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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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 Lead Generation

Sales lead generation is the fuel that powers the sales engine; it is the single biggest sales activity to ignite the selling process. Sales lead generation includes three core principles: First is having the correct product to market fit strategy including compelling offers. Second is putting the product and offers in front of the right audience in large enough numbers and third is giving the audience a reason to act or interact with the business now.

If a business can make the above three things happen and then use some of the tips listed below to gain sales momentum, it should put the sales engine on a path for increasing sales while refining a sales strategy that will work in the future.

Every sales manager or sales leaders knows that the sales growth is a given together with other sales goals the business demands. It could be to boost sales by twenty percent or acquire new customers in a new market. Maybe the sales plan includes launching a new product line. To move sales planning and goals into sales success, sales leadership calls for carefully planned out selling tactics; clear eyed understanding on the current state of the business and the maturity to know when and what to change.

To achieve bigger sales and better sales leads generation results; here are some ideas and insights a sales manager may consider:

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Step 1.Develop a Sales Lead Generation Portfolio

View all lead generation activities as a financial investors would view an “investment portfolio” of assets — such as shares, bonds, stocks and real-estate investments. Financial investors have a diversified investment portfolio because it reduces the risk and maximizes the chances of success, so if one investment strand is not performing, the other investments will pick up the slack.

Sales and business development operate in much the same way; every business should have a “sales lead generation portfolio” of all the different types of lead generation sources and different activities to gather sales leads. Plan for the future because even if a business is getting sales leads from one source (say, inbound marketing), if the sales leadership within the business implements a diverse portfolio of lead generation sources with targets, the business has multiple opportunities to get new sales leads from other channels (such as content marketing, social selling, networking, cold calling or email marketing).

So cast a fresh eye on the entire lead generation portfolio:

  • Where did the business get most of the new sales leads last year?
  • Where did the business get the biggest or highest close rate leads?
  • Which marketing activities worked well, and which ones did not deliver?
  • What was the cost per sales lead per activity and lead to revenue costs?
  • How can the sales strategy be fine-tuned and how can the sales activates be adjusted to do more of the “effective” lead generation tactics, and less of the activities that did not deliver the results?

Every sales leader must keep evaluating the sales lead generation performance against targets along the way, and take the corrective actions to ensure the sales pipeline keeps flowing.

Step 2.Get in Touch With Old Customers and Prospects

Customer referrals and checking back in with old prospects or dormant customers is often an overlooked sales activity. Get the sales teams to contact old customers, dormant customers, lost business leads, buyers (if they have moved on) and people who have bought before but the business has not interacted with for a while. Things move on, people change roles, business needs are different, business lost to competitors may be in play again, so get the sales team to spend some time on this lead generation activity. Formulate a plan to check in with them and see what’s happening with their businesses. Ask questions, listen to them, and try to kick start the relationship that led them to consider or buy from the company in the first place.

It has been proven that it is easier to generate more revenue and referrals from the existing customer base (or former customers) than it is to find, qualify and convince a new customer to buy from a business for the first time.

Step 3.Have a Process for Handling Incoming Sales Leads

As the sales lead generation portfolio gathers momentum and the business starts getting more inquiries from prospective customers (calls, contact forms, emails, request for information, whitepaper downloads), it is important the sales teams understand the value in a sales lead. The sales leadership must ensure there is a process and system to handle every single sales lead.

Also ensure that weak suspects do not make it on to the sales pipeline, so the business should have a process in place for inbound lead qualification along the following lines:

  • Talk (not email) to al new prospective customers.
  • Listen, profile and ask questions.
  • Identify their needs, budgets, authority.
  • Correctly align to either lead nurturing, sales nurturing or discard.

Best sales management practise suggests that upfront qualification of inbound sales leads saves a lot of time later during the sales process. Ensuring sales leads are identified by the best, most promising, highest priority sales leads and then lead nurturing the ones that are not ready to buy now leads to a clean and transparent sales pipeline.

These three steps to sales lead generation should help a business to focus or redefine the sales lead generation process for improved lead to revenue performance. For more on this subject read related articles below.

Sales Outsourcing

In Ireland, sales outsourcing or Sales-As-A-Service should be considered as it can offer multiple benefits to a start-up or growing business. Companies can boost its sales functions, accelerate sales and build the business faster by contracting in an interim sales manager or director for outsourced selling, business development or lead generation.

sales-outsourcing

Outsourcing is nothing new as many Irish small businesses already outsource their PR, advertising, marketing or finance functions. In fact a number of recent studies have shown that mid-market companies that are using sales outsourcing can have a competitive advantage over companies that have all these sales functions in house. Lean, agile, high growth companies are now taking a different approach; they are finding sales partners with the experience to cost effectively and efficiently drive their sales strategy.

Building a sales team is not easy or cheap

Recruitment costs and time makes building a sales team no easy task. An outsourced sales partner fit in to take the same company approach to selling while also investing time in getting to know the business. An experienced sales outsourcing company can then provide the sales and marketing skills necessary to go out and win customers. The benefits to a business are instant access to an experienced sale professional who will short circuit the time to find the right markets, customers, messages, and media for exposure. An outsourced sales partner hits the ground running faster, cutting down on the ramp up time to target prospects and new customers.

The sales outsource partner should have the ability to refine or quickly implement the company’s sales strategy. When a company needs revenue, to test or define a target marketing, outsourcing some sales functions is a way to get sales resources fast without any long term commitment.

A major benefit to a budget constrained or small business is that sales outsourcing cuts out a lot of the risk. The investment of time and money into hiring a full time sales person can lead to a company holding on to a person even when they are not delivering on the sales, whereas the agreement with an outsourced sales partner can usually be terminated within 30 days’ notice.

The Bitter Business is owned by a seasoned executive who has the proven experience and skills necessary to oversee a company’s sales efforts and help the founders and management to put it on a path to success. The sales and marketing service on a risk-reward model can utilise existing business relationships, contacts and networking which is put at the disposal of the company. Also outsourcing sales is a great way to kick start demand generation for a smaller business and sales outsourcing means the business is free from having to generate leads from customers in order for the sales partner to start working.

Some advantages of sales outsourcing include

  • Implement fast and efficient sales strategy
  • To reduce the cost of sales (no salaries, fixed cost)
  • Grow the sales resources without adding fixed overheads
  • Access to sales experience and contacts
  • Short circuit the sales cycle
  • Test the best sales process to acquire customers
  • Find the right channels, customer sweet spots and market segments
  • Leveraging the skills and knowledge without incurring expense
  • Direct accountability to the business. Full transparency on sales pipeline
  • A faster return on investment in the sales efforts
  • Results driven as both sides are making an investment!

 

Outsourced sales services are focused on sales acceleration to a business (B2B, sales partners, channel or business partners). Areas where a business could deploy an outsource sales partner could be inside sales to generate and close leads, channel development to speed up the sales coverage, lead nurturing to work the sales pipeline or as an experience sales manager to refine and implement the sales strategy.

About The Bitter Business

The Bitter Business is focused as a sales accelerator. Working with a broad range of client companies, (mostly start-ups and smaller growth orientated business owners) to help them achieve sales and growth targets. We are based in Ireland but extensive experience in US, UK and EMEA markets. Using a combination of networking, social selling, prospecting, telemarketing and good old fashioned selling, the sales services are supported by deep insights into marketing and customer acquisition strategies.

Social Media Selling for Sales

A growing use of social media within companies by marketing and sales teams is in the area of social selling.  In the sales process connecting with prospects and establishing relationships can be the difference to winning or losing deals, more and more companies are using social media selling to help them accomplish these connections quickly and easily.

Selling and sales methods are evolving; the vast majority of buyers (business or consumers) are socially engaged and informed. The sales team must be too. They need to have the tactics, tools and training to leverage social media for sales success. The innovation of the Internet, cloud based business models, smaller transaction values and the adoption of sales technology tools means the sales profession is in a state of modernisation.

social-media-selling

The Inform versus The Interruption based sales model.

Why bother with social selling? Well still too many sales models are “interruption” based, meaning the sales person or marketing function targets a list of prospects then emails them, phones them, advertises on-line to them, chases them, which is still based on the hard sales concept (even if the actual sales discovery/meetings are collaborate the approach to getting the prospect to engage is interruption based).  Social selling with social media is when the sales team or marketing use social media to engage directly with selected prospects across a range of social networks. The sales team strives to provide value in the sales process by answering prospect questions, posting relevant content and offering insightful information on the company or product until the prospect is ready to engage in the buying process.

So social media is informed based, to intelligently inform a target audience thus allowing the sales teams to enlighten their prospects rather than interrupt them with cold calling or hard sells for meetings. The goal of social media selling is getting buyers into the sales funnel further down, it is about informing and educating prospects then converting them into buyers.

The shift in the way people are buying means sales trainers and sales teams have to shift the way they are selling. The Internet has changed the sales game, time was the only way a potential customer could find out about a product fit was to engage the company or more likely the company interrupted them. Not so any more, now Google, LinkedIn and on-line business forums will allow any buyer to identify the competition, do research on companies and narrow down the potential supplier list which will inform them on their purchase options. Options the supplier company can inform on via social media or let the competition do it. Studies in the sales process have proven time and time again that many buying decisions or lists of preferred vendors are made before a salesperson is even in the conversation, with many companies merely used as a stalking horse.

Sales success in Social Selling.

Before, the sale team signs up for twitter accounts or join hundreds of LinkedIn groups, to be successful in social selling they need to make the following happen.

  1. Sales people must give first, offer content, help and engage their network to become trusted.
  2. Sales people must change their behaviour and interact as buyers expect today.
  3. Sales people need to inform and connect social ties, mainly weak ties.

To assist sales teams with this sales transformation we will start with “social ties”. Almost everyone’s “social networks” is made up of a range of social ties that consist of friends, family, fellow workers, and other acquaintances. Typically this includes a group of very close social ties (family, friends) and a considerably larger number of weak ties (loose acquaintances) that get weaker as a persons social network grows. Across social networks today, the average user has over 800 social ties.

Why is this important to a sales person? Well it has all to do with the concept that weak ties are better than strong ones in social selling.

In social selling building a social network with weak ties offers the best sales opportunities in the longer run, due to different people and interests.

Why Weak Ties Are Better Than Strong Ones.

Well Doctor Mark Granovetter (author of “The Strength of Weak Ties) defined a social tie (and its strength) as, “a combination of the amount of time, the emotional intensity, the intimacy (mutual confiding), and the reciprocal services which characterize the social tie.” And if a sales person only spends time with stronger ties, then they only inform similar people, with similar skills, and similar interests.

Sales people and marketing need to understand that every social network is really a collection of smaller social groups.  The key is to inform the people who are weaker ties within this structure so they can act as a “bridge or broker”, by connecting the sales person to other groups of people as it is weak ties that allow a bridge to occur between two different social groups. A strong tie will usually only connect to similar profiles or interests.

When a sales person spends time informing and engaging weak ties they start connecting with different people, with different profiles, different connections and different interests.  And as a result of this, they create a network effect, opening them up to finding newer and different opportunities for development.

So the More Weak Ties, the More Opportunity.

Thanks to social media and social networks like LinkedIn, the average person has more weak ties than ever before. However the next challenge for the sales person is that is it not as easy to leverage weak ties. They can’t just phone them up and ask for a coffee or meet for lunch to ask them for an introduction to a company or buyer.  Sales people need to have a gradual approach, maybe some gentle nudging with insightful content on an industry, and over time grow the connection into a real business relationship.

This “inform” concept is at the core of social selling, because sales people need to build trusted relationships from the thousands of weak ties they are connected to today in order to influence the social ties they want to be connected to sometime down the line.

Sales people must change their behaviour to Social Selling with a Small Habit.

For social selling to really work, sales people will need to change their behaviour.  As anyone in sales understands, nothing is more important than hitting sales targets for this sales period and the next one will be just as important. But if a business or sales person wants to continue to succeed, they need to start building a social ties network of future opportunities now.

A simple method to do this is for sales people to form the small habit of sharing relevant content to their social network.  Train sales people that in quiet times, maybe as they wait to board a flight, having a coffee or after they check email, share some content prepared by marketing (not sales brochures or self-promotions) or maybe an article they read on LinkedIn, or twitter. Don’t bombard social ties with badly written or irrelevant content. As the sales person builds weak ties connections, they could send it directly to them as long as they know they will find it interesting.  Start small, maybe once per week, and they encourage them to gradually increase that to 2, 3 times per day.  Be thoughtful, be informative but build this habit.

Social selling using the Inform sales model is not a might do, the world and sales channels are shifting, selling power is in the hands of the buyer and buying power is in the hands of the seller, so sales people need to use social selling to attract buyers the same way as buyers are using social media to identify sellers.

Lead Generation

Lead generation efforts whether online,social selling or via sales team can be one of the most underestimated activities in a business in terms of cost,time and the resources needed. The reality is that before a sale transaction happens (even if your B2C business is on-line), there is a process of generating leads (web traffic, inbound,outbound,on-line, events,shows, etc) and in many cases nurturing these leads over a period of time to turn suspects into prospects into sales. So before any sales happens, a business especially in the B2B environment needs a healthy and continuous pipeline of new prospects to sell to.

lead-generation

Generating leads is challenge for most companies 

Generating sales leads is a daily challenge for most companies and according to Forbes Magazine, more than 60% of the marketers polled in a recent marketing survey said their greatest marketing challenge for the year ahead was generating more sales leads to fuel the sales engine, and nearly two-thirds (63%) reported that their marketing mix either doesn’t meet sales demand or they’re unsure of whether their mix is effective. Nearly 40% of those polled cited accurate measurement and attribution of on-line marketing as their biggest challenge.

Remarkably, a quarter (26%) of respondents said they do not track leads to any marketing program at all or they only attribute leads to one program. The old saying about “They know half their marketing spend works but not which half” seems to still ring true more than ever.

Lead generation can be costly (clicks, CPL, sales hunters) so the business needs to educate everyone that without lead generation there is no customer acquisition and probably no sales. It must be the role of every sales and marketing leader in a company to boost sales leads and reduce the cost of filling the pipeline funnel. This needs to be attacked on two fronts, on-line marketing (push,pull,inbound, lead nurturing) and good old fashioned sales work as lead generation cannot be the function of marketing alone. There is now B2B automated lead generation solutions on the marketplace which radically reduces the time sales agents have to spend identifying prospects.

However, lead generation is more than just implementing passive activities like social media, inbound marketing or on-line marketing tactics, the lead generation effort must work hand-in-glove with the sales teams work including social selling, hunting activities around customer acquisition and channel development. Successful companies know how to build a lead generation machine using multiple networks and sources and then fill the sales funnel with qualified prospects on a continuous basis. Most small companies fail not because of product or they can’t sell but because they can’t build a big enough sales funnel of quality prospects in a timely,cost effective way to work the sales process to drive revenue.

sales-outsourcing

There are multiple lead generation tools and resources, for social selling there is LinkedIn, Crunchbase, Owler and other business forums. For on-line inbound lead generation, communities like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Tumblr can deliver leads. B2B lead generation solutions which cut down on sales peoples time trying to get lists of prospects are provided from companies like Connectors Marketplace, Insideview, Sales Loft and Lead Genius.

Cost per Lead Generated

Regardless of where or how a business sources its sales leads, the cost per lead in customer acquisition needs to be measured across all the channels. The goal is to try and work back which channels delivered not quantity of leads or lowest cost per lead but the channel which delivers the best lead to conversion cost. An example of this is while the good old fashioned trade show might be considered very effective in generating high-quality leads, they are also expensive (maybe as much as €10,000 per lead) and what is the lead to conversation cost?.

So build a lead generation process, score or segment every lead, cost every lead and educate all the sales team that when they get handed a lead it has cost the business money to get to the point of just talking.

Customer Acquisition Strategy

This is a guide to a customer acquisition strategy. For many start-ups and new companies the customer acquisition strategy and financial cost of customer acquisition is a critical factor in business survival and often underestimated in a growing business. The cost of getting customers can be the difference between success and failure no matter how good a business believes its product to be.  I once read that the goal of any business is to acquire, develop and maintain customers at a profit. The develop and maintain aspects are more clear forward but let’s focus on the cost associated with acquiring new customers regardless of the channel.  

business-success

Every business needs to acquire new customers to make products and businesses work. Whether the product is aimed at enterprises paying big money or getting thousands of visitors to a website, how a business gets and the cost of getting customers are the important part.

The Definition of Customer Acquisition Strategy could be defined as “The process of persuading someone to purchase a company’s goods or services”. The cost associated with the customer acquisition process is a critical measure for a business to evaluate in tandem with how much value having each customer brings to the business.

 

Is The Business Ready for Customer Acquisition?

Paper never refuses ink and this saying has been true in many a business or sales plan when it comes to putting a cost on customer acquisition. The cost is not just the marketing or sales cost but the time and resource cost to getting new customers. Has the business planned for the sales cycle, the demos, the travel, product trials or has a website planned for the cost from free signups to paid, customer or product support prior to a customer making a purchase. In other words, can a business survive while potential customers go through the acquisition cycle? While a quote like “move fast and break things” is exciting in a company start-up situation, it may not be the best advice when it comes to customer acquisition. The decision to start spending investor or shareholder money taking a product to market and begin acquiring new customers should be given the weight it deserves. Entrepreneurs or a business might have spent months or years developing the product, so the execution of the customer acquisition strategy has to be thought out very carefully.

Even before you spend a cent on customer acquisition ask the questions “is the product ready for some/many customers”? Are there still bugs that will make the customer interaction with the product flawed? While the saying “done is better than perfect” to avoid feature creep is practical; it would be a mistake to launch a broken product and fall at the first hurdle.

To take a step back into the business plan around customer acquisition strategy, can a business tick the box on questions like; how many sales calls per day do you expect the salesperson to make, do they have a target list of suspects and prospects, how much activity on the website can the servers handle? Do you have the customer support with the knowledge required to respond to the questions from new customers? Does the product value proposition the salesperson has to sell make sense to people outside the company? In other words, have you done customer validation? These are the type of questions that you need to answer before committing money to a launch.

customer-acquisition-strategy

Being Prepared Always Matters

Any customer acquisition process is not straight forward or predictable but especially so for new companies, but that doesn’t mean a plan is not useful or necessary. The customer acquisition process is far from an exact science. There are many things that can (and do) go wrong, however there are some things that any business can do to mitigate risk and improve the chances of successfully acquiring new customers. Be clear with your team what “Cost to Acquire Customers” (CAC) means, is it paying customers, trial customers, engaged prospects or even website registrations.  In the long run it should only mean the cost to acquire a paying customer.

Estimate the Cost of Customer Acquisition

Money for new product or new business launches is hard won. The budget and time for a start-up may be tight, so the business needs to estimate “worst case scenario” the cost to acquire customers (CAC) before beginning the marketing or sales process. A businesses CAC is loosely defined as the cost of ALL the sales and marketing expenses over a given period of time, divided by the number of customers the business plans to acquire in that time frame. While no business can have a firm sense of the CAC until they begin acquiring customers, having an estimate will help the business leaders prepare to act accordingly.

Logic rules, no matter how excited a business is about getting it out there, do not underestimate the impact of starting the customer acquisitions spend before the product is ready. The greatest risk apart from alienating potential customers by launching a flawed product is the money a business can burn through before it realises it got something in the product wrong.  Every business should ask, what is the baseline product I am willing to “show” potential customers and in what target markets?

Thread carefully in the world of social media and PR, spending time and money on journalists to line up business or product coverage of your launch, only to find out that the product is delayed or has issues, can put the business credibility in jeopardy . Journalists lose interest pretty quickly and are never your friends.

Do Realistic CAC calculations

While a business waits for SEO efforts to kick in, a business may utilise Google Ad Words to drive traffic for (a) for lead generation or (b) sales. Take a look at this example. The cost per click works out at 50 cents, the resulting 1000 website visitors converting to a trial rate of 5% (50) at a cost of €500. These 50 trials are then converting to paid customers at the rate of 10% which is 5. So each customer is costing €100 in just lead generation expense excluding sales/product/support costs. For many companies in the B2C space or in the B2B space with software using the web as their main acquisition channel, it can be hard to get the consumer to pay more than €100 for the product or service

Many business underestimate or do not budget for a realistic CAC, if we take the above example the cost of customer acquisition can climb rapidly if leads require a sales person to convert them. This human interaction can be as simple as email follow ups right up to inside sales people doing multiple sales calls and demos. Depending on the trial/registration rate along with sales conversation rates the cost can vary from €400 to over €5,000 per new customer acquired, depending on the level of interaction needed.

Another CAC calculation is to look at the cost of a field sales force. The fully loaded cost of a field sales executive with travel, car, expenses and salary can push the CAC into over €10,000 in enterprise sales.

In trying to address the single most important early-stage question – customer acquisition – it is easy to waste a lot of money in the wrong channels and on the wrong customer acquisition tactics (lots of companies in the graveyard from just this one failure), especially the new companies that went  toe-to-toe with the big guys and can got blown away.

Every business has to execute in a different way

A business will only thrive by marketing and selling smart; acquiring customers in an economic way and in a way that differentiates the business from the crowd. To goal is to build a customer acquisition strategy for paying customers the business does not have to keep paying for every month.

go-to-market-strategy

Create Demand

In larger companies with deeper pockets while the customer acquisition isn’t exactly simple, they do have more resources. The process of customer acquisition is more challenging for newer companies. Established business’s will utilise bigger budgets, have greater brand awareness, and an ever growing community of influencers. Most new businesses will not launch with a partnership with an established brand like Microsoft, Apple or Google where the demand for the product already exists. Instead a new business has to allocate sales resources and money wisely to fight (and a fight it is) to let potential customers or audiences know that you exist, explain to them why they should show interest, and initially even offering to go the extra mile by holding their hand through the sales process.

The focus of everyone in a new business is not only to create the brand but also the demand. Sales and marketing are not two different departments,  the person leading the marketing drive needs control spend on brand marketing and really understand how to execute lead nurturing, content marketing, web demand generation programs and work hard at marketing efforts that require time but not money. Marketing and sales need to work at the hip to generate a steady, growing stream of leads each and every month.”

Acquiring new customers means understanding what makes your customers tick and investing in inbound marketing strategies such as content and quality articles, got onto the forums, become a subject matter expert and invest in search engine optimization (SEO) as a longer term tactic.

The Business Model

Business model viability, in the majority of new companies, will come down to balancing two things:

Cost to Acquire Customers (CAC)

The ability to extract value from customers, or LTV (Lifetime Value of a Customer)

Web based companies have long understood these metrics as they have a much easier easy way to measure them. However there are huge benefits for all businesses to look at these same metrics.

To repeat the message from a few paragraphs back, to calculate the cost to acquire a customer, CAC, a business needs to take the entire cost of sales and marketing over a given period, including salaries and other headcount related expenses, and divide it by the number of customers that a business has acquired in that period.  (In pure web plays where the headcount does not need to scale as customer acquisition scales, it is also very useful to look customer acquisition costs with/without the headcount costs.)

To compute the Lifetime Value of a Customer(LTV), you would look at the margin that you would expect to make from that customer over the lifetime of your relationship. Margin should take into consideration any support, installation, and servicing costs.

Manage Optimism with Reality

To be in business requires huge optimism, and in a belief in how much customers will want to buy your product. Unfortunately this can lead businesses to believe that customers will be kicking down the doors to purchase the product. This has the effect of grossly underestimating the cost it will take to acquire customers. In too many companies there is little or no focus on how much it will cost to acquire customers. Vague strategies along the lines of web marketing, and/or viral growth with no numbers is not what you call business!

 

To finish, a well thought out CAC plan outlines the need to acquire customers through a series of steps like SEO, SEM, PR, Social Media Marketing, direct sales, channel sales, etc. with the cost of each step worked out. This planning brings honesty to the real cost of customer acquisition.