the sales team deliver marketing objectives, plan to target market segments and how will they support marketing activities, such as content marketing or promotional events. Next identify the key aims of the strategy – sell more to the same? Is it about market penetration or market development? Also which target markets you are aiming for and the time, money and resources needed.

Understand the market and find out more about your existing customers or target customer profile. What are their needs, what problems need solving, what products they consider and what they expect from a product or supplier?  Research when, where, how and why the existing customer base buys.  In a B2B sales environment identify who Influences buying decisions both inside the company and on social networks or industry forums. Monitor key trends in the market and social media, trends like market changes and the activities of competitors.  Identify what will be the key drivers for the business that the market will buy.

Pay attention to the cost of customer acquisition and selling costs. List existing customers in order of profitability then create a list of existing, potential and major customers. Always include the total cost of selling to each one by sales channel. Identify the metrics or sales KPI’s that will enable the business to understand what a profitable customer looks like. Now use these profiles to target similar companies. So the sales strategy plan should now be in line with the marketing strategy and the planning should have costs associated to the sales efforts.

Target customers

Business growth depends on acquiring new, profitable business with different customers. Plan how you will approach every new customer. Maybe to win the business of a key customer, you may offer acquisition pricing, creating a loss-leader or maybe giving the product on a trial basis. Make sure you have a plan to move prices and margins back up to a profitable level, or else live with reduced margins from these customers.

For existing businesses develop more business with existing customers. Plan out what you will do to get existing customers buy more and buy different products (‘up-’ and ‘cross-selling’). Plan how to keep retain customers and build relationships. A sales strategy should include a mix of customers, to help safeguard sales revenue. Do not rely too much on one customer, and be aware of potential customer finance problems.

Sales plans should include a balance between time spent developing new business and that spent on existing customers. Forecast and manage seasonal sales or sales cycles.

Reaching the customer

Now that customer target selection has been set, you need to decide which sales channels will be most effective in selling to which customers. Do you sell direct or through channels? Map out the costs of each channel against the benefits it would bring.

Most businesses have a direct sales strategy. Direct sales methods include web, e-commerce, selling face-to-face, direct mail, social selling and telesales. Selling face-to-face is the most expensive sales method, and works well for enterprise high-value sales with a longer sales cycle.

Also, never rule out joining forces with other businesses to boost your sales effort.  For example, related, but non-competing, companies might share customer information. In reaching target customers marketing needs to support the sales channels by communicating with the audience to create awareness and build up the consideration level within buyers for your product. Marketing strategy is about influencing how customers would prefer to hear about, and buy, your products or services

Sales plans

Together with your sales managers and team(s), prepare the sales forecast. Sales forecasting is a detailed breakdown of the sales to be achieved each month, by customer and by product .Base forecasts on previous sales levels or if a new business base on the business plan. Take into account information about customers’ buying habits, sales cycle and other factors such as pricing and marketing activities. Plot the likelihood of achieving sales, using a percentage figure, and set out timescales when you expect to close them. Agree how much traffic, enquiries and leads are needed to achieve the forecasted sales growth. Divide out how many leads should come from new and existing customers.

Sales planning should identify customers by name where possible but always the number you expect to sell to. Define the number of sales you expect from sales KPI’s such as meetings, calls or other contacts (your sales ‘conversion’ rate). Determine the frequency and levels of sales activity needed to achieve targets. For example, allocate the amount of time to be spent on each account. Remember to include the whole range of activities needed to complete a sale. Decide how many sales people you need to achieve your sales targets, and allocate territories or accounts. Plan sales costs in proportion to the sales or profits you expect to make.

sales-and-business

Prepare the annual sales budget. This is a summary of the yearly sales forecast and acts as a benchmark to compare updated forecasts during the year. Prepare worst case, likely case and best case versions of the budget, and plan what you will do in each case. Revise your sales forecasts monthly, quarterly or annually, using past performance as the guide. Compare sales closed and the sales pipeline with the sales budget. If there is a significant difference between the two figures, find out why. Sales leadership is about adjusting to new challenges, planning new sales initiatives and knowing when to adjust sales expenditure.

Don’t underestimate the sales cycles. The total amount of time taken to complete a sale or acquire a new customer can have a critical impact on a business’s cash flow. If you have a market development strategy, new product or service, it will take longer to make sales. Work with customers’ decision-making habits. Plan out sales drives and product launches in detail. Align sales to the other business activities. An example is not to forecast sales that the software development team cannot deliver. Plan the sales campaigns and social selling to support the marketing strategy (new product launches or new whitepaper). When the sales strategy has been defined, a business may need to adjust the marketing plan as the sales team could have identified a new customer group to target.

Selling resources

There is now a range of sales tools available to a business of any size that will increase efficiency. A CRM or sales forecasting tool is essential to manage information on customers. Consider what resources could make your sales people more productive (example: premium LinkedIn account, Pipedrive, Trello, Zoho, and Salesforce). Also plan to provide appropriate admin support to allow sales people more time to focus on selling. Ensure sales people have access to documents like content marketing pieces, research papers, white papers, industry stats and market research. Use an on-line sales report tool (like Pipedrive) to record relevant information for each customer contact.

Inform and support the sales team. Have regular sessions to make sure sales people understand the business mission, what sets the product or service apart and train them to communicate this to customers. Understand just what value your product or service will bring to the customer’s business; this is the value proposition. Give sales people key information about pricing, profit margins, negotiable areas and product roadmaps. Demand that sales people record their sales activities and produce weekly reports. The sales pipeline by sales person should be scored for each customer deal, reflecting the potential value of sales and the percentage likelihood of conversion. Train the sales people regularly to improve their product and market knowledge as well as selling skills. Monitor and drive progress in supportive, weekly one-to-one meetings to review progress.

Measuring performance

Cost of sale analysis. Review and quantify the time and money spent on different customers. Focus on profitability, margin or deal size before volume of sales. Dig into the win/loss ratio, cost per lead, lead to conversion and cost per customer sale. Analyse which customer segments, sales people and channels are most productive, and the reason why. Monitor the returns on sales costs. Separate out sales force and sales support costs. Analyse conversion rates monthly, using the sales team’s pipeline, forecast and weekly activity reports. Work out how many sales have been made, the cost of customer acquisition and calculate the average value. Measure the data between leads, visits, proposals and deals closed.  This goes for both new and existing customers. Examine each stage in the selling process to find out where customers are falling out of the sales funnel.

Identify problems in the sales process or funnel and find out what has caused them. Do you have low sales into new accounts because of long lead times or the value proposition needs tuning. Identify dead deals or dormant accounts and follow them up. Always remember that selling to an existing customer is far easier and cheaper than winning new ones.

strategy-plan

At the end of the sales and business strategy planning process, a business will have when combined with deep customer insights and needs plus the buying processes will have identified growth channels. Tailor the sales strategy to the market opportunity will ensure sales leadership make winning decisions about where to allocate sales and marketing resources, how to structure the sales force, and how to choose the best sales process that will drive results on a constant basis for the business.

Customer Targeting

Customer targeting or who a business sells to whether it is B2B or B2C, is a key part of the business planning process. Customer profiling and target selection is critical as it defines the marketing strategy, resources, costs and customer target selection lists for the sales team. A businesses services or products may have appeal to a wide range of customers or markets but the reality is you cannot target everyone at once so you need to list your target customers by demographics, segment, industry and size to get the best return possible.

customer-targeting

Every business wants as many people or buyers as possible to know about their business. However when it comes to customer acquisition the more customers you want to reach, the reality is the more time, resources and money it’s going to cost. Defining the customer acquisition strategy and target customer selection may feel like you could be ignoring some groups or segments but it is important to remember that you’re not excluding anyone; for now the business is choosing where to focus, to spend the time and money to win new customers at reasonable cost. Customer targeting focuses a business and ensures all marketing and sales resources are being maximised. Focusing on a market segment or profile of businesses/consumer who could be interested in what company is offering allows you to communicate and engage with that segment more deeply. The cost of customer acquisition alongside the product to market fit is critical for any business success.

Customer Targeting – Action Plan

Consult the business plan.

Review the business plan, the business mission, the product strategy, and then look at the goals the business has set itself, next analyse the products and/or services on offer. Think about how the products or services you sell solve a problem for a potential customer. Also, think about what sets you apart from the competition in your industry—what makes you different? Where are the low hanging fruit? And who might be interested and who may benefit most from having what you are offering. In customer acquisition knowing why customers buy and why they should consider you is vital in identifying your target audience.

Now move on to the information you need to know and why. What do you need to know about your potential customers in order to reach them?

As your ideas become clearer, refine the business plan and go to market strategy to focus on who you want your audience to be, remember product to market fit is a key building block in business success so target selection is ultimately about the customer. Rather than think about who you would like to sell to, think about the market, who do you believe is considering or likely to evaluate the products and services you offer.

customer-acquisition-strategy

Research your customer targets.

Start with free publicly available research. Existing sources like LinkedIn, Google, Industry whitepapers, articles and forums can help most businesses gather together information about your market, the industry, your competition, and the profiles of the potential customers you have already identified. While it takes time and effort, the cool thing is that someone has already done the work and the information you gleam will not cost you anything. Join groups, follow influencers on Twitter, and get access to updates on social media and what the competition is talking about.

Create a typical customer profile.

Once you have narrowed down the customer target list (segment, demographic, vertical, and industry), now you will need to create a typical customer profile. This is not an in-depth profile but a brief outline of what the typical customer may look like including demographics and profiling information:

Demographic information: This might include for B2B targeting – company size, industry, location, financials, and buyer path or decision trees. In B2C this may include – customer age, gender, location, ethnic background, marital status, income, and more.

This information can be essential for developing the actual customer profile list. Demographic information will help you identify the type of person or business who you believe will be most open to buying your products and services.

Locate your audience.

Next step is to get immersed in where your customer target profiles live on the web. Find out what forums, groups and social networks they engage with. Can they be social influenced with content; do they invite connections, what is their culture, habits or interests? The information put together on customer profiles together with knowing where the on-line locations your target audience hangs out or how they use technology will improve your chance to create awareness and shorten the sales cycle.

Refine and improve.

Customer target selection and profiling is a continuous effort as your products and growth stages change. Every business needs to continually conduct research and tap into social networks for conversations to stay current on market and industry trends including your competition.  Also it is important to track how your current and potential customers move through the buyer funnel. A key part is to have the marketing tools and insights to make sure you can track leads, traffic, sales, social interactions, requests for information, and more. All of these customer touch points are important to monitor. This marketing data will help the business to identify trends, patterns, and possible areas of improvement. Refining and improving your cost per lead, cost per sale and lead to revenue metric will ensure you maximise the marketing efforts as your business grows.

Why Customers Buy

Customers buy solutions to problems or solutions for outcomes they need to make their business or lives better. While pricing is important it usually ranks 3 or 4 on buyer’s criteria. Too many businesses rely on the assumption in the era of digital self-education that the most important thing to a customer is price. But buyers and consumers are moving away from the traditional purchasing funnel to a more enlightened decision journey that uses the Internet to change the way they research, value and buy products. If sales and marketing plans have not changed in response to the new buyer-driven decision journey, it better start soon.

So why do customers buy?

Before we answer that, the first thing to understand is that every customer has a “decision journey”. This journey has pre-purchase and post-purchase steps. The pre-purchase journey can be described as Awareness Consider Evaluate Buy.  The post-purchase journey is Reflect Feel Decide.

In this article we will discuss the pre-purchase customer decision journey. Understanding the customer journey and its steps as to why customers buy can speed up the sales cycle improve conversation rates and drive revenue.

decision-journey

Awareness.

They say the goal of marketing is to reach potential customers within a specific market and influence their buying choices by making them aware of their brand or products. Today, buyers are so well informed and knowledgably thanks to the explosion of social media and digital channels, they can create a buyer “consider list” without the company ever having a sales conversation or contact.  Marketing has to align itself to the awareness part of the decision journey. To raise awareness companies need to focus on buyer-driven marketing of which the internet is at the core. Pushing out brochures, advertisements or media buying as part of a company-driven marketing plan is still relevant but buyer-driven marketing is about creating digital properties that pull buyers towards the company, digital properties like whitepapers, product specific informational web sites, content marketing, customisable content, free product interactions, social selling, tools to engage people on social conversations about your industry and products, comment posting and world of mouth interactions, context marketing, etc. So buyer-driven marketing is about raising awareness to buyers who are already most likely engaged on the internet for your products and services.

Consider.

This is the part of the decision journey where consumers and buyers narrow down their buying funnel and start to consider what companies, brands or products they would contemplate purchasing from or not.  Has the buyer-driven marketing plan got the business into the consideration phase of the journey? This can be measured by trigger events like web traffic, sales leads, inbound enquires, white paper downloads and via social media channels like twitter and Facebook. This is where marketing, sales, customer service have the tools to cover all the buyer touch points to make it easier for the buyer to move to the Evaluate step.

Evaluate.

This part of the decision journey is where buyers add and remove companies or brands as they further narrow (and qualify) their buying funnel. General evaluation leads on to active evaluation where information gathering, sales conversations, meetings, presentations, proposals come into the mix. Research shows during the evaluation phase buyers look for ease of use, ease of implementation, product offering and ease of connection to company (multiple touch points). This is also where buyer-driven marketing pays off as buyers now start to “pull” information from the internet, information like product reviews, white papers, and previous buyer ratings while also pulling insights into the company and product via free trials, proof of concept, face-to-face, phone or web interactions, customer references and company policies.

Buy.    

Commitment to buy. Where the buyer selects a brand to do business with and makes the decision to purchase. This is where the company ensures all steps are kept to a minimum, whether its clicks, paperwork, compliance, set-up, downloads, configuration and payment.

Smarketing – integrate all customer-facing activities

The shift in buyer-supplier selling process and the buyer decision journey means that marketers and sales leadership must adopt and view this change as an opportunity to be in the right place at the right time, giving buyers the information and support they need to make the decisions. Sales and marketing have to be one where every touch point from customer facing activities, web sites, PR, leads generation, customer awareness and sales is everyone’s responsibility.

Consider and Evaluate – connect the dots for the buyer

What the buyer is looking for during these steps is Value. If a buyer cannot see the difference between two products, then price wins. If sales and marketing do not address the customer question “How will I benefit from this product or service?” in their buyer-driven and connect the dots for the buyer then the buyer will remove the company from the decision journey or go for lowest price solution.

Remember, people buy because they have needs, a problem needing solving, a goal that needs fulfilling, a situation that needs to be remedied, something that affects their life or  business, and needs solutions.  In the Consider and Evaluate steps buyer preferences usually fit into three main categories, known as PPI:

Productivity – efficiency, ease of use, outputs

Profitability – ROI, making money, increase revenue, improve profit margin

Image – brand, style, reputation, approval, desirability (this is mainly consumers)

Buyer-driven marketing is focused on the buyer priorities with messaging on Productivity, Profitability or Image. Buyer-driven marketing also answers the question “WWFM or what is in it for me?” So why do customers buy?, most likely because a company and its people understand the customer decision journey, created an awareness link to the buyer and then sales, marketing, customer service and product working in unison took the buyer through the Consider and Evaluate steps with a systematic approach based on insights and relevant information

Marketing Plan

A marketing plan is a series of tactics that deliver agreed goals for the business

First thing for any small business to note is that marketing plans do not have to be a complicated fifty page document. Marketing plans and go-to-marketing strategies may get more advanced and complicated as a business grows but for the vast majorities of companies a simple, effective marketing plan will suffice. Do not write a marketing plan to please an investor or bank manager, write the marketing plan as your best bet to get customers interested into what you are selling.

marketing-plan

Most small businesses will usually find one key marketing tactic that produces a consistent return on investment (ROI) plus two or three secondary tactics which when added together allows the business to grow revenue. The key marketing tactic can range from trade-shows, SEO, PPC, inbound marketing, social selling to advertising. The key marketing tactic selected is the marketing foundation and it needs to be solid, deliver consistent results and removes any fear of the marketing plan failing.

Don’t panic if your business is new or it has not found one yet, please read on.

A great tip to identify what type of marketing plan is right for a business is to ask this question “What is the lifetime value in profit of a customer we sell to?”

I suggest you then assign your business into one of these three customer lifetime profit value categories

  1. Sub €200 profit
  2. Sub €2000 profit
  3. Above €2000 profit

This is important as it defines your cost of customer acquisition (what it costs a business to get a customer to buy from them) and how much a business can afford to pay for clicks, traffic and a sales lead. The business should also figure in customer churn, do not over calculate how often or how long a customer will stay loyal to a business. Depending on the business model, the marketing plan also affects cash flow, because you pay for marketing upfront with a lag over weeks or months to get an ROI on the tactics.

  1. The lifetime value (profit) of the average customer is LESS than €200.
    The products or services sold may cost €50 to €200 or higher AND as a business if you sell to that customer two, three, four times over a three year period, the profit on that customer would be less than €500. An example of this could be an online florist. A bouquet of flowers costs €55, but the customer is probably going to buy two or three times a year means the likely profit from that customer is less than €200.
  2. The lifetime value (profit) of the average customer is LESS than €2000. The vast majority of businesses fall into this category. The premise here is that the product or service costs an amount that will generate a €2k profit, OR the average customer buys more than once over a period of time with the total purchases adding up to more than €2000 profit. An example here is an online SaaS software company. The average monthly subscription is €50. That is €600 a year over three years = €1800. With a 60% profit margin this comes to €1080 for the lifetime value (profit) of the customer.
  3. The lifetime value (profit) of the average customer is ABOVE €2000.
    This category usually applies to large one of consumer purchases or a B2B sales environment. The calculation here is that the sale or number of sales over a period of time (36 months) will generate in excess of €2000 profit for the business.

So, now that you have assigned your business to category 1, 2 or 3, here is some suggested key marketing tactics as the foundation to drive the business growth.

If a business is a 1 – Referrals/Local/AdWords

The key marketing KPI here is can you generate leads/traffic/enquires for less than €1 and the cost of customer acquisition (getting a sales or purchase) is no more than €10. A simple marketing metric is the business sold to 100 customers in a month and spent €100 on marketing, so the cost per sale was €1.

Maybe distribute flyers door to door with special offers, advertise locally online with free samples, and optimise your website for local target keywords. Ask customers for referrals to add to your email marketing newsletters. Send OUT newsletters to your existing customers. Attend local events and business organisations. Find one key marketing activity that generates enough customers where it costs the business as little as possible to get a sale.

If a business is a 2 – Inbound marketing/PPC/Social Media

In this category the sales cycle could be longer or need sales intervention. The business will need to generate a high enough volume of leads to generate the ROI needed to be successful. SEO work can be critical here but this should be part of an inbound marketing tactic. The use of social networks for social selling and content marketing to influence buyers should be considered. A good email marketing solution and a resource to work on social media campaigns is probably a must. Budgets permitting, Google Ad Words will deliver the quickest bang for your marketing buck alongside social media tactics.

If a business is a 3 – Inbound marketing/PPC/Social Media/Events/Sponsorship

Depending on your market segment, where customers generate a profit north of €2000 usually involves more lead nurturing, heavier buyer influence, bigger social media reach and plans for a more guided sales cycle. I have seen companies successfully use events as their key marketing tactic even if the sales cycle and cost per lead required more investment. The biggest success tactic from a marketing activity now used in this category is content marketing. Maybe consider putting a lead generation person on social selling to generate customer interest. A business needs to invest in resourcing the writing and publishing of well executed articles and whitepapers to set the business as a thought leader in their industry. While the cost per sales lead and cost of customer acquisition can be higher, the marketing plan tactics needs to deliver more solid leads or higher qualified customers as the marketing investment in this category can seriously impact the cash flow of a smaller business.

social-media-planning

Regardless of 1, 2 or 3, the key to making a marketing plan work is to be: CONSISTENT.

Plans take time, for a plan to work it must be implemented with both the heart and the head.  Every marketing plan has to have KPI’s and metrics. Implement, stick with it and adjust where necessary. Do not adopt the “give it a whirl” approach or alter course before the data supports the decision. In a digital world, social media marketing has overtaken sales and even brands as the core business driver. The buyer-supplier relationship has moved on, fast, the marketing plan needs to address how to deliver a consistent return on investment (ROI) via a key marketing tactic plus two or three secondary tactics which when added together matches the business strategy for growth.

Sales Strategy – Marketing Services – Sales Consultant – Social Selling – Inbound Marketing – Lead Generation

I'm always available to have a chat on your business plans and any challenges in lead generation, social selling, marketing or sales.